Thursday, June 30, 2016

An Historical Reflection

Yesterday, both heirs of the old Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, the independent Diocese of South Carolina and the Episcopal Church in South Carolina, announced the death of resigned Bishop Edward Salmon simultaneously. Both claimed Bishop Salmon as their own. Both have scheduled memorial services in the respective cathedrals. This summarizes the legacy of Bishop Salmon, a man for both sides.

Bishop Salmon served as diocesan bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina from 1990 to 2008. I have described his episcopate extensively in my manuscript of a history of the schism in South Carolina. It is far too much to repeat here. I will try to summarize his legacy in some thoughts and give some appropriate excerpts from the text, minus the footnotes.

Salmon was one of four bishops figuring prominently in the manuscript, Temple, Allison, Salmon, and Lawrence. Of the four, I found Salmon to be the most complicated and most difficult to characterize yet in a strange way symptomatic of the modern history of the diocese.

Gray Temple (Bishop 1961-1982). Excerpts:

Bishop Temple succeeded well in leading the diocese through the minefield of racial integration, new prayer book, and women's equality in the 1960's and 70's. Difficult in themselves, these were made even harder by some of the largest and most influential parishes in the diocese that were also strongly conservative and resistant to change...Temple narrowly escaped a racially-inspired parochial revolt against the diocese and the national Church and only belatedly guided the diocese to restore its full contribution to the national Church. More than once Temple had to remind quarrelsome communicants that the diocese was part of the Episcopal Church, and the Church was governed by the General Convention. To the diocesan convention of 1967 he said: 'The General Convention is to the Dioceses what Congress is to the State legislature. Each Diocese governs its own affairs through its annual convention, but only under over-all policy and law set by the General Convention.'
When Bishop Temple retired in 1982 after twenty-one years in office, he could look back in satisfaction in many ways. He had succeeded in bringing the diocese well through four major crises in the national Church: civil rights, new prayer book, women's ordination, and homosexuality. Even at great difficulty, he had steadfastly kept the diocese loyal to the Episcopal Church. In addition, he had accomplished an impressive list of internal works. And, while managing all these, he guided the diocese to remarkable growth. When he arrived in 1961, the diocese had 20,133 baptized members and 13,995 communicants with a budget of $1,265,511. When he retired, in 1982, the diocese had 25,096 baptized members and 19,188 communicants with a budget of $2,400,064. Thus, in Temple's tenure, the diocese grew 17% in membership, 29% in communicants, and nearly 100% in budget. A case can be made that Gray Temple was the greatest bishop in the history of the Diocese of South Carolina.

Temple was succeeded by Bishop Christopher FitzSimons Allison (1982-1990). Two bishops could hardly have been more different.

Bishop Allison, on the other hand, was an ideologist, an ardent Evangelical who had already defined himself as a distinctly conservative academic theologian. His main concern as bishop seemed to be to promote his concept of religious and moral purity in the Episcopal Church. As bishop, he could use the diocese as a platform to do that in the wider church. By the time of his episcopacy, race, women, and prayer book were dying issues. The only one left unresolved in the Episcopal Church was homosexuality. Thus, Evangelicals as Allison, with their Anglo-Catholic allies, made the issue of homosexuality their last stand for "orthodoxy" as they called it. They poured all their energy into this last ditch effort to preserve whatever they believed remained of moral purity in the Episcopal Church. In his zeal, Bishop Allison guided the Diocese of South Carolina on a decidedly right-wing turn, defining the diocese as a bulwark against the encroachment of what conservatives saw as evil homosexuality. He brought in all the clergy he could from Trinity seminary leaving behind him an indelible and permanent ideologically conservative phalanx in the diocese. Allison won enough victories to feel he had accomplished much in his goal, even if the internal state of the diocese declined and weakened. Overall, he left the diocese with one great legacy: ideological purity takes precedence over institutional loyalty. He firmly established this as the ongoing underlying principle to guide the Diocese of South Carolina after him; and it would be the one the would propel the diocese all the way to schism twenty-two years later.
For the first time since the Civil War, the Diocese of South Carolina sustained a significant decline in membership and income. Baptized membership in the Diocese fell three percent in Allison's tenure, from 25,096 to 24,221. Communicant numbers declined four percent, 19,188 to 18,418. Income fell a drastic twenty-two percent, from $2,400,064 to $1,865,338.

When Salmon became bishop in 1990, he inherited a diocese that had been formed over a long period of history, brought to flower under Temple in the 1960's and 70's, than narrowly redefined rightward under Allison in the 1980's. The underlying tension he would have to struggle with was between loyalty to and hostility to the Episcopal Church. This presented the tightrope that Salmon had to walk for eighteen years. Salmon was an innately conservative and practical man who essentially agreed with the moral opposition to some of the reforms of the Episcopal Church, particularly on homosexuality. He was not an ideologist. He was also a resolute Churchman who considered schism anathema. Opposition versus loyalty was his dilemma. It remained so from 1990 to the end of his life. In the long run, loyalty won out. He died a resolute Episcopalian.

By Salmon's time, the conservative clergy formed the dominant force in the diocese. This power would actually grow and strengthen during his episcopacy. On the far-right were the anti-Episcopal firebrands led by the Rev. Chuck Murphy, rector of All Saints, Pawleys Island. Salmon's relationship with Murphy was, well, tumultuous to say the least. Murphy led the formation of First Promise, in 1997, that was strongly suggestive of schism. Then, in 2000, resigned Bp Allison and others ordained Murphy a bishop, much to the chagrin of Salmon, and many others. Murphy also colluded with the Anglican primate of Rwanda in 2000 to set up a clearly schismatic group called the Anglican Mission in America, based at All Saints. Salmon was not amused.

With this began Salmon's nine year struggle to enforce the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church, namely the Dennis Canon which held that all parish property was held in trust for the diocese and the national Church. All Saints went to court, eventually for the property and for its independence from the diocese. This went up the chain of state courts to the state supreme court. In 2009, that court ruled entirely on All Saints' side recognizing their independence and ownership of the property. His enforcement of the Dennis Canon reflected Salmon's loyalty to the national Church. An essential difference between Salmon and his successor, Lawrence, was that the latter ignored the Dennis Canon in 2009 and eventually gave all the parishes quit claims that relinquished any right the diocese had to the local properties. This blatant violation of the Church's Dennis Canon led to the formal charge of Lawrence's abandonment of the Church as determined by the Disciplinary Board for Bishops in 2012.

With a strong force pulling him to the right, Salmon tried hard to please the dominant conservative clergy coalition in his diocese while still holding out for loyalty to the Episcopal Church. He went so far as to go to the Archbishop of Canterbury in 2003 to seek a path toward alternative primatial oversight. He was a founding member of the Anglican Communion Network, an alliance of ultra-conservative dioceses looking for alternative oversight. The core of the ACN later declared independence from the Episcopal Church, but did so without any support, or recognition, from Salmon.

Salmon was vexed by the internal struggles in his diocese, so much so, that he set up a committee of reconciliation under Dow Sanderson. It met off and on for a couple of years until it was clear the conservatives were not interested in reconciliation with the Episcopal Church.

In spite of all the dissention, even turmoil, Salmon guided the diocese in remarkable growth and development:

In January of 2008, at long last, Bishop Salmon could make plans to hand over the leadership of the diocese to his successor after almost eighteen years as bishop. In assessing his tenure from 1990 to 2008, one can see remarkable growth in the diocese: baptized membership up 30% from 24,221 to 31,559; communicant numbers up 50% from 18,418 to 27,670; and budget income up 60% from $1,856,338 to $2,995,289. And, this was in spite of the fact that All Saints of Pawleys Island, one of the largest parishes in the diocese, had left the Episcopal Church in Salmon's term.

A major incident that was difficult to reconcile with Salmon's loyalty to the Episcopal Church was his handling of the choice of his successor. In 2004, he set up a selection system that virtually guaranteed that his heir would be one openly hostile to the Episcopal Church. The selection committee was unanimously and highly conservative (no member from Episcopal Forum or any pro-TEC church). There is evidence that they deliberately chose a candidate they knew would lead the diocese out of the Episcopal Church. Indeed, in time, the last three finalists selected by the committee all left the Church. If Salmon walked a tightrope for eighteen years, he finished by tilting far to the right side.

Salmon's dilemma of balancing conservative criticism with Church loyalty continued on after his retirement in 2008. On the side of criticism, he went so far as to file amicus briefs in court in support of the anti-Episcopal Church sides in Quincy and Fort Worth. He was the only bishop to do this in both cases. This led to a "Conciliation Meeting" in 2013 in which Salmon signed an "Accord" in which he expressed "regret" for his action in court and promising not to repeat it. On the other hand, he was the champion of the Episcopal Church when he was Dean-President of Nashotah House. At his invitation, Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori preached a sermon at the House on May 1, 2014. Ultra-conservatives exploded in rage against Salmon, many demanding his resignation. He stood his ground, as he said, for reconciliation. This was his last great act.

As far as the schism of 2012 in South Carolina went, I found no evidence that Salmon ever even hinted at support for the breakaway. Nor did I find any effort on his part to minister to the secessionists after the schism, as retired bishop suffragan William Skilton did.

As his last significant act, Salmon attended the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in 2015. To be sure, he spoke out against the reform for same-sex marriage, but true to himself he never entertained the thought of leaving the Church of his life. 

In the end, Salmon died balancing his conservative principles with his love of the Episcopal Church. He, of course, was not alone in this dilemma; and he was, and is, a model for many others trying to struggle with tidal changes sweeping over them. This is his legacy.