BISHOP SALMON AND
THE SCHISM IN SOUTH CAROLINA
The Rt. Rev. Edward Salmon was bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina from 1990 to 2008. After him came Bishop Mark Lawrence who led the majority of the diocese out of the Episcopal Church creating the schism of 2012. It is fair to ask, What relationship did Bishop Salmon have with the schism?
Salmon's episcopate can be divided into three periods, 1-1990-1997, 2-1997-2003, 3-2003-2008.
The war over homosexuality. The issue of whether homosexuals should be allowed ordination in the Episcopal Church first appeared in General Convention of 1976. In 1979, GC passed a resolution opposing ("not appropriate") the ordination of open homosexuals. Throughout the 1980's this held as GC passed resolutions defending traditional marriage. The conservatives believed they had won the day and had put the issue to rest.
The issue exploded around 1990 when Bishop Spong, of Newark, ordained an open homosexual and his assistant bishop, Walter Righter, ordained another deacon and priest. There were two sides of the issue. "Antis" argued that homosexual acts were immoral and non-celibate homosexuals must not be allowed into Holy Orders. The "Pros" held that homosexuality was amoral, that is, neither innately good nor bad, and that human rights gave homosexuals entrance into Holy Orders. The Episcopal Church was divided roughly into thirds, one-third Anti, one-third Pro, and one-third neutral. The war was between the Antis and the Pros to win the majority.
Bishop Salmon joined the war immediately on the Anti side. The first big showdown came at the General Convention of 1991. As it turned out, the GC did not censure the bishops of Newark, and did not interfere in the ordinations (as GC had done by declaring the first women's ordinations as "irregular'). Failure to act gave de facto approval of the ordination of homosexuals. This was the real turning point in the war but it was far from apparent at the time.
The next GC, in 1994, quietly passed resolutions holding that homosexuals could not be denied ordination and setting up a path to the blessing of same-sex unions. These passed almost under the radar. Salmon and the other conservatives protested but could do nothing else. This really solidified the victory the Pros had won in 1991.
Having failed to stop GC on homosexuality, the hard right of the bishops hauled Bishop Righter to ecclesiastical court. Salmon supported this. The court, however, ruled on May 15, 1996, that the Church had no doctrine on the ordination of homosexuals; and therefore homosexual persons could not be denied the right of ordination. This was really the end of the war. It was a total victory of the Pros. But still this was not apparent at the time.
In 1996, the American Anglican Council, a right-wing political action committee was set up to oppose the rise of rights for homosexuals in the Episcopal Church. In the 1997 GC, the AAC led the defeat of a resolution that would have led to a liturgy for the blessing of same-sex unions. GC continued to define traditional marriage. With this, the Antis believed they had won the war. It would be a few years before the reality of what had actually happened settled in on people like Salmon. By 1997, the conservatives believed they had staved off the Pros, but in reality it was the Pros who had won years earlier. The Episcopal Church never had a full and open discussion about homosexuality. It solved the problem through the back door by saying homosexuals could be ordained because there was nothing to stop them from being ordained. This in effect established the principle of the amorality of homosexuality, something the die-hard ultra-conservatives would never accept.
Walking the tightrope. Having fought the good fight against homosexuality and having been lulled into the false security of superiority, Salmon turned to pressing problems within the Diocese of South Carolina, namely a pending revolt from the far-right clergy. In 1997, the Rev. Chuck Murphy, long at angry odds with Salmon, led a conference that set up First Promise, a group that at least implied schism from the Church because of its pro-homosexual stand. In 2000, a group of renegade bishops ordained Murphy a bishop in full violation of the rules of the Episcopal Church. At the same time Murphy created the Anglican Mission in America under the auspices of the primate of Rwanda. The danger Salmon faced was how much this schism would carry over into the rest of the diocese.
Salmon took a firm hand against Murphy and his parish All Saints. In 2000, All Saints went to court to claim ownership of the parish property. Shortly thereafter they declared independence from the diocese. Salmon went to court to enforce the Dennis Canon against All Saints. This asserted that the diocese and Episcopal Church held trust over the property. Eventually, the South Carolina supreme court ruled in 2009 that All Saints was legally independent and the sole owner of the property. Salmon had to worry all along about what ripple effect All Saints might have on the rest of the diocese.
In the period of 1997-2003, Salmon played down his differences with the Episcopal Church as he fought against secession from it. There were several opportunities for him to fight new battles against the Church but he mostly backed away. He was alarmed at a proposal introduced in the diocesan convention of 2000 in which the diocese would threaten schism from the Episcopal Church. The proposal was tabled. Salmon also set up a reconciliation committee to try to hold the opposing factions of the diocese together.
Thus, Salmon devoted most of his energy in the years 1997-2003 to trying to stabilize and unify the diocese and its relationship with the national Church.
The period of unity came to a screeching halt in 2003 when the Episcopal Church affirmed its first non-celibate homosexual bishop, Gene Robinson. This was a tremendous shock to the Antis who had allowed themselves to be lulled into thinking they had put aside the issue of homosexuality in 1997. The reality of what had really happened between 1990 and 1997 suddenly came crashing down on them. They learned, really for the first time, that the Pros had won the war long ago. Now it was too late to do anything about it.
To say that Salmon and the other Antis were outraged would be putting it mildly. No doubt they were angry too at themselves for getting into this situation. The far-right exploded into action against the Episcopal Church.
In the Diocese of South Carolina, the anti-Episcopal Church party, long steaming over Church social reforms, solidified their control of the diocese. On August 18, 2003, Salmon met with the Standing Committee and formed an authoritarian system insulating the diocese from the national Church. They agreed to nullify acts of the Church with which they disagreed (shades of antebellum days). They called a special meeting of the diocesan convention to take a definite stand against the Episcopal Church. This was a landmark point:
If we can pinpoint a "turning point" in which the Diocese of South Carolina moved clearly to an "anti" attitude toward the Episcopal Church, it would be the special convention of October 3, 2003. Although its regard for the national Church had been declining over many years, the diocese had maintained an identity as an integral part of the Episcopal Church. From the special convention onward, this would not be the case. It would increasingly see itself as an outsider diocese with only tenuous ties to the national Church. The conservative viewpoint was well established in the diocese for good. They saw religion as absolute and unchanging truth. This must be taken to a world in need of redemption which occurred in a vertical posture of salvation between one person and one God. They believed the Episcopal Church had gone wrong by developing horizontal religion and becoming too much a part of the sinful world. They believed there were no absolutes in the Church any more, only relativism.
Salmon declared to the special convention that the Episcopal Church had set up a new religion.
Salmon threw in his lot with the ultra-conservatives. In November, he joined several others to go to the Archbishop of Canterbury in search of alternate primatial oversight. The Archbishop kept hands off. Actually, the Episcopal Church made three different offers of alternate oversight for dioceses that did not want to accept the Church reforms. In every case, the ultras rejected the offers. The problem was that the ultras wanted a foreign primate while the Episcopal Church could not allow this under its Constitution and Canons.
Nevertheless, South Carolina joined a dozen ultra dioceses to form the hostile Anglican Communion Network. The Chapman Memo, from the American Anglican Council, laid out a blueprint for diocesan schism from the Episcopal Church. Finally, after the election of Jefferts Schori as Presiding Bishop in 2006, the core of the ACN began moving to schism. Four dioceses passed majority votes to leave the Episcopal Church. Salmon, however, would not bring up such votes in South Carolina.
By this point, Salmon may simply have been exhausted. In 2003, he was 69 years old. He had been fighting for a long time. He had fought against the Church on homosexuality for many years, only to see the Pro side win a sweeping victory. He had been fighting his own schismatics and trying to hold together a diocese that was ever moving rightward. By 2005, he was also getting word that pro-Episcopal Church parishes as St. Stephens of Charleston and Holy Cross/Faith Memorial of Pawleys Island were ready to leave the diocese. It may have been that he was tired of fighting losing wars. Perhaps this was why he eventually surrendered to the dominant conservative force in the diocese and turned over to them the choice of a new bishop.
On April 6, 2004, Salmon went to the Standing Committee and reminded them that he had to retire at the end of 2006 (age 72). He set up a selection process that in effect guaranteed the conservatives would chose his successor. He and the Committee set up a search committee of 12 people, 3 chosen by Salmon, 3 by the Standing Committee, 3 by the Diocesan Council, and 3 by the diocesan convention. They also said no nominations would be accepted from the floor. All nominations would go through the search committee.
Suffragan bishop William Skilton was removed from any consideration and forced into retirement (end of 2006). The committee refused to take a consultant from the Episcopal Church. They also refused to allow the 2006 General Convention to vote on their choice. They waited until after the GC to announce their nominees and to hold an election.
The search committee turned out to be solidly conservative: Rev. Greg Kronz was the chair. He was an acquaintance of Mark Lawrence's from Pittsburgh days and fellow Trinity alum. Others: Frances Fuchs, of St. John's on Johns Island, Rev. Frank Limehouse, soon replaced by Rev. Jeff Miller, rector of St. Helena's of Beaufort, Rev. Craige Borrett, of Christ/St. Paul's of Yonges Island, Rev. Paul Feuner, of Prine George, Georgetown, Anthony Kowbeidu, of St. Andrew's of Mt. Pleasant, Rev. John Scott, of Epiphany of Eutawville, Rev. David Thurlow, of St. Matthias of Summerton, John Bowden, of St. Paul's of Orangeburg, Lydia Evans of St. Philip's of Charleston, Martha Flowers of St. Bartholomew's of Hartsville, and Keith Lackey, of Holy Communion of Charleston. Apparently, every one of these people later left the Episcopal Church. All went with Lawrence except Lackey who departed with the group from Holy Communion to form an Ordinariate community. Salmon and the diocesan ruling clique made no attempt to balance the selection process.
According to the sworn testimony of the Rev. Thomas M. Rickenbaker, the search committee wanted only candidates promising to take the diocese out fo the Episcopal Church. The Rev. Dow Sanderson testified in the circuit court trial that Jeff Miller told him Lawrence was chosen in order to lead the diocese out of the Episcopal Church.
The search committee received upwards of fifty nominations. They liked none of them. At the first of May of 2006, with time running out, they contacted retired Bishop Alden Hathaway, Mark Lawrence's bishop from Pittsburgh days, and asked him to contact Lawrence and request he submit his name for consideration. Hathaway did. Lawrence did. In effect, the committee chose Lawrence to be the next bishop. Lawrence was well-known through his stand against Robinson in the 2003 GC and from his article calling on the Episcopal Church to submit to the will of the worldwide Anglican Communion. After he was nominated he issued another essay defending disassociation from the Episcopal Church.
Last minute efforts to slide in a local candidate were swept aside. The Revs. John Burwell and Dow Sanderson were quickly dismissed as possibilities.
We cannot know the relationship between Bishop Salmon and the search committee during the search time. The minutes of the search committee, if they existed, were not produced in the circuit court trial. We do know that the search committee operated in almost complete secrecy. We cannot know from the existing public documents what if any effort Salmon made to get another candidate. In the end, the committee submitted three names. One left the Episcopal Church within a couple of months, one a couple of years later. The other was Lawrence.
It would not be accurate to say that Salmon wanted the Diocese of South Carolina to leave the Episcopal Church. He opposed schism. This leaves us with a puzzle of why he handed over the selection of his successor to what he knew to be a conservative coalition bitterly hostile to the Episcopal Church. It could be, as I said before, he was simply exhausted. It could be too that his defense of the Episcopal Church had eroded greatly after the shock of the Robinson affair. Perhaps he no longer had the will to defend the Church at home. Perhaps he just resigned himself to allow the dominate force of the diocese to control the diocesan destiny even if there were clear warnings of schism ahead.
Thus, there were three periods of Salmon's episcopacy. The first was his war against ordination of homosexuals, the second his fight to keep the diocese together, and the last a sort of final clash between the first two. While he personally opposed schism from the Episcopal Church he could not or world not set up an apparatus to guarantee that the diocese would remain in the Episcopal Church. A few years after Salmon's departure, the anti-Church forces controlling the diocese succeeded in doing what Salmon had not wanted them to do.
Could Bishop Salmon have kept the Diocese of South Carolina from voting to leave the Episcopal Church? I doubt it. The force of combative conservatism, great when he arrived in 1990, only strengthened thereafter. In a way he supported this trend and in a way he did not. After 2003, the hostility to the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina was so pervasive and the power of the anti-Episcopal Church clergy so thorough in the diocesan bodies that I doubt any bishop could have changed the diocesan trajectory. Nevertheless, schism was not inevitable. Nothing in human history can be declared "inevitable" because God endowed people with free will to make their own decisions, for good or ill. Every day of our lives we make countless choices that impact on what happens to us. Perhaps in the end, Salmon simply decided just to let the diocese be itself and trust the future to man and God. He surrendered the future of the diocese to a rather small ring of clergy who had come to monopolize power in the diocesan governing bodies. He knew them to be thoroughly adversarial to the Episcopal Church. He did not know, had no way of knowing, that the people in power would eventually lead the majority out of the Episcopal Church, but he must have known he was taking a big risk.
So, how can we answer the original question of the relationship between Salmon and the schism? Salmon did not want schism. He never gave any public support for what happened in 2012 and after. He wanted the diocese to remain in the Episcopal Church but the forces pushing the diocese out of the Church were too strong for him to stop.