Saturday, April 14, 2018




A History of the Episcopal Church Schism in South Carolina, has received its second professional book review, this time in Anglican and Episcopal History, the quarterly journal of the Historical Society of the Episcopal Church. The reviewer was Samuel J. Richards. His remarks appeared in the March 2018 issue, Volume 87, Number 1, pp. 83-85. Unfortunately for us, this review is not available freely online (as the first one was). One has to be a subscriber to the journal or find it in a library.

Richards wrote:

Caldwell's book is indispensable for scholars of church history and social change. It offers a detailed examination of how contemporary ideas of theological purity effect broad church Anglicanism.

He continued:

The author effectively identifies underlying causes, direct causes, and initiating events. At the same time, he raises questions regarding the perils of ideological purity, authoritarian diocesan power structures, conspiracy, church property, and the quality of South Carolina's circuit courts.

As for the question of bias, Richards does not see this as an issue in the book:

In instances with only circumstantial evidence, Caldwell withholds judgment letting the reader decide.
     This approach allows partisans of all stripes to find succor in the author's chronicle. Supporters of schism might criticize his sympathy with ... former Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori. This assessment would be unfairly incomplete.

He added:

Caldwell is true to the ideals of his academic discipline. He meticulously recounts the facts and relays his conclusions.

As I have said from the start, this is not an easy book of light reading. It is daunting in its breadth, depth, and length. It is a mountain of information thoroughly documented in 2,200 footnotes citing 900 sources (of the 2,500 I consulted). I stand gratified, perhaps even vindicated, that Richards was able to absorb it all, to see the forest and the trees, and make such perceptive judgments. I do not disagree with a word he says. Indeed, I am honored by his generous comments and valuations and most grateful for his attention to this work.

It is interesting to compare the two present reviews of the book. The first was by Jeremy Morris in Church Times (Apr. 6, 2018). See my blog post of April 9, "Church Times Reviews..."

The most important point is that both reviewers raised no question about the interpretations, explanations, or conclusions made in the book. If they disagreed with any of this, they did not say so.

Morris seemed to emphasize two main drawbacks in the book, too much information and inadequate theological context. He also indicated it was biased toward the Church. The second reviewer, Richards, did not see any of this. In the first place, I would question whether any work of history could have too much information. The amount of detail depends on the subject at hand and the evidence involved. The schism of 2012 was a large event that encompassed a great deal. A brief summary book would not have done the subject justice. Morris also implied that I did not offer enough interpretation but left "the hard work to the reader." Richards, on the other hand, seemed to believe there was plenty of interpretation. At the same time, he did not see the book as overtly biased. He said both sides would find something to like there.

As for the book's theological explanations, Richards made no mention of this. Apparently, he found my admittedly simplistic paradigm of vertical/horizontal religion not a problem. Morris said it was wholly inadequate, but he did not say it was invalid. In other words, both reviewers failed to take issue with the distinctions made in the vertical/horizontal model. I saw it as a useful tool to help laypeople see the theological issues involved in the schism, simplistic but valid.

Both reviewers mentioned too much repetition in the text. Although I cannot know for sure, I suspect this is from the structure of the chapters. At the beginnings and ends of the chapters I supplied summaries that did repeat information in the text. I did this for two reasons, to help the reader see the forest and the trees and to keep the long and detailed narrative flowing. I also offered judgments and interpretations along as I though appropriate and helpful to the reader.

As for the size of the book, the rough draft was a hundred pages longer than the final copy. Rather than go to two volumes with a prohibitive price tag, I decided to cut and condense the narrative as much as I thought prudent for one volume. Hence, a hundred pages fell by the wayside. I can only imagine what the reviewers would be saying if they had had to wade through the original version. I also cut out the bibliography which would have added another fifty pages and omitted pictures, maps, graphs and other illustrations. Even so, the published book is 300,000 words, a massive work.

Back to the issue of bias. Some people see my history of the schism as pro-Church propaganda to be dismissed offhand. Well, everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. I only hope that opinion is based on having read the book first. Perhaps some people are confusing my blog with my book. They are far from the same thing. The blog definitely takes a pro Episcopal Church stand. The book does not. Actually, I found much to admire about Bishop Lawrence and said so. He especially impressed me with two great qualities. He is a man of resolve and strength with an amazing endurance. Moreover, I also saw him as very human with emotional distress at the understandable times. The second major point was his great social skill, his ability to bond quickly and well with the majority of people in the diocese and the conservative elements beyond the diocese. In 2008 he arrived in the diocese virtually unknown. With amazing speed, he formed a strong union with the diocesan power structure, most of the clergy, and most of the laity. Soon it was "we." Within two years, the diocese declared virtual independence from the Episcopal Church. Within five years, the solid majority of clergy and laity followed him out of the Church with unquestioning loyalty. It was a tour de force of leadership. Moreover, whatever one might think of Lawrence, we have to admire much about his life story, the frail baby who overcame serious obstacles to "rise to the top" so to speak. That the book ultimately criticizes the schismatics and defends the Episcopal Church speaks to the documents at hand.

While on the subject of blame, I sometimes wonder what the Episcopal Church might have done to prevent the five schisms of 2007-12. The weight of the schisms comes from the people who actually made the schisms, but I think it is useful to ask, was the Episcopal Church at fault at all?

Hindsight is always easy of course, but looking back I see several events that the Church might have handled differently, if not better. Whether these could have prevented the schisms one cannot know. The first was the way the Church handled the issue of homosexuality. By 1990 the Church was divided roughly into thirds, one-third for ordination of non-celibate homosexuals, one-third against this, and one-third neutral. By 1997, the "for" side had won the day and had done so by several mostly quiet or back-door moves:
1---After several bishops ordained openly homosexual persons in 1989 and 1990, the House of Bishops refused to take action against them or the ordinations (the House had condemned the first ordinations of women and declared them illegal). This was tacit recognition of the right of ordination for non-celibate gays.
2---General Convention passed a resolution adding sexual orientation to the list of protections for ordination.
3---The most conservative bishops brought charges against Bp Righter for his ordination of an open homosexual. The ecclesiastical court dismissed the charges in 1996 and declared that there was no impediment in the Constitution and Canons to the ordination of homosexuals.
By 1997 the ordination of non-celibate homosexuals was all but settled. The approval of Gene Robinson as bishop in 2003 was really made in the 1990's.

The problem with the issue of ordination was the moral dimension. The two "wings" had polar views on the issue of the morality of homosexual acts. Conservatives saw these as sin. Liberals saw these as morally neutral. Here is where the Church failed. It never had an open, full discussion let alone debate, on this issue. Hence, there was no possibility of a consensus and the two sides clung to their uncompromising positions. The Church dealt with homosexuality entirely as an institutional issue, that is, ordination. By granting ordination it gave tacit recognition to the liberal view of moral neutrality but did it without the great deliberation it should have had for the sake of unity. It might have been better if the Church had gone through a process to reach a consensus on the heart of the matter, morality and homosexual acts.

I would also fault the Church for its lack of adequate response to the obvious movement toward schism in South Carolina from the time Lawrence arrived in 2008 to 2012. On numerous occasions, pro-Church parties in SC appealed to the national church for intervention, but none came. I am not sure what the Church could have done given its structure, but four years went by in which the Church stood aside while SC moved ever close to secession. Shades of President James Buchanan. In 2009 and 2010, DSC declared virtual independence from TEC. Nothing happened. In 2011, communicants in DSC presented a credible case against Lawrence to the Disciplinary Board for Bishops. The DBB rejected a mound of evidence in order to give forbearance. Appeasement did not work. By the time a cadre of bishops arrived in Charleston to talk with Lawrence about the quit claim deeds, in December of 2011, it was too little, too late.

I think too the Church could have handled the matter of Lawrence differently. I do not mean to stand in judgment on Jefferts Schori whom I admire, but I doubt that she quite appreciated how much the DSC portrayed her personally as the enemy although she should have known their attitude from the abrasive treatment she was made to endure in her visit to Charleston in Feb. of 2008. In time, the DSC leaders increasingly cast her as the villain from off. She came to personify all they disliked about the Episcopal Church and so they portrayed her treatment of Lawrence as deliberate. To be sure, she had no choice but to place a restriction on Lawrence on Oct. 15, 2012. However, she did have a choice about imposing on him a formal Release and Removal on Dec. 5, 2012. In hindsight, it might have been better to wait for the House of Bishops to take up the matter of Lawrence at its next meeting, in March of 2013. Of course that would have left the Episcopal Church in SC in limbo until then. Nevertheless, by turning the matter over to the Bishops, she would have de-personalized the crisis. As it was, one witness after another took the stand in the circuit court trial, in July 2014, to decry the Presiding Bishop's "bad treatment" of their esteemed leader, Bp Lawrence. 

Whatever the Episcopal Church might have done differently, however, the overwhelming truth is that the schismatics themselves made the schisms. And, that is the conclusion I reached in my history of the schism. The documentary evidence of this is as "mammoth" as the book. Still, I am left wondering, what might the church have done...?

I look forward to more reviews of A History of the Episcopal Church Schism in South Carolina.