Tuesday, August 14, 2018


Bishop Mark Lawrence said a great deal in his hour and a half spiel on his Last Hurrah five-stop tour of July 31-August 9. He mostly repeated the same talking points from one stop to the next. As I have said, the apparent aim of the tour was to strengthen the personal bond between himself and his followers. Loyalty to the leadership will be necessary to carry the remnant of his diocese intact through the very difficult days right ahead. One should note that this was Lawrence's first such tour in his ten year residency in South Carolina. This speaks to the level of the crisis the DSC leadership rightly sees at hand.

For the emotional bonding, it was not what Lawrence said as much as the way he said it. On this, he was clearly effective, strumming just the right strings at just the right moments. He kept the adoring audience in his hands. It was a performance to behold, just as a Trump rally is a remarkable, if unsettling, display of crowd psychology. Even though what he said was not as important as how he said it, what he said is still significant and should be addressed. He said a great deal, essentially his view of what has happened and why. On the whole it was blame-everyone-else for the disappointing outcome at hand. The diocese is only half as large as it was ten years ago. The leadership has failed on its cardinal promise of leaving the Episcopal Church with the property at hand. Meanwhile, the leadership has drained millions of dollars from the faithful in their vain attempt to get legal validation. In order to keep paying lawyers and salvage something viable from the ruins, he has to reassert his credibility among his trusting and loyal followers.

So, the question at hand is this, how credible were Lawrence's remarks? Let us turn to look at the major points Lawrence reportedly made in his talks and check them against the germane facts. I must caution the reader that I was not present at any of the stops and am relying on accounts relayed to me by people who did attend. The following points were ones I understood, from the reports, Bishop Lawrence to be making. I will have to paraphrase some of them as I sort them into four broad categories: legal, victimization, schism, and other.


Lawrence spent a great deal of the hour and a half on legal issues, as was appropriate. These were the major reported claims or implications that stood out to me:

1)  ---The South Carolina Supreme Court decision of August 2, 2017, is unenforceable because it consisted of five different opinions. The future of the 29 parishes in question is "unsettled." FALSE.

FACTS: The SCSC decision was clear. The last page (77) enumerated precisely and concisely the three decisions of the court: 1) 8 parishes are outside of trust control of the Episcopal Church; 2) 28 parishes are under trust control of TEC; and 3) Camp St. Christopher is held by the Trustees of the Church diocese. Any assertion that the decision is fractured, disunited, and unenforceable is only opinion that is irrelevant at this point. The time to raise these issues was in the petition for rehearing last year. The SCSC denied a rehearing. SCOTUS refused to accept the case. The SCSC decision of Aug. 2 is now the final law of the land. Under the law, the circuit court judge must enforce the SCSC decision. Thus, the 29 parishes will be returned to Episcopal Church control.

2)  ---No parish acceded to the Dennis Canon. FALSE.

FACTS:  In their Aug. 2, 2017, decision, four of the five SCSC justices said that 28 of the parishes had in fact acceded to the Dennis Canon. They referred to documents at hand. One of the four (Kittredge) went on to say that the parishes had the right, and exercised that right, to revoke their accessions. In the end, a majority of justices agreed that the 28 had acceded and had no right to revoke accession. To say now that no parish acceded to the DC is just opinion and actually an insult to the justices of the SCSC.

3)  ---TEC's June 2015 offer of a compromise settlement was illegitimate, gave nothing in writing, and was not backed up by the national church. FALSE.

FACTS:  TEC's June 1, 2015, offer of a compromise settlement was sincere and legitimate. It had taken more than two years to construct and included many people from Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori all the way down to the local worshiping communities that had had to leave their parishes. 

On June 1, 2015, attorney Thomas Tisdale, chancellor of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina, issued a formal letter, on "Hellman, Yates, & Tisdale" letterhead (I am looking at it right now) to Henry E. Grimball, attorney for St. Michael's Church, offering to settle all issues. It said the Episcopal Church would relinquish all claims to the parishes if the Diocese of South Carolina would relinquish the entity of the diocese to the Episcopal Church (swap parishes for diocese). This would have ended all litigation and granted all parishes their freedom and trust-free ownership of all properties.

On June 3, Tisdale sent this letter by email to all of the attorneys on the DSC side. There was no positive response, only questions about whether the national Church actually backed the offer. Therefore, to clear up doubts, on June 5, Mary E. Kostel, a lead attorney for the national Episcopal Church, sent an email (I am looking at it right now) to all of the DSC lawyers stating:  "This email confirms that the representations Tom made in his letter to Mr. Grimball are correct." She certainly had authority to represent the Episcopal Church.

Thus, the truth is there was a formal offer in writing this was confirmed by the authorities of the national Church. 

DSC leaders never made a formal response to TEC's offer. Their answer came in a public press release on their website on June 15, rudely repudiating the offer as "spurious" (false). They claimed that the parishes rejected the offer. I am not aware of any parish acting on TEC's June 1 offer. If anyone has a document that a DSC parish addressed the offer between June 1 and June 15, I would like to have a copy of it. To my knowledge, no parish even discussed the offer. Apparently, the decision to reject came only from the diocesan leadership. They alone refused to allow the local parishes to have sole ownership of their properties. If so, the blame rests on them alone and they cannot hide behind a false smokescreen of nothing in writing and no verification from the Episcopal Church.

4)  ---Judge Edgar Dickson said the SCSC decision of Aug. 2, 2017, was unclear. MISLEADING.

In his status conference of July 26, Judge Dickson said the whole matter was unclear. He had six petitions on his desk in front of him, three from DSC and three from TEC/TECSC. His reference to matters being unclear was to the entire package, not to the SCSC decision per se. In fact, his whole attitude was to carry out the SCSC decision and get the whole thing resolved asap.

5)  ---Implication that DSC's "Betterments" lawsuit and other petitions in the circuit court would forestall any transfer of parish properties for the foreseeable future. HIGHLY DUBIOUS.

See # 4 above. DSC has three petitions before Dickson. They are all part of the large package of the matter at hand. He has shown resolve to settle all at the earliest convenient moment. There is no evidence that DSC can override Dickson and drag out the cases otherwise.

6)  ---DSC's lawsuit was not against the Episcopal Church. FALSE.

FACT: The Diocese of South Carolina sued first in this matter. On Jan. 4, 2013, it filed a lawsuit in the circuit court of Dorchester County against the Episcopal Church. Any claim that DSC did not sue TEC is ridiculously false.


As a major theme in his talks, Lawrence reportedly pictured himself as an innocent victim of malevolent forces in TEC.

7)  ---He said from the start, TEC put a "target on my back" seeking to take him out in order to flip the diocese from "orthodox" to liberal. FALSE.

It would take far too much space here to explain this. I will refer to my history of the schism, A History of the Episcopal Church Schism in South Carolina, a detailed, heavily documented narrative of the background, events, and aftermath of the 2012 schism. 

My summary:  Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori bent the rules to help Lawrence win the consents necessary to become bishop. The Disciplinary Board for Bishops received a substantial complain against Lawrence in 2011 but decided to give him every benefit of the doubt and not charge him with wrongdoing even though the evidence was considerable. The PB communicated with him often trying to appease him. In the end, his egregious granting of the quit claim deeds, in direct violation of the Dennis Canon, caused the DBB to consider his case against him a second time and, reluctantly, bring charges of abandonment of communion. It could not do otherwise. The PB tried to keep this between herself and Lawrence desperately trying to meet with him in person to settle the problem privately. She did not know that he had advised the standing committee that they could take the diocese out of TEC and that the S C had secretly voted on Oct. 2 to do just that if TEC took any action against Lawrence, something everyone knew at that point was probable.

The assertion that TEC was trying to flip the diocese has no substantial, let alone documentary, foundation. It is not true. In fact, TEC leadership tried to appease Lawrence and gave him wide latitude in his one-sided war against the Church. When the DSC annual convention declared virtual independence in 2010, the TEC leadership turned a blind eye.

8)  ---Lawrence reportedly said it was false that bishops Allison and Salmon chose him to be the bishop. TRUE STATEMENT.

This was one of the strangest remarks of the tour. I have studied and written about the schism for years now and I have never heard the charge that Allison and Salmon made him bishop. I have no idea where such a rumor would have originated or why. As far as I could determine, Allison had nothing to do with choosing Lawrence. Salmon did have something to do with it, but only in setting up the search committee. I found no evidence that he interfered or intervened in the work of the committee. He certainly never advocated, or even condoned, schism. However, there was a bishop who played a big role in Lawrence's selection, Alden Hathaway, Lawrence's former boss in Pittsburgh. At the eleventh hour, he contacted Lawrence and invited him to apply. Within a few months, Lawrence was bishop-elect. The ties between Pittsburgh and SC were obvious.

9)  ---The implication that TEC filed its federal case to take "every dime" Lawrence had earned as bishop. MISLEADING.

FACT:  In March of 2013, Bishop Charles vonRosenberg, the TECSC provisional bishop, filed a lawsuit against Mark Lawrence claiming that ML was in violation of the federal Lanham Act, a law protecting federally registered trademarks. The point of the suit was to get the federal court to recognize that the Episcopal Church bishop had the legal right to the pre-schism diocese. It was not about money per se. Since I am not a lawyer, I cannot comment on what liability ML might face if he loses this suit. Perhaps it is possible he will have to replay his salary since the schism. I cannot say.


Even though the schism occurred over five years ago, of course, it is still very much on everyone's mind. It is clearly still very much on Lawrence's mind, with an eye apparently toward removing responsibility for its obviously disappointing outcome. It is a stretch for any bishop, especially a highly authoritarian one, to get people to believe that the bishop had little or nothing to do with leading his diocese in its most important decision since the Civil War.

10)  ---Lawrence asserted repeatedly, as he has for years, that he had no intention of leaving TEC and tried to keep DSC "intact and in" TEC. HIGHLY DUBIOUS.

Again, this is a big topic that would take far too much space here to explain. I refer you to my history of the schism. Here is my summary:

It is true that, in order to get the diocesan consents to become bishop in 2007, Lawrence publicly declared that his intention was to remain in the Episcopal Church. Furthermore, it is true he never publicly and explicitly called for schism. However, as I said in the conclusion of my book, the circumstantial evidence of willful schism is vast and compelling. Considering all of the known documents, I think a reasonable person would conclude that Lawrence acted to take the diocese out of the Episcopal Church. Therefore, "intention" is really irrelevant in the bigger picture and is perhaps meant to be only a diversion. Actions speak louder than words.

11)  ---The two canonical changes for the transgendered made by the Episcopal Church's General Convention in 2012 caused Lawrence to leave TEC.

On this, we will have to take him at his word. 

This is significant in the overall history of the schism as the third official rationale for the schism. Before 2012, the constant theme was differentiation from TEC on 1-theology, 2-polity, and 3-morality. It was the third that Lawrence emphasized consistently, specifically the denunciation of equal rights for and inclusion of non-celibate homosexual persons in the life of the church. Then, after the schism, DSC loudly and persistently insisted, incredulously, that the schism was all about theology and had nothing to do with sexuality. Now we have the third explanation, Lawrence had to leave TEC because he could not accept the Church's reforms for transgendered persons. 

Lawrence was right that the General Convention made two canonical changes in 2012 concerning transgender rights. In one, no one could be denied access to discernment for  ministry on the basis of "gender identity and expression" (transgendered people to be clergy). In the other, no one could be denied access to the life of the church because of "gender identity and expression" (transgendered people to have full rights as lay persons in the local churches).

My response to that is "So what?" Name one good reason for not allowing transgendered people to have the same rights as everyone else in the life of the Episcopal Church. Unfortunately, Lawrence did not give us his reason for opposing the two canons. So, I am asking him now, give us your explanation of why equal rights for and inclusion of the transgendered forced you out of TEC. What is wrong with allowing transgendered people the same rights, with giving them the same dignity and respect as everyone else? Surely, we are all entitled to the same human rights. We are all children of God. We are all created in the image of God. If you disagree with this, pray tell us why.

12)  ---After leaving the 2012 GC, Lawrence reportedly said he had four choices: 1-retire; 2-announce retirement in 18 months; 3-lead DSC out of TEC, and 4-negotiate with the Presiding Bishop. He said he tried the last but the standing committee did not trust the PB and resolved to leave the national church if TEC took any action against Lawrence. HIGHLY MISLEADING. 

In his talk, Lawrence singled out two groups in DSC as forces pushing for schism: the parishes that were demanding exit from TEC and the standing committee that drew up the resolution.

This is highly misleading and leaves out crucial points of the narrative. Again, I have to refer you to my history to get all the details. Here is my summary:  

At the start of 2012, the general assumption was that the General Convention would approve of same-sex blessings. Lawrence traveled the diocese tirelessly in the first half of the year bonding well with the majority of the people. He and the standing committee planned ahead their actions at GC. They enacted the plan. ML dramatically walked out of the House of Bishops and returned home to make the final act. On Aug. 21 there was a secret meeting of the DSC leadership, secret to this day, that apparently planned the schism. Soon thereafter, the DSC  leadership told the standing committee they needed to get from the bishop (the sole and final authority on the diocesan constitution and canons) a clarification of their right to take the diocese out of TEC. Upon this prompt, the committee chair sent a letter to Lawrence asking for clarification of the committee's rights in regard to secession. Lawrence then delivered to them a sixteen-page, detailed letter telling them they had the right to disassociate the diocese from TEC. On Oct. 2 the leadership met with the standing committee in a secret session. Acting on Lawrence's letter, the committee passed a resolution, apparently pre-prepared, that they would disaffiliate the diocese from TEC if TEC took any action of any kind against Lawrence. Everyone knew the quit claim deeds would likely lead lead to this. The resolution remained a secret among the DSC leadership until Oct. 17. The next day (Oct. 3), Lawrence met Bishop Andrew Waldo, of Upper SC and Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori. He did not tell them about the standing committee's secret resolution. On Oct. 10, the PB was informed of the DBB's vote that Lawrence had abandoned the communion. She tried to meet with ML but he refused. He knew he had only to wait for TEC to take any action of any kind and the schism would kick in. On Oct. 15 she called ML and placed him under restriction. She expected to meet him in person on Oct. 22 and hopefully settle the issue. He still did not tell her of the resolution. He refused to meet with the PB after Oct. 2. Two days later, on the 17th, ML called the PB and informed her the diocese, including himself, had left TEC. Thus, the impetus for the standing committee's action came from Lawrence through his letter to the committee. It is not accurate to say the standing committee acted on its own. They would not have acted without prior approval of the bishop.

It seems clear to me the weight of circumstantial evidence is that Lawrence, and the DSC leadership planned and willfully enacted a schism in 2012. Again, I refer you to the conclusion of my book.


Here and there, Lawrence reportedly interjected other controversial remarks that merit review.

13)  ---TEC believes there are "other roads to salvation" than through Jesus Christ. FALSE.

FACT:  The Episcopal Church has never said, and never would say, that there are ways to salvation other than through Jesus Christ. For years, DSC leaders have had a bad habit of taking certain controversial remarks by controversial bishops and saying, or implying, that these are what the Episcopal Church "believes." This is an outrageous and shameful practice. In fact, any change in "belief" of the church would have to be approved by the triennial General Convention. That has not happened and will not happen. The social reforms that TEC adopted in the past half century were not doctrinal. They were how we apply doctrine to the social and cultural world around us, particularly to civil rights for minorities, and quality for and inclusion of women, homosexuals, and transexuals. 

At one point, retired bishop Fitz Allison implied that TEC gave tacit approval to heresy by not censuring certain controversial bishops for their unconventional remarks. In fact, Allison himself was censured by the House of Bishops in March of 2004 for what he did in willful violation of the TEC canons (non-canonical "consecrations" of "bishops"). There is a big difference between word and action.

As always, the "beliefs" of TEC are in the Book of Common Prayer, the same service book DSC uses. Same creeds. Same liturgies. Same doctrines.

14)  ---Lawrence reportedly either said or implied that when a parish returns to TEC, the present clergyperson(s) would be removed, put on probation for five years, and reassigned to another parish. HIGHLY MISLEADING TO FALSE.

FACTS:  When the 29 parishes return they will be Episcopal churches under the authority of the Episcopal church bishop. Any clergy serving in the parish will have to be a person in Episcopal Church Holy Orders. All of the 100 or so clergy who left the Episcopal Church to serve under Mark Lawrence have been released and removed from Episcopal Holy Orders. They will have to be reinstated in the Episcopal Church through an official process which the Church diocese has had in place for several years. Already, three priests who followed Lawrence have returned and been reinstated through this process. The reinstatement process is open to all of the former Episcopal clergy. 

Lawrence's claim that a returning clergy person will be put on probation for five years and reassigned elsewhere is, as far as I can see, pure fiction. I have found no evidence whatsoever to substantiate these wild assertions.

15)  ---Lawrence reportedly either said or implied that the vestry of a returning parish would be removed. HIGHLY MISLEADING.

FACTS:  The vestry is the trustee of the parish. The parish is under trust control of the Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Church diocese. Any vestry has to be loyal to the Church and diocese. Each vestry person in a returning parish will have to decide whether he or she will return to the Episcopal Church or remain in Lawrence's diocese. Essentially, this is a decision for the vestry person to make. However, a person who is not an Episcopalian cannot serve on an Episcopal church vestry. 


So what are we to make of Bishop Lawrence's whirlwind tour of the diocese? Here is what I see as the major takeaway from it:  Mark Lawrence has finally personalized the schism. He now owns it forever in history, for better or for worse. A hundred years from now, people will refer to it as the Bishop Mark Lawrence schism.

In ten days, he made five speeches totaling seven and a half hours addressing about 1,000 people. He did it alone. He talked entirely about the schism and did so overwhelmingly in personal tones. He wrapped himself around the schism in a way that, I predict, will be indelible.

This did not have to be. As I pointed out in my history of the schism, the schism itself was a group event among the DSC leadership. The slide to separation had been going on for twenty-five years before Mark Lawrence ever appeared in South Carolina. He was chosen by a search committee and standing committee that was overwhelmingly hostile to the Episcopal Church and had long before constructed an adversarial interface with the church. Bishop Lawrence simply picked up with that and led the impetus home to its logical conclusion. In short, the historical making of the schism was the work of a lot of people. 

At every stop on his tour, Lawrence wanted people to believe the schism had been hard on him. I suppose this was part of the package of bonding, to elicit sympathy from the people. No doubt, in ways it has been hard on him. It has been hard on everyone involved. The ones I feel sorry for are the hundred or so clergy who followed him. They put their faith in him and believed they could leave and take the property. They gave up their advantageous retirement and health insurance plans. They put their livelihoods and their families' welfare in jeopardy, for an illusion they believed was real. In the end, it has turned out to be only an illusion, or perhaps, delusion. What are these hundred clergy to do now? What are their families to do? Lawrence's self-serving excuses are cold comfort. 

Are we to feel sorry for Lawrence? He is richer now than this son of a postman who spent eight years working his way through college could ever have imagined growing up. The schism happened only after he was fully vested in the Episcopal Church retirement program and could draw his full and lucrative retirement benefit for life. It also came after he negotiated a lifetime employment contract at full salary and gained virtually free use of the bishop's residence to the year 2020. In terms of financial security, no one need feel sorry for Lawrence. At 68, he is well set for life. The clergy who followed him are another story.

So what we got on the whirlwind tour was Lawrence's view of the history of the schism. Of course he is entitled to his opinion, as anyone is, but he is not entitled to "alternative facts." He is not in this alone. He came to a diocese of 27,000 communicants. They are really the issue at stake here. We are not dealing with just the life of one man, we are dealing with a great religious institution counting thousands of people. Thus, in the end, the schism is not really about Lawrence, or any one person, it about the whole community of the grand old diocese of South Carolina.  

The schism is winding its way down to resolution. There is still a long way to go but the outlines of the end have been set. In the not too distant future the 29 parishes will return to the Episcopal church. Then we will know how effective Lawrence was in his Last Hurrah tour. We will know how many people will remain with the buildings and return home and how many will go out still believing the schism was a good idea.