Sunday, August 24, 2014


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

In investigating the background of the Episcopal Church schism in South Carolina, I have encountered several perplexing problems that do not lend themselves readily to empirical quantification. I have been pondering on these and would like your input on what you think about the most important one of them:

Why did the issue of homosexuality lead to the five diocesan votes to withdraw from the Episcopal Church when earlier highly contentious issues in the Church had not?

Around 1960, the national Episcopal Church moved to an attitude distinctly committed to the social gospel. Common parlance often calls this "liberalism." First came promotion of civil rights, namely for African-Americans, but also for other minorities. Shortly thereafter two other issues loomed large: new prayer book and ordination of women. By the 1970's the Church was committed to a significant revision of the liturgies in the old 1928 Book of Common Prayer as well as to the admission of women to holy orders in the Church. First women were allowed to be ordained priests and deacons, and later bishops. There were other smaller reforms occurring too, but the fact is that three major changes swept through the national church in a relatively short amount of time. To be sure, disgruntled communicants began leaving the Episcopal Church with the start of the social gospel movement; and new out flows occurred with each new reform. Reactionaries fled from the "liberal" Episcopal Church.

The fourth contentious issue, homosexuality, arose around 1990 with the ordinations of openly homosexual men. Through the decade of the 1990's it was a highly contested subject in the Church. Then, in 2003, the Church accepted the first openly homosexual person as a bishop, Gene Robinson.

These four reform movements were not just questions of social policy, they were also questions of theology. Traditionalists wanted to keep the focus in the Church on personal salvation, that is a vertical religion of one person and one God. They saw the social gospel as a dangerous diversion that diluted the main purpose of religion, personal salvation. The traditionalists who stayed in the Church fought a losing battle to stem the tide of the horizontal religion advocated by the social gospel movement, but to them it became a war for the very soul of the Church.

The problem at hand is why the fourth great reform movement, equal rights for homosexual persons, led to votes of five dioceses to leave the Episcopal Church while the three earlier reform movements had not. Shortly after the Robinson episode, the schisms began. Between December of 2007 and October 2012, the authoritative structures of five dioceses declared their separation from the Episcopal Church (San Joaquin, Pittsburgh, Fort Worth, Quincy, and South Carolina).

I have discussed this problem with many Episcopalians from ordinary laypeople to bishops. Here are the major theories that have appeared in attempts to answer the question:

1-Cumulative.  The "traditionalists" (a.k.a. conservatives, orthodox, reactionaries) had not liked any of the reforms but had tolerated the first three, at least somewhat. It is interesting to note that three of the five diocesan schisms came from dioceses that had steadfastly refused to ordain women (San Joaquin, Ft. Worth, and Quincy). By the time the fourth great social movement occurred, the traditionalists could no longer tolerate the seemingly never ending reforms. They threw in the towel in exhaustion.

2-Sexuality.  The subject of sexuality and sexual identity affect people differently than the subjects of civil rights, gender, and liturgy. Homosexuality was an issue profoundly more serious to conservatives than any of the earlier ones had been. Conservatives generally hold that God assigns gender and no one has the right to question that or to follow behavior deviating from that.

3-Combination of sexuality and female authority. In 2006, Katharine Jefferts Schori was elected the first woman to be presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church and the first female prelate in the Anglican Communion. Coming on the heels of the acceptance of homosexuals as bishops, it was too much for the ultra-conservatives to take. The far-right dioceses peeled off. In the early 2000s there were 12 dioceses that were solidly and predictably conservative; the majorities in 5 of those 12 voted to leave the Church. 

4-Mechanism.  By the early 2000's as Robinson and Jefferts Schori assumed authority, there was a presumed mechanism in place whereby dioceses could theoretically switch primatial oversight from one Anglican province to another. This had not been on the horizon during the earlier three reform movements. In the earlier cases only individuals, or groups of persons left the Church to form or join splinter group churches. This mechanism formed in the 1990's and early 2000's as conservatives sought to move outside the Episcopal Church and even set up a church to replace the Episcopal Church. One aspect of this was the Chapman Memo; another the Barfoot Memo. In South Carolina at least, and perhaps in the other four too, counter-revolutionaries gained control of the apparati of the diocese in the early 2000's and told the communicants the Episcopal Church was hopelessly in error and they could leave the Church for another primatial authority. Most communicants agreed and went along with the diocesan leadership.

Thus, where does all this leave us? I am still giving this problem a lot of thought and no doubt will continue to do so, but at this point I lean to the first theory: Cumulative. It is not that the others are wrong; on the contrary I think there is truth in all of them. But, it just seems to make more sense to me to see it as the result of a long historical process. It did not happen overnight.

I grew up in a distinctly fundamentalist and independent church. I know Southern fundamentalism very well. Although Episcopalian conservatives are not quite the same, they share much of the common mindset of the old fundamentalists. I believe I understand where the Episcopal traditionalists are coming from. And on this I would emphasize the vertical-horizontal dichotomy. Traditionalists believe very fervently that religion is all about personal salvation: one person and one God. Nothing else really matters in the great scheme of the universe. While they certainly do not avoid charity and care for others, they see the social gospel as an offshoot, that is, not the essence of the Christian religion. They see it as at least dangerous and at most heresy. In the Episcopal Church, the traditionalists, at least the most extreme groups, came to see the Episcopal Church as hopelessly lost by the early 2000's. Thus, the underlying cause of the schism, it seems to me at this point in my research, was the traditionalists' efforts to preserve their view of the pure Christian religion in the only way they knew how, to leave the Episcopal Church and link up with some other foreign elements that shared their religious sensibilities. In this process, it was the issue of homosexuality that was the trigger for this. So, it seems to me the fundamental causes of the schisms were theological. However, the underlying tension was activated in the end by the issue of homosexuality which was the wedge that pried the majorities of the five dioceses away from the Episcopal Church. 

This is all, of course, theoretical conjecture. and open to all sorts of different views. I may change my mind as time goes by and I develop new understandings from the historical evidence.

I would like to know what you think. How would you address the great historical problem at hand:

Why did the issue of homosexuality lead to five diocesan moves to leave the Episcopal Church while three earlier contentious issues in the Church had not?

I invite everyone to share your thoughts with me. E-mail me at:


Friday, August 22, 2014


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

The independent diocesan website ( has posted two letters, both dated August 21. The first is from the chair and the secretary of Global South. It announces "welcome" to the independent diocese for accepting Global South's offer of "pastoral oversight" from the Global South's "Primatial Oversight Council." One will recall that the independent diocesan convention last March unanimously approved a last minute resolution to "accept" the offer of Global South for primatial oversight. The resolution was railroaded through the convention to be rubber-stamped as "providential." The deal was concocted just days before the convention by Lawrence and Mouneer Anis, a close ally of Lawrence, primate of the Anglican province of Jerusalem, and chair of a self-created group of Anglican primates calling themselves "The Global South of the Anglican Communion." It is a coalition of mostly African and south Asian Anglican primates bonded by opposition to social changes coming from the First World, namely equality of rights for women and for homosexual persons. It is closely related to GAFCON which is a shadow government created in 2008 to split the Anglican Communion into "liberal"(Anglo-centric) and "orthodox" (South-centric) branches. A goal of GAFCON is to replace the Episcopal Church by the Anglican Church in North America as the official Anglican entity in the United States.

The second letter posted yesterday was from Bishop Lawrence to "receive with gratitude" the letter from Anis and Ernest.

The resolution passed last March was meaningless. It had absolutely no detail let alone definition of the meachanism of such a thing as "primatial oversight." The new letters are no more enlightening. They clarify nothing. Is the "oversight" from one primate or a group? The convention resolution said the independent diocese could remove itself from the deal at will. How was this "oversight"? What were the obligations of the independent diocese to the oversight primate(s)? What were the obligations of the oversight primate(s) to the diocese? Not one of these questions was addressed.

In reality this is not even a slightly veiled sham. It is nonsense. From the start of the schism, the leaders of the independent diocese told their faithful they are the true Episcopalians of the low country and they are members of the Anglican Communion. Neither was true. This oversight scheme is meant to fool communicants into believing they are part of the Anglican Communion. Global South and GAFCON are self-made groups that are not officially recognized by the Anglican Communion or the Archbishop of Canterbury. They have no authority in the Anglican Communion. The Episcopal Church is the only legitimate branch of the Anglican Communion in the United States. Period.

Meanwhile, a diocesan "discernment committee" is supposedly at work seeking a permanent link between the independent diocese and the Anglican Communion. First, this committee was hand-picked by Lawrence. It is inconceivable that they would not follow his wishes. Secondly, the group supported by GAFCON in the U.S. is the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). Lawrence has steadfastly refused to join this group for reasons not apparent. The independent diocese is the only one of the five breakaway diocesan groups not to join ACNA. Why not? Of course, ACNA already has a diocese of the Carolinas and it just happens to be headed by Steve Wood, of St. Andrew's in Mt. Pleasant, a rival of Lawrence in the race for bishop in 2006-07.

Alas, the independent diocese is still an anchorless ship adrift at sea in the middle of nowhere going nowhere. How long will the trusting passengers implicitly follow a captain and crew lost at sea?

See the thoughtful essay by Steve Skardon on all this at .

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

--An open letter to the communicants of the independent diocese

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

We have just gone through fourteen agonizing days of a shameful and disastrous scene in what was once known as the most sedate, reasonable, rational, and beautiful of all major denominations. The venerable old establishment church in South Carolina has reached a new low. It lies shattered on the floor of Courtroom D of the Dorchester County Court House in St. George. Will it ever recover? Will its wounds ever heal? Will it ever return to its ancient glory as the premiere religion of the establishment society of South Carolina?

This is an open letter to the majority in that once grand old church, people who have felt the need to leave their ancestral home in the Episcopal Church. Your side will "win" this trial. But when all is said and done, what will you have won? I ask you to consider: Is it worth it? Look at what has happened. Look at the cost and ask yourself, Is it all worth it? I ask you to consider the following factors:

1-On the causes of the split. The old diocesan leaders said the diocese had to leave TEC because of theology, polity, and sexuality. On theology, they said TEC had abandoned the belief in the uniqueness of Christ. On polity they said TEC had acted illegally under its own rules. On sexuality they said TEC was forcing everyone to accept same-sex marriage and transgendered clergy. None of this was true. In fact, TEC has never changed its theology of the uniqueness of Christ. That would take action by the General Convention. It will never happen. On government, TEC operates under a Constitution and Canons which it follows by detailed directions. On sexuality, TEC has allowed diocesan bishops to choose whether or not to have the blessing of same-sex unions. That is not marriage. As for transgendered clergy, all ordinations are at the discretion of the local bishop. He or she cannot be forced to ordain anyone.

The leaders also said that DSC was forced to leave TEC because Bishop Lawrence was mistreated. As I have pointed out in other posts, the public records are very clear that Lawrence was in fact well treated by TEC. Documents show that the Standing Committee planned the schism by unanimous and secret resolution on Oct. 2, 2012 before Lawrence was even informed that he had been certified with abandonment. It was put into effect on Oct. 17, retroactive to Oct. 15. Lawrence refused all efforts of the Presiding Bishop to resolve the crisis after that. In fact, the leaders, and Lawrence, voluntarily left the Episcopal Church. Lawrence was not mistreated. The diocese was not pushed out.

Moreover, the leaders said they had to go to court first because they were about to be attacked by TEC. They did go to court and initiated the first lawsuit, on Jan. 4, 2013 before TEC even had time to reorganize the diocese. There was no sign that TEC was about to attack anyone. The communicants of the old diocese have been misinformed on the causes of the split, on why the diocese left TEC, and on why the diocese went to court. All of this will be clear when the historical record is fully revealed.

2-The old diocesan leaders led the majority to abandon the church of their forbearers and ancestors, a church they had been a part of for 225 years. A great deal of the historic economic, political, and social establishment of South Carolina proudly called themselves Episcopalians. With the possible exception of Virginia, no state in the country was more attached to the Episcopal Church.

3-The old diocesan leaders have developed an institutional structure in the diocese that is far more authoritarian than it has ever been. The bishop has been given the sole power to interpret the constitution and canons of the church, to appoint the deans, and to appoint and dismiss all clergy. The clergy have been given control over local property. For years now, all of the important diocesan councils and committees have been monopolized by like-minded people. For years they have routinely voted unanimously on resolutions. For years they have controlled all public relations in the diocese. Diocesan conventions have become rubber-stamping dumas. Power rests at the top.

4-Since Lawrence became bishop in 2008, the diocese of 29,000 has lost about one-third of itself. 2,000 people left with St. Andrew's of Mt. Pleasant. About 7,000 people remained with TEC. Forty percent of the clergy remained with TEC. DSC has 52 local churches, TEC has 30. Exact communicant numbers are impossible to know. DSC claims 80% of the old diocese, a figure that is certainly exaggerated. Two-thirds is more realistic.

5-The economic cost has been and continues to be great. The diocese shows declining revenues. Local parishes are challenged to keep up income. Meanwhile, 35 local churches have joined the lawsuit, each with lawyers to pay. There were 40 lawyers attending the trial. The trial lasted 14 days. If each lawyer charges $100/hr (a very conservative figure) and each trial day had 8 hours, that amounts to 112 hours and $11,200 per lawyer. 40 lawyers would cost $448,000. And this is just trial time. It does not count the many hours of lawyers' preparations. A fair estimate for this trial would push a million dollars. Imagine how far that amount would have gone to missionary work and to caring for the poor.

6-The ill will that has been generated goes deep and will likely last quite a while. Before the trial, Lawrence called his opponents "the spiritual forces of evil." Alan Runyan et al went after their courtroom opponents with hard-hitting aggression. Genteel Episcopalianism disappeared in the dust. Memories last.

7-Many local churches have suffered the heartbreak of separation. This is especially true in small cities and towns. Friend has left friend, neighbor has left neighbor as long-term relationships have fallen victim. One has only to speak to the people caught in this to see their pain and anguish.

8-All of this has done great damage to the work of the Kingdom of God in lower South Carolina. Both sides have had to devote so much time, money, attention, and energy into the separation that too much has been lost along the way. This is no way to do Christ's work in the world. Besides, how can a church at war attract new members? People want to go to church for solace and comfort, not for conflict. Most people already have enough of that in their lives.

9-The old diocesan leaders have led the majority off to drift into nowhere. What has happened in South Carolina is unique to South Carolina. When Lawrence staged his dramatic pre-planned walk-out from the House of Bishops in July of 2012, not one other bishop joined him. Not one bishop has followed him since then. Not one other diocese has gone along with South Carolina. Why is South Carolina unique? It's because of the leadership that long ago began deliberately distancing the diocese from the Church. It was a revolution from the top down. Not being a popular revolution, it has not been replicated anywhere else.

The alternate primatial oversight scheme with the Global South is a meaningless sham meant to fool communicants into believing they are in the Anglican Communion. The leaders have not even explained how it works. A discernment committee is at work to decide on new affiliation, but the committee were all hand picked by Bishop Lawrence who has steadfastly refused to join the Anglican Church in North America, the supposed replacement structure to take the place of TEC. The independent diocese has no identity. It is not in the Anglican Communion. It is not recognized by the Archbishop of Canterbury or by the official structure of the AC, nor will it ever be.

Thus, the good communicants of the old diocese should ask themselves, Has it been worth it? Is it worth it now? Look at where you have been since you left home, where you are now, and where you are going. Why are you better off now than you were two years ago? Why do you think you will be better off in the future? Again, Is it worth it?

What do you think? I'd like to hear from you. E-mail me at

Monday, August 4, 2014


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

A week has gone by since the trial ended; and in that time several useful summaries have appeared. Since I was unable to attend any of the trial, I am awaiting the official trial transcript before I offer my analysis of the whole event.

The best even-handed, non-partisan, although very brief, report came in the Charleston Regional Business Journal on July 31, 2014 ( In it, Ashley Barker described the issues in "South Carolina: Episcopal Fight over Half-Billion Worth of Property Now in Judge's Hands."

On the pro-Episcopal Church side, see Steve Skardon's August 3 article "Legal Roundup: S.C. Breakaways' Hopes Lie in Federal, State Courts" ( Skardon may well speak for the attitude among the pro-Church side that the Circuit Court was a lost cause, but that legal matters beyond South Carolina may change everything in the state. Besides the fact that the overwhelming majority of court cases have ended in favor of the Episcopal Church, Skardon reminds us that two big issues are pending: 1-the Episcopal Church in South Carolina's appeal to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond that has been waiting for months; and 2-the Episcopal Diocese of Forth Worth's appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court that is now bolstered by three other major denominations: Methodist, Presbyterian, and Greek Orthodox. In short, even though the Episcopal Church may lose temporarily on the local level, this may very well be trumped on the higher levels.

On the pro-independent diocese side, Joy Hunter and Jan Pringle have given us a handy summary "Trial Ends: Highlights from the Trial of the Diocese of SC vs. TEC and TECSC" ( They held that all of the pro-TEC witnesses failed miserably and that Lawrence's testimony set the record straight about his role. Their article reflects well the old diocesan leadership's attitudes. Long ago they established a strategy of the-best-defense-is-a-good-offense; and it worked remarkably well in the trial. The leaders of the old diocese have every reason to be in a celebratory mood as they have only to await the ruling that everyone knows is coming.

Also on the pro-independent diocese side is the article of A.S. Haley, "Making Sense of the Trial in South Carolina" ( Haley is well-known as the lawyer blogger who gives detailed interpretations of matters of Episcopal Church litigation. In this article he opines at length about the strengths of the diocesan presentations and the failures of the Church side although he was not present in the courtroom. One should bear in mind that Haley was one of the lawyers who argued the secessionist diocesan side against the Episcopal Church side in the recent San Joaquin trial in Fresno. In that trial, Judge Donald Black handed down a tentative ruling on May 5 finding all in favor of the Church side and completely against the secessionist side. Black's words were so clear and simple they merit repeating here: "Diocesan bishops are at all times subject to and bound by the Church's Constitution, Canons and Book of Common Prayer. None of these documents authorizes a diocesan Bishop to waive, to declare null and void, or modify, or amend any of the Church's Constitutions and Canons." Judge Goodstein would do well to ponder those words. 

Another lengthy pro-independent diocese article is by Mary Ann Mueller, "St. George SC: In the Adversarial Courtroom Truth is Lost in the Mix" ( Her views are close to Haley's. She emphasizes the effectiveness of neutral principles in this case.