Saturday, February 28, 2015


You can have a lapel pin and a dinner with Mark Lawrence (and 167 other people) for only $1,785 (1785, get it?). DSC announced yesterday in a whiff of desperation the creation of "The 1785 Society" by the Legal Defense Fund of DSC. You can join, but only if you pay out $1,785. The point is to raise $300,000 in addition to the $2,000,000 DSC has already spent on legal matters. If only 168 people pay up $1,785 each, the goal will be reached. One should make the check out to the diocese in order to get a tax break, but the money actually goes to the DSC Legal Defense Fund which is a secretive committee the details of which are not revealed for communicants to see in the DSC annual budget.

What does this new initiative of DSC tell us? In the first place, it means DSC needs a lot more money. Obviously the Legal Defense Fund has fallen short of raising enough funds to pay its host of 40+ lawyers. Now, Bishop Lawrence is having to dangle new carrots in front of his long-suffering followers to get more money out of them. As we have already seen (posts, "The Decline of the Diocese of South Carolina" and "Further Notes...") DSC has had a drastic drop in the number of communicants, or active members. This means fewer people are having to shoulder growing costs. The people have already been squeezed for $2 million (the size of DSC's entire annual budget). Now, they will be expected to pay more. The announcement implies this $300,000 is for the cost of litigation in the next year. 

Actually, DSC is going to need several times $300,000 for what is most likely to be coming up (the trial last July cost around $1 m). DSC's announcement fails to mention several key points. The TEC/ECSC appeal of Goodstein's ruling is not necessarily limited to the state courts of SC. There is a good chance that a SC Supreme Court ruling would be offered to the U.S. Supreme Court. Besides, the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals is now deciding on whether to send Judge Houck's ruling back down to the U.S. District Court in Charleston. If it does, and it probably will, this will be advantageous to TEC/ECSC as it will probably carry a direction for the "Colorado River" principle giving strength to the larger institution. Houck himself has already declared that TEC is an hierarchical institution and that Mark Lawrence renounced his ordained ministry. Thus, in all likelihood, there are at least two expensive court cases coming up soon for DSC. $300,000 is not likely to cover it.

Another point this new initiative tells us is that DSC expects TEC/ECSC's appeal of Goodstein's decision to be taken seriously by the higher courts. DSC is girding for a fierce battle. If they were confident in her ruling, they would not be so concerned about future litigation. The fact is, they know Goodstein's decision is highly controversial and weak. It will take a lot to prop it up in the Appeals Court and/or state supreme court. Since DSC's lawyers will not be able to choose these venues in advance, they will have a much harder time making their case.

DSC's announcement is full of omissions. Of course, they neglected to mention that it was DSC that started all this expensive litigation. DSC sued TEC first, on Jan. 4, 2013. Instead, the announcement continues on the threadbare falsehood that TEC "attacked" DSC and Bishop Lawrence and that DSC had no choice but to defend itself against this entirely unwarranted outside aggression. Baloney. The facts are very clear about what happened. The small circle of DSC leadership made a premeditated conspiracy to willfully and deliberately lead the majority of DSC out of the Episcopal Church. In time, the facts of history will replace the mythology that DSC constructed and still promotes as justification for more contributions for lawyers. Too, DSC neglects to mention that there was no mediation of the lawsuit, something they could have had instead of the expensive trial.

I note with interest too that DSC is continuing to drop the third leg of the stool. Before the schism, Lawrence said repeatedly that the differences with TEC came from the three legs of theology, polity, and sexuality. Now we are told "dioceses that disagreed with its theology and polity." Gone is any hint of homosexuality. In reality, all the evidence shows that homosexuality was the direct cause of the schism. The very clear record shows theology and polity were really only rationales in the background of the actual events around the issue of homosexuality that led to the schism of 2012. DSC is trying to rewrite history. It will not work. The people who once railed at length against "indiscriminate inclusivity" will have to live with those words. They cannot change the past.

This business about 1785 is another piece of the misinterpretation of history. The implication DSC makes is that since it existed before TEC was created, it never gave up its independence and sovereignty to TEC. Nonsense. The documents are clear that for many, many years DSC accepted the supremacy of the Episcopal Church. The claim of "disassociation" in 2012 is unhistorical and illegal under the rules of the Episcopal Church that DSC had accepted. Take the case of the state of South Carolina and the United States. The state of South Carolina existed long before the U. S. A. was created. Once SC ratified the Constitution and joined the Union, it accepted the supremacy of the Constitution. The US constitution does not have a clause forbidding secession. South Carolina could not secede from the Union any more than DSC could unilaterally leave TEC. SC tried and brought down upon itself catastrophe. The people of South Carolina should have learned the lesson that once you accede to a higher authority, you must recognize the supremacy of that greater authority. One cannot jump in and out of unions at will. The DSC leaders are wrong in their claim that preexistence means sovereignty over any later agreement.

Another $300,000 on top of $2,000,000 from the faithful of DSC? At the rate things are going, there will have to be many more appeals for money down the road. It is time for some transparency on the part of DSC. Where did the $2 m come from? What diocesan funds/assets have been used for litigation? Did all of it come from the communicants? How much have members contributed to the Legal Defense Fund? How much money came from sources outside DSC? Who outside DSC contributed? Individuals or groups? How much has DSC spent on individual lawyers, other legal costs? Why the secrecy of the Defense Fund? The people of DSC have a right to get the answers.

DSC is risking donor fatigue. This is especially dangerous with a declining membership. At some point, communicants are bound to start asking some hard questions about where their donations are going. In time it will get increasingly difficult for DSC to get more money from its people as its reasons for all this litigation wear thin. To keep on with this, DSC is risking a breaking point and a rebellion.

I think it will take more than lapel pins and dinners with Mark Lawrence to keep the faithful revved up and pouring money into DSC's lawyers' pockets. Besides, it strikes me that boastful lapel pins and select dinners are meant to stroke vanity and ego. These are not attractive qualities of human nature; and they are out of line with the Christian virtues of humility and selflessness. This new ploy may work for the moment, but it raises the question of what next, a sleepover in Bishop Lawrence's Goodstein-granted million dollar residence on Smith Street?

Not all ideas that sound good at first turn out to be good. We all know that. More and more people in DSC will be asking whether what their leadership did for them was such a good idea after all.

The new "1785 Society" helps us understand the present status of the post-schism DSC. Two years and four months after its ruling clique led the majority of the old diocese away from the Episcopal Church, a picture is beginning to come into focus of the state of the post-schism independent diocese. With falling membership, rising costs, and nowhere to go, it is at the least a troubled picture and at worst a disastrous one.