THE ANGLICAN DIOCESE OF SOUTH CAROLINA AND IDENTITY
The Anglican Diocese of South Carolina is in search of a new bishop, first as coadjutor then as diocesan. For this, the diocesan authorities have compiled and posted a "Diocesan Profile." Find it here . This is an interesting and informative look into the new diocese and well worth the time it takes to read and reflect on it. It tells us much of what the diocesan leaders think their identity is and what the reality may be.
Here are the issues that stood out to me in this document:
---The ADSC leaders are still at it. They still want their faithful to believe that theirs is the historic diocese.
In fact, the ADSC is legally barred by the federal court from claiming to be the historic diocese. On September 19, 2019, U.S. district judge Richard Gergel issued an order that the Episcopal diocese of SC is the one and only legal continuation of the old diocese. He issued an Injunction against the breakaway entity from claiming to be in any way the historic diocese. After the new diocese was slow to clean up its false claims, Gergel issued a second order of enforcement against ADSC, on Dec. 18, 2019. Then, failure of compliance led to a third order, a contempt of court, against ADSC on Oct. 27, 2020. Thus, three times the federal judge in Charleston has ordered the breakaways to stop pretending to be the historic diocese. Surely the ADSC leaders do not want to have to go back to court for another contempt of court. Undoubtedly, Gergel would not be amused.
On page 5 we find a "Brief History," that is technically correct but substantially on thin ice. It carefully couches the diocese in terms of the parishes and churches that are currently members of the diocese but the meaning is clear. The ADSC is implying that it contains the historic presence of Anglicanism in South Carolina all the way from the beginning in 1680. Not true.
Then, on the right column comes this: "In the fall of 2012, the Diocese disassociated from the Episcopal Church." On even thinner ice this time. This implies that the diocese was once associated with the Episcopal Church. In fact, he ADSC has never been associated with the Episcopal Church. According to the federal court (whose order and injunction are in effect and not on stay), the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina (aka the Diocese of SC), continued on unbroken after the majority of the members of the old diocese left the Episcopal Church. The clergy and laity who left TEC did not take the old diocese with them as they claimed. The legal entity of the historic diocese remained in the Episcopal Church. Thus, the secessionists actually formed a new diocese that is now known as the Anglican Diocese of South Carolina. It is a brand new entity created after the schism in 2012. The people who formed the new diocese may have been members of the Episcopal Church once but the entity of the Anglican diocese was never a part of the Episcopal Church and any implication of such now is false.
---The Statement of Faith, 2015, is featured prominently in the Diocesan Profile. This statement was created at the time the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage and was meant to prevent any church in the diocese from conducting same-sex weddings. It was drawn up by a committee of prominent diocesan officials and forced into conformity on the whole diocese. It condemns homosexual activities:
God has commanded that no intimate sexual activity be engaged in outside of a marriage between a man and a woman. (p. 7)
Incidentally, it also condemns divorce and remarriage:
marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman in...lifelong union.
This part, however, was problematical and at least one parish (St. Philip's) deleted this sentence when it first adopted the Statement. If one starts driving out divorced and remarried people from the church, there might not be many people left in the pews.
---The most interesting, and important, part of the Profile was the survey of 109 clergy and 211 lay leaders (vestry and wardens) of the ADSC. This provides one with a window into attitudes of the whole diocese since the diocese is authoritarian. These are some of the items that jumped out in the survey:
-----Only 35% of the lay leaders came from Anglican backgrounds. This means that the great majority of the parish and missions leaders in ADSC came from other denominations. The clergy, on the other hand, came largely from Episcopal/Anglican backgrounds. Without knowing when these local lay leaders joined the parishes/missions, this could suggest an absence of attachment to the Episcopal Church once the parish/mission returns to the Episcopal bishop.
----By far the most interesting items in the survey dealt with homosexuals and with women. The direct cause of the schism was the diocesan leadership's opposition to the Episcopal Church's reforms favoring homosexuals (as the blessing of same-sex unions). The ADSC joined the Anglican Church in North America which held women to be unworthy of church authority (no women bishops). With this homophobic and sexist background, one might expect harsh attitudes to women and homosexuals in the survey. This was not the case, at least among the laity.
On the question of the church welcoming "non-celibate" (other euphemisms for sexually active gays are "practicing," "active," "out-of-the-closet," "partnered"), the big majority (clergy, 69%, laity 72%) declared yes. Not much difference there. Gays are welcomed to attend church. Then, when it came to the question of whether non-celibate gays should have "leadership roles in the church" (left undefined), a chasm appeared. Of the clergy, 80% said no. Of the laity only 54% said no. Without specifying what "leadership" would mean, nearly half of the lay leaders believed that non-celibate gays should be allowed into positions of church leadership, or had no opinion. This is remarkable considering the diocese's and the ACNA's condemnation of homosexuality as a "disorder" and homosexual activity as sinful. One would conclude from this that nearly half the ordinary people-in-the-pews of ADSC are not on the same page as their bishops and priests on the issue of homosexuality. This is the most remarkable take-away from the survey and it could portend real trouble ahead within the ADSC and in the ACNA (we saw recently how this issue has led to a brouhaha in ACNA). It would be truly ironic indeed if after all that has happened, the ADSC and ACNA would abandon their formational homophobia, their reason for being in the first place.
The role of women in the church likewise showed a gap between clergy and laity. On the question of whether women should be ordained as priests, 58% of clergy said yes while 76% of laity said yes. The remarkable point here is that nearly half the clergy of ADSC believe that women should not be allowed into the priesthood. Should one be surprised at this sexism? On the question of whether a woman should be allowed to be a rector of a parish, 55% of clergy said yes while 70% of laity agreed, again a gap. And, once again nearly half the clergy in ADSC said women should not be allowed to serve as rectors. The sexism is too obvious here. No wonder no woman has ever chaired a committee of the ADSC, women have never had a majority on any committee of ADSC, and no woman has ever served as the rector of a major parish. Apparently, if the laity have their way this will change. The problem is that ADSC and ACNA both are controlled by old white men who are not inclined to change the status quo.
----In the conclusion of the survey, the writer boldly declares (p. 23) that the diocese is "very unified" and "strongly orthodox." The reality of unity is in the eye of the beholder. On the two fundamental issues on which ADSC was built, there certainly is not unity in ADSC. In fact, there is a good deal of disagreement between clergy and laity on homosexuality and on women.
"Orthodox" is another story. The word orthodox means right or true. ADSC and ACNA both claim to be true religion. Both before the schism and ever since, the leaders of ADSC told their followers that the Episcopal Church had turned away from biblical (true) religion. This was the Trumpesque big lie of the schism. And, like Trump's big lie, that he won the election but the Democrats stole it from him, the followers believe what their trusted leaders tell them. Polls show that 3/4 of Republicans still believe Trump's big lie. Obviously, the vast majority of the people of ADSC still believe the big lie that the Episcopal Church abandoned true religion for false gods and that their path away from TEC was right and true. The concept of "orthodox" as differentiated from TEC is firmly embedded in ADSC. This was probably the biggest success of the schism leaders and if there is any reason to think the schism might have long staying power it would be from this factor. In actuality, the Episcopal Church has not changed its religion. It is just as "orthodox" as ever. What it has changed is its interpretation of the interaction of religion and society. The schism of 2012 sprang from social issues, not religious ones in spite of what the schismatic leaders may have declared.
There are several lessons for the Episcopal diocesan leaders to learn from the survey. In the first place, the make-up of the parishes and missions that EDSC is likely to regain (SCSC has ordered the return of 29) is not the same as it was before the schism of 2012. Restoration will not be a simple matter of taking up where the diocese left off all those years ago in the returning parishes. Too, there is a long-standing and deep-seated animosity to the Episcopal Church among many of the parishioners of the 29 after years of anti-Episcopal Church propaganda. There is a wide-spread belief in ADSC that TEC is a false religion. This will be hard to overcome. One may expect that many, if not most, of the parishioners of the 29 will leave the parishes to form new congregations beyond (they already have contingency plans). Among those parishioners who remain, there will be a lot of repair work to do to build or restore attachment to TEC. However, the hopeful news is that there is a good deal of positive attitude among the people-in-the-pews toward human rights for homosexuals and for women. There is a lot to work with on building equality and inclusion for these elements that have been pointedly discriminated against by the ADSC leadership. But then, the schism was originally the work of the diocesan leadership (no more than 24 people made the schism of Oct. 15, 2012). It came from the top down, not from the common people up. And, the survey shows this today, at least on the questions about gays and women.
At base, the schism in South Carolina was not about religion itself so much as about how we treat our fellow human beings in the context of religion. It was about whether the old white male power structure should share their privileges and power with women and with homosexual people. There is every reason to believe the Episcopal diocese of SC can be rebuilt strongly by championing human rights. In their hearts ordinary people know right from wrong. They know that discrimination against people different than themselves is wrong. They know that God created all people in His/Her own image and that all human beings are equal children of God. It is this truth that will form the foundation of the successful restoration of the grand old diocese of South Carolina.
So, what is the identity of the ADSC today? Its self-identity is primarily as an "orthodox" faith. As such, it is not strong since it is based on a misconception of the Episcopal Church, one that the old diocesan leaders deliberately stoked to rationalize their goals of preventing open gays and women from equality and inclusion in the life of the church. As for the original purpose of the schism, there is only weak identity. There is a split between clergy and laity on how the church should treat women and gays. Thus, the whole identity of the new diocese is as problematical as its future.
So, my thanks to the officers of ADSC for posting this Diocesan Profile. It helps us understand the schism that has been so much a part of people's lives in South Carolina and elsewhere.