TIMES OF TRIAL, TIME OF TRIALS
This is a time of trial, and a time of trials, for both church and state. Our beliefs, our value systems, our commitments are all being put to the test in both arenas of life.
As for the Episcopal Church in lower South Carolina, it is enduring its worst crisis in a century and a half. It has been severely wounded by seven plus years of schism. The overall cost to the Church in lower South Carolina has been beyond measure. Now, it faces a new crisis as it is about to go through a year and a half without a seated bishop. The Standing Committee resolved to suspend the search for a provisional bishop and go straight to a search for a diocesan, or regular, bishop. It takes at least eighteen months to put a new bishop on the throne. What is the diocese to do in the meantime? The Standing Committee is the ecclesiastical authority, but this is not the same as a bishop who gives visible leadership and unity to the diocese. I do not want to second guess the Committee, but I think they should reconsider what eighteen months without a bishop will mean for the health and well-being of the diocese. Of course, Bishop Henry Parsley will be visiting to carry out, occasionally, the necessary liturgical and pastoral functions of a bishop but he will not be a seated bishop of the diocese and, at any rate, his services are temporary. Without unifying leadership, there is a temptation of people to break apart under disagreements. That is the danger at hand in the diocese. We are all imperfect human beings, after all.
As far as the litigation goes, the long-suffering Episcopalians of lower South Carolina are beyond exhaustion after more than seven years in court. When will it ever end, people often ask? Frustration is also a common feeling since both the state supreme court and the federal court ruled on the side of the Episcopal Church yet none of that has been implemented. The breakaways are still in possession of the properties and other assets of the historic diocese. On the state court scene, the judge has had the state supreme court decision on his desk for twenty-four months and has done absolutely nothing to implement the decision for the Church. The decision recognized Church ownership of 29 parishes and the Camp yet the judge has consistently refused to implement this. Right now we are awaiting his response to the orders the two lawyers submitted to him last month on the ADSC's motion for clarification of jurisdiction. In short, there is no resolution in sight in the state court. It seems to me that if Judge Dickson does not implement the state supreme court decision in the near future, the Church lawyers should go back to the state supreme court for a writ of mandamus. There is no good reason for a judge to refuse to implement a state supreme court decision in two years.
In the federal court, the ADSC appealed Judge Gergel's decision, that returned the entity of the historic diocese to the Episcopal Church diocese, to the U.S. Court of Appeals. The two sides are now preparing their briefs for the appeals court. I expect that the court will hold a hearing on this by this summer. In my view, it is all but certain the appeals court will uphold Gergel's decision. That will end the federal case. However, the Church side will still be faced with the problem of regaining physical possession of the diocese, that is, the properties, bank accounts, and other assets of the pre-schism diocese. I have no idea what the Church lawyers have in mind for repossessing these. So, just because the federal appeals court upholds Gergel, the issue of physical repossession is not through, far from it.
In short, the Episcopal Church in lower South Carolina faces a trying time in the next couple of years. There is much more to be endured, much more to be settled, and all without a bishop in office.
On the national scene, we have all been watching the impeachment trial in the Senate. The outcome of the trial itself is a foregone conclusion. President Trump will not be removed from office. That would require a two-thirds vote (67) of the Senate. The Republicans have a majority. However, the impeachment investigation and the trial have put the connection between the American people and the Constitution on trial. What the president's lawyers argued on the floor of the Senate just yesterday was shocking and appalling. They discarded all respect for morality and ethics to argue that the president can do whatever he thinks is in the national interest. Virtually nothing would be impeachable. That would be making the president a dictator who could decide on his own what constitutes his power and his own ethical and moral standards. If these lawyers' arguments stand in the public consciousness, it means the end of the democratic republic and the rise of a fascist regime. President Trump has already very publicly declared he can do whatever he wants as president and he is supported by a powerful alliance of the Republican party, Wall Street, the angry white working class man, and evangelicals. Not to exaggerate, this is a critical moment of decision in American history.
On the face of it, the crisis in the church and the state should make us gloomy about the future. It certainly makes us concerned about the short term prospect of each. However, I still see plenty of reason to be optimistic and I think it is helpful to keep looking at the big picture. We are in a counter-revolutionary backlash in both church and state. In both, powerful forces are fighting back against the great tide of democratic revolution that swept America after the Second World War. In the church, the counter-revolutionaries led a rash of departures from the Episcopal Church. The Church has paid a big price for doing the right thing. In the state, the counter-revolutionaries have found a messiah to lead their attacks on democratic reforms. They do not care if the messiah himself is, to say the least, personally imperfect. They have made a Faustian bargain, to give him unlimited power in return for roll backs of the hated political economic, cultural, and social democratic reforms. For instance, the Republican party, once a venerable democratic force, has abandoned its historic principles to follow their messiah.
On the Church front, the Church has won on both state and federal levels. This cannot be undone. The problem is essentially in how to put into effect what has been resolved in the courts. It will happen, maybe not as fast as one would want.
On the national front, we are still a democratic republic and the majority of the American people have consistently opposed President Trump. There are good signs that the people will arise to defend their democratic republic in the upcoming elections. The mid-term elections of 2018 went overwhelmingly to the anti-Trump candidates. There is much reason to have faith that the same will happen this year. I am confident that down deep, most Americans believe in our historic system of rule of, by, and for the people. Most people do not want a dictator even though a strong minority does. However, we must recognize the importance of the upcoming elections. If President Trump wins reelection, nothing will stop him from doing exactly what he wants both for himself and for his Faustian train. American democracy will take a very hard hit. I do not believe that will happen because I think most Americans are good and decent people who are committed to the principles on which our country was founded and has grown and developed all these years. Trump is a threat to the American system and most people recognize that. I look forward to the national election in November.
I am keeping the faith for both church and state because I believe that both have developed themselves by doing the right thing. They are not perfect institutions. That is beyond human power. However, they are moving toward a higher place because both are following the better angels of our nature.