Tuesday, June 6, 2017


This is Part 4 of my reflections on the schism of 2012 in South Carolina. This time I want to address the question:

Why did the Episcopal Church remove Mark Lawrence as a bishop in 2012?

Actually, this is not a good question, because in fact Lawrence removed himself from the Episcopal Church voluntarily on Oct. 15, 2012. The Church's official "release and removal" of Lawrence as a bishop came seven weeks later (Dec. 5). Then, the question should be:

Why did Lawrence leave the Episcopal Church? That is the issue at hand.

There is a great deal involved in this. We have already discussed the causal factors of the schism, the underlying causes, direct causes, and initiating events.

Entwined in all of the many layers of events was a crucial permeating factor, how to leave the Episcopal Church with the local property in hand. Anyone may leave the Church at any time. However, not anyone can leave with the property, not under Episcopal Church law.

That was the dilemma of the schismatics in South Carolina: how to take the diocese out of the Episcopal Church with the diocesan and parish properties in hand. The first four cases of dioceses that voted to leave the Church (2007-08) all had to go to court, and all to mixed results. Only one of the four went on to win in court (Quincy). Two went on the lose outright (San Joaquin and Pittsburgh). One is still pending (Ft. Worth). Thus, South Carolina's leaving the Episcopal Church with perhaps $500m in property was problematical at least. Schism would be a risk, but one worth taking in the view of the secessionists.

The Episcopal Church adopted the Dennis Canon in 1979, the DSC in 1987. The canon said that all local church property was held in trust for both the Episcopal Church and the diocese. What this meant in practice was that the deed holder could not dispose of any property without permission of the two trustees. This would be true even if the local parish held the legal title to the property. Under Church law, the trustees held control over the property. For the secessionists of South Carolina then, the problem was how to leave the Episcopal Church in defiance of the Church law. The diocese could surrender its own trust interest, but could it do the same for the national Church?

Here is a summary of how this problem evolved in DSC:

1. On Jan. 26, 2008, Lawrence made a sacred oath before God, dozens of bishops, hundreds of clergy, and a thousand laity: "I, Mark Joseph, (...) do solemnly engage to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church." At the time, DSC explicitly recognized the Dennis Canon and held in its corporate charter that it existed "under" the authority of the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church. Lawrence and DSC were under the Dennis Canon.

On October 15, 2012, Lawrence effectively rejected the discipline and, together with the Standing Committee and lawyers, unilaterally agreed on the independence of the diocese, property in hand. This was the schism of 2012.

Thus, in less than five years, DSC went from recognition to rejection of the Dennis Canon. How did that happen?

2. It began with building a platform of hostility to the Episcopal Church, something that had actually been going on in the diocese since 1982. Lawrence attended the GAFCON I meeting and welcomed the Jerusalem Statement of June 29, 2008. This statement rejected the authority of the Episcopal Church (because of its support of rights for homosexuals). Lawrence supported the statement. The DSC Standing Committee unanimously adopted the statement on Nov. 6, 2008. In effect, the diocesan leadership renounced the legitimate authority of the parent Church. This set the diocesan trajectory for all subsequent events.

3. On May 30, 2009, in a secret meeting of the Standing Committee, chaired by Jeff Miller, and attended by Lawrence, the committee approved the transfer of several million dollars worth of property held by St. Andrew's Church, of Mt. Pleasant, into a special trust of the parish beyond the control of the diocese and Church. Recall that the Dennis Canon was still diocesan law. This event remained hidden from the public until the minutes of the Standing Committee were uncovered in the circuit court trial. This transfer set the template for the diocese from then on.

4. Three months later, the SC Supreme Court issued its All Saints decision, on September 18, 2009. The court ruled that All Saints was entitled to its local property because the diocese had issued the parish a quit claim deed a century earlier. The justices said that, in SC, only the title holder could make a trust. It could not be imposed by another party. This decision greatly bolstered DSC's disregard of the Dennis Canon.

DSC refused to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. The local Episcopal congregation at All Saints did file an appeal with SCOTUS but got no help from DSC. Shortly thereafter, they made a negotiated settlement with the breakaway parish and withdrew the appeal to SCOTUS.

Also, shortly after All Saints, Alan Runyan met with Lawrence and agreed to become the lawyer for the Standing Committee.

5. A month after All Saints, DSC held a special convention and declared virtual independence from the Episcopal Church. It resolved to withdraw from the governing bodies of TEC as well as to nullify all the acts of General Convention with which they disagreed. TEC made no response.

6. On Dec. 17, 2009, St. Andrew's of Mt. Pleasant voted to leave TEC and DSC for the Anglican Church in North America, property in hand. This was finalized in 2010. DSC did nothing to enforce the Dennis Canon to which it still officially adhered. TEC began to respond.

7. In January of 2010, Atty. Thomas Tisdale contacted Wade Logan, the chancellor of DSC, to seek agreement that the Episcopal Church could exercise its particular trust interest in the properties of the diocese, as per the Dennis Canon. Tisdale sent several letters to this effect Jan. 25-29, 2010. He asked for the minutes of the Standing Committee. 

Unknown to him, at that very moment, DSC was apparently preparing to issue the first quit claim deeds, to three parishes. On Feb. 1, 2010, DSC secretly gave the quit claims to St. John's Church of Johns Island, Church of the Holy Communion in Charleston, and Church of the Cross in Bluffton. If DSC granted Tisdale's requests, he would discover the St. Andrew's and the quit claim acts of the diocese. (Two more were issued in March of 2010: Christ/St. Paul's of Yonges Island and St. James of James Island.)

Lawrence assumed control of the Tisdale affair and declared a crisis. He moved the upcoming diocesan convention back by three weeks and loudly demanded that the Presiding Bishop remove her counsel from the diocese. He adamantly refused to surrender one item to Tisdale who wound up with nothing. DSC's rising disregard of the Dennis Canon remained hidden.

When the diocesan convention did meet, in March of 2010, it handed over to Lawrence absolute control over the interpretation of the constitution and canons of DSC.

8. On October 15, 2010, the special diocesan convention completed the virtual independence from TEC that the Oct. 2009 convention had begun. It resolved to revoke its accession to the canons of TEC (including the Dennis Canon), and to alter the corporate charter to remove all reference to TEC (this was done on Oct. 19, 2010). This ended DSC's official recognition of the Dennis Canon.

9. DSC secretly issued 15 more quit claim deeds to parishes between Oct. 19, 2010 and Nov. 16, 2011.

10. May 25, 2011, Atty. Melinda Lucka sent letter of complaint against Lawrence and supporting documents to TEC. This led to the first investigation of Lawrence by the Disciplinary Board for Bishops on abandonment of communion. Since the diocesan property actions remained secret, the investigation centered not on property but primarily on Lawrence's role in the diocesan conventions' actions withdrawing from TEC. On Nov. 29, 2011, the DBB announced decision not to charge Lawrence with abandonment.

11. On Nov. 15, 2011, two weeks before the DBB announcement, Lawrence notified the clergy he had issued quit claim deeds to all parishes. Logan mailed the deeds the next day and the stunning news became public. However, the DBB could not consider the deeds at that point since they had not been part of the original May 25 complaint.

12. DSC's open and public defiance of the Dennis Canon in Nov. of 2011 finally forced the Episcopal Church to respond since it maintained that all dioceses were required to adhere to the constitution and canons of TEC. It could not allow one diocese to defy canon law. On Mar. 23, 2012, Lucka and 23 other lay people of DSC filed a new complaint with the DBB. The first item was "Failure to Safeguard Property." The second investigation, of 2012, remained secret, but everyone knew Lawrence was likely to be charged anew following the sensational news of the quit claim deeds.

13. The DBB voted in secret on Sept. 18, 2012, that Lawrence should be charged with abandonment, primarily on the strength of his issuance of the quit claim deeds in direct violation of the Dennis Canon. This remained secret for the moment. Finally, it was the issue of property that effected the break between DSC and TEC. This was where the Episcopal Church finally lost patience with Lawrence.

14. Knowing that Lawrence could very well be charged anew following the quit claim deeds, in August of 2012, DSC leadership met secretly and apparently planned the final act of schism. They would break away from the Episcopal Church to protect their claims to the properties. On September 20, 2012, the Standing Committee requested of Lawrence his interpretation of how they could effect the schism. On Oct. 2, 2012, Lawrence told the Standing Committee they could "disassociate" the diocese from TEC; the committee resolved that DSC would separate from TEC if TEC took any action of any kind against Lawrence. This remained secret. It was a trap set for the completely unsuspecting Presiding Bishop as a justification for the schism.

15. On Oct. 10, 2012, the DBB reported its decision to the Presiding Bishop. On Oct. 15, 2012, PB called Lawrence and placed a restriction on him. Immediately after the call, Lawrence, his lawyers, and the Standing Committee agreed among themselves that DSC had disassociated from TEC. Lawrence announced this to PB on Oct. 17. DSC announced this to the world on Oct. 19.

16. Before and after the schism, DSC established several talking points to justify the schism: 

a-TEC was out to remove Lawrence in order to flip the diocese from "orthodox" to liberal. There is no evidence to support this claim.

b-TEC deliberately set up the Title IV revision to "get" Lawrence. Ditto.

c-Lawrence was trying to negotiate a peaceful settlement with TEC when he was "attacked." The evidence shows the opposite.

d-Lawrence was "mistreated" by TEC. DSC witnesses in the circuit court trial repeated this opinion.

17. In fact, after the schism, DSC immediately initiated legal actions to retain the diocesan and parish properties. The local parishes were brought in as parties to the lawsuits. All of the litigation since Jan. 2013 has basically revolved around ownership of the properties.

Back to the original question on why Lawrence left the Episcopal Church. He left when it finally became clear that the Episcopal Church would enforce the Dennis Canon. Everyone knew in 2012 it was likely he would be investigated a second time by DBB and probably charged with abandonment following the violation of the Canon in the quit claim deeds. 

So, how well did it work for DSC to leave the Episcopal Church with the property in hand? It worked very well for the majority of diocesan communicants. So far so good for DSC. Today, going on five years since the schism, DSC is completely in control of the property in question and the state supreme court seems unable to decide what, if anything, to do about it.