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July 15, 2012


What Could ECUSA Try Next with Bishop Lawrence?

When one reads the strong, clear pastoral letter which Bishop Lawrence sent to all of his South Carolina parishes earlier today, one has to wonder at the past attempts to hinder his ministry, or to block it altogether. First, after the Diocese in September 2006 chose him overwhelmingly to be their Bishop on the very first ballot, the carping and the cutting from the revisionists began almost at once.

Sure enough, the Presiding Bishop later declared that his election had not been properly ratified, and voided it. (Nearly all of the Dioceses whose Standing Committees refused to approve his election had voted through their deputations at GC 2003 to approve the election of V. Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire.) Whereupon the Diocese of South Carolina elected him a second time. After the DSC deployed a masterful new strategy to persuade doubters, the rest of the Church finally confirmed Bishop Lawrence’s election, and in January 2008 he was consecrated as the 14th Bishop of South Carolina in a ceremony in which former Bishop Alden Hathaway gave an unforgettable sermon. The Presiding Bishop, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, did not take part in the laying on of hands, even though canonically she is the “chief consecrator”; reportedly she had a “scheduling conflict.”

A little over a month after his consecration, however, Bishop Jefferts Schori dropped in on his Diocese for a two-day visit, which received very mixed reports. Bishop Lawrence’s introduction to ECUSA’s House of Bishops came shortly afterward, when he witnessed the Presiding Bishop push through the illegal depositions of Bishops Cox and Schofield (who had been Mark Lawrence’s bishop when he was at St. Paul’s in Bakersfield before his election). Despite being the newest Bishop in the House, he had no qualms writing Bishop Jefferts Schori (along with his Standing Committee) shortly afterward to protest the illegality of the votes.

That fall, Bishop Lawrence was present again as the Presiding Bishop led the House of Bishops in illegally deposing Bishop Duncan of Pittsburgh—this time, she overruled his and other Bishops’ objections made from the floor, and he had the temerity to write to his Diocese about the problems with the vote afterward.

It is a measure of the annoyance which Mark Lawrence and other Bishops caused over the illegal depositions of Bishops Cox, Schofield and Duncan that the Presiding Bishop has not brought another resolution to depose a sitting bishop before the House since the vote to depose Bishop Duncan in September 2008. Instead, she resorted to trickery, by claiming that verbal statements made by Bishop Jack L. Iker of Fort Worth, or letters written by other bishops which expressly disavowed any intent to renounce their holy orders, were actually under the Canons their “voluntarily renunciations” of ministry in the Episcopal Church (USA). That maneuver allowed her to certify that they were each deposed without having to trouble the House of Bishops about the matter.

In September 2009, the South Carolina Supreme Court handed down its decision against the Dennis Canon, and invalidated its attempt to create trusts in church property unilaterally. Now Bishop Lawrence drew her ire for not doing anything: he declined to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, expressing his view that the case had wasted enough of the Diocese’s time and resources over the past eight years. At the same time, his largest parish, St. Andrew’s in Mt. Pleasant, withdrew from the Diocese, and he did not take any steps in court to prevent that, either. (They would have been useless, in light of the State Supreme Court’s ruling, but giving in graciously to court decisions did not fit in with the Presiding Bishop’s scorched-earth strategy.)

By 2010, Bishop Lawrence and his Diocese loomed very large on the Presiding Bishop’s radar screen—especially since by then she had managed to rid ECUSA of many of its more senior orthodox bishops. In February of that year, Bishop Lawrence’s chancellor received a letter from a South Carolina law firm which the Presiding Bishop had her Chancellor engage to conduct a fishing expedition to develop evidence with which to present him (under the former provisions of Title IV of ECUSA’s Canons) to the Trial Court for Bishops in proceedings that could lead to his deposition. Bishop Lawrence mustered his supporters, and responded to the Presiding Bishop respectfully, but forcefully: he let her know that she had no business hiring attorneys and poking around in his own Diocese. Once again, after the kerfuffle died down, she backed off.

In 2011, the Presiding Bishop allowed local dissenters in the Diocese of South Carolina to carry the water for her. They had been encouraged to write the Executive Council about their concerns over the Resolutions which the Diocese had enacted at a Special Convention, called to counter the attempts at undermining its authority by the Presiding Bishop. The Council obligingly referred them to a Resolution it had passed in June 2007 declaring that all attempts by dioceses to disavow their allegiance to the national Church were “null and void.” At their direction, Council Secretary the Rev. Canon Straub wrote to inform them that it was the Council’s opinion that their Resolution would encompass any actions taken by the Diocese of South Carolina. When the dissident South Carolinians sent Bishop Lawrence a copy of Canon Straub’s letter, he replied that the Council, in effect, was all wet

But by now, the new version of the disciplinary Canons (Title IV) had gone into effect. Among other unconstitutional features, they granted to the Presiding Bishop unprecedented supervisory and pastoral powers over all other Episcopal bishops, and in effect transformed her into a metropolitan over the Episcopal Church (USA). One of the Resolutions the Diocese of South Carolina had passed at its Special Convention had declared that the Diocese did not recognize the validity of the new Title IV, and would continue to handle disciplinary matters under the previous version. Once again, Bishop Lawrence and his Diocese had placed themselves in the forefront of standing for the historic polity of the Church, but in doing so, they necessarily stood athwart the Presiding Bishop’s grand agenda. So she swung once more into action—not directly, of course, but letting the dissident South Carolinians again be her tools.

The story of the childish charges they brought to the Disciplinary Board for Bishops, as its first major case under the new Canons, and the Board’s mishandling of both the charges and the ensuing publicity, need not be retold here. Suffice it to say that the Presiding Bishop and her new Canons lost considerable face with those who could tell a kangaroo court when they saw one. And to rub salt in her wounds, as it were, the dissident Episcopalians in South Carolina let her know that Bishop Lawrence had quietly handed over deeds to every parish in the Diocese—which effectively disclaimed any and all trust interests in their properties on the part of the Diocese or the Church, in light of the invalidity of the Dennis Canon in South Carolina.

And now we are almost one year later. The 77th General Convention finished its business, but once again, not without crossing Bishop Lawrence and his Diocese’s deputation once too often with its steady pushing forward of the gay and lesbian activists’ pan-sexual program. Most of the deputation went home early before the Convention adjourned, as did Bishop Lawrence. And today, we have his pastoral letter.   

Where things will go from here is as much up to the leadership of ECUSA as it is to the Diocese of South Carolina. Resolution A049 enacted by General Convention on proposing a rite for individual bishops to use in their own diocese to bless same-sex civil unions contains the following paragraph (my bold emphasis):

Resolved, That this convention honor the theological diversity of this church in regard to matters of human sexuality, and that no bishop, priest, deacon or lay person should be coerced or penalized in any manner, nor suffer any canonical disabilities, as a result of his or her conscientious objection to or support for the 77th General Convention’s action with regard to the Blessing of Same-Sex Relationships;

Bishop Lawrence has made known to the House of Bishops, and is making known today in writing to his entire Diocese, his conscientious objection to the action of GC77 “with regard to the Blessing of Same-Sex Relationships.” If the powers that be at 815 Second Avenue honor the language just quoted above, there should not be any attempts to discipline or sanction Bishop Lawrence for that objection.

Nevertheless, A049 is just a Resolution of General Convention, and so expresses its mind only at the time of passage. As such, it has no canonical force, and instead serves to estop those Bishops (including the Presiding Bishop!) who voted in favor of its passage from now acting contrary to their vote.

In related matters, it should now be noted that all of the ten Bishops currently serving, or just elected to serve, on the Disciplinary Board for Bishops, together with the Presiding Bishop, will be disqualified from participating in connection with either the pending charges against nine other Bishops filed on the eve of General Convention, or any charges that someone not estopped by having voted for A049 might try to file now. The reason is that the entire House of Bishops, including the Presiding Bishop, took part in discussing those charges, as well as engaging in a separate private conversation with Bishop Lawrence on his point of personal privilege, as mentioned in the last paragraph of his pastoral letter.

Canon IV.19.14 requires that any person on any disciplinary panel convened under the new Title IV “shall disqualify himself or herself in any proceeding in which his or her impartiality may reasonably be questioned ... [or] when ... the member has personal knowledge of disputed evidentiary facts concerning the proceeding ...”. This language should be enough to disqualify any episcopal members of the Disciplinary Board who sat in on the private sessions of the House of Bishops on these matters.

Finally, there is potential for a constitutional crisis of major proportions should anyone in the Church even try to proceed under the new Title IV with respect to anything that the Diocese of South Carolina or any of its clergy may do. The reason for that statement is simple: the Diocese of South Carolina has not adopted, and will not adopt, the new Title IV because it regards those Canons as beyond the powers of General Convention to enact and remain consistent with ECUSA’s Constitution. (Nor will it recognize the validity of the Convention’s amendments to the Canons dealing with access to ordination and to all lay positions for transgendered persons.) As noted many times before on this blog, the Canons of General Convention are without any binding force on any Diocese that refuses, on constitutional grounds, to recognize their validity.

And short of a Constitutional amendment to make General Convention the supreme legislative and judicial authority in the Episcopal Church (USA), there is nothing that anyone in ECUSA can do about the right of Dioceses to judge for themselves the validity of acts of General Convention. It is the same situation we had in the United States when it was under the Articles of Confederation; Congress had no power to impose any of its laws on an individual State against its will—because there was no Supremacy Clause in the Articles.

Indeed, it was by reason of their experiences with the stalemates thus generated between Congress and the several States that the Founders included a Supremacy Clause in the new Constitution drafted in 1787, and finally ratified in 1789. And tellingly, some of those same Founders chose not to include a Supremacy Clause for General Convention when they participated in 1789 in drafting ECUSA’s Constitution, also adopted by the several Dioceses in that same year.

Finally, to clinch this point, historians of Church polity should note that General Convention did propose adding a “Supremacy Clause” to the ECUSA Constitution in 1895, but that proposal was shot down in flames at the General Convention of 1898—after the individual Dioceses had had a chance to review what General Convention proposed to do. (Back then, deputies sent to General Convention still represented their own Dioceses, and voted as the diocesan conventions instructed them to do. A good part of the reason that General Convention and the staff of 815, as well as all of the Church’s multifarious Committees, Commissions, Agencies and Boards, are so disconnected from the pewsters back home is precisely that they no longer feel any responsibility but to vote and to act as they perceive the “Holy Spirit” guides them.)

If a collision is coming, it will have to be one that the national leadership has actively sought by its actions to date, and that it will seek by its actions to come. Will that leadership be wise enough to pull back before it commits itself to still more? We shall have to bide our time, and see.

In the meantime, please pray for the Diocese of South Carolina, and please pray for the leadership of our Church to see and to do the right thing. In this regard, what could be more appropriate than today’s appointed collect?

O LORD, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. 


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19 comments

Whew! Well done and thanks for keeping records of what has and is happening in the Diocese of South carolina in regards to this crisis in the Episcopal Church. Time for bed! Good night all.

[1] Posted by SC blu cat lady on 7-15-2012 at 11:02 PM · [top]

Ummm, being nice to him?

It never hurts to try something different.

[2] Posted by MichaelA on 7-16-2012 at 12:03 AM · [top]

LOL! Yes, that would be different, wouldn’t. Wonder why they did not think of that?? Oh. Wait…...never mind.

[3] Posted by SC blu cat lady on 7-16-2012 at 06:31 AM · [top]

Fascinating piece, Allan. Am I correct that TEC has nothing similar to the PCUSA’s Permanent Judicial Commission, i.e., a body whose job it is to interpret the Constitution? If so, who decides who is correct when dioceses and the national church (read: Her Highness) collide on constitutional issues?

[4] Posted by David Fischler on 7-16-2012 at 08:59 AM · [top]

Isn’t the difficulty in prognosticating what 815 will do that they are not constrained by what canon law says they can do?  What they WANT to do trumps what they are constrained in doing, though they can’t always get done what they set out to do.

That poorly put together paragraph really only says that it is getting interesting now, not only at the TEC level, but at that of the greater Anglican Communion.  Two items of particular curiosity to me are a) whether 815’s response, if and when it comes, will diminish the idea that what goes on at the denominational level does not impact the local parish, and b) what effect these events will have on the greater Anglican Communion.

[5] Posted by Father Wash-Ashore on 7-16-2012 at 09:14 AM · [top]

David, Yes, as I understand it there is no permanent judicial anything in TEC. I think the quick answer to your question is NO ONE decides hence the messiness and nastiness of our present condition.  Mr. Haley can correct me if i am wrong but I remember him suggesting that the Diocese of South Carolina can simply ignore any deposition of Bishop Lawrence and/or the Standing Committee and continue doing what they have been doing. That should be make our national leaders real happy. wink

[6] Posted by SC blu cat lady on 7-16-2012 at 09:15 AM · [top]

#6, Father Wash-Ashore wrote:

Isn’t the difficulty in prognosticating what 815 will do that they are not constrained by what canon law says they can do?  What they WANT to do trumps what they are constrained in doing, though they can’t always get done what they set out to do.

Yes, exactly. What I find very interesting is that while 815 and +KJS will try to do whatever they want to do whether *lawful* by the C and Cs of TEC or not, they are not always successful in doing what they set out to do as you have already mentioned.

Sometimes the way the things are done makes me wonder if they have anyone checking certain facts. One of my favorite guffaws was seeing the PDF of the envelope addressed to the President of the Standing Committee of the Diocese of South Carolina but having the name of the wrong person as president. Did they not even take the time to find out who was the president of the standing committee? nope sure didn’t.  The phrase “ham fisted” describes some of these actions perfectly!

[7] Posted by SC blu cat lady on 7-16-2012 at 09:59 AM · [top]

David F., correct—the only courts established by ECUSA’s Constitution are disciplinary ones; General Convention is only a legislature, akin to Congress during the Articles of Confederation period (there was no “Supreme Court of the U.S.” then, either).

To answer #6’s question, here is a cross-post of a comment I made in response to a similar question at my AC blog:


“+Jefferts Schori could do that—she could take any number of written communications by Bishop Lawrence to his Diocese and claim, à la +Iker, that they constituted a “declaration [to her!] in writing of voluntary renunciation of Bishop Lawrence’s orders in they Church.” Such a leap of illogic would be nothing to her, nor would she show any shame.

“The only practical effect that would have, however, is to preclude Bishop Lawrence from attending any more meetings of the House of Bishops. And if they were not minded to reverse the PB’s outrageous call, then he would be well quit of them.

“After that, she would have to declare the see of South Carolina vacant, and hold a rump convention. But any attempt to do so would be overrun by those faithful to Bishop Lawrence. Ultimately, I guess, the world could see the unprecedented spectacle of the PB (a) invading the DSC to call an illegal convention; (b) summoning security guards to keep out thousands of Episcopalians while the few hundreds comprising the South Carolina Forum met to organize and elect a provisional bishop; and (c) trying to announce the reorganization of a new DSC while being drowned out by thousands and thousands of real Episcopalians.

“And in the end, ECUSA’s membership would have dropped by some 30,000 in ASA, or nearly 5% of the estimated current total, while ACNA’s membership would increase by nearly 10%. What a great strategic move for her to make!

“Oh, yes—almost forgot: and then the lawsuit would be filed to recover all of the DSC’s bank accounts and property ...”

[8] Posted by A. S. Haley on 7-16-2012 at 10:46 AM · [top]

LOL!  LOVE the picture of the tanks rolling down the street! One should never prod a bishop who has military cadets as part of his faithful!

[9] Posted by SC blu cat lady on 7-16-2012 at 05:02 PM · [top]

It will come out that South Carolina with their godly Bishop Lawrence is the only ‘canonical’ diocese in the fast dissolving TEC.  I think their attorneys are much smarter than Katie’s minion Mr Beers Esq.

Long may SC wave!

But what do I know, I’m now an Eastern Orthodox!  I’m still rooting for them.

Rdr. James

[10] Posted by rdrjames on 7-16-2012 at 08:30 PM · [top]

When is the PB time up?  Time for her to go…

[11] Posted by hoggy on 7-16-2012 at 08:37 PM · [top]

Hoggy, the scary thing is they might replace her with someone who has more experience, more capability, and the same ideology.  It wouldn’t be that hard…

[12] Posted by Father Wash-Ashore on 7-16-2012 at 09:53 PM · [top]

Good point, F W-A.

[13] Posted by MichaelA on 7-17-2012 at 07:11 PM · [top]

I don’t know why anyone assumes that the PB will not be re-elected.  I mean, she isn’t done yet, there are still a number of un-deposed conservative bishops, some parishes are not yet doing SSM, and there are any number of churches to be sold for bars, architects offices, and worship space for non-Christian religions.

I mean, when the 41 bishops who voted against SSBs could have raised a point of order (that there is no such thing as a “provisional rite”- it is just a trial rite by another name), and blocked the implementation of the resolution (because under the constitution, it required a majority of all living TEC bishops), they all just stood by.  Why?  Who knows.  But all KJS will need in 3 years to continue her reign is a simple majority, and she has the power to inhibit any she needs to in order to eliminate votes for any other contender.  Or just inhibit the contenders, and run unopposed. (that new Title IV really does give her wayyyyyy too much power).

[14] Posted by tjmcmahon on 7-17-2012 at 07:34 PM · [top]

Tj, I may be mistaken, but I believe that according to TEC’s canons, KJS cannot seek reelection, since Presiding Bishops are limited to one nine year term of office.  This doesn’t mean, however, that she can’t try to have the canon changed, but that would take too long…...at least two General Conventions, I believe.  Correct me if I’m wrong.  In the case of the Archbishop of the ACNA, he is limited to one five year term of office.

[15] Posted by cennydd13 on 7-18-2012 at 03:02 PM · [top]

#15 cennydd:

The archbishop can be reelected for a second term, but no more.

David Katzakian

[16] Posted by sactohye on 7-18-2012 at 03:19 PM · [top]

Cennydd-
The relevant canons are Title I, canon 2.1e (election) and 2.2 (term of office).  Neither of them has a specific prohibition (unless I am just missing it by reading too fast) against electing a previous PB (unless they are over 72), or re-election of a current PB.  I can’t find much of anything at all about the PB (although plenty about bishops in general) in the constitution.  I will yield to persons more expert than I on the issue, but I did some minimal research before I initially posed the question of a possible re-election some months back.

[17] Posted by tjmcmahon on 7-18-2012 at 04:07 PM · [top]

The PB can rise again. But only once more. Then she will be too old. And we will be much less.

[18] Posted by Pressing On on 7-18-2012 at 04:13 PM · [top]

As I recall, once Hitler was legally elected Chancellor in 1932, he set the Reichstag fire and made himself dictator. History can certainly repeat itself.

In the meantime, I pray daily for the health and safety of Bishop Lawrence, his faithful clergy, and all members of TEC who are still faithful believers of our Lord Jesus Christ, as expressed in the creeds and the scripture. The assault on them is not with guns, fires, starvation, and imprisonment like our brethren in the 10 - 40 latitudes, but it is unpleasant nonetheless.

[19] Posted by sophy0075 on 7-20-2012 at 08:40 AM · [top]

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