Thursday, June 1, 2017


On April 20, I made a posting on this blog "On the Schism - Part 1" giving some of the observations I had made while researching and writing about the schism. The post turned out to be surprisingly popular, 896 hits as of now. The next question I would pose is "What caused the schism?" In February of 2015, I posted three essays on this question looking at the underlying causes, the direct cause, and the initiating events. I reviewed those today and would not make any changes to them now. Thus, I am reposting them here.

After the causes, the next question I would pose is "Why did the fourth reform movement in the Episcopal Church produce schisms when the earlier three had not?" That is the topic of today.

Between 1950 and 2015, the Episcopal Church experienced a democratic revolution. What had been heretofore a conservative and staid denomination given to the endless reiteration of the lofty liturgies in the Prayer Book and disinterested in social causes changed (what I call vertical religion). Starting around 1950, really for the first time in history, the Church transformed itself into a socially conscious activist denomination devoted to righting the wrongs in society all around it (what I call horizontal religion). The Church devoted itself to four great reform movements, 1-civil rights, 2-women's equality and inclusion, 3-modernization of the Prayer Book, and 4-equality for and inclusion of homosexuals. Civil rights began in the 1950s and ran until the early 1970s. Women's equality occurred from the 1960s to the 1980s. The new prayer book ran through the 1960s and 70s. The last, rights for homosexuals lasted from 1976 to 2015.

The first three reforms certainly upset a lot of traditional Episcopalians who liked the old vertical religion and saw little or no need to change things. To my knowledge, civil rights did not cause any whole congregations to leave the Episcopal Church but many individuals did begin abandoning the "too liberal" Church, especially in the South. The next two reform movements came at about the same time, women's ordination and new prayer book. Here dynamics began to change. The two Church wings became particularly disturbed. Anglo Catholics took a dim view of the ordination of women and evangelicals held a similar attitude toward the revisions of the prayer book. Congregations began to split and new breakaway churches popped up around the country, at least two in South Carolina. By the 1970s, disgruntled Episcopalians began organizing into resistance alliances. Nevertheless, women's ordination and inclusion and the new prayer book were overwhelmingly successful. Not one diocese voted to leave the Episcopal Church following the first three reforms, civil rights, women's ordination, and new prayer book.

However, just as the Church was weathering the storms of the earlier reforms, the issue of homosexuality arose, first in the Church's General Convention of 1976. In 1979, GC passed a resolution stating that it was "not appropriate" for the Church to ordain "practicing" (non-celibate) homosexuals. Conservatives breathed a great sigh of relief. This remained until 1991. In 1989+, bishops Spong and Righter in Newark ordained "practicing" homosexuals in defiance of the GC resolution of 1979. Conservatives exploded and declared war. From 1991 to 1997, conservatives and liberals fought an open war in the Episcopal Church on the issue of the ordination of non-celibate homosexuals. General Conventions in this period were contentious to say the least. To make a long story short, the liberals won in this period. As a result, from 1997 to 2015, the Church openly approved of the ordination of homosexuals, confirmed a "practicing" homosexual as a bishop, established liturgical blessings of same-sex unions, and adopted same-sex marriage. It was a total victory for the reformers. Five dioceses voted to leave the Episcopal Church, something they had not done for the three earlier reforms.

Why did the last reform lead to schism when the first three reform movements had not?

There are several factors that should be taken into consideration is addressing this problem.

1. The issue of homosexuality was different than the earlier three because it operated on two levels, morality and polity. Many conservatives sincerely believed that the "practice" of homosexuality was sinful. They quoted the half-dozen verses in the Bible that they said upheld their view. If homosexual behavior were sinful, the Church should not condone it, let alone put "practicing" homosexuals in positions of authority and leadership. Liberals, on the other hand, held that homosexual behavior was morally neutral (amoral) and that the Bible verses were all debatable in context. The verses really proved nothing. Liberals insisted that homosexuals deserved human rights just as African Americans and women had. The Church must not turn away from them.

The Episcopal Church never had a full, open discussion of the issue of homosexuality and morality. It was far too difficult. Instead, the Church opened the back door and made a de facto acceptance of homosexuality by opening up ordination to non-celibate gays. By allowing ordination, the Church was in fact giving unspoken recognition of the amorality of homosexuality. This, however, was something the conservatives did not see until it was too late. The great battle that occurred around Bishop Robinson in 2003 had actually been settled years earlier "under the radar." The ultra-conservatives (about a third of the conservatives) refused to accept the legitimacy of the Church's reforms for homosexuals and resolved to have foreign primatial oversight for themselves.

2. A major difference between the first three reform movements and the fourth was in organized resistance. In 1996, the right-wing PAC, Institute on Religion and Democracy, funded by deep-pocketed right wing backers, set up the American Anglican Council for the purpose of diminishing the "liberal" Episcopal Church. They focused on the big issue of the day, homosexuality. From then on, the well-funded, organized, focused AAC sponsored and guided the resistance movement that eventually produced the diocesan votes for schism. By January of 2004, the AAC had played a major role in creating the Anglican Communion Network, a union of a dozen ultra-conservative dioceses. In 2007-08, four of these dioceses voted to leave the Episcopal Church, a major coup for the AAC.

3. Another major difference between the first three and the fourth reform movement was in foreign ties. There was little to no foreign connection to the first three. With the fourth, all that changed. In 1997, AAC sponsored the first union of American ultra-conservatives and equatorial African bishops. The common bond was opposition to rights for homosexuals. From 1997 to 2016, the tie appeared to grow. In 2000, the primate of Rwanda sponsored the first Episcopal schismatic group, the Anglican Mission in America (based in Pawleys Island, SC). After that Nigeria and Uganda also set up missionary districts to tie in the American ultra-conservatives. In 2008, the equatorial African Anglican primates took the lead in setting up GAFCON and gave the Jerusalem Statement that condemned homosexuality and rejected the authority of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada. In 2009, GAFCON and the four breakaway American dioceses set up the Anglican Church in North America as the replacement province to take the place of TEC as the legitimate Anglican province in the U.S. In 2016, however, the primates began to back away from their stand and failed to defend ACNA in the Anglican Communion meetings of that year. Nevertheless, the support of the equatorial African Anglicans bishops has been crucial in the American schismatic movement.

4. One should also consider the role of technology. The Internet began in 1995. It revolutionized information and greatly facilitated communications around any number of causes. On Anglicanism in general, David Virtue's "Virtue Online" played a major role in publicizing the "orthodox" (anti-homosexual-rights) viewpoint. In South Carolina, Kendall Harmon's "Titus One-Nine" fulfilled a similar role on the local scene. One must not underestimate the power of the new communications.

5. Fatigue. One must not underestimate too the cumulative nature of the reform movements. By the 1990s, the conservatives reeled from battle fatigue. They had been fighting and losing for years. Homosexuality was the last great battle in a long war, but by then the fighters were battle weary. In 2003, with Bishop Robinson, it finally occurred to them that they had lost the last campaign and the whole war. Their appeal to the Anglican Communion to set up a "covenant" to force the Episcopal Church back went nowhere. The most exhausted of them threw in the towel. The last straw was the Church's election of a woman as presiding bishop in 2006, and a "liberal" one at that. At that very moment, the first ultra-conservative bishop (Iker) stood in the House of Bishops and demanded a foreign primate. It was the beginning off the end for Ft. Worth, San Joaquin, Quincy, and Pittsburgh.

6. Another point worth considering is the backlash of the angry white man. Equality for blacks, women, and homosexuals meant that the traditionally monopolistic white man would never again have unchallenged power. He would have to share with others. It is even possible that South Carolina's schism of 2012 was a delayed reaction to the civil rights' movement of the 1950s-70s. At that time, diocesan records revealed a loud protest against the Episcopal Church from large, conservative parishes in Charleston, but Bishop Temple at the time managed to keep the diocese on an even keel. After Temple retired in 1982, hostility to the national Church exploded in the diocese. 

In sum, the fourth reform movement on homosexuality led to schism because of the nature of the issue, the well-organized resistance, the foreign support for the TEC dissidents, the Internet, cumulative fatigue, and the backlash of the angry white man.

All of these factors were evident in South Carolina after Bishop Allison appeared in 1982. The last one, however, the angry white man, is impossible to document or quantify. In the thirty years after 1982, the Diocese of South Carolina built up hostility to the Episcopal Church that derived largely from the issue of homosexuality. The outcome of this was the schism of 2012. 

All things considered, the Episcopal Church weathered the opposition to the four great reforms well. Five of the 111 dioceses voted to leave, making less than five percent of the Church. This meant that more than 95 percent of the Church supported and accepted the reforms. Considering the dramatic magnitude of the changes, this is remarkable. Still, it is not insignificant loss for the Church.

If you have questions about the history of the schism in SC that you would like me to discuss in future posts on this blog, please e-mail them to me at . 

The next appropriate question might be, "Was there a pre-meditated conspiracy to make a schism in South Carolina?" (That is, was the shism in SC a planned event or just an accident of history?)