Tuesday, December 30, 2014


By Ronald J. Caldwell, PhD, Professor of History, Emeritus

The year 2014 has been an eventful one for the people involved in the schism of the old Episcopal diocese of South Carolina. October 15 marked two years since the division occurred. December 5 marked two years since the presiding bishop removed Mark Lawrence as a bishop. The second anniversary of the independent diocese's lawsuit against the Episcopal Church will pass in a few days.

I enjoyed keeping this blog and adding numerous posts and am gratified to know that many people have found it of interest. I had over 32,000 visitors to this blog in the year 2014. I hope I added to the reliable information and reasonable opinion on the history of the unfortunate schism in the old diocese. I know I benefited greatly from organizing and expressing my thoughts. It helped me clarify my understandings as I continue to write a narrative history of the schism in South Carolina. In the year, I completed a rough draft of the period of Lawrence's episcopate (Jan. 2008-Dec. 2012). It comes to 200 single-spaced pages and 856 footnotes, mostly from original documents. I appreciate greatly the many kind and generous people who have helped along the way, particularly the ones who gave of their time for interviews. At present I am working on the early part of the manuscript, the time up to Lawrence's consecration. After that, I will turn to the other end for the post-schism period of litigation. I hope to have some legal closure before beginning on that part.

The year 2014 produced a small gold mine of new information (or at least new to me) on the history of the schism. The circuit court trial in July gave us over 1,300 pieces of evidence entered into the public record called "Exhibits." The most important of these was Lawrence's official deposition (Exhibit D-24) of 194 pages. It is most enlightening. Others included crucial documents of the standing committee and the trustees. Unfortunately however, thousands of key documents remain secret and hidden, if indeed they still exist, in spite of legal efforts to uncover them, namely the thousand e-mails between Lawrence and his chief legal strategist Alan Runyan.

The many newly revealed documents have struck me in several ways and have caused me to reconsider some of my earlier understandings of the flow of historical events. The biggest revelation to me was the apparent existence of a sort of deal between Lawrence and the leading clergy and laity of the old diocese. It appears the two sides operated under an unwritten, and perhaps unspoken, working relationship. The bishop would give them a war against the hated Episcopal Church on homosexuality and give them the local properties. In return the leaders would give Lawrence authoritarian power to govern the diocese. It seems to me it was an invisible but real arrangement that worked out effectively for both sides. It produced the schism of 2012 whether or not schism was the original agreed-upon goal. Both parties gained measurably from the deal even if the going has been anything but free and easy.

The compact actually started before Lawrence arrived in the diocese in January of 2008. A month before, the standing committee, which was to be the primary vehicle to build Lawrence's authoritarianism, pushed aside the nine-year Bishop Suffragan by demanding, and getting, his resignation. Lawrence was to have no rival or obstacle in reorganizing the diocese. He then brought in a new staff to the diocesan headquarters, and hired an assistant to do his bidding, a Canon to the Ordinary. Later he hired a "Visiting Bishop," a former bishop in England who does not visit often.

Lawrence immediately became the dominant power in the diocese rarely missing a meeting of the trustees or the standing committee. After 2009 Runyan routinely accompanied Lawrence to the standing committee sessions. It was through these two bodies that the bishop's power gradually increased, rubber-stamped by frequently called and compliant, even robotic, diocesan conventions. In his first two years, the former champion wrestler used every bit of his amazing energy and stamina to build crucial bonds with the clergy, leading laity, and socially reactionary Anglicans abroad. Lawrence's obviously successful record in this was truly impressive.

A glaring failure in Lawrence's progress was the case of St. Andrew's of Mt. Pleasant. There the anti-Episcopal Church movement was far too advanced. Nevertheless, he tried. On May 29-30, 2009, he offered a prayer of "discernment" in the standing committee after which the twelve approved St. Andrew's transfer of $3.5m in property into an irrevocable trust. It should be recalled that the Dennis Canon of the Episcopal Church required all property to be held for the diocese and the national Church. Within a few months, St. Andrew's congregation voted to leave the diocese and the Church, a decision affirmed by the vestry. They took the property with them. As Lawrence looked on, the parish joined the Anglican Church in North America, the anti-Episcopal Church. Lawrence lost a parish. That was not to happen again.

While the documents revealed the growing authority of the bishop, they also showed remarkable personal gain for Lawrence. On March 17, 2010, only two years into his episcopacy and well before he was investigated, Lawrence made a lease agreement for the bishop's residence at 50 Smith Street in Charleston for one dollar a year for five years with right to renew for another five years (Exhibit D-28). This would remain in effect regardless of his status as bishop. The house is valued at one million dollars and is surrounded by other million dollar properties. It is 4 levels, 4 bedrooms, 3 baths with 4,251 sq. ft. I imagine the monthly rent on that place would be around $4k (10 yrs=$480k). 

On February 1, 2011, three years into his term and still well before he was investigated by the Episcopal Church, Lawrence got a highly lucrative employment contract from the standing committee (Exhibit D-29). Counting the value of the housing, the aggregate value of the various parts of the package amounted to around $240,000/yr. (Base salary $121,170 + family medical ins. + $10,000 annuity + retirement of 18% of housing, housing and annuity + $35,000 travel + housing). The contract had no ending date or retirement date apparently making it virtually in perpetuity. It also stated that if he were removed as bishop he would continue as chief operating officer of the corporation, a position lacking any description but keeping the salary and benefits. The contract could be terminated only by Lawrence's choice, his death, his total disability, or the terms of the bylaws which were unanimous vote of the standing committee along with a two-thirds vote of both orders in a diocesan convention. To my knowledge, all of the the details of this employment contract were not known outside the secretive ruling clique until this year. In this stunning move, Lawrence was all but guaranteed a handsome income from the diocese as long as he wished even if he were not bishop. The son of a postal worker and a store clerk who had worked his way through college, in seven years, Lawrence had arrived at a standard of living in Charleston he could only have dreamed about growing up in modest circumstances in far-off Bakersfield.

Not only the standing committee but also the trustees and the diocesan convention played parts in increasing Lawrence's authority. The convention gave to him the sole right to make absolute interpretations of the constitution and canons of the diocese. The trustees amended their bylaws several times in his favor. He was made the President of the corporation, the legal entity of the diocese (Exhibit D-16). As the President, on October 19, 2010, he amended the official charter to remove all references to the Episcopal Church (Exhibit D-9). On January 4, 2013, the trustees amended the bylaws again to make Lawrence personally (not as bishop) the president of the corporation (Exhibit D-17).

Under his absolute power to interpret the constitution and canons, Lawrence ruled on October 2, 2012, that he had the right to remove, or "disassociate," the diocese from the Episcopal Church (he also gave the right to the standing committee and the diocesan convention). On that, the committee voted a conditional withdrawal of the diocese from the Episcopal Church, a decision that was put into effect on October 17, retroactive to he 15th.

After the schism, power continued to concentrate in Lawrence's hands. He refused to join the ACNA even though all the earlier secessionist dioceses had joined it. Through his close friends in the conservative Anglican group called the Global South he agreed to a strange scheme to link the diocese with that group on the claim of oversight but also on the provision he could pull out of the arrangement at will. That scheme is a sham. Since he left the Episcopal Church (Oct. 2012), Lawrence has not publicly sworn allegiance to any higher institutional authority. In 2014 he hand-picked a committee to recommend a "realignment" or new provincial affiliation for the diocese. It is unimaginable his appointees would do anything but Lawrence's wish.

Thus, by early 2014, six years after his arrival in South Carolina, it seems to me that Lawrence and the old diocesan leaders had constructed a remarkably effective, albeit invisible, compact. As a result, Lawrence was in a very powerful position as the great authority in his independent diocese that is now an entity really disconnected from anything else. The deal proved strong enough to carry the majority of the old diocese along without a hint of dissent. Whether the relationship between Lawrence and the leaders was a conspiracy, for now I will leave up to the lawyers (conspiracy being defined as a group making a premeditated plan for illegal act or acts). I will have more to say on that in my manuscript.

However, a strange and potentially crucial event occurred in early 2014 that may well spell trouble for the seemingly solid bond between Lawrence and the diocese. In the diocesan convention in March of 2014, eleven pre-prepared resolutions were presented to the convention for approval. As usual they were issued, most by unanimous vote of the standing committee and the council, for quick rubber-stamping in the routinely obedient convention. One of the resolutions was C-3 that would give the parish rector control over the local property. Since another resolution gave the bishop direct control over the clergy, this would mean the bishop through the rector could control the local property.

Something happened in the convention to cause resolution C-3 to be tabled, that is, withdrawn without a vote. All of the other resolutions sailed through instantly, some unanimously. In all of Lawrence's years in South Carolina only one other resolution of the dozens offered had been tabled. That was the Rubric of Love, the controversial statement about homosexuality in October of 2009. When it was introduced, the convention started falling apart in disagreement. Seeing an impending disaster, the managers quickly set it aside, only to kill it at the next convention. In all of Lawrence's years, only one resolution was defeated. That one was Kendall Harmon's proposal to suspend (boycott) the General Convention in 2009. It is extremely rare for a proposed resolution to be opposed in the diocesan convention. Thus, the tabling of C-3 may indicate a significant shift in the diocese.

News of what happened to C-3 in March of 2014 has been completely concealed. Indeed Lawrence's diocese had long proved itself masterful in manipulating and controlling information and keeping its secrets. It still is. There was not a word in the diocesan newsletters about what happened to C-3. As the convention was closed to visitors and the media, not a word has leaked out about what happened. We are only left guessing. All we know for sure is that the resolution was presented by the standing committee and the diocesan council (certainly on Lawrence's wish) and that it was tabled. Why was it tabled? Is it dead? Will it be presented at the next convention in March of 2015?

Regardless of the questions, it is clear that the smooth running of Laurence's authoritarian diocese hit an unexpected roadblock. The fact is the resolution was set aside without a vote. I wonder if Lawrence had not finally reached too far. After all, a deal is a deal if indeed he had traded war against the Church and property for autocratic power. Trying to take the property after the fact would be reneging on the deal. Perhaps rumblings of opposition in the diocese had finally sounded. If so, it is the first major break in a heretofore solid structure governing the diocese. This is a possibility although at this point only a speculation. We should have a clearer picture at the convention in March. 

To recap, it seems to me the documents revealed in 2014 give us a new level of understanding of the working dynamics in the old diocese and in the new independent one. In my view, an unwritten deal was made between Mark Lawrence and the clerical and lay leaders of the old diocese. They gave him authoritarian power while he gave them war against the Church and property. Where did homosexuality fit in? It was the most visible element in the war against the Episcopal Church. It was the wedge issue Lawrence and the leaders used to pry the majority of communicants away from their ancestral  church. The issue of homosexuality was the direct, or trigger, cause of the schism. However, it was part of a much bigger arrangement at work.

The year 2014 has been a lively one for the people of the old diocese. What will 2015 bring? It certainly will bring more and more awful litigation. For starters, Judge Goodstein's impending decision will be appealed to the state supreme court. We are still awaiting a ruling from the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. We can expect another long year in the courts.

All this heaviness needs some levity at year's end. I would like to end my reflection on a lighter note from another source. The great comic actor and Episcopalian Robin Williams gave us ten good reasons to be an Episcopalian. I can think of no better way to end 2014:

Why be an Episcopalian?
10. No snake handling.
9. You can believe in dinosaurs.
8. Male and female God created them; male and female we ordain them.
7. You don't have to check you brains at the door.
6. Pew aerobics.
5. Church year is color-coded.
4. Free wine on Sunday.
3. All the pageantry--none of the guilt.
2. You don't have to know how to swim to get baptized.
1. No matter what you believe, there's bound to be at least one other Episcopalian who agrees with you.

My favorite is #7.

Thanks to you reader for choosing to spend time with me on my blog; and thanks to all my correspondents for their e-mails. Most of all I thank God for the Episcopal Church. With all of this, let us look bravely and confidently into the new year, 2015.
Ron Caldwell

e-mail me at ronaldcaldwell1210@gmail.com


Monday, December 22, 2014


By Ronald J. Caldwell, PhD, Professor of History, Emeritus

Welcome to the first annual awards for my choices of heroes of the year. I define "hero" as an ordinary person who, seeing wrong, goes way beyond the call of duty to right that wrong, at any and every cost to him or herself. There are heroes all around us. I see them all the time. I should start with the thousands of loyal Episcopalians across lower South Carolina who refused to take the easy path and follow the erring crowd. I especially admire those who had to leave their beloved old church homes in order to keep the true faith and do the right thing at whatever the cost. They are heroes but they are too many to name individually here. Below is my personal list of the top ten who belong in my new "South Carolina History Hall of Fame." These are in no particular order.

1. CHARLES VONROSENBERG.  No doubt he thought he was going to have a nice quiet retirement in lovely Charleston and enjoy his five beautiful grandchildren. Nevertheless, when duty called, he refused to turn away and take the easy way out. This year he endured hours, days, weeks of awful legal unpleasantness, but refused to give in to negativism. Indeed, as the trial began, he announced a plan for the blessing of same-sex unions. Reconciliation remains his admirable ideal. The Episcopal Church in South Carolina could not have asked for a better bishop.

2. JEFF RICHARDSON. A devout Anglo-Catholic and social conservative, he refused to go along with the conservative majority of the old diocese. He saw to it that St. Stephen's, in St. Stephen, and St. Alban's, in Kingstree, stayed with the real Church. He then picked up a third to serve as vicar, St. Catherine's in Florence, a congregation of faithful that has grown and flourished remarkably under his leadership. He has kept true to his views while nourishing those of his flocks. He is my choice for model priest of the year in South Carolina.

3. H. DAGNALL FREE. At first he went along with the secessionists and kept his desirable post at St. John's on Johns Island. In time, he came to see where he really belonged and made a reconciliation with the mother Church. A family man, he gave up a great deal to sacrifice for the right thing. He is due all the admiration and respect possible, and is the model for the other 102 clergy in South Carolina who were released and removed by the Episcopal Church in 2013.

4. DOLORES MILLER AND FRANCES ELMORE. The prime movers of the Episcopal Church in Florence. When "restricted" Bishop Lawrence appeared in St. John's of Florence in October of 2012, Miller was the only one to confront him to his face and challenge his right to be there. He was not amused but she steadfastly refused to back down. At the first opportunity, Miller and Elmore rallied the dozen devoted Episcopalians in the parish and made their own way against the odds and from scratch. St. Catherine's of Florence is a vibrant, growing, and flourishing congregation today. It would not even be there except for Miller and Elmore. They epitomize the best of the Episcopal laity in South Carolina.

5. STEVE SKARDON. Everyone knows Steve. For many years, he tirelessly provided information and opinion on his blog, scepiscopalians, as almost the lone voice giving the antidote to the nonsense flowing from the old diocesan ruling clique. Without Steve, the public relations initiative coming from Bishop Lawrence and his inner circle would never even have been questioned let alone challenged. Along the way, Steve remained the intrepid informer, refusing to mince words or hold back justifiable punches. He was the invaluable source of information when communicants in South Carolina needed it the most.

6. HOLLY BEHRE. Although employed as the part-time public relations officer for the Episcopal Church in South Carolina, Behre put in countless hours to keep everyone promptly informed on the latest developments. This was particularly invaluable during the circuit court trial in July. She has even posted practically all the court proceedings of the year including the monumental transcript of the circuit court trial. Sorry Jan Pringle and Joy Hunter, Behre was way ahead of you in communications.

7. WES HILL. Wes Hill? The Trinity School for Ministry professor Mark Lawrence permitted to speak in his diocese? Yes, that Wes Hill. He represented a major and positive change in attitude toward homosexuality among the people who had made that topic the wedge to pry away the majority of the old diocese from the Episcopal Church. Hill argued that homosexuality is a natural, or innate, state. This contradicted the old conservative view that it was a learned condition of choice. Hill also argued that homosexuals should remain "celibate" because, he said, homosexuality is condemned in the Scriptures. However, if one accepts Hill's view of the inborn nature of homosexuality, the next logical step is to see it as God's creation, and therefore good.

8. TOM TISDALE. Chancellor of the diocese years ago, the Church called on attorney Thomas Sumter Tisdale, esteemed descendant of one of the great old families of South Carolina, to come to its rescue once again. He did not refuse. He threw himself wholeheartedly into what he knew would be a long, hard, and terrible legal war against dozens of top-notch lawyers the secessionists had already lined up. He gave it his all and proved a tireless litigator all year long. He knows too that there is much more to come and remains unwavering in his dedication and devotion.

9. PATRICK DUFFY. United States District Judge Patrick Michael Duffy ruled last January and repeated throughout the year that the (Episcopal) Church Insurance Company of Vermont must provide benefit coverage to the real Episcopal Church diocese (called the Episcopal Church in South Carolina). Duffy had the wisdom to see which side was actually the Episcopal Church side. Some other judges out there seem to have trouble distinguishing the authentic Episcopal Church diocese from the other. Apparently, the ECSC now has sufficient funds to continue the litigation that has been forced on them by the independent diocese's lawsuit. That side is out campaigning among its people for millions of dollars in donations.

10. RICHARD GERGEL. United States Judge Richard M. Gergel in Charleston ordered in November that same-sex couples must be allowed to marry. This all but ended the long war against rights for homosexuals, at least in South Carolina. Legal same-sex marriages began in South Carolina on November 19 as dozens of couples across the state started obtaining official marriage licenses. This meant that 35 of the 50 states now permitted same-sex marriage. Among Episcopalians, same-sex couples could now marry legally and also have a blessing of the same-sex union in the church.

These are my personal choices for heroes of the year. There are many others who rightfully belong on this list, and maybe you, reader, are one of them.

With so many fine people of good will surrounding us in 2014 and with our unwavering faith in God, we should all look forward confidently to the new year of 2015. My best wishes for you all, Ron Caldwell.

E-mail me at ronaldcaldwell1210@gmail.com       

Sunday, December 21, 2014


By Ronald J. Caldwell, PhD, Professor of History, Emeritus

When the old diocese of South Carolina split on October 15, 2012, how many people went with the Lawrence side and how many remained with the Episcopal Church? Unfortunately it is impossible to know exactly. The independent diocese claimed that 82 % of the old diocese adhered to Lawrence. This is not true. The problem with this figure is that it counts every person who was on the books as a member of the breakaway parishes and missions in 2012 before the schism. In fact, in virtually every parish and mission of the old diocese, members left to go to the other side. There has been a great deal of fluidity. I known personally of many cases where loyal Episcopalians are still counted as members of the non-Episcopal local churches.

Now comes an article that claims the Episcopal Church diocese in South Carolina has suffered sharp declines. The article is Jeff Walton's "Episcopal Church Baptisms Dry Up" http://juicyecumenism.com/2014/12/19/episcopal-church-baptisms-dry/ . This was copied by Kendall Harmon at TitusOneNine on 12-20-14. The problem with Walton's view is that is a misinterpretation of the statistical data. His assertions of the decline of the South Carolina Episcopal Church diocese are inaccurate.

The Episcopal Church has published its statistical data sheets for the years 2012 and 2013: www.episcopalchurch.org/sites/default/files/2012_table_of_statistics_of_the_episcopal_church.pdf and www.episcopalchurch.org/sites/default/files/2013_table_of_statistics.pdf .
The table for 2012 gives the figures of the pre-schism diocese. In the 2013 table, the Church lists the full numbers for the old pre-schism parishes, missions, and membership, then changes for baptisms, confirmations, receptions, marriages, and burials. The numbers under these headings refer only to the activities in the Episcopal Church diocese after the schism. The baptisms etc. in the non-Episcopal churches are obviously not legitimate in the Episcopal Church and cannot be counted in the official Episcopal Church statistics. Therefore, there is a big change in the statistics in the categories of baptisms, confirmations, marriages etc. between pre-schism 2012 and post-schism 2013. The numbers given for 2013 are roughly one-third of those for 2012 (e.g. 388 baptisms in 2012 dropped to 135 in 2013). However, another way of looking at the statistics is that the Episcopal diocese has about one-third of the old diocese, a number far more realistic than the purposely inflated claim of the secessionist group. A two-thirds, one-third breakdown is about the fallout of the old diocese.

Whether the people realize it or not, individuals being baptized, confirmed etc. in a church of the Lawrence diocese and not being baptized etc. in the Episcopal Church. Lawrence and all the clergy following him have been released and removed from the list of Episcopal Church clergy. In fact, the Lawrence churches are not in any larger denomination as their leader steadfastly refuses to join one.

Anti-Episcopal Church parties have long claimed that the Church is dying. They gleefully tout this as "proof" of what is "wrong" with the Episcopal Church. Mark Lawrence used to be fond of saying the Church was a comatose patient on life support. He was wrong then and he is wrong now. It was just a lot of wishful thinking. In spite of those who tried to destroy her, the Episcopal Church is alive and well in lower South Carolina. For instance, the loyal Episcopalians of Florence, forced out of their buildings through no fault of their own as former Episcopalians continued to occupy illegally the premises, gathered 12 people in a living room in December of 2012. A few weeks ago, their Sunday service counted 82 people. Meanwhile, the Lawrence diocese is seeing expanding problems. Only recently they put out a desperate-sounding cry for money to pay the horde of lawyers doing their bidding in court. Fewer people are being pressed for more money. It is clear which side is rising and which is falling, and the misuse of statistics cannot hide that reality.

What do you think? E-mail me at ronaldcaldwell1210@gmail.com . 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014


By Ronald J. Caldwell, PhD, Professor of History Emeritus

Everyone agrees. Bishop Skilton is a good  man with good intentions. He wants to bring peace, healing, reconciliation and closure to the gaping wound in his beloved old Episcopal Church in South Carolina. Admirable. Unfortunately, and tragically, we now see the very opposite effect. The wound is worse than ever. Everyone should agree that this is a sad outcome for a man who had contributed so much in the past to the church in South Carolina.

Skilton was elected Bishop Suffragan in 1995 topping a competitive field including Henry Parsley who later became the revered bishop of Alabama and front-runner for presiding bishop in 2006 (in the end the ultra-conservatives cynically cast their votes to elect Jefferts-Schori). However, when the search committee to nominate a new bishop formed in 2005 it did not consider Skilton. Indeed, the standing committee unanimously "requested" Skilton's resignation with a reward of a $20,000/yr stipend. He compliantly resigned in December of 2006 in order to give incoming bishop Lawrence a clean slate to run the diocese as he wished. The pro-Lawrence party simply and coldly pushed Skilton aside.

Skilton remained a conservative voice; he was one of 12 bishops who signed a declaration condemning the resolution of 2012 allowing the blessing of same-sex unions. He is now an Episcopal bishop retired from South Carolina and from the Dominican Republic. He is listed as clergy in good standing on the independent diocesan website, but not on the Episcopal Church diocesan website.

According to the documents that Skilton provided in the DSC website on December 15, early on, Bishop Charles vonRosenberg of ECSC asked him not to officiate publicly on the non-Episcopal Church side. In March of 2013, presiding bishop Jefferts Schori asked him not to "function sacramentally" on either side until things settled down. Apparently Skilton rejected both bishops' requests. He felt instead that it was important for him to preach and celebrate the Eucharist in the non-Episcopal churches of the old diocese.

On December 2, 2014 Bp. vonRosenberg sent Skilton a letter complaining about Skilton's adding to the confusion of the situation. There is plenty of confusion. To anyone attending the trial last July or reading the transcript, confusion abounded from first to last. Judge Goodstein burst out in frustration more than once, and in the very end showed bewilderment on when and how the "disassociation" had occurred even though Runyan had hammered the previous thirteen days that it did not matter, the diocese was an independent and self-contained entity.

In his letter of December 2, vonR told Skilton he would not be permitted to "function sacramentally" in a church of the Episcopal diocese. In addition, Skilton would not be allowed to represent the Episcopal diocese in any official capacity. In response, Skilton sent a letter to vonR on Dec. 11 and wrote another to "Anglicans/Episcopalians in Lower South Carolina" on Dec. 12. He did not have to publicize this correspondence, but he chose to do so anyway. He gave all three letters to the independent diocese that promptly posted them all on its website on Dec. 15 for all the world to see. Since then the anti-Episcopal Church blogosphere has predictably exploded in wrath against their favorite whipping horse, Jefferts Schori, with vonR thrown in for good measure. Badly treated by the pro-Lawrence party before 2008, Skilton was now allowing himself to be used by those same people for their anti-Episcopal agenda.

William Skilton remains officially an Episcopal bishop. He has not committed offenses that would get him removed as a bishop by the House of Bishops. He has not ordained clergy or administered confirmation in non-Episcopal churches, wrongdoings that would get him deposed right away. There is no indication that he is about to be removed.

I wrote a post here recently giving my thoughts about reconciliation. I think it will come down the road, although far down, and it will not be done by well-meaning but misdirected people. Jefferts Schori and vonR are right; there does need to be some clarity at this moment about what has happened since the majority of the old diocese broke away from the Episcopal Church. They left but still claim to be "the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina." By its own self-declared action, the independent diocese has no connection whatever with the Episcopal Church. It is not the Episcopal Church diocese. Neither is it in the Anglican Communion. However, I expect that if you ask the average person-in-the-pew in a breakaway parish, they would tell you, Oh yes, we are the real Episcopal Church and we are in the Anglican Communion. We are because our bishop told us so. If that is not confusion, nothing is. Meanwhile, we await the impending judgment from the circuit court. More confusion anyone?



Monday, November 24, 2014


By Ronald J. Caldwell, PhD, Professor of History, Emeritus

A hundred years ago, the Keystone Cops amused moviegoers in numerous delightful silent films. These policemen, supposedly the keepers of order, were anything but orderly. Theirs was a world of zany, frantic, unending mayhem. They ran around in wacky chaos often doing more harm than good, usually to themselves. The far-right wing fringe of the "Anglican" world is now populated by the descendants of the Keystone Cops, except they are not in the least bit funny.

For years, reactionary Episcopalians (they prefer to be called "orthodox") ranted and railed against the Episcopal Church for its social policies of equal rights for minorities, women, and homosexuals. The bond that held them together was opposition to the Episcopal Church. It was a negative tie. Many of them peeled off the Church as individuals, parishes, and then majorities of dioceses. They went off in every different direction. Arguably the most important of the early advocates of secession was Chuck Murphy, the rector of All Saints, Pawleys Island. In 1997 he hosted the First Promise conference that denounced the Episcopal Church. A few years later he led the creation of a new group, the Anglican Mission in America and was ordained a bishop. All Saints declared its independence from the diocese and the two began a decade-long war over the property. Finally the state supreme court came down on the side of the parish. Along the way, Murphy aligned with Rwanda until that turned into a visible and embarrassing falling out in 2011. He also helped found the Anglican Church in North America, the designated reactionary replacement for the Episcopal Church, then had a falling out with that bunch. All Saints parish split up with the majority going along with ACNA while Murphy and the minority kept with AMiA. This is the future of the anti-Episcopal Church faction in a nutshell: ever splitting chaos. There are now seven "Anglican" jurisdictions in South Carolina, each one claiming to be the only authentic one. Actually, only one of them, the Episcopal Church, is part of the worldwide Anglican Communion and recognized by the Archbishop of Canterbury as such.

The first four cases of majorities of dioceses leaving the Episcopal Church eventually formed the ACNA. This, however, is a diverse and loose confederation bonded by very little, mostly opposition to the social policies of the Episcopal Church. Its views are all over the map. Mark Lawrence stubbornly refuses to unite his diocese with ACNA, for reasons still publicly unknown. He did attend the recent consecration of the new archbishop of ACNA in Atlanta but did not serve as one of the consecrators as he is not in ACNA.

The latest episode in the chaos on the Anglican right deals with homosexuality, their favorite old stalking horse. Rather suddenly, marriage equality has become virtually the law of the land, much to their shock. Knocked off their feet in the historic tidal wave, they have fallen apart and turned on each other, much like the Keystone Cops, in frantic disarray. Ephraim Radner and Christopher Seitz, two well-known highly conservative critics of the Episcopal Church policies and frequent contributors to the website called the Anglican Communion Institute (which has nothing to do officially with the Anglican Communion) put out something called "The Marriage Pledge." ( www.firstthings.com/marriage-pledge ). In angry reaction to marriage equality, it calls on clergy to refuse to participate in the civic state regarding marriage: "We will no longer serve as agents of the state in marriage." It asks clergy and laity to sign the pledge online. In reality, this is only a silly and peevish rear-guard snipe at the inevitability of history.  They know they have lost the war.

The new ACNA archbishop, Foley Beach, is none too pleased with the "Pledge." Quite the contrary, he posted a terse letter asking people not to sign it. ( www.anglicanchurch.net/?/main/page/926 ). The reactionary blogosphere and its predictable Greek chorus exploded with reactions all over the board on this new comedy of errors. Whatever next? Watching the anti-Episcopal Church faction tear itself apart has become a new spectator sport. One may need a score card, however. Who's on first?

True to form, the anti-Episcopal faction in South Carolina has insisted on going its own way. Stubbornly refusing to join ACNA and any illegitimate or legitimate Anglican province, it concocted a unique "oversight" scheme through its allies in the reactionary "Global South." It is meaningless. Lawrence claims his bunch is an extra-territorial diocese in the Anglican Communion. Nonsense. There is no such thing, never has been. The curious latest lurch in the Lawrence diocese is on homosexuality, the old wedge issue. Before the schism, Lawrence insisted God assigned gender and no on was really born homosexual. It was a learned lifestyle choice. Recently, the post-schism diocese promoted a talk by Prof. Wes Hill, a Trinity seminary professor who says he is a homosexual man by nature. Homosexuality is alright, he says, as long as the homosexual person remains celibate. This is a major step in the right direction for the Lawrence diocese. For that, we should be grateful. But, it does sort of negate the whole immediate cause of the schism. (Note: a couple of days ago the DSC website dropped any mention of Prof. Hill. Who knows what is going on here?)

Chaos, even anarchy, on the Anglican far right is inevitable. It is already happening. The factor that made this group was a negative, hatred of the social reforms of the Episcopal Church. A negative cannot create a positive. It remains a negative. Once the binding force of negativism was removed, the once-bound parts flew off into every different direction. The seventeenth century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes wrote that the state must provide an authoritarian ruling power to keep society in check as people were by nature, "nasty, mean and brutish." Left alone they self-destruct. While one should disagree with this too-dismal view of human nature, one should recognize the need for some overriding order of things. Once unity is broken, chaos results. No institution is perfect. The Episcopal Church is not perfect, but it is the unity we all need for our own best interest. It is the unity of differences that binds us in a common purpose. We do not have to agree on everything, but we are all better off in our overriding unity than in the chaos of disorder outside it. 


Thursday, November 20, 2014


By Ronald J. Caldwell, PhD, Professor of History Emeritus

Unless there is a last-minute intervention from the U.S. Supreme Court, which is highly unlikely, South Carolina will become the thirty-fourth state in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage at noon today, November 20, 2014. Numerous couples have lined up to get their marriage licenses that would have been unthinkable even a few short years ago.

The courts have cleared the way. The SC Supreme Court had stayed the implementation last week but that has expired. Federal courts have opened the way for the marriages to proceed. State Attorney General Wilson said he would appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court for an eleventh-hour block. Judging from recent actions, that court will not touch this matter.

Times have changed, and fast. This is more bad news for the Lawrence diocese that broke away from the Episcopal Church in defiance of the Church's stand for equal treatment for homosexual people. Lawrence insisted Christianity should not be about "indiscriminate inclusivity." The exclusionary independent diocese that simply condemned homosexuals is being passed by in the rush of history.

UPDATE;     Noon, Nov. 20.      The U.S. Supreme Court denied Wilson's emergency appeal this morning. Interestingly enough, the rejection came from three highly conservative justices. The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, 4th Circuit, had already dismissed Wilson's appeal. According to news reports, Wilson has vowed to keep fighting although just how remains unclear since he has run out of courts.

Marriage equality has arrived in South Carolina. The first marriage licenses to same-sex couples were issued yesterday (Nov. 19) in Charleston. The rest of the state is expected to follow today now that the Supreme Court has denied the state's appeal.

The Episcopal Church bishop, Charles vonRosenberg, announced months ago that he would permit the blessings of same-sex unions. He left implementation up to the local parishes and missions. The independent bishop, Mark Lawrence, has been well-known as an outspoken opponent of the blessing of same-sex unions and has a record of opposing rights for homosexuals in the Episcopal Church when he was a bishop in the Church. He "disaffiliated" from the Church in 2012 rather than recognize the rights that the Episcopal Church had granted to homosexuals. Lawrence claimed the Church had discarded the ancient Christian understanding of marriage. In truth, the blessing of a same-sex union is not a marriage ceremony. The prayer book did not change the definition of marriage (the same prayer book now in use in the independent diocese). However, the majority of the old diocese went along with him anyway. Later, the schismatic leaders made the ludicrous claim the schism was never about homosexuality. Having used the issue as the wedge to pry away the majority, they dropped it like a hot potato because they knew it was a demographic time bomb. They raced away from the issue of homosexuality and are still running. Have you noticed the almost complete silence from that side on the new events in SC? Sorry, you can run from history but you cannot escape.   

Sunday, November 16, 2014

(or, "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers." Shakespeare's Henry VI, Part 2)

By Ronald J. Caldwell, PhD, Professor of History, Emeritus

Is it possible to have a reconciliation of the two dioceses? Is it probable? If so, will there be a reconciliation in the foreseeable future?

On the surface, one would have to dismiss outright any notion that the two hostile sides would ever get back together. At first glance, the thought seems just as absurd now as it has for the past two years. There has been just too much hostility. But on second thought, if one looks closer at the not so obvious state of matters and the subtle changes going on, maybe it is not such a far-fetched idea after all. I would like to offer some thoughts on why reconciliation might actually occur somewhere down the road in the not too distant future.

1. The old diocesan leaders gave as their reasons for leaving the Episcopal Church theology, polity, and sexuality. On theology they said the Church had abandoned the ancient belief in the uniqueness of Christ. On polity, they said the Church had acted illegally and unconstitutionally. On sexuality they said the Church was promoting same-sex marriage.

These are actually weak arguments that are fundamentally untrue. In the first place, the Episcopal Church has never changed its belief in the uniqueness of Christ. That would take an act of the General Convention. That will never happen. What the old leaders were referring to were some controversial remarks by the previous and present presiding bishops. Whatever they said, they spoke only for themselves. A presiding bishop is an administrative officer who has no authority to set any doctrine or belief. The old diocesan leaders were wrong to extrapolate certain remarks as the beliefs of the Church.

On the second point, the Episcopal Church has changed its canons as it has done throughout its long history. The idea that the Church did this in the last few years illegally and unconstitutionally and that they were out to "get" Mark Lawrence is nonsense. The Church has almost universally accepted the canonical changes as perfectly legal.

On the third point, the Episcopal Church has approved the blessing of same-sex unions at the discretion of the local bishop (if Lawrence had stayed in the Church he could have blocked the blessings in all of the eastern half of South Carolina). This is not marriage and was never claimed to be. The old leaders' oft-repeated assertion that the Episcopal Church was changing the definition and understanding of traditional marriage is simply not true.

Weak and untrue arguments will crumble in time. As time passes and truth emerges, communicants in the old diocese will gradually realize that they have been misinformed and misled by their trusted authorities. This will happen. The empty rationale supporting the whole schism will collapse like a house of cards.

2. The old diocesan leaders also said leaving the Episcopal Church was necessary to preserve the true faith. As the excuses for the schism evaporate, so will this notion. In fact, no diocese is required to have the blessing of same sex unions. Numerous bishops announced long ago they would not allow it. Lawrence could have done that. The Episcopal Church remains broad and diverse with a wide range of experiences. Most of the conservative dioceses have remained in the Church. They saw no reason to duplicate what South Carolina had done. Not one bishop or one diocese has followed South Carolina's lead.

3. As information about the schism gradually comes forth, the assertion that Lawrence was unfairly treated by the Episcopal Church will also prove false. The truth is the Church went out of its way and the presiding bishop leaned as far as she could to accommodate Lawrence and the diocesan leadership. The facts show that the small clique controlling the diocesan structure planned a "disassociation" before Lawrence was even accused of abandonment. When the crisis came, Lawrence voluntarily left the Episcopal Church. He was not forced out. He could easily have made amends with the Church authorities. He refused to meet with the presiding bishop again. He refused; she did not. It is not true historically that Mark Lawrence was unfairly treated by the Episcopal Church.

4. The direct, or immediate, cause of the schism was the issue of homosexuality. This is easily demonstrated by the well-known historical facts. For years, the old diocesan leadership fought against the ordination of homosexual persons as priests, then bishops, the blessing of same-sex unions, and the rights of transgendered people. They insisted that God assigns gender to each person and that no one has the right to question that, act differently, or try to change it. Homosexuality, they believed was only a chosen lifestyle. It was not inborn or natural. When one resolution expressing compassion for homosexuals came up for vote in the diocesan convention, the assembly almost fell apart trying to come to grips with the topic. Seeing the impending disaster, the diocesan leaders quickly withdrew the resolution and "The Rubric of Love" died.  

There is now a very important but subtle change going on in the attitude of the diocesan leadership. They are promoting a man who says he is homosexual by nature, that is, it is not by learning. The change is to accept homosexuality as a state of birth, therefore God-given. This is a major change in the old attitude of the diocesan leaders towards the issue of homosexuality. It is far removed from what they were saying about gays only recently.

South Carolina, and the whole, country is moving toward full equality for homosexual persons including marriage equality. Within a few days, South Carolina will have legal marriage for same-gender couples. The ancient prejudices against homosexual persons are melting away quickly.

Since homosexuality was the direct cause, or the trigger, for the schism, as that issue fades away so will the justification for the schism. Society will come to accept rights for homosexuals. Communicants will have second thoughts about the wisdom of their old choices and popular support for the schism from the Episcopal Church will fade away.

5. A new presiding bishop will be elected next year. Jefferts-Schori has announced she will not be a candidate. This will remove a lightning rod from the picture as the conservatives and their loud Greek chorus on the Internet have focused all their negative feelings onto this one person (unfairly I think). Whoever replaces her will at least have a fresh start.

6. Schism is turning out to be more expensive than people thought. As time goes by and the enthusiasm for the costly fight fades, I expect it will become increasing harder to raise money to pay for the never ending litigation. The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to settle the dispute. It is doomed to drag on in state and federal courts for as long as imaginable. The cost will be staggering. At some point, people will cry-- enough.

There are signs in both dioceses that reconciliation is possible.

7. On the Episcopal Church side, the Church and its diocese have never laid claim to the local parish properties. To my knowledge, Bishop vonRosenberg has never said he was out to get the property now held by the departed parishes. His claim in court is for the legal rights of the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, a claim that Lawrence brought to court first, in the state circuit court, in St. George. The Episcopal Church did not attack the diocese as the old leaders claimed. In fact, the independent diocese sued the Episcopal Church in court first. Moreover, vonRosenberg has only "released" the 103 clergy who adhered to Lawrence. He did not depose them from Holy Orders. He made their reconciliation with the Church easy. All along, Bishop vonRosenberg has declared his goal as the reconciliation of the whole diocese.

8. On the independent diocesan side there are also signs of possible reconciliation. Lawrence was not deposed as the bishop. He was "released and removed" (Dec. 5, 2012) as the bishop after he announced his departure from the Episcopal Church. As I read the canons (and I am no authority on this) I believe Lawrence might well be able to take his case to the House of Bishops for reinstatement, or possibly have the presiding bishop revoke the certificate of release and removal. At any rate, Lawrence is not permanently banned from the Episcopal Church. The Disciplinary Board for Bishops only charged Lawrence with abandonment as a sort of grand jury. He was not given a trial by the House of Bishops. He was never convicted or deposed. The Church has not closed the door on Lawrence.

Indeed, Lawrence has said that he was not "restricted" by the presiding bishop on October 15, 2012, because she did not send him a hand-signed order (only an e-mail). Therefore, he rejected her certificate of release and removal on December 5 as equally illegal. To my knowledge, Lawrence has never stated verbally or in writing that he had renounced his Holy Orders in the Episcopal Church (the PB took his resignation from the Church as his de facto renunciation). To this day he claims that he still holds full and valid Holy Orders. Apparently Lawrence himself has not closed the door on the Episcopal Church.

Moreover, Lawrence has refused to link up the independent diocese with the Anglican Church in North America, the GAFCON-supported church meant to replace the supposedly corrupt Episcopal Church. All of the earlier four seceding dioceses joined the ACNA. Instead, Lawrence has created a link with Global South, an arrangement that really has no meaning and has never been even described.

Meanwhile, within the independent diocese life goes on as if it is an Episcopal church. The last convention passed a resolution that the only service book to be used is the Episcopal Church Book of Common Prayer. This rejects the new service book of the ACNA. Indeed, communicants commonly believe they ARE the Episcopal Church in lower South Carolina because that is what their leaders have told them. There seems to have been no attempt to change the pre-schism religion which, of course, should bring doubt onto the original reasons for leaving the Episcopal Church. There remain many common ties shared by the two dioceses as charities, groups (as Daughters of the King), and institutions. They even share clergy. Nine priests and three deacons are listed with both dioceses. The two are still linked in many ways.

I believe that the schism in the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina is unnatural, unjustified, and unnecessary and all of this will become apparent. In time, things will change and the average person-in-the-pew will reconsider the direction they have gone. It probably will not happen overnight, however, since the schism was thirty years in the making. There are obviously good reasons for a reconciliation not the least of which is the fortune in money the ongoing litigation will cost. I cannot see how anyone benefits from the unchristian lawsuits, except possibly the lawyers.

"The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers." HENRY VI, Part 2, Act 4, Scene 2.

It appears me that there are signs on both sides of the schism of longing to return to union. True enough, they are between the lines and below the surface. But I believe they are there nevertheless.

I think it is time to heal and restore the broken and hurting relationships, end the awful scandal of the schism, return to the Church of the revered ancestors, and reunite a wrongfully fractured community of Christ to carry the Gospel into the world near and far. The doors are open. Where are the leaders with the courage, humility, and faith to do the right thing? 

What do you think? E-mail me at ronaldcaldwell1210@gmail.com .

Friday, November 14, 2014


By Ronald J. Caldwell, PhD, Professor of History, Emeritus

South Carolina, marriage equality is at hand. News broke yesterday that a federal judge in Charleston, Richard Mark Gergel, overruled the SC state ban on same-sex marriage holding that it violated basic rights guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution, particularly in the Fourteenth Amendment. He said his ruling would go into effect on November 20. It was a moment of rejoicing for those who have advocated for and favored human rights and equality of all people in South Carolina. Of course, the state authorities said they would appeal Gergel's ruling. Last month, the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals' ruling overturning the Virginia ban on same-sex marriage was upheld when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to take the case. South Carolina, North Carolina, and West Virginia are also in the Fourth Circuit. Of all those states, only South Carolina stubbornly refused to allow same-sex marriages to proceed. Both Governor Haley and Attorney General Wilson not surprisingly vowed to fight on defying the inevitable. As we all know, the great majority of states have established marriage equality. South Carolina will too. It is just a matter of time. 

For many years, the leaders of the pre-schism Diocese of South Carolina fought tooth and nail against the Episcopal Church's efforts to promote equality for homosexual persons. Lawrence was once fond of railing against "indiscriminate inclusivity." As with the nation and marriage equality, the majority in the national Church gradually agreed to remove ancient prejudices and support equality for all people. It was a fine moment in the long history of the Church. However, South Carolina, ever fond of self-inflicted pain, broke away from the Church rather than accept the tide of history.

On innumerable occasions, Bishop Lawrence expounded on his view that God assigns gender to each and every person and no one should question, let alone interfere with that divine order. He went on at length about that even the day after the special convention on Nov. 17, 2012 in an interview with Anglican TV. That is why I find it intriguing that the old leaders are now promoting an openly homosexual man as a speaker in SC on Nov. 15. Wes Hill, a professor at Trinity School for Ministry, the incubator of reactionary "Anglicanism" in America, is a self-announced gay man. He says that gay people should refrain from actually following their sexual desires and should develop something called "spiritual" (celibate) relationships. I do not support that viewpoint, but I would like to think that the Diocese of South Carolina's promotion of a gay man is one tiny step in the right direction.

Only a few years ago, Hill's witness among conservative Christians would have been impossible. Anti-gay forces then were pushing "conversion therapy," that is, programs to "turn" homosexuals into heterosexuals. Under that system, an announced gay man would have been put through the wringer to try to force him to be straight. It was an unsuccessful, absurd, even cruel, tactic that has been quietly abandoned. Now the standard talking point among anti-gay elements is to "accept" gays as long as they do not act out their sexual inclinations. This is just as absurd, wrong, and in my opinion, cruel. It too will fall away as society continues to throw off discrimination and recognize equality for all people. This will arrive in SC too.

The secessionists who left the Episcopal Church because of its stand on homosexuality are now running away from that issue as fast as possible. Unfortunately, they had already run so far in the wrong direction that they will have to race inhumanly fast to backtrack enough. They know that time and history, not to mention demographics, are against them. Surely it would have been better for all of us if we had all extended Christ's love and compassion to all people as we should have to start with. Once again, South Carolina would have been spared a great deal of pain and suffering.

UPDATE - Nov. 14. The independent diocesan website has announced that Wes Hill's talk that had been scheduled for Nov. 15 has been postponed. The Rev. and Mrs. Jamie Sosnowski suffered a personal loss that led to the postponement of his ordination that had been scheduled at St. John's on Johns Island on Sunday. Hill's talk, to be held at the same place, was cancelled out of respect. It will be rescheduled to coincide with the ordination that will be set at a later time.     

Monday, November 3, 2014


 By Ronald J. Caldwell, PhD, Professor of History, Emeritus

On November 3, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it had denied the Episcopal Church's petition for a writ of certiorari. That meant it will not consider the Church's appeal of the Fort Worth case. What does this mean for South Carolina?

Of all of the four earlier cases where Episcopal dioceses claimed to have "disassociated" from the Episcopal Church, that of Fort Worth was most similar to South Carolina. Fort Worth had been a highly traditional diocese for many years (actually more reactionary than South Carolina). In fact, it was one of only three dioceses of the 110 in the Church to refuse to admit women to Holy Orders (San Joaquin, Mark Lawrence's home diocese, and Quincy were the others). At least in South Carolina there were a few female priests and deacons although the power structure was and is overwhelmingly male. As in South Carolina, the bishop, Jack Iker, refused to submit a formal renunciation of orders or a resignation. Instead, as Lawrence, he declared the diocese independent of the Episcopal Church with himself remaining as the bishop. As with Lawrence, the presiding bishop interpreted Iker's words and deeds as de facto renunciation of his ordination in the Episcopal Church and issued a release. Both Iker and Lawrence denied they had renounced their orders and refused to accept any Episcopal Church actions against themselves. Both were deposed by the presiding bishop and were not removed by the House of Bishops as were the cases of Schofield of San Joaquin, and Duncan of Pittsburgh. Lawrence, like Iker, kept the titles, rights, and properties of the old diocese. Each man persisted in calling himself the Episcopal bishop and his group the Episcopal diocese.

On litigation, however, the secessionist diocese of South Carolina was much more assertive and aggressive, suing the Church in a chosen court before it could reorganize the diocese and masterfully claiming the legal field which it has dominated ever since, for nearly two years. In Fort Worth there was first a court decision in the Church's favor, then one in the separatist diocese's favor, then the Texas state supreme court ruling. It said that the case had to be sent back down to the lower court to be judged on the principle of "neutrality."

The South Carolina court is also following "neutrality." This is the principle that the dispute must be judged only under state property laws, not as a religious dispute, and that both sides will be treated neutrally, or equally, under state laws. In fact, this gives a great boost to the separatist side. The Episcopal Church claim is that this whole matter is a religious dispute and should be left to the Church as an internal problem within a hierarchical institution. Neutrality invalidates that. If the secessionist diocese can prove it is an independent and separate legal entity under state law, removed from the national Church, and the court will accept this retroactively, then the diocese can maintain its possession of the rights, titles, and properties. In the circuit court trial last July, Judge Goodstein repeatedly invoked neutrality.

At the moment, South Carolina is awaiting two separate legal initiatives. In the end of the state circuit court trial in July, Judge Goodstein said she would release her judgment after ninety days. This could be at any time now. However, it may take much longer than ninety days to wade through the ocean of transcripts and exhibits (evidence) which run to countless thousands of pages. She herself said the case was very complicated and that she had a lot to learn about it.

The second legal path is in the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, in Richmond. On February 5, 2014, the Episcopal Church diocese of South Carolina filed an appeal of Judge Houck's ruling against the Church diocese. The diocese filed a brief in the court on April 7. The independent diocese of South Carolina then filed a brief in response. There has been no indication at all as to when the U.S. appeals court will issue an order. It could be at any time.

The U.S. Supreme Court has refused to take up the Episcopal Church appeal. At the moment there is no new initiative on the horizon although one could appear at any time. The Court did not give an explanation for the denial, but it may well have been reluctance to interfere with ongoing litigation between a state supreme court and a lower court, as was the case in Texas. Thus, the denial may have been more from procedure than principle. In future, the Court may be willing to take a case that clearly involves the rights of a hierarchical religious institution to govern itself, and/or involves the application of neutral principles, even retroactively, with such an institution.

As for South Carolina, the indication in the state circuit court was to favor the independent diocesan side. I expect Judge Goodstein will rule in their favor. The U.S. appeals court is a mystery that no one can predict. That court, however, has a majority of Democrats on the bench and has recently taken a decidedly progressive posture, as in its rejection of the Virginia law against same-sex marriage, a decision the U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider and therefore let stand.

At any rate, the litigation in South Carolina is most likely to drag on for years. Judge Goodstein's decision will be appealed by whichever side loses. That probably means another several years on appeals. At the moment there is no end of litigation in sight.

If the U.S. Court of Appeals refuses to intervene, I wonder if there could be an out-of-court settlement in South Carolina. After all, there is precedent for such. Several times there were possible compromise settlements offered in the diocese v. All Saints, Waccamaw case although none was accepted. The Church diocese has not said it demands the local parish properties back. In spite of the independent diocese's claims, the Episcopal Church and its diocese have made no effort to "hijack" the local church properties. The real issue of contention is on the diocesan assets. This could be negotiated.

If I were advising one of the two sides in South Carolina, I would say that once the circuit court decision comes down and once the U.S. Appeals Court rules, meet the other side and negotiate for a reasonable settlement. This would require compromise which is always give-and-take. Reasonable people can make reasonable agreements. It would end the unchristian lawsuits, save both sides untold dollars in lawyer fees, and promote harmony between the now-contentious Christian denominations.

What do you think? E-mail me at ronaldcaldwell1210@gmail.com    

Saturday, October 25, 2014

FORT WORTH AND THE U.S. SUPREME COURT, 7th edition (October 25)

By Ronald J. Caldwell, PhD, Professor of History, Emeritus

The United States Supreme Court website (www.supremecourt.gov/Search.aspx?FileName=/docketfiles/13-1520.htm) reveals that the Court has issued to the separatist diocese of Ft. Worth a request for a response to TEC's June 19 writ of certiorari petition to the Court. The request from the Court happened on July 28, 2014. The separatist diocese has 30 days (until August 27) in which to make a formal response in the U.S. Supreme Court.

This development is significant for two reasons, 1-the Supreme Court has responded positively to the Episcopal Church's appeal, although only in a preliminary way, and 2-the separatist diocese of Ft. Worth's strategy of ignoring TEC's appeal to the Supreme Court backfired.

On June 20, 2014, the separatist diocese (that goes by the contradictory name "Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth" even though long ago they very publicly proclaimed their complete separation from the Episcopal Church) had announced "Diocese will waive response to TEC's U.S. Supreme Court  appeal," (www.fwepiscopal.org/news/supremecourt.html). In the news release, the diocesan leaders proclaimed "Our attorneys believe there is little chance the Court will review our case...To speed up this process, the Diocese plans to waive a response to TEC's petition...That way the petition goes to the justices' chambers for a potential denial in the near future." They did indeed make a formal waiver of response to the Court on June 23. However, they were wrong in their over-confidence. Their gamble failed. In fact, the appeal from TEC was backed-up by several major groups that filed amici curiae ("friends of the court") briefs with the Supreme Court on July 21: the Episcopal Church in South Carolina, United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the Greek Orthodox Church. As of now, the separatist diocese has no choice but to file an official response to TEC's petition of appeal to the Supreme Court.

This case is in the preliminary stage called "Cert Pool." When a petition is first presented to the Court (as this one was on June 19), it goes to a pool of the law clerks of the justices (each of the nine justices has four clerks, or lawyers, who work as assistants; one justice refuses to participate in the Cert Pool, thus 36 clerks in all serve in the Pool). Each clerk is assigned petitions at random. The clerks have a winnowing out process in which they sort through the mountain of petitions and choose which ones they think need more information and merit review by the justices. The clerk writes a "Memo" that is sent to all nine justices summarizing the case and its merits. The decision to take the case is entirely up to the justices. What is happening now shows that the clerk who received the TEC petition decided it had merit and needed more information. In a sense it cleared the first hurdle (Cert Pool) of the Supreme Court. That is itself is an accomplishment. The case is now on the official list to be considered in the next Conference of the justices of the Court, scheduled for September 29 (see https://certpool.com/conferences/2014-09-29 ). At the Conference, it will be one of the "cases active." The justices will then consider and decide whether to take the case. This means, at the very least, the justices of the Supreme Court will mull over the merits of taking TEC's appeal. In the past few years they have accepted about one per-cent of all petitions sent to the Supreme Court (about 100 out of 10,000; most were discarded in the Cert Pool and did not make it to the Conference stage). The justices choose cases they think relate to important constitutional questions. Sometimes they hear cases that have had conflicting judgments in state courts, as long as they involve national constitutional issues. TEC is arguing its side as a constitutional issue, in fact, the First Amendment. If the justices agree to take the case, it would mean they see it as a federal, or national issue. TEC sees the issue as a national one; the separatists see it as a local one of property rights.

Coming on the heels of the disastrous courtroom brawl in St. George, this is good news indeed for the partisans of the Episcopal Church. It means the Supreme Court is one step closer to accepting the appeal of the Episcopal Church. A favorable ruling from the Supreme Court would, of course, change everything.

Now, we will await the Ft. Worth secessionists' response in the Supreme Court, due by August 27, and TEC's after-response, due in September. Then, we will see if the justices decide to take on TEC's petition for a final ruling by the majority of the nine justices of the U.S. Supreme Court. Take heart, good Episcopalians. I sense the dawn is breaking in the darkness of the eastern sky.

Read Steve Skardon's informative and thoughtful review at www.scepiscopalians.com

UPDATE --- (August 21):     On August 19, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an order extending time for the secessionist diocese to file a response from August 27 to September 26, 2014. See the official web site of the Supreme Court given in the first sentence above. Apparently, the extension means that the case will not go to conference as previously scheduled on September 29. Supreme Court rules hold that "cases are not placed on a Conference list sooner than 14 days after a brief in opposition is filed, unless the petitioner expressly waives the 14-day waiting period."

UPDATE --- (August 28):     On August 27 another party entered an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief in support of the Episcopal Church side of the Fort Worth appeal to the Supreme Court. This adds to the earlier briefs from the Episcopal Church in South Carolina, the United Methodist Church and the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese. The new amicus brief was filed by The Rutherford Institute. This non-profit corporation based in Charlottesville, Virginia, is famous for defending civil rights in legal matters, particularly religious freedom. Amici briefs are usually filed after the Court has decided to take a case. It is uncommon to have briefs filed at the Cert Pool stage and even more rare to have a host of them. This is bound to influence the justices to give the most serious attention to the Episcopal Church case. More about this later.

UPDATE --- (September 4):     On August 27 yet another party entered an amicus curiae brief in support of the Episcopal Church side of the Fort Worth appeal to the Supreme Court. This one is from the African Methodist Episcopal Church. This brings to five the number of amici briefs before the justices: The Episcopal Church in South Carolina, the United Methodist Church, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, the Rutherford Institute, and the African Methodist Episcopal Church. All of these briefs are available on the Episcopal Church in South Carolina's website (www.episcopalchurchsc.org ).

UPDATE --- (September 29):     On Friday, September 26, the separatist diocese of Ft. Worth filed a response brief with the Supreme Court. The case has been removed from the list to be considered in the Sept. 29 Conference of justices. It will be mid-October before the Court will announce the date of the Conference when the justices will decide whether to take the case.

UPDATE --- (October 25):     On October 14 the Episcopal Church parties filed a reply to the Sept. 26 response of the separatist diocese. On October 15 the case was distributed for the justices' Conference of October 31 (https://certpool.com/conferences/2014-10-31 ). Therefore, on Friday, October 31, the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court will decide whether to accept the Episcopal Church's petition. The news of the decision will probably be released the following Monday, November 3. At long last we will all know whether or not the U.S. Supreme Court will consider the Episcopal Church's appeal of the Texas ruling.