A DECADE OF SCHISM:
Reflections on the break, the causes and the results of the Episcopal Church split of 2012 in South Carolina
Part 1: The Break
Today is the First of October, 2022. This month marks the tenth anniversary of the Episcopal Church schism in South Carolina. Although the problems of its aftermath continue, this is a convenient moment to stop and reflect on the division of the old diocese, particularly on how the break occurred, the long-term and immediate causes of the schism, and the results.
Anyone who has waded through my history of the schism knows the minute detail I provided in the book, not to mention the thousands of footnotes documenting every point. Even though the book was published five years ago, I stand by it. I would not change a word. No one has ever publicly disputed any point I made in the book which is still in print in hardback, paperback, and Kindle. Space here does not allow all the detail I provided in the book, so I will try to summarize. Summarizing history has always been hard for me to do. My students sometimes good-naturedly rolled their eyes when I went off on long, verbose, detailed tangents. Anyway, I will try to sum things up here for the sake of space. One can find all the detail one should want and then some in my book.
First, we will look at when and how the break actually occurred. Then, we will go over the causes of the schism. Finally we will look at the ten-year aftermath of the separation.
The break happened precisely at 12:00 p.m. (Noon) on Monday, 15 October 2012.
At noon, Katharine Jefferts Schori, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, in New York City, telephoned Mark Lawrence, bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina, in Charleston. On the line also were the members of the Disciplinary Board for Bishops, and Wade Logan, chancellor of the Diocese of South Carolina. Jefferts Schori told Lawrence that the DBB had certified that he (Lawrence) had abandoned the communion and that she was required to place a restriction on him. As of noon of that day he was to perform no act as an ordained person.
Jefferts Schori went on to ask for confidentiality. She said she would make no announcement of the restriction. She already had a scheduled meeting on 22 October with Lawrence, Andrew Waldo (Bp of Upper SC), and their chancellors, in New York. She hoped to settle the matter privately at that time. Lawrence listened, said little, then hung up the phone.
The presiding bishop did not know, had no way of knowing, that she had walked into a hidden trap that had been set for her some time before by the diocesan officers in Charleston. On October 2 the diocesan Standing Committee had secretly passed a resolution that the diocese would withdraw from the Episcopal Church if the national church took any action of any kind against Bishop Lawrence. In all, no more than two dozen persons in the diocesan leadership were in on the plot. They all kept it top secret. Lawrence did not reveal it to Bishop Waldo, or to the presiding bishop when he met her the next day, on 3 October 2012.
Lawrence had already been investigated by the Disciplinary Board for Bishops once and cleared. However, everyone knew there was a likelihood he would be investigated again after his issuance of quit claim deeds to all the parishes of the diocese in disregard of the Episcopal Church's Dennis Canon which required all local property to be held in trust for the Church and its diocese. When the Standing Committee adopted their secret resolution for schism it was generally known that there was a good chance the Episcopal Church authorities would take action against Lawrence. The presiding bishop would then appear to be the aggressor and Lawrence the innocent victim. The diocese would rally to the defense of their beleaguered bishop.
Jefferts Schori's call on the 15th and the restriction was all that was needed for the schism to go into effect from the diocesan leadership's perspective.
Immediately after hanging up the phone, Lawrence called Logan, the chancellor, because the secret resolution required the chancellor's approval before enactment. He then made a conference call with the Standing Committee which declared its Oct. 2 resolution to be in effect. In the diocesan leadership's view, this made the schism. At that point, they said the diocese was no longer associated with the Episcopal Church. Lawrence then made phone calls to several other important people who had been in on the secret plan. Afterwards, he went on with his duties as bishop in complete disregard of the restriction which in his view was irrelevant since the diocese was no longer associated with the Episcopal Church.
Thus, two dozen people in the diocesan leadership planned and carried out a supposed separation of the diocese from the Episcopal Church. At least this was the view of these people. What about everybody else?
The diocesan leadership spent the next forty-eight hours preparing for a massive public relations initiative to sell the schism to the communicants.
At around noon on Wednesday, 17 October, Lawrence called Jefferts Schori and informed her that the diocese had disaffiliated from the Episcopal Church. He told her the Oct. 2 resolution of the Standing Committee required it as of noon on the 15th, the time she had taken any action of any kind against Lawrence. There could be no confidentiality.
As soon as Lawrence hung up the phone, the officials in the diocesan office announced to the world that the diocese had disassociated from the Episcopal Church. They posted a stack of documents on the Internet meant to justify the action. The news exploded around the world. The fifth diocese of the Episcopal Church had declared its independence.
In the view of the two-dozen or so of the diocesan leaders, their self-proclaimed schism was now a fait accompli. However, they had to be sure the bulk of the diocesan membership was on board. A diocesan special convention was called for 17 November. Within the month, the public relations drive was sure to firm up solid support for the supposedly beleaguered bishop and diocese. The PR campaign was wildly successful. There really was no counter campaign.
The special convention of Nov. 17, at St. Philip's, in Charleston, was an open-and-shut affair. Lawrence told the delegates the diocese (including himself as the bishop) had left the Episcopal Church and they were there to validate this or not. Forty-nine local churches rubber stamped the schism while twenty-two either did not attend or abstained from voting. At least two-thirds of the diocese happily complied with the break.
Jefferts Schori tried for seven weeks to meet with Lawrence and to find ways to heal the break, all to no avail. Lawrence spurned every effort she made to meet with him. It was Lawrence's words to the special convention that closed the book for her. After Lawrence indicated to the convention he had left the Episcopal Church, she had no choice but to act and remove him as bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina.
On December 5, 2012, Jefferts Schori called Lawrence and told him she had accepted his renunciation of ministry in the Episcopal Church. She issued a document called "Renunciation of Ordained Ministry and Declaration of Removal and Release." This officially removed Lawrence from the ordained ministry of the Episcopal Church. After this point, he was no longer bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina.
After that, the Episcopal Church began reorganizing the diocese, and its first provisional bishop would soon be named.
On January 4, 2013, the lawyers for the independent diocese filed a lawsuit against the Episcopal Church for ownership of the diocese thus beginning the long legal war.
Now, we have to consider the question of whether the diocese actually disassociated from the Episcopal Church as the diocesan officials claimed. The short answer is no, but this takes some explaining.
The leaders of the schism believed, and declared, that the Diocese of South Carolina had seceded intact from the Episcopal Church to become an independent religious institution. They continued to use the names and emblems of the diocese, and in fact got an injunction from the circuit court in January of 2013 protecting this. However, the Episcopal Church entered a lawsuit in federal court in March of 2013 claiming violation of trademark, essentially that the breakaways' claim of being the Diocese of South Carolina was fraudulent. This suit finally came to resolution in 2019 when U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel, in Charleston, ordered that the Episcopal Diocese was the one and only heir of the Diocese of South Carolina and the rightful owner of all the names and emblems. He even issued an injunction enforcing this. The schismatic association then had to choose a new name; they chose "Anglican Diocese of South Carolina." The state supreme court also ruled repeatedly that the Episcopal diocese was the heir of the historic diocese. (The terms of settlement of Sept. 26, 2022 included a provision that the Anglican diocese would withdraw its appeal of Gergel's order and, in effect, accept his judgment as final. This ends the question of which side is the historic diocese.)
Thus, it was not true that the Diocese of South Carolina seceded from the Episcopal Church. The clergy and laity who left the Episcopal Church also left the Diocese of South Carolina. They set up a new institution with a new name. The Anglican Diocese of South Carolina first came into being in 2012 although it did not choose a new name until seven years later.
So, to summarize this summary: the break occurred on Oct. 15, 2012 when two-dozen people in the diocesan leadership put into effect their premeditated and secret plan claiming to remove the diocese from the Episcopal Church. They left the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of South Carolina. The majority of clergy and laity of the old diocese went along with this by resolutions of the special convention. A minority reorganized the Episcopal diocese. After Lawrence announced his departure from the Episcopal Church he was removed as bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina. This left the old diocese split into two dioceses, the ongoing Episcopal diocese and one that came to be called the Anglican Diocese of South Carolina.
I hope this little summary of how and when the break occurred was helpful. Next we will turn to the causes of the break.