Wednesday, March 1, 2017

(with Addendum, Mar. 1, 2017)

ADDENDUM, March 1, 2017:
In 10 days, the Diocese of South Carolina will hold its annual meeting. The proposed resolutions have not yet been posted but it is expected that the delegates will vote on joining the Anglican Church in North America (the first of two required votes). Steve Skardon and I will not be allowed to attend again this year. We were banned last year too. The meeting is closed to anyone outside of the diocese. Secrecy is a common element in the history of this organization. 

The delegates have a lot to consider. For starters, let's look at some of the commonly repeated claims of the diocesan leadership.

1-DSC tried to stay in the Episcopal Church but was attacked by TEC. 

FALSE. The DSC leaders did nothing to try to make a settlement with TEC. For many years, they denounced and attacked TEC at every turn. In fact they planned in secret well before the schism to break away.

2-DSC had to leave TEC because of its theology and polity.

FALSE. The great driving issue in making the schism was opposition to the full inclusion of homosexuals and transgendered persons in the life of TEC. This was the direct cause of the schism.

3-TEC no longer believes in the uniqueness of Christ and the authority of the Scriptures.

FALSE. Any such changes would have to be made by the General Convention which has not happened and certainly will not happen. Certain bishops made controversial remarks and writings, then DSC wrongly implied that these spoke for the whole Church. In fact, they spoke only for themselves. 

4-TEC treated Bishop Lawrence unfairly.

FALSE. Lawrence flagrantly violated the Dennis Canon of TEC. The Constitution and Canons of TEC were fairly applied to him. He had every opportunity to make easy amends with TEC. After the pre-arranged schism, he rejected every appeal to meet with the Church leaders for reconciliation.

5-The schism was the will of the people.

FALSE. The "disassociation" was planned in secret by no more than 20 diocesan leaders. They self-enacted it on Oct. 15, 2012. They suddenly announced it as a fait accompli to TEC on Oct. 17 and to the clergy and members of DSC. The special convention in St. Philip's on Nov. 17, 2012 was called to change the constitution and canons after the fact.

6-The DSC is the Episcopal Church in lower South Carolina and is part of the Anglican Communion.

FALSE. Soon after the schim, DSC leaders dropped the absurd claim of being the Episcopal Church, except in the legal context, but continued and still continues to claim to be part of the Anglican Communion. DSC is not in the Anglican Communion. In the U.S., only TEC is part of the AC.

7-TEC tried to force pro-homosexual policies on the dioceses.

FALSE. When the blessing of same-sex unions was approved in 2012 and same-sex marriage in 2015, TEC allowed local dioceses to opt out. Many dioceses did so. No person is forced to support any policy with which he or she disagrees. DSC would be perfectly free to refuse s-s blessings and marriages. No other diocese in the entire SE U.S. went along with SC.

8-By joining the Anglican Church in North America, DSC will be in a province of the Anglican Communion.

FALSE. The Archbishop of Canterbury has made it clear ACNA is a separate denomination, not part of the AC. In their Jan. 2016 meeting, the primates agreed that if ACNA wanted to join AC it would have to go through the Anglican Consultative Council. Moreover, they recommended that ACC not admit the ACNA to AC. The idea of admitting ACNA to AC is dead. ACNA is not now and will never be in the Anglican Communion. It is not a "province" of anything.

9-The Anglican Realignment movement is moving the majority of the Anglican Communion into a new conservative/fundamentalist Anglicanism.

MISLEADING. The AR movement started in 1997 to form an anti-homosexual rights majority of the AC. GAFCON and Global South were parts of this. In 2009 GAFCON formed the anti-homosexual-rights ACNA to take the place of TEC in the AC. In the Jan. 2016 primates' meeting, the movement showed AR's failure by keeping unity in the AC and imposing only token punishment on TEC. GAFCON/GS failed to break up the AC into two hostile camps on the issue of homosexuality. the AR movement is now in decline in the AC.

10-DSC will be better off by joining ACNA.

HIGHLY DOUBTFUL. ACNA is a church of intolerance against homosexuals and of discrimination against women. It is a rigidly authoritarian regime ruled by archbishops/bishops, all male. Women and all laity are relegated to the sidelines. In future, any bishop chosen by DSC will have to get two-thirds approval of ACNA bishops. DSC will lose a great deal of independence to ACNA (as the Ang. Dio. of Pittsburgh did).

11-DSC has been better off since leaving TEC.

FALSE. DSC has lost communicant numbers every year steadily since the schism of 2012. In 2008, when Mark Lawrence became bishop, DSC had 27,670 communicants. In 2015, it had 15,556. This is a loss of 44%. DSC is only slightly more than half its size when Lawrence became bishop.
Meanwhile, parishioners are paying fortunes for lawyers for both the diocese and the local parishes that were coerced into the lawsuit. DSC communicants have paid well more than $2m for a lawsuit that DSC initiated.

The DSC leaders refused TEC's offer of an out-of-court settlement in June of 2015. TEC would recognize local property ownership in return for the diocesan rights and assets. This showed DSC's motivation was not local ownership of the properties as it had claimed.

The legal future is bleak. If DSC wins in the SC supreme court, TEC is all but certain to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Meanwhile, the federal court case returns to Charleston with a second direct order from the appeals court for adjudication in the district court. There will be millions more for lawyers.

The intolerant DSC leaders have forced conformity on the whole diocese which now has to sign oaths rejecting marriage equality. However, all studies show a sea-change in South Carolina favoring marriage equality as well as all equal rights for and inclusion of homosexual and transgendered persons. This is particularly true among people under the age of thirty. They are highly unlikely to be attracted to an anachronistic church whose raison d'ĂȘtre is to discriminate against gays and women. Future demographics of DSC will only escalate the decline that has happened in just the three years after the schism.

For statistics showing the effects of the schism on DSC membership see my blog post "The Continuing Decline of the Diocese of South Carolina" of Jan. 4, 2017.

The good people of DSC are indeed at a crossroads. They should think long and hard about how they got to where they are and where they go from here. Sadly, they have been misinformed and misled. There is no good reason why they have to continue this. The diocese belongs to its people. The sooner they regain control for themselves, the better. The schism has been a terrible mistake and a failure by almost every measure. The results are obvious. However, there is still time to salvage what is left of a once great diocese and do the right thing. Home is defined as the place where you go and they take you in no questions asked because you are family. Sometimes families are dysfunctional, but they are still families. Whatever they say, whatever they do, the people of DSC know in their heart of hearts their true home is in the church of their forefathers and mothers.


ORIGINAL POST OF Dec. 5, 2016:

Four years have passed since the schism of October 15, 2012. It is time to take a hard and cold look at the state of the independent entity legally known as the Diocese of South Carolina, the majority part of the old diocese that broke away from the Episcopal Church and retained (so far) the property and legal rights of the pre-schism diocese. Last March the diocesan leaders announced they would probably call a diocesan convention in the autumn of 2016 for a vote to join the Anglican Church in North America. They have not called such a meeting. This indicates there is significant resistance in the diocese to joining ACNA. If there were sweeping support, they would have called a rubber-stamping convention. Two convention votes are required for DSC to join ACNA. This means DSC probably cannot join ACNA in the year 2017 as earlier planned.

We already know that the internal state of DSC is not strong. The 50 local churches that make up DSC lost 26% of their active membership in the two years after the schism. The DSC now stands at 61% of what it was when Bishop Lawrence arrived in 2008. It is sinking under burdensome legal costs. The state supreme court should rule any day now on whether the Episcopal Church and its diocese actually own the properties and the legal rights of the pre-schism diocese. It has been 14 months since the court hearing. The longer this goes on, the more likely the outcome will favor the Church side. If the court were going to affirm Goodstein's ruling in favor of DSC, they probably would have done so by now.

Joining ACNA brings with it numerous problems communicants in DSC may not even see now. ACNA was created by eleven independent units in 2009 (there are over 60 independent "Anglican" denominations in the U.S.). These range from high Anglo-Catholic (no women clergy) to low Evangelical (no ritualism). The only bond of this group was hatred of the Episcopal Church because of its stand for equal rights for homosexuals. It was built on a negative that will disappear. As time goes by and the anti-homosexual hysteria abates, as it is already doing, the common bond will weaken and the internal contradiction in this very disparate coalition will take over. ACNA is a house of cards that is bound to collapse in time. There are already clear signs of this.
Communicants of DSC should be wary of the provisions of the ACNA Constitution and Canons (readily available on the Internet). It is a top-heavy system controlled by the Archbishop/bishops. There are 30 dioceses and 50 bishops. There are 4 governing bodies, all controlled or dominated by the bishops: The Provincial Council (laws), Executive Council (executive), Assembly (recommends resolutions), and College of Bishops (elects Archbishop, confirms new bishops in all dioceses by 2/3 approval). All bishops have to swear personal allegiance to the Archbishop. This means DSC will lose control of the selection of its new bishops, as happened recently in the bishop's election in Pittsburgh when the local favorite was tossed out in favor of a candidate acceptable to the ACNA Archbishop/bishops.

The big picture is no more promising than the small one for ACNA. It is part of a broad movement call "The Anglican Realignment." This started in 1997 in the work of a right wing PAC in the U.S. that had created the American Anglican Council (financed by deep-pocket right wing foundations and activists) to defeat/destroy "liberalism" (i.e. homosexual rights) in the Episcopal Church. In 1997 the AAC hosted a convention of anti-homosexual Episcopalians and equatorial African bishops to form an Anglican anti-homosexual-rights movement. The next year, this coalition got through the Lambeth conference a resolution condemning homosexuality. In 2000, Rwanda opened a missionary movement in the U.S. with Chuck Murphy's Anglican Mission in America. This began incursions into TEC. This stepped up greatly after TEC affirmed Gene Robinson as a bishop in 2003. The Anglican Realignment group, led by AAC, planned a schism (Chapman Memo) in the Episcopal Church to peel off the anti-homosexual rights minority with the help of equatorial African Anglican primates. In July of 2008, the Global Anglican Futures Conference (GAFCON) met in Jerusalem and drew up the Jerusalem Statement that 1-condemned homosexuality, and 2-rejected the authority of TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada. By this time, Bishop Lawrence and the diocesan leadership had started a concerted campaign to move DSC into this "Realignment." By 2012, they had succeeded in transferring the identity of the diocese from the Episcopal Church to the Anglican Communion. (In the circuit court trial, one DSC witness after another testified they had never been in the Episcopal Church,) 

In 2009, the American anti-homosexual coalition and their African allies created ACNA. Its expressed goal was to replace the Episcopal Church as the legitimate Anglican province in the U.S. GAFCON and its overlapping group, Global South, sought to split the Anglican Communion and carry the majority into an anti-homosexual-rights union. The pro-homosexual minority of Anglican provinces would be left behind as irrelevant to a new worldwide confessional Anglicanism. ACNA would be the new presence of Anglicanism in the U.S. and Canada. ACNA and GAFCON styled ACNA a "province."
This replacement stratagem collapsed and died in 2016 as the GAFCON coalition fell apart in the face of the Archbishop of Canterbury's irresistible call for all of the 38 Anglican provinces to "walk together." In January, the primates' gathering in Canterbury, the GAFCON primates could not round up a majority to throw TEC out of the Anglican Communion, even for three years. They settled on minor punishment. The GAFCON/GS primates, actually the majority of Anglican primates, abandoned ACNA. The primates agreed that if ACNA wanted to become a province of the Anglican Communion, it would have to go through the Anglican Consultative Council. In addition, they discouraged the ACC from accepting ACNA. When the ACC met in April, it ignored the ACNA. When Global South met, it too disregarded the issue of the membership of ACNA in the Communion. There is no chance ACNA will ever be a province of the Anglican Communion. The big movement of "Anglican Realignment" is dying away. 

As another part of the big picture, the issue of homosexuality has changed. It rose to a peak in 2015, and has been on the down slope ever since. At that time the U.S. Supreme Court and TEC legitimized same-sex marriage. Meanwhile, numerous other provinces of the Anglican communion have either taken steps toward this or have shown clear signs of moving toward equal rights for homosexuals. The trend in the Anglican Communion is to follow in the footsteps of TEC in granting equal rights for homosexuals. The equatorial African bishops, however, are still fighting their two decades long war. At the recent Global South conference they issued a loud and shrill communiquĂ©, a denunciation of rights for homosexuals, as if it were the last, desperate rear-guard action in a war they know they have lost.

What happened in South Carolina was that the Trinity Gang and their close allies seized control and virtually monopolized all of the apparati of the diocese after Lawrence's arrival in 2008. The Trinity Gang were the clergy alumni of Trinity School for Ministry including many of the well-known diocesan functionaries. They gradually "differentiated" the diocese from the Episcopal Church at the same time as making the bishop the equivalent of a local pope. The diocesan convention resolved that he alone could interpret the constitution and canons, and his decision could not be appealed (infallibility). The Standing Committee and Trustees, arms of the Trinity Gang, gave Lawrence virtually rent-free the million-dollar diocesan-owned bishop's residence until the year 2020, whether or not he was bishop, and gave him a lifetime employment contract at full salary regardless of whether he were bishop. His current compensation package equals a quarter of a million dollars a year. Later the Board of Trustees declared that Lawrence personally, not just as bishop, was the head of the Trustees. By 2012, the power structure of DSC was thoroughly solidified under the Trinity Gang and its entourage. The ruling clique set up a schism in a secret vote of the Standing Committee on October 2, 2012 (I counted 17 people who were in the cabal at this time). This was enacted on October 15 and then announced to the DSC clergy and the world.

It is important to note that what happened in SC was a counter-revolution from the top down. It was not a popular uprising of the people. Note that not one other diocese in the entire southeastern U.S., not one other bishop, went along with or even approved of DSC's schism. That is because no other diocese was controlled by a Trinity Gang. The good people of the DSC were forced to go along with their leadership or leave. Most communicants naturally wanted to trust and follow their priests and bishops in whom they had implicit faith. Most went along with the schism. Now it appears that support for that idea may not have been as solid as we thought. There is obvious resistance to the Trinity Gang's insistence on joining ACNA. Even Bishop Lawrence is busy talking it up in the parishes.

There are four levels of the membership of DSC:

1-The Trinity Gang and their allies. This amounts to perhaps two or three dozen people who monopolize the power structure of the diocese and have since at least 2008. As the core that made the schism, these people have an emotional investment in their choices. They are unlikely to change their minds. However, many of them are in their 60's and will be facing retirement soon. Lawrence will be 67 in March.

2-Diocesan clergy. 101 priests and deacons of the old diocese abandoned the Episcopal Church and refused to return (3 of 104 returned). Without Holy Orders in TEC, these people are completely dependent on Bishop Lawrence. They have no where else to go. They are bound to the Trinity Gang (and many of them are themselves alumni of Trinity).

3-Parish leaders/active communicants. This is the "core" of any parish/mission: wardens, vestry, Sunday School teachers, choir, youth leaders, youth groups, women's groups, Daughters of the King, etc. Most of this lineup faithfully followed their bishop in the schism. Typical was the senior warden of St. John's of Florence who testified on the stand in the circuit court trial that she believed what her bishop and rector said (although the parish had misused an endowment). The tendency was to go along with whatever they were told.

4-Casual church attendees. These people go to church for a variety of reasons are usually disinterested in issues of politics.

The crux of the matter is that the future of the diocese hangs on # 3, the parish leaders/active communicants. The Trinity Gang and the clergy appear to be committed to making the schism last. It is the parish leadership that must do the thinking now for the whole diocese. They are the ones who must decide whether it is a good idea to join ACNA. They have a lot of experience now in dealing with the diocesan leadership. They are in a different place than they were 4 years ago when they enthusiastically went along with the rebellion.

By nearly all measures, the schism has been a failure. The basic failure came from the Trinity Gang's lack of vision for the future. All of their attention went into making a schism. They did not think ahead of that. For four years now they have failed to give meaning and identity to the independent diocese. DSC is not part of the Anglican Communion. Joining ACNA will not make it part of the Anglican Communion. 

The future is bleak; and this is not to mention the declining membership, income, and ever-rising costs for legal action (which the diocese initiated). Parish leaders should not forget too that the Trinity Gang flatly rejected a very generous offer in June of 2015 of an out-of-court settlement from the Episcopal Church to give the local parishes their independence and properties. This would have given the parishes what they wanted and ended all legal actions. This revealed, really for the first time, that the Trinity Gang's goal was to diminish or destroy the Episcopal Church by pulling DSC into the Anglican Realignment, not to win the independence and properties for the local parishes. Parish leaders can see that very clearly now.
Parish leaders now have to choose the future of their diocese. It is, after all THEIR diocese. The clergy are their hired hands.

There are three choices, keep going it alone, join ACNA, and return to the Episcopal Church. The easy way is just keep going along with the Trinity Gang and join ACNA. The future for the diocese will be dismal. The hard choice is to swallow hard and return to the Episcopal Church and to the Anglican Communion. As one clergyman said before the schism, you cannot divorce your mother. If anyone is opposed to rights for homosexuals, no problem. TEC and her dioceses allow all local clergy to choose whether to have s-s blessings and marriages. In the Episcopal Church in South Carolina this is true, and some clergy have not gone along as they have every right to do this without question. Homosexuality is not the issue the Trinity Gang made it out to be before the schism. They used it as a wedge to pry the diocese away from the Episcopal Church in support of aiding the Anglican Realignment and diminishing the Episcopal Church.

The Diocese of South Carolina is at a crossroads in its journey of faith. The choice must be made by the parish leaders. The fate of their own diocese is in their own hands. 

One suggestion I have for the parish leaders is to keep stalling and wait for the state supreme court ruling. They have already allowed the Trinity Gang to keep them from getting clear ownership of the local properties once. They might not want to do that again. If they really want what is best for their parishes, they must start to think beyond the bounds of what has happened to them. My thought and prayers go out to the parish leaders. They are the real core of the life of the church. They have enormous decisions to make for the future of their churches' journeys of faith.