A week has gone by since the South Carolina Supreme Court issued its decision on the Church case on August 2, 2017. It is timely to ask, where do matters stand now, one week on? In one way, nothing has changed. In another way, everything has changed.
The decision electrified, even shocked, the Episcopal/Anglican world. Many, perhaps most, people did not anticipate the outcome. No one can quantify it, but I think the consensus of opinion was that DSC would win a narrow victory mainly because Chief Justice Toal would convince two or three other justices to join her in defending her signature achievement, the famous All Saints decision of 2009. It is taking awhile for the reality to settle in on people. There has certainly been a great interest in the decision. This blog has had 10,000 "hits" in the past week.
The reactions of the two sides have been, unsurprisingly, quite different. On the Church side, Bishop Adams delivered a muted response mainly appealing for reconciliation. The clerical and lay leaders of ECSC met in Charleston on August 4, but, as far as I can tell, decided nothing new. It is a waiting game while the other side prepares to enter a Petition for Rehearing before the Court, due by September 1. (I doubt seriously that DSC will get this. I am not clear if the 5 justices who made the decision will act on the Petition, or whether it will be the present 5 justices. I am trying to find out. If the earlier 5, they will certainly reject the Petititon. It is inconceivable that after 22 months of brutal warfare, they would touch this still highly radioactive atomic bomb. If the later 5, there is only a slightly better chance. At any rate, I think it is extremely unlikely there will be a rehearing.)
On the secessionists' side, the initial response to the decision of August 2 was stunned disbelief. Bishop Lawrence issued a letter unlike any I have seen from him before. Gone was any combativeness. Gone was the proclamation of God's will. Gone was any characteristic brash confidence. Gone were any metaphors of war against the other side. Instead, he admitted to "despondency." He talked of people who had "walked away from the church buildings." The Rev. Jeff Miller told his congregation in St. Philip's of Charleston last Sunday, "I was shocked...I thought we were never going to lose." The Rev. Marshall Huey wrote to his faithful at Old Saint Andrew's: "To say that I am stunned by the Supreme Court ruling yesterday is an understatement." One may reasonably assume Miller and Huey were speaking for the clergy of the diocese.
Why the overconfidence in DSC? Good question. Part of the answer lies in the fact that for two and a half years after the schism of 2012, the DSC lawyers controlled the field of the litigation. In the state court they won recognition right off of the legal rights of DSC to continue the pre-schism diocese then won a smashing and total victory in the circuit court trial of July 2014. Alan Runyan's performance there was one to behold in awe. He conducted that event as a virtuoso playing a fine violin.
Ah, but therein lies the problem. Judge Goodstein's decision, which sounded to me an awful lot like Runyan's presentations, was too clever by half. It was over the top. It was so wide and so thin that the Supreme Court justices could hardly wait to pounce on it. The demolition was led by Chief Justice Toal herself who could barely restrain her ridicule. Not one justice arose in Goodstein's defense.
Over in the federal court, Judge Houck repeatedly deferred to the state court and essentially refused to have anything to do with the case even though he was directed twice by the U.S. Appeals Court to adjudicate it. Runyan held the field there too.
Thus, going into the state supreme court in September of 2015, the DSC lawyers must have been feeling highly confident of impending victory. This confidence may well have been why the DSC leadership rejected TEC's offer of a compromise settlement (the parishes for the diocese) in June of 2015. The DSC leadership rejected it out of hand, and with disdain. (I wonder what the parishes think of that now.)
Overconfidence is the only logical explanation I can come up with for why Runyan did not ask Justice Kaye Hearn to recuse herself from the case. To my knowledge, Runyan has never given a public explanation of why he failed to ask for Hearn's recusal. Obviously the other justices had no problem with Hearn staying on the case. They did not see recusal as an issue; and they certainly knew she was a member of a loyalist Episcopal congregation. So, the idea now that DSC should ask the supreme court to get Hearn to recuse herself retroactively is disingenuous. That ship has sailed, train left the station, horse is out of the barn, insert your favorite phrase here ___. It is just not going to happen, and for good reason.
I imagine too that religion had something to do with the overconfidence. The DSC leaders convinced their followers, and apparently themselves, that God was on their side. They said so in so many words time and again whenever they won any legal success. It was always God's will. If they prayed, worshiped, fasted etc. enough, surely God would lead them to final victory in the state supreme court. Surely He would not abandon His people. When the court ruled against them, the DSC leadership was, really for the first time, at a loss to explain it. Hence, the disbelief and shock. Notice there has been no mention of God's will lately.
The DSC leaders have been loath to accept the reality of what has happened. The DSC official statements that have appeared over the last week suggested the decision was inconclusive, that it was deeply divided, and even wide open to reinterpretation. This is unfortunate. To promote the idea among the faithful that the court decision has a good chance of being overturned and that the parishes might well keep the properties, is cruel to the people in the pews. The reality is: 1-the decision of August 2 is clear-cut; the majority said the 29 parish properties must return to TEC; 2-there is only an extremely small chance this decision will change.
One who clearly grasped the reality of the moment was Bishop Jack Iker, of the schismatic diocese of Ft. Worth. He wrote the day after the decision: "This means that the Diocese and Bishop Mark Lawrence lose everything else--the diocesan offices, the Cathedral, the Bishop's residence, their camp and conference center, all those historic colonial churches and rectories in Charleston, and so on. It is a horrendous loss."
The bottom line is that it is virtually certain that the Episcopal Church will regain control over the 29 parish properties in question. The DSC leaders' problem now is not how to keep the buildings, but how to keep the people. According to the last official figures (2015), there were 13,302 active members ("communicants") in these 29 parishes. The real question now is, what are these people to do?
What about TEC's offer of a compromise settlement (June 2015) of the parishes for the diocese. Just speaking for myself, I do not see this again. TEC is about to gain the parishes and the diocese both by court decision. There is no need for TEC to make any deal at this point. In my opinion, it is out of the question that there will be an out-of-court compromise settlement of any kind. It is too bad now that the parishes did not take the offer when it was made (but remember it was the DSC leadership, not the individual parishes, that rejected this offer).
The schism has been a destructive and painful event. The staggering cost is evident all around; and it is not over. Now, the groups that will fall victims to the pain are the clergy and laity of DSC who put their faith in what they sincerely believed to be the right cause. One has to feel for the 104 clergy who cut themselves off from the Episcopal Church and are now entirely dependent on Lawrence and his "Anglican" cohorts. Most of them are about to be removed from their churches. How they are to provide for themselves and their families remains to be seen. But mostly one should feel for the 13,000 faithful who now have to decide what to do. If they want to know what they are about to experience, they should talk with some of the thousands of loyal Episcopalians who had to flee from their beloved home churches to living rooms, boat docks, bar-be-que restaurants, old schools, funeral homes, office buildings, and borrowed churches. I can tell you first hand, many a tear has been shed. There are many more to come.
Everyone in the Church diocese should pray for their brothers and sisters in the independent diocese. The clergy and the communicants have some very difficult choices ahead. In the end, religion is a personal experience. It is what the individual person believes to be true and right. No one has the right to impose that on anyone else. I hope the people of DSC will gather all the information they can about how they got to where they are (here I am putting in a plug for my forthcoming history of the schism. It should be out in a few weeks.) Of course, I would like reconciliation but that is not my prayer today. At this point I am praying that each and every person in DSC will engage in a lot of prayer, meditation, Bible reading, soul-searching, talking to God and then discerning what is best for himself or herself; and in the end only that person can know what is in his or her own heart. In the weeks ahead, let us all remember in prayer all the people caught on both sides of this tragic schism.