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 .