Thursday, June 1, 2017


After four years of researching and writing on the history of the schism in the Episcopal Church diocese of South Carolina, I would like to share with you some of my observations. There are too many of these to put in one posting. I will divide them into small groups. The first I would emphasize is the use and misuse of history. As a student of history this struck me the hardest.

1. Denial. I found that on both sides there was denial of schism. I found not a single instance in which a leader of either side ever used the term "schism." The secessionists used euphemisms as disaffiliation, disassociation, and realignment. The Church side preferred reorganization. The only people who ever used the term "schism" were those of the Episcopal Forum of South Carolina, and they did not use it often. They tried, in vain, to warn people of the schismatic trajectory of the diocese.

The bare truth is that schism occurred. It is a verifiable and empirical fact. The old Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina split up into two separate dioceses, one called the Diocese of South Carolina and one called the Episcopal Church in South Carolina. That was a schism, pure and simple. 

Denial of history is never justifiable. It occurs a lot but it is never right and can sometimes lead to destructive consequences. 

The ancient Greeks taught us it is best to know the truth, even if it hurts, because the truth leads to wisdom. Oedipus Rex was the classic expression of this. We must learn from this. It is indeed better to know the truth, even if it is exceedingly painful.

The first lesson that people on both sides of the schism need to learn is that there was a schism.

2. Spin. While denial was disappointing, the positive spin that both sides employed was no more justifiable but was more understandable. Each side pretended that what was happening was necessary and good. They had to justify what they were doing.

In reality, the schism caused a great deal of human suffering. Virtually every parish and mission split up. Old friends parted, and communities turned against each other as loss and bitterness set in. According to the statistics, 10,000 people of the old diocese were displaced by the schism. About half of those were in the churches that stayed with the Episcopal Church and half were people who fled from the schismatic churches. The 50 parishes and missions that left the Episcopal Church lost 26 % of their active membership as a result of the schism. By the year 2015, the Diocese of South Carolina stood at 56 % of the size it had been when Bishop Lawrence arrived seven years earlier, in 2008.

It is hard to spin figures as these, but the DSC did so. The leaders insisted they were taking the diocese away from sin and heresy and toward true religion, "the faith once delivered" as they were fond of saying. They promised a better day in the Anglican Realignment with support from GAFCON and other ultra conservatives. 

Refugees flooded from virtually all of the 71 local churches of the pre-schism diocese. On the Episcopal Church side, 10 "worshipping communities" formed in spots all the way from Georgia to North Carolina. They met wherever they could: living rooms, bar-be-que restaurants, funeral homes, boat docks, borrowed churches, banks, offices, old schools. On the other side too, two worshipping communities formed. In the end, there were thousands of innocent victims who were forced out of their church homes through no fault of their own. 

Besides the human cost, there was the expense of resources. God only knows how many millions of dollars have been spent on lawyers on both sides. The litigation has gone on for nearly four and a half years now and in five different courts. And, it is not over, far from it.

Bottom line---the schism was costly in human and material terms. This is a fact.

3. Demonization. Far too often, both sides demonized the leaders of the other side. This, of course, was directly related the the two items above. This was most disappointing among people who claimed to be Christians. This kind of behavior gives all of Christianity a bad name.

I was appalled at the way Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori was maligned by the anti-Church crowd, even to her face. Some of the remarks about her from partisans on the Internet were shocking. In addition, the secessionists made a serious charge against her, that she was out to get rid of Bishop Lawrence in order to flip the diocese from "orthodox" to "liberal." There was no evidence to support this charge.

On the other side, the pro-Church side was quick to denounce Bishop Lawrence as the source of the schism. In fact, the diocese had been moving toward schism from the Episcopal Church for 25 years before Lawrence appeared. The permanent trajectory of hostility to the Episcopal Church really began in the 1980s under Bishop Allison who established the principle that ideological purity took precedence over institutional integrity. The Lawrence episcopate was the last stage of a long-term schism by increments. Moreover, he was far from being alone. There was a diocesan leadership coalition committed to a hostile interface with the Episcopal Church years before Lawrence arrived. He was put in office by actions of this coalition. 

Along with denial of history came misuse of history. This came from the secessionist side in attempts to justify their actions. The diocesan leaders insisted the diocese existed before the Episcopal Church, that it never surrendered its sovereignty to the Church, and retained the right to secede from the Church at any time. 

In fact, the national Episcopal Church began organizing and held its first national meeting in 1784. The leaders invited the South Carolina Anglican churches to form a state organization for the purpose of sending delegates to the national convention in order to draw up a constitution and canons that would be binding on the whole Episcopal Church. In 1785, the South Carolinians accepted the offer, organized, and sent representatives to the national meetings. They were highly enthusiastic. They sent delegates to Philadelphia who signed the Church constitution and canons in 1789 for South Carolina. Accession was instant and unconditional. At home in South Carolina, church leaders recognized this. They even set aside their aversion to bishops in order to keep the peace in the national church. They had only high enthusiasm for the national church from then on to the Civil War. In fact, the national Episcopal Church existed before the diocese and the diocese enthusiastically and automatically accepted the sovereignty of the national Church. The separation in the Civil War had nothing to do with their attitudes to the national Church. It was from the necessities of the war; and as soon as the war was over the diocese went right back into the national Church as if nothing had happened.

The secessionists' historical construct was a self-serving misinterpretation of history. 

History is the art of gathering the facts, organizing them into a coherent narrative, and interpreting them logically and reasonably. We can disagree about the interpretations of history, but we cannot differ on the facts.

In sum:

Schism occurred.
The schism was painful and costly.
Both sides demonized the other.
The secessionists misrepresented the facts of the history of the diocese. 

In future, I will continue with more observations on the history of the schism.