Thursday, June 1, 2017


"On the Schism - Part 1" (April 20) covered the use and misuse of history. "On the Schism - Part 2" (May 1) discussed the reasons why the fourth reform movement in TEC produced schism while the first three had not. In "On the Schism - Part 3," I will look at the question of whether the schism was the result of a conspiracy.

The word "conspiracy" can have different meanings. In the legal sense, it means a secret agreement among two or more people to do something illegal. Otherwise conspiracy can mean a secret deal among a group to something nefarious, not necessarily illegal. 

On the legal side, attorney Thomas Tisdale, representing the Church diocese in the circuit court, formally charged conspiracy. At first, he tried to get twenty-eight people named, but Judge Goodstein overruled it. Then, Tisdale charged that four prople were involved in a quid pro quo deal to make Mark Lawrence bishop of the diocese in return for his taking the diocese, with property in hand, out of the Episcopal Church. Goodstein overruled that too, as she did practically everything Tisdale requested. That is as far as the legal charge went.The legal issue of conspiracy was never really hashed out in court.

I am not qualified to speak to the legal issue of conspiracy, but I can speak to "conspiracy" in the historical and general sense.

Was the schism of 2012 the result of a conspiracy?

Short answer - Yes.

Long answer - requires a great deal of explanation. Space here does not allow a full discussion (my history of the schism is in press). I will summarize what I found in my research on the history of the schism.

The "smoking gun" of the conspiracy was the secret resolution of the DSC Standing Committee to "disaffiliate" DSC from the Episcopal Church "if any action of any kind" were taken by TEC against Bishop Lawrence. This was made on October 2, 2012, thirteen days before the schism happened. I counted seventeen people in on this act, the twelve members of the Standing Committee, and five others. Everyone knew that the Disciplinary Board for Bishops might be at work bringing charges against Lawrence. If the DBB did charge Lawrence with abandonment, the Presiding Bishop, Jefferts Schori would have to act. She would be required to "restrict" Lawrence formally. The October 2 resolution was a hidden trap set for the Presiding Bishop who was entirely unaware of it and would remain so until the trap had snapped closed. In short, the resolution was a set-up as an excuse for schism. It was a "conspiracy" of about seventeen people in the leadership of the DSC.

Now, the question is, how far back did the conspiracy reach in time before Oct. 2, 2012? This, unfortunately is impossible to know for sure given the documents publicly accessible now. Nevertheless, I will share with you what I found.

There are four substantial pieces of evidence that seemed to me to indicate a conspiracy before 2012. 1-Rev. Thomas Rickenbaker's testimony that he had been approached in late 2005 by two men from Bishop's Search Committee who said they were looking for a bishop to take DSC out of the Episcopal Church, property in hand. He made an affidavit and provided written testimony in the circuit court (he was not present in person). He gave a contemporary account to his bishop, Clifton Daniel. 2-Rev. Dow Sanderson's testimony in the circuit court that the Rev. Jeff Miller (member of the Bishop's Search Committee) had told him in 2009 that "we" had hired Lawrence to take DSC out of TEC. 3-By DSC's own documents, in 2010, Bishop Lawrence issued five quit claim deeds to parishes while the diocese still acceded to the Dennis Canon and to the Constitution and Canons of TEC. 4-In 2011, while Lawrence was being investigated the first time by the DBB, the DSC Standing Committee passed a resolution, similar to that of Oct. 2, 2012, to "disaffiliate" if TEC took any action against Lawrence. That one became moot when the DBB refused to charge Lawrence at that time. Whether these four items prove pre-2012 conspiracy must be left to the judgment of the reader.

Although the direct evidence of conspiracy before Oct. 2, 2012 may not be conclusive, there is a mountain of circumstantial evidence that must be considered. Space here does not permit a full accounting, thus a summary:

1. Diocesan leaders used the Robinson affair of the General Convention of 2003 to create a crisis to unite DSC in hostility against TEC. On August 18, 2003, the Standing Committee joined with the bishop, and several others to form a diocesan ruling block of two to three dozen people. All decisions from then on would be made as one and sent down to the deans, the clergy, and the laity. All pro-TEC elements in the diocese were excluded from the power block. When the Episcopal Forum arose, it was treated as the enemy. On Oct. 2, 2003, the special diocesan convention declared the right of nullification, local sovereignty, and defeated a resolution affirming loyalty to TEC. This set the template for the future.

2. In 2004, DSC was one of a dozen ultra-conservative dioceses of TEC to form the Anglican Communion Network. It demanded alternative primatial oversight, that is, authority of a foreign Anglican primate over their dioceses. This was impossible under the Constitution and Canons of TEC that forbade foreign rule in the Episcopal Church. TEC offered four plans of oversight within the structure of TEC. DSC, and the others in ACN, rejected all of TEC's offers. In 2006-07, four of the ACN dioceses declared, unilaterally, realignment to a foreign primate (Southern Cone), thus the first four schisms. DSC was to act several years later, after a new bishop was settled in place.

3. The Bishop's Search Committee of 2005-07 was a set-up to choose a new bishop overtly hostile to TEC. Although Bishop Salmon had sought to maintain the Constitution and Canons of TEC (he applied the Dennis Canon against All Saints, Pawleys Island), in the end he created a search committee guaranteed to lead to a new bishop who would not be so committed to the authority of TEC. Of the 12 members of the committee, 3 were named by Salmon, 3 by the Standing Committee, 3 by the Diocesan Council, and 3 by the diocesan convention. Thus, the ruling establishment set up the committee. Moreover, Salmon said that no nomination could come from the floor of the convention. All candidates would have to be approved by the committee. 

The Search Committee represented the ruling establishment. In time, all twelve members left the Episcopal Church. The committee conducted its business in secret. Its records, if they still exist, are hidden. It considered about 50 candidates, turned them all down, and called on Mark Lawrence to present himself. Lawrence was known to the committee as the leader of the opposition in the House of Deputies to Robinson in 2003 and as the author of an essay calling on the Episcopal Church to surrender its independence to the rule of the Anglican Communion. He was soon to write another paper advocating "dissociation" from TEC.

To summarize DSC before Lawrence became bishop (Jan. 2008), there is no hard evidence of a written, or even spoken, conspiracy. However, it was entirely possible there was an unspoken understanding, an attitude, of a trajectory of relentless hostility against TEC, the logical end of which would be schism. It did not have to be written or spoken. It could have been silently understood. 

4.  The trajectory of differentiation from TEC accelerated after Lawrence took office. In May of 2009, he gave at least tacit support to a pivotal act in disregard of the Dennis Canon. The Standing Committee, chaired by Rev. Jeff Miller, approved St. Andrew's of Mt. Pleasant's, movement of millions of dollars' worth of parish property into a irrevocable trust beyond the reach of the diocese and TEC. This was the practical end of DSC's recognition of the Dennis Canon although the state Supreme Court was yet to rule on All Saints and the diocese still overtly adhered to the Dennis Canon.

In 2010 and 2011, the DSC granted quit claim deeds to all local parishes.

5. The DSC leaders used the General Convention of 2009 to create a crisis in which DSC declared its virtual independence from TEC. This was planned in a highly secret leadership meeting of July 28, 2009. Diocesan conventions soon thereafter declared the sovereignty of the diocese, nullified resolutions of General Convention, resolved to withdraw from the governing bodies of TEC, revoked diocesan accession to the canons of TEC, and rechartered the corporation of the diocese to remove references to TEC. This was essentially the schism that formally occurred in 2012.

Lawrence was investigated by the DBB in 2011 following the virtual schism. The DBB refused to charge him choosing to give him every benefit of the doubt and forestall another diocesan schism. However, at the very moment the DBB cleared him, Lawrence announced the issuance of the quit claim deeds leaving TEC no choice but to enforce its authority over the diocese. Defiant disregard of the Dennis Canon finally forced a reluctant TEC to act. 

6. DSC leaders used the General Covnention of 2012 to set the stage for the final act of the schism that they had essentially made in 2010 (the only tie left was accession to the Constitution of TEC). They worked steadily the first six months of the year preparing the diocese for the event. The issue of homosexuality, that the leaders had used conveniently for years, now came to the front as TEC resolved to establish a liturgy for the blessing of a same-sex union. Homosexuality, long the leaders' wedge issue, now inflamed the diocese against TEC in the last push for "disassociation."  

Soon after the GC of 2012, the DSC ruling establishment met in an ultra secret session on August 18, 2012. Apparently this was the moment of decision for final schism. This gathering was so secret that no word of it has ever leaked out. A month later, the Standing Committee met in secret and discussed removing DSC from TEC. They asked of Lawrence his authoritative opinion on how the schism could be done. On October 2, he presented a 16 page explanation to the Committee approving, perhaps urging, of their right to disassociate the diocese from TEC. It was on the strength of Lawrence's letter that the Committee passed its unanimous, and top secret, resolution for schism on Oct. 2, 2012.

Looking back, the circumstantial evidence of a conspiracy seems overwhelming even if a legal case might be dubious.

A quid pro quo?

If there were a deal, as Tisdale claimed, between Lawrence and the diocesan power base, Lawrence apparently got the better part of it. This son of a postal worker, this man who spent eight years working his way through college, whose first rectorship was "under the poverty level" now has wealth he could only have dreamed as a child. His annual compensation package amounts to around a quarter of a million dollars a year. On Mar. 17, 2010, he was awarded a ten-year lease on the diocesan-owned $1-2 m bishop's residence in downtown Charleston at $1/yr. The rent on that place would be $5-10,000/mo. Even better, on Feb. 1, 2011, he got an open-ended employment contract whether he remained bishop or not. If not bishop, he would remain chief operating officer of DSC at full pay.

Lawrence has also built up his authority in the diocese. He spent the first few years bonding with the clergy and laity of the diocese until he routinely used the term "we." In March of 2010, the convention awarded him total authority over the constitution and canons of the diocese. His word was hereafter law and could not be questioned, let alone disputed (this was the basis of his letter to the Standing Committee on Oct. 2, 2012). He soon became the guiding power of the Standing Committee. By 2012, he had personal power over the Board of Trustees. He came to routinely appoint the members of the important diocesan committees. Of course, the clergy of DSC are entirely beholding to him having been released and removed from the Episcopal Church. He named the persons on the discernment committee and the Marriage Task Force. The convention has never denied Lawrence anything. Sometimes he puts his name on the line. In the convention of 2015, some delegates questioned a resolution condemning transgender. Lawrence made a personal appeal for approval. The meeting voted two-thirds to support him. This year, he made the vote on affiliation a vote on himself. Before the balloting, he made a long and personal appeal ("10 Reasons") for approval. The convention unanimously approved it, and by extension him. Under the terms of the Marriage Task Force actions, he can fire any employee of the diocese at will. It is hard to imagine a bishop with more power.

Meanwhile, the local parishes have come under complete control of the diocese. At the schism, they were presented with a "commitment" form to bond them with the diocese. In the lawsuits they were brought in as plaintiffs. No other schismatic diocese had done such a thing. In 2015, the DSC rejected, in their name, a negotiated settlement that would have given them their local properties and independence. They are being drained of money to pay for two sets of lawyers, one set for the parish and another for the diocese. Now they are trapped in a web and could not get out even if they wished.

Where does all this leave the Diocese of South Carolina having thrown in its fate to the decisions of its ruling establishment? When Lawrence became bishop in 2008, DSC had 27,003 communicants (active members). At last count, in 2015, it had 15,556 communicants. DSC is now 58% of what it was when Lawrence arrived. Its budget is a 66% of what it was then. The surviving members are facing ever rising legal costs and years more of litigation with a very uncertain future. Joining the Anglican Church in North America will not solve their problems. It is not now and almost certainly will not be a province of the Anglican Communion.

In the big picture, the schism of 2012 was part and parcel of a great cultural war in world civilization. The twentieth century saw the great democratic revolution of history. The Episcopal Church played a vital role in that fighting for rights, equality, and inclusion of all people regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation. However, not everyone in the Church agreed with the democratic revolution. Five dioceses voted to break away from the Church in a counter-revolution. The ultra-conservatives who made these schisms believe they are warriors in a great struggle against secular humanism. They have the right to believe whatever they wish. But the reality of history is clear. The tide is against them. They have already lost the war.