THE DEADLY SILENCE OF THE DIOCESE OF SOUTH CAROLINA AND ITS BISHOP
Four days ago, the world solemnly remembered the worst racially motivated massacre in South Carolina since the Civil War. From the independent Diocese of South Carolina came silence. From its bishop came silence.
Nine days ago, the world reeled in horror at the news of the worst mass murder by guns in American history. From the independence Diocese of South Carolina came silence. From its bishop came silence.
On the other hand, the Episcopal Church and its dioceses and bishops spoke out loudly and firmly to condemn the killings. The first case was apparently motivated by racism, the second by homophobia. The bishop of Central Florida, Greg Brewer has been particularly conspicuous in condemning the murders in Orlando and in denouncing homophobia. St. Luke's Episcopal cathedral in downtown Orlando (I was once a communicant there, many, many years ago) has become a center of mourning for the victims. Brewer's predecessor was John Howe who was Bishop Lawrence's strongest ally in the southeastern United States. In the end, however, Howe and his successor knew that their homes were in the Episcopal Church. Both abandoned Lawrence after he abandoned them.
In the run-up to the schism of 2012, three social issues shook the Episcopal Church: civil rights for African Americans, equal rights for women, and liberty and equality for homosexual persons. After the schism, the Episcopal Church in South Carolina has continued to struggle energetically for all of these. The schismatic diocese has neglected all of these. On racism, after the Emanuel massacre of June 17, 2015, Bishop Lawrence called for prayers. That was all. There was no diocesan program to address racism in what was arguably the most racist state in the United States. Likewise, there has been no diocesan effort to advance the status of females in diocesan life. As for homosexuality, not only did the diocese completely ignore the Orlando massacre in a gay nightclub, it has worked to ensure that non-celibate homosexuals have no rights let alone equality in its realm. The Diocese of South Carolina has established a rigidly vertical religion that cares little or nothing about righting the wrongs in the horizontal world all around it.
Before the schism, Lawrence and the other diocesan leaders preached that the Episcopal Church was declining because of its turning away from "orthodox" religion. The actual figures from the DSC itself show a precipitous decline of the diocese since the schism. The 45 parishes and missions of the DSC reported 21,782 communicants in 2012, 17,611 in 2013, and 16,152 in 2014. In two years, DSC lost 26% of its membership. In personal money contributions, more than half of these parishes and missions saw declines. If "orthodox" religion is supposed to grow, there is something wrong in South Carolina. In terms of membership and income, the DSC is obviously in relentless decline.
The misfortunes of the DSC aside, Mark Lawrence has certainly done well materially. As a young man, this son of a postal worker and store clerk who worked his way through college probably could not have imagined his mid-life good fortune in South Carolina. On March 17, 2010, the DSC Trustees secretly passed a resolution to give him ($1/yr) the million-dollar diocesan-owned bishop's residence until the year 2020. Even better for him, the standing committee passed another secret resolution, on Feb. 1, 2011, to give Lawrence virtual lifetime employment at $200,000/yr, even if he were removed as bishop (he would remain as "chief executive officer" even if someone else were bishop). These two acts of the standing committee were publicly revealed in the documents uncovered in the trial of July 2014. At present, Lawrence's compensation package from DSC totals around a quarter of a million dollars a year.
Also revealed was his position on the Board of Trustees of the Corporation of the Trustees. There were two corporations, one of the diocese and one of the Trustees. On March 17, 2010, the By-Laws of the Trustees were change to make the Bishop of DSC the president of the corporation. On January 4, 2013, the by-laws were changed again to make "Mark J. Lawrence," and not the bishop, the president of the corporation. This apparently made him president of the corporation of the Trustees of the diocese for life.
It is fair for the 15,000 or so members of the independent Diocese of South Carolina to ask if they are getting their money's worth. What they are getting is a church that is more and more disconnected from the real world around them and apparently indifferent to the wrongs done to others.
Lawrence and his allies made a major point before the schism of claiming to follow the Scriptures and denouncing TEC for not doing so. In fact, Lawrence told a parish assembly at Old St. Andrew's on Feb. 10, 2013, that the traditional classical Anglican model of the three-legged stool of Scripture, Reason, and Tradition was really a one-legged stool of Scripture because the other two derived from Scripture. This created a completely vertical religion of faith between one person and one God.
There is a passage from Scripture that everyone in the Scripture-revering DSC should recall: James 2:14-17:
What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,' but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (NKJV)
Faith without works is dead.
There was, there is, a deadly silence from the independent Diocese of South Carolina.