Wednesday, November 1, 2017


In view of all the recent dusturbing news on the national scene about sexual harassment, it is timely to look at how women have been treated in the pre-schism diocese and in the post-schism dioceses in South Carolina. 

As in the case of race, the Diocese of South Carolina was the very last diocese in the Episcopal Church to allow women into the institutional structure of the diocese. Bishop Temple lamented this fact and worked hard to gain equal access for women in the constituted bodies of the diocese and to extend ordination to women. Under his guidance, the diocesan convention voted, in 1971, to allow women to serve as delegates to the convention (the last of the 110 dioceses in TEC to do this).

The Episcopal Church recognized the ordination of women in 1976 and committed itself to full equality for and inclusion of women into the life of the church. This was one of the four great reform movements in the Church in the late twentieth century (others: equal rights for African Americans, democratization of the Prayer Book, and equal rights for non-celibate homosexuals). In time, women moved into positions of leadership and authority in the Church, all the way to the presiding bishop.  

Meanwhile, a minority of conservative churchmen refused to support the Church's reforms for women. Three dioceses adamantly refused to allow women to be ordained to the priesthood, Quincy, Ft. Worth, and San Joaquin (Bishop Lawrence's home diocese).

Bishop Allison (1982-1990), a conservative Evangelical, was ambivalent about equality for women. Giving a great deal of time and attention to sexuality, particularly homosexuality, he all but ignored the issue of women's rights. He neither overtly supported nor opposed it. Nevertheless, small steps occurred. The first woman ordained to the priesthood in South Carolina was the Rev. Constance D.S. Belmore, in 1984. Allison did not participate. He did, however, agree to ordain two women, the Rev. Cynthia Nan Taylor, in 1987, and the Rev. Jennie Olbrych, in 1989. Women also found their way into the diocesan standing committee, in 1987 and 1988.

Sexual harassment was very much a part of the diocese in the Salmon years of the 1990's according to the memoir of Eugene Nick Zeigler (When Conscience and Power Meet. Univ. of SC Press, 2008). Zeigler was the diocesan chancellor, or lawyer at the time. He described an episode in which the Rev. Tony Campbell, canon missioner of the diocese, was elected suffragan bishop of Virginia in 1993. A woman came forth and asserted that she and Campbell had carried on an adulterous affair. The presiding bishop then suspended the consent process for Campbell whereupon the clergy of South Carolina exploded in protest against the national church and the accuser. According to Zeigler, practically the whole diocese rushed to Campbell's defense. Zeigler, however, said there was "substantial evidence" of wrongdoing and resolved to pursue justice. This was not easy: "in the eyes of the clergy I was literally the devil's advocate." A diocesan ecclesiastical court found Campbell not guilty. Nevertheless, Virginia withdrew its election. Then, two more women in the diocese, a priest and a layperson, came forth with sexual harassment accusations against Campbell. "There was even stiffer resistance on the part of the clergy to a second trial, but I insisted." Zeigler threatened to resign as chancellor if justice was not rendered. A settlement was made; and Campbell moved away to Texas. If Zeigler's account is to be believed, and I see no reason to doubt it, the diocesan establishment and most of the clergy behaved shamefully in this episode. It was only by the chancellor's, and the presiding bishop's, resolution for justice that justice was in fact done. If it had been left to the diocesan power structure alone in 1993, the rights of women, and by extension of all people, would have been ignored. In fact, if it were not for Zeigler's book, very few people today would even know of this dark passage in the history of the diocese.

To be sure, the election of Katharine Jefferts Schori as presiding bishop in 2006 created another anti-women explosion on the right, especially in South Carolina. Bishop Salmon demanded "alternate primatial oversight," that is, another Anglican primate to oversee South Carolina, rather than "Mrs. Schori," one of the nice terms for her. Jefferts Schori was pointedly not invited to serve as lead consecrator for Mark Lawrence in 2008.

Jefferts Schori had no idea what she was in for when she visited the diocese in February of 2008. What was supposed to be a "conversation" between herself and the clergy of the diocese turned into an ambush. For more than two hours she was trapped, preached to, lectured to, accused, and forced to listen to her character being impugned. We have the videos to prove it. They are on The Living Church website. Her visit was a low point in the run-up to the schism and should have alerted her to what was to come. She, however, seemed to brush it off to give Bishop Lawrence plenty of leeway, perhaps hoping long- suffering would keep him in the Church. It did not work, as she learned much later.

Meanwhile, progress of incorporating women into the life of the diocese remained extremely slow. Women were elected to the diocesan bodies, as the standing committee and the council, but they never held a majority and never gained a chair. They invariably served as "secretary" of whatever committee. No woman served as rector of a large or medium-seized parish of the diocese. On rare occasions when they spoke out in opposition to the men leaders, women got nowhere. Case in point, May 30, 2009, the standing committee met to consider St. Andrew's of Mt. Pleasant's proposal to transfer millions of dollars' worth of property into a separate and irrevocable trust outside of the control of the diocese and Church, thus in violation of the Dennis Canon, something both the diocese and Church held as church law at that time. When a woman committee member spoke out that day, and only to look into the legal aspects of such an action, she was immediately overridden. The committee brushed aside her thoughts and railroaded through the measure that was in blatant violation of the laws of the diocese. So much for the opinion of women. Meanwhile, the core leadership of the diocese remained entirely male.

Bishop Lawrence had come from a diocese that had never ordained women to the priesthood; and he continued this attitude all the way to the schism. He even spoke out in the 2012 diocesan convention disparagingly about women's ordination. At the time of the schism in 2012, only 8% of the diocesan clergy were women, when the national Church was 30%. The schism itself was planned and carried out overwhelmingly by men. Of the two dozen people in on the secret plan of schism in October of 2012, three were women, all members of the standing committee. None of them, however, was in the inner circle of power.

When women appeared to play important roles in the run-up to the schism, they were attacked by the diocesan leadership. Of course, their attitude to the (woman) presiding bishop hardened if anything between 2008 and 2012, as she became the convenient enemy. Leadership depicted her as the dark "liberal" aggression from off out to expel the supposedly innocent local bishop who was only fighting for the right and for "orthodoxy" (the victimization theme). Attorney Josephine Hicks likewise came in for attack. She was the attorney for the Disciplinary Board for Bishops, in 2011, who had the nerve to ask the diocese for certain relevant documents. Diocesan leaders disdainfully refused and, instead, hounded her into removing herself from the case. She was replaced by a man who apparently demanded nothing of the diocese.

The relationship between the DSC (all-male) leadership and women in the post-schism litigation is fascinating. First, the DSC lawyers chose a court with a (woman) judge who turned out to be as favorable toward them as possible. Judge Diane Goodstein gave them everything they wanted and then some. No doubt, the lawyers sailed into the state supreme court in 2015 fully expecting another supportive woman to back them up. She was none other than the chief justice, Jean Toal, the very author of the famous All Saints decision of 2009 that had recognized the secession of the All Saints parish from the diocese and awarded the parish the local property. One of the DSC lawyers, Henrietta Golding, had handled that case for All Saints all the way to its stunning conclusion in September of 2009. No doubt, lawyers Runyan, Golding and their cohorts, fully expected Toal to apply the All Saints decision to the whole diocese. In fact, as we know now, this is exactly what she wanted to do.

However, big mistake in assuming Toal would be another Goodstein. Chief Justice Toal was famous far and wide for her self-proclaimed "controlled aggression." She was the epitome of the independent and strong-willed woman justice on the bench. She would be in charge, not anyone else. She would defer to no one. Toal was definitely in control of the hearing as everyone watching knew. She raked Runyan over the coals for introducing so many extraneous issues into the circuit court trial, and subsequent decision, thus muddying the waters of her pure All Saints decision that was simply on two issues, corporate and property rights. If the DSC lawyers thought they were going to make the chief justice fall in line behind them, they should have known better. Ironically, all the time, Toal and Runyan wanted exactly the same thing, the extension of the All Saints decision. In the supreme court's written decision of Aug. 2, Toal was the only justice to uphold the decision entirely. The dynamic between Toal and Runyan was the most fascinating aspect of the supreme court hearing. In my view, Runyan met far more than his match.

Now we arrive at the case of Justice Kaye Hearn, one of the five justices on the South Carolina Supreme Court. She has been mercilessly attacked ever since the decision appeared on August 2. It is an attempt at character assassination. Perhaps she is the revenge for Toal. Obviously, the DSC lawyers' goal is to reverse the decision that went against them. Hearn, however, was not the lead justice in writing the majority pro-Episcopal Church decision. That was Justice Pleicones. Nor was she the swing vote to make a majority. That was Chief Justice Beatty. Yet, she was singled out for vicious denunciation as unfair and unethical because she happened to be an Episcopalian and to be listed on the membership rolls of the Episcopal Forum. The DSC lawyers appealed to the Court for her to remove her part of the Aug. 2 decision and to recuse herself from further court action. They never mentioned this in the twenty-two months since the hearing. This is an outlandish, never-heard-of last-minute ploy that reeks of desperation. Nevertheless, it is a personal attack on a woman, the only woman on the state supreme court other than Toal. Could anyone imagine a lawyer having the gall to do this to Toal? He or she would be toast. 

One woman who was not about to be toast was Melinda Lucka, an attorney in Charleston. In all of my research on the schism, she was the only woman I found, who played an important role, to escape, at least largely, the wrath of the all-male diocesan leadership. And, how she did this remains a mystery, at least to me. On the Church side, Lucka played the key role in defending the interests of the Episcopalians in the diocese in the run-up to the schism of 2012. She did a tremendous amount of work on preparing a case concerning Bishop Lawrence. In 2011, she led the pro-Church party in the diocese to appeal to the national Church for intervention. It was she who led the two actions in 2011 and 2012. In the latter, her committee of twenty-four communicants presented an effective petition to the national Church. The Disciplinary Board for Bishops found it convincing and brought a charge against Bishop Lawrence for abandonment of the Episcopal Church. I still marvel that she avoided being burned at the stake, metaphorically speaking, by the Coming Street cabal. Although the diocesan leadership's treatment of Lucka was nowhere near that of Jefferts Schori and Hicks, she did not escape their ire entirely. In 2013, she was on the usual list of suspects to be served court papers, and she and her husband were subpoenaed for depositions by the DSC lawyers. In my opinion, of all the people on the Church side in the run-up to the schism, Melinda Lucka played the most heroic role. She will be remembered in history; and I hope she writes her memoir about her role. We need to know more about her crucial work.

It should  not be surprising that after the schism, the two dioceses have treated women very differently. Not surprisingly, most of the pre-schism diocesan clergy who were women remained with the Episcopal Church in the split. In the Episcopal Church in South Carolina today, there are 19 women clergy. 12 of the 92 priests (13%) are women. Among the deacons, a majority (7 of 12) are women. The Ven. Calhoun Walpole is the archdeacon, the highest rank any woman has ever achieved in the diocese. While making progress, TECSC still has a long way to go to full equality. In the Episcopal Church today, about half the new ordinands are female; and women make up about 40% of the clergy.  

The post-schism Diocese of South Carolina is another story. Today, DSC is listing 11 women clergy, 6 priests and 5 deacons. They account for 6.5% of the DSC clergy (11 of 155). Percentage-wise, there are twice as many women clergy in the Church diocese as in the independent diocese.

After the schism, and seven years after his ordination as bishop, Bishop Lawrence finally agreed to ordain a woman to the priesthood, the Rev. Martha Horn, in 2015. She died a few weeks later. Another woman has been ordained in DSC, but not by Lawrence, the Rev. Catharine Norris. Low and behold, another woman is about to be ordained, and by Lawrence this time, the Rev. Mary Ellen Doran, next month. This will make two women that Lawrence will have ordained to the priesthood in the last nearly ten years.

One ominous note for women in the independent diocese is that DSC has joined the Anglican Church in North America. ACNA is a male-chauvinist bastion with no patience for women's issues. It is controlled by men, almost all old white men. The structure of the ACNA, with its four governing bodies, places most power in the hands of the 50 bishops. Only men can be bishops in ACNA. A few months ago, these bishops met to discuss women clergy and released a statement, on September 7, 2017, agreeing to disagree. They left the ordination of women up to the local dioceses but at the same time condemned the ordination of women to the priesthood: "We agree that there is insufficient scriptural warrant to accept women's ordination to the priesthood as standard practice throughout the Province." Find the statement here . Moreover, the archbishop of ACNA, Foley Beach, is on record as opposing the ordination of women to the priesthood and boasting he has never ordained a woman. Although individual dioceses may allow women clergy now, it is entirely possible the ACNA will decide to ban this. After all, numerous dioceses in ACNA have a history of opposing equal rights for and inclusion of women into the life of the church.

The ACNA's attitude towards women should not be surprising. The counter-revolution they are leading against the Episcopal Church is part of a wider culture war. On one side is the revolution of the Episcopal Church with its half-century commitment to democratic reforms for the equality of all people. On the other side is the counter-revolution against these reforms. It is not just rights for homosexuals in the cross-hairs of DSC and its allies, it is rights for women too. If the men who run ACNA have their way, women will remain subservient in the church and in the wider culture.

Thus, the women in the present Diocese of South Carolina should ask themselves whether they are willing to accept the low place the men in power have assigned to them. ACNA and DSC would keep women subservient to men. On the other hand, the Episcopal Church has committed itself to full equality for and inclusion of all women into the life of the modern church.

Women make up the majority of the church. They are most of the church-goers. In my experience, they are the backbone of the local church, doing the real everyday work of the parish and mission. In a sense, the church belongs to the women.  

The women of DSC would do well to ponder the history of he treatment of women in the diocese and to consider what is facing them now and in the future. They have a choice between the discrimination in DSC and ACNA on the one hand and the equality in the Episcopal Church on the other.