Tuesday, April 9, 2019


Our present lull period in the litigation gives us a convenient opportunity to reflect on the basic issues underlying the schism in South Carolina. It is easy to lose sight of the forest for all the trees. The schism happened for clear reasons; and this is a good time to remind ourselves of what those reasons were and what they mean to the two sides of this schism in the future.

As I tried to explain in my history of the schism, the underlying difference in the two sides was vertical versus horizontal religion. Vertical emphasizes relationship between one person and one God. Man is born corrupt; God is the opposite. The only way man can save himself from the eternal condemnation of his natural corruption is total submission to the all-powerful anthropomorphic being in outer space somewhere. This God demands total obedience. If man gives it, he gets eternal paradise. If man does not give it, he gets eternal punishment. In this understanding, God created all things, including the social order. It is not man's place to interfere with that. In Protestantism, vertical religion was strongly embedded in the fundamentalist/charismatic/pentecostal experiences. In the Episcopal Church, this was a small minority on the conservative edge. The verticalists opposed TEC's turn to the social gospel from the 1950's onward, particularly to its commitment to civil rights, equality for and inclusion of women in the church, and equality for and inclusion of homosexuals/transgendered in the church. To the verticalists, the purpose of religion is to save souls, not to meddle in the God-given order of society. Many verticalists left TEC and declared their views as "orthodox" (as opposed to the supposedly heretical moves of TEC). One name for this was "the Anglican Realignment" movement. Its goal was to destroy, or render inert, the Episcopal Church. 

Starting in the 1950's, TEC began turning to horizontal religion. This is the understanding that the relationship between an individual and God is the starting place, not the ending place. God created human beings in his own image to be his agents in the world. Their reason for being is to care for, protect, and enhance God's creation. This includes applying Christian understandings of ethics and morality to society, in short, to right the wrongs in this world. This is often called the social gospel. This is the stance TEC has taken for the last sixty-odd years. This has resulted in dramatic reforms internal in TEC for the promotion of blacks, women, and homosexuals to full equality and inclusion.

The people who led the schism in the Episcopal diocese of South Carolina I would describe as verticalists. They believed the Episcopal Church had gone off the rails on social issues. Their goal was the restore "orthodox" religion to this little part of Christ's body. They would return vertical to replace horizontal religion in the lowcountry of South Carolina. They have been at work on this ever since the schism.

The immediate cause of the schism in SC was equality for and inclusion of open homosexuals in the church. The leaders of DSC planned a diocesan secession from TEC after the General Convention of 2012 approved of liturgy for the blessing of same-sex unions. They secretly resolved to leave TEC at the first convenient moment which they no doubt strongly suspected was about to happen on the heels of the quit claim deeds controversy. The unsuspecting Presiding Bishop played right into their hands with a "restriction" on Bishop Lawrence, Oct. 15, 2012. Instant schism. 

The issue of rights for homosexuals was settled once and for all in DSC in 2015 when the diocese institutionalized condemnation of same-sex unions and required all officials to swear oaths of loyalty to the policies. This was a blanket policy forced on the entire diocese.

The issue of rights for women was not so forthright. But, make no mistake about it, the schism was also against equal rights for and inclusion of women in the life of the church. I have written about this earlier in my blog piece, of Nov. 1, 2017, "The Diocese of South Carolina and Discrimination against Women." Find it here . There, I described the historic discrimination against women in the diocese: few women clergy; no woman as rector of a large or medium parish; no woman ever to chair a major diocesan committee; women never in majority on any important diocesan committee; contemptuous treatment of the Presiding Bishop on her visit in 2008. The misogny was all too plain. One should also note that in his eleven years in power, Bishop Lawrence, who came from a diocese that had never ordained a woman to the priesthood, has ordained only two women priests, both spouses of diocesan clergy. 

So, what about the diocesan attitudes and policies about women since the schism? Submission. That is the key word the DSC is now pushing on women, particularly in its "Women's Ministries" programs. What caught my eye recently was a diocesan program led by the Rev. Shay Gaillard actually entitled, "Biblical Womanhood: Understanding the "S" Word---Submission." Find it here , scroll down to last item. One has to respect the frankness here. There is no attempt to disguise their beliefs: Women must submit to male aurthority.

In his course on submission, Gaillard gives us a handy written guide and a set of videos of his presentations. Again, I respect his forthrightness. He is out front with his bold assertions. He emphasizes two points: everyone should submit to (diocesan) authority; and women should submit to their husbands. Of course he hauls out St. Paul's old chestnut (Ephesians 5:24): "wives should submit in everything to their husbands." (I have been married for 52 years. I think it is a sure bet Saul/Paul was never married.)

Thus, while DSC has not institutionalized discrimination against women the way they have done against homosexuals, the pressure within the diocese to keep women down and "in their place" is more than obvious. Of course, one should recall that DSC's umbrella, the Anglican Church in North America, and its upper power, GAFCON, are dead set against women as bishops. In fact, in ACNA, women cannot be ordained as bishops. Constitutionally, ACNA is a top-heavy institution completely controlled by men. On this, I return to my point about vertical religion. DSC, ACNA, and GAFCON are all part of a fundamentalist counter-revolution in the Anglican world.

So, was TEC right to allow women into holy orders, to give them equality, and to bring them into full inclusion in the church? TEC, the Episcopal Church in South Carolina (and I) say absolutely yes. As far as St. Paul goes, he was trumped by the Genesis texts showing equality in creation, such as:

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27, NIV).

Bottom line---where you are in this schism depends on whether you see religion as ultimately vertical or horizontal. In my life, I have been immersed on one side and then the other. I have not a shred of doubt that vertical should be the starting point and horizontal should be the finishing place in our understanding and practice of Christianity. This is why the Episcopal Church is right. This is why the secessionist diocese is wrong. This is why the Church must, and will, win this very long and exhausting legal war. It is the right side. We must remember that, even in our weariness. TEC is fighting for the cause of making a better world for all of God's creation.