Tuesday, July 14, 2015

14 juillet 1789

Considering all that has happened in the last month, it is fitting that we pause for a moment today, Bastille Day, and reflect on where we stand in America and in the schism of South Carolina. The storming and capture of the Bastille, a hated royal prison and fortress looming over Paris, by the people was the symbolic rising of the common man, and woman, to take control of their own lives. Rule of the people was to replace absolute monarchy, the rights of man to replace tyranny, power of the majority to replace aristocracy, and merit to replace birth. The great French Revolution of 1789, combined with the American Revolution of 1776, gave the world our modern systems of constitutional democracy, freedom, justice, and equality. The working of history over the last 250 years has been the evolution of this force throughout the world. It has not been easy. It has not been smooth. But, these great revolutionary values have prevailed against the odds and are now gloriously triumphant in the twenty-first century. The courageous men who signed that remarkable in-the-king's-face document in 1776 and the bold masses that confronted another king and his forces in 1789 would be proud to know just what their actions really meant for generations to come. For all of us ordinary men and women in the world, this is a day of remembrance. This is a day of rejoicing. This is a day of thanksgiving. We would be living in a very different place today if it had not been for the great democratic revolution of the late eighteenth century.

To say the least, much has happened in the last month, almost too much to absorb at once. On June 17, nine Christian martyrs were cut down in their own Church minding their own business in an almost unimaginable act of hatred. Yet, the tremendous response from the city, the state, the nation, and the world enveloped that scene in God's grace. The victims had enveloped their murderer with love just before they died. Their families also extended their heartbreaking love to him. Love defeated hate. Evil lost out to good. The despicable racism that prompted the act was crushed under the heel of a new racial respect. Most whites came to realize they had to remove that Confederate flag. Then, the U.S. Supreme Court validated Obamacare; the Court legalized same-sex marriage in all of the United States; the Episcopal Church overwhelmingly chose as its new presiding bishop an African-American, a first; and the Church just as overwhelmingly adopted same-sex marriage. No doubt everyone is still trying to process it all.

As for the schism, the next events are likely to be the court cases. The state supreme court is set to hear oral arguments on September 23 with no chance of delay. The Church lawyers submitted a brief to the court as the appellant. They are appealing Judge Goodstein's circuit court ruling of Feb. 3, 2015. The independent side has filed a counter-brief; and the Church side has submitted a response brief to that. In a nutshell, the Church lawyers argued in their briefs that Goodstein's decision should be cast aside for two big reasons, it violated the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and it violated the principle of neutral rights. The First Amendment guarantees freedom of religion, that is, the separation of church and state. The principle of  neutral rights says a court must not get involved in the internal working of a religious institution. The Church lawyers said that Goodstein clearly and repeatedly violated these two points, and therefore her ruling should be invalidated. The independent diocesan lawyers are basically arguing that the state supreme court should follow and uphold their 2009 judgment in the All Saints/Waccamaw case in which they ruled the Dennis Canon did not apply to this parish. The judges recognized the right of property ownership of the local parish over the diocese, and Church. The lawyers assert that the Dennis Canon is invalid in the whole state of South Carolina and that the diocese is an independent entity not beholding to the national Church. Meanwhile, in the federal district court in Charleston, Judge Houck is awaiting the arguments of the two sides before he proceeds. The Appeals Court in Richmond ordered him to reconsider the case on a different principle than the one he had used. He still has the option of dismissing the case, but his window of opportunity is much smaller. He would have to make a highly compelling argument to do that. Houck has also agreed that the federal litigation is not dependent on the state supreme court case.

In the bigger picture, are the two dioceses any nearer a reconciliation now, more than two and a half years after the split? One can argue both sides of this. It seems to me there are strong signs denying any reconciliation. The most important of these was DSC's flat refusal of June 15 to talk with the Church side even about the possibility of discussing a negotiated settlement. The Church had offered to give all of the 35 parishes their property in return for the diocesan legal rights and properties. DSC's instant rejection of the overture showed that its difference with TEC was not about the parish property, it was about the DSC's leaders' vision of  making an American Anglicanism without the Episcopal Church. How could they make a reconciliation with an institution they consider hopelessly corrupt and erroneous, even heretical?

Also, DSC has doubled down on its anti-homosexual rights stand. Last March its annual convention overwhelmingly passed three resolutions reaffirming its solid commitment to heterosexual marriage only (no doubt anticipating the Court's and TEC's actions). Then, immediately after the June 26 Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage, DSC instantly issued a statement denouncing the decision and reasserting its stand for homosexual marriage only even though the Court decision only applied to the civic state, not to religious institutions. Moreover, since the Court decision, Kendall Harmon's blog, the quasi-official voice of DSC, has promoted Anglican Communion denunciations of the Court, and TEC's, decisions. The anti-homosexual camp of GAFCON, Global South, and the Ugandan archbishop, all blasted the Court and TEC (even though they have not recognized TEC for many years); all were promoted on TitusOneNine to the cheers of their admirers. All of these factors make me think there is no chance of a reconciliation, at least not any time soon.

On the other hand, there are indications that the schism might be healed, at least in time. It is interesting to note that although DSC slammed the Supreme Court right after its decision on June 26, it was silent following the TEC vote on same-sex marriage only a few days later. One might say there was no reason to react to TEC since DSC has cut off all ties to TEC, but then there was no reason for DSC to react to the Supreme Court either and yet it did.

Too, one should keep in mind the situation of the independent diocese's bishop, Mark Lawrence. He has never personally renounced his Holy Orders in the Episcopal Church (as far as we know). The presiding bishop interpreted his resignation from the Church and his remarks to the special convention on Nov. 17, as de facto renunciation of Orders. On Dec. 5, 2012, she issued an official recognition of his renunciation in a document called a Release and Removal in which she released and removed Lawrence from any role in the Episcopal Church. As I understand it, he has not been otherwise "defrocked" by the Episcopal Church. His case has not been considered by the House of Bishops. It seems to me Lawrence is keeping his options open. At age 65, he must be considering his legacy for the future. As of now, he will go down in the long history of the diocese of South Carolina as the bishop who presided over the grand old diocese when it broke apart. Even though the schism is likely to be healed down the road, his legacy in the schism will stand for posterity. One can only wonder if Lawrence really wants this as his permanent legacy for all time. As I understand it, the door is still open for Lawrence to be reinstated in the Episcopal Church as the presiding bishop could revoke the Release an Removal. Apparently, this is still a possibility; and it is one that no one should rule out. There is about to be a change of leadership in the Episcopal Church. The present presiding bishop (much ctiticized in DSC) will be leaving office soon and a new one will take over. It is possible the next presiding bishop may want to handle this case differently. We will just have to wait and see.

Meanwhile, throughout these two and a half years of schism, Lawrence has steadfastly refused to join any larger entity. DSC remains a "diocese" apart. The oversight scheme with Global South is really meaningless. No one has even been able to describe it, let alone demonstrate how it is supposed to work. Time and again, he has been wooed by the leaders of the Anglican Church in North America only to turn them away. Obviously he refused to join ACNA for reasons he keeps close to the vest. The diocese uses only the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer for its services, thus cutting off the new ACNA service book. Unattached to any larger entity, DSC is free to return to TEC. However much they may loudly decry such an idea, that is the reality.

One may have noticed that two bishops of the pre-schism diocese attended the recent TEC General Convention, Salmon and Skilton. Skilton voted against the same-sex resolutions. Both Salmon and Skilton signed the Salt Lake "Statement" denouncing the resolutions but also reaffirming loyalty to the Episcopal Church. By their actions, these bishops have shown their continuing ties to the Church.

As we have seen, the direct cause of the schism was the issue of homosexuality. The Episcopal Church has finished a sixty year period of reform to extend equal rights to blacks, women, and homosexuals. This reform period has now run its course. There is no new crusade on the horizon. This is a time for absorbing the monumental changes that have been made. It will take some time for all of this to settle down through the ranks of the larger Church. DSC could return to TEC knowing the change is over. If DSC persists in continuing its anti-homosexual stand, and to a lesser degree, its prejudice against women's roles in the Church, it will continue to decline. Demography is against it. This will become clearer and clearer as time goes by and membership, and income, continue to fall. Thus, the future holds a better possibility that DSC can reassess its differences with the Church and quietly make amends. The door is certainly open on the Church side and will remain so.

Mark Lawrence, and his inner circle, have invested a great deal emotionally into this schism. Surely, it would be personally difficult for them to reverse themselves at this point. Yet, at his age Lawrence must be thinking about his legacy. He knows the door is open and only he can make the decision to be a great agent of healing and reconciliation or not. If he does choose to reunite the old diocese, I think he would go down in history as a great bishop. His episcopacy would be seen as a troubled one full of crises,  but ultimately he would come out as courageous and heroic. If he does not, I believe he will have a whole different legacy.

Lawrence has said repeatedly he wants to help transform Anglicanism in the twenty-first century. One would be hard pressed to see any success in the last two and a half years. Now that TEC has finished its social reform and the pendulum is swinging back to the vertical side, perhaps his greatest contribution to transforming Anglicanism would be to rejoin his old conservative cohorts in TEC to lead the Church in a new age of evangelism. That could be his legacy, and perhaps a far greater one than he could realize otherwise.

I for one still believe that reconciliation will happen in time because it is the right thing to do. I started this post with revolutions. Historically, a revolution always has an ensuing counter-revolution. It is always two steps up and one step back. On the whole, however, progress happens.