The Earth Shifted: Rage, Revisionists & Responses for The Diocese of South Carolina
Over the past nine years, I’ve gotten to know a limited number of fellow Episcopalians who enjoy analysis, trending, forecasting, and strategy. All of us check in with one another periodically by phone, email, and skype and enjoy some great conversation. In fact, a group of us got together a few years ago—from all over the States—simply to chat and enjoy one another’s company, all the while feverishly analyzing, trending, forecasting, and strategizing. It was a delight, simply because most of my friends don’t have those interests [believe me, they have others that keep me busy!] and it’s nice to be around people with similar minds on occasion.
One of the favorite conversations has been in predicting what 815—specifically Katherine Jefferts Schori, David Booth Beers, and their various apparatchiks—would do about the Diocese of South Carolina.
That Diocese has been the one that has been the most disciplined and effective in continually differentiating itself from the foundational worldview—the particular and customized gospel of 815—and actions of the current leadership of our church, while at the same time remaining within The Episcopal Church. As a result of its persistent and vocal differentiation it has earned the ire of our church’s current national leadership.
My thesis was always the same.
The actions of our church’s current leadership at the highest levels towards the remaining traditionalists in our church—particularly those traditionalists who are stating and acting in clear, public, formal, official ways that demonstrate their repudiation of the beliefs and actions of our current leadership—are largely driven by rage, and that rage blinds them to reasonable, clear-headed decisions that allow them to preserve resources, manage our church’s image, and look to positive future actions.
Since my thesis was that our national leadership was driven by fury—outrage and bitterness—then it made sense that such intense emotion would not allow them to do what was clearly the best, most helpful thing for The Episcopal Church as a whole. Instead, their emotions would force them to behave ridiculously and foolishly and ineptly and they would move to rid themselves of those with whom they were most angry, most outraged—and that, obviously, would be the Diocese of South Carolina and through the most draconian means.
Over the past two years, as our leaders took the next steps at General Convention in keeping with their particular, customized gospel, and as the Diocese of South Carolina continued to clearly and publicly distance themselves from the unique theology and worldview of our current leadership and differentiate the Gospel which the Diocese held from the particular unique gospel of our current national leadership, fellow analysts and forecasters would tell me that “surely our leaders would not be so foolish as to move against a diocese that was so clearly in a weak position already.”
Why move against a diocese when there is no need, and when that diocese is in an extraordinarily weak, minority position within the denomination as a whole? It would be like blowing a mosquito away with a cannon—aimed at the floor of one’s house.
This line of conversation always led to other competing theses regarding the revisionist activists in The Episcopal Church. For if there’s one thing that’s always troubled me about some of my fellow conservatives in The Episcopal Church, it’s been their seeming inability to recognize the intensity, commitment, and emotional fervor with which revisionist activists hold their beliefs—and how utterly amoral, bullying, and controlling they are. There truly are little to no limits to what they will do to further their ideology; and for that ideology—that religion of theirs—there is no compromise. There may be “temporary truces” while they gather more strength in order to force eventual compliance, but their commitment is to forcing their religion on the rest of us. And they will not stop at anything to do that.
It remains stunning to me that so many conservatives seem unable to recognize those hard truths about the nature of their opponents in the church and the fervor with which they hold their competing and antithetical gospel. What that means is that many conservatives are left attempting to “reason with” revisionist activists, or negotiate, or compromise, or hope for grace or generosity from them, while assuming that they share the same basic foundational principles and values.
Such misconceptions lead to heartache and disappointment and confusion in the end. “We thought we had a good, positive discussion; we thought there had been some mutual agreements and commonalities. What happened?” Truth is, revisionist activists and conservatives simply don’t share the same moral universe, the same faith, the same values—they come from antithetical worldviews, and there is no unity of mission with such mutually opposing foundations.
But as the months rolled on, I began to wonder. Had I been advising 815 on what to do with so hated an enemy as the Diocese of South Carolina, I’d have told them to simply pat the diocese figuratively on the head, chuck it under the chin, and proceed onward with ones’ activities. For the position of the Diocese of South Carolina was strikingly weak—one of waiting, powerless, while internally the diocese fractured with differing views as to what to do.
As I predicted some years ago, I didn’t believe that many parishes would follow St. Andrews’, Mount Pleasant—and as it turned out, it was only St. Andrews—but I did believe that the Diocese would grow steadily less united in its determination to remain within, and wait for the leadership of TEC to move against its leadership. Some parishes would wish to leave. Some would wish to “take further action.” Some would wish for everything to “just die down and go away.” And the four revisionist parishes would continue clattering and sniping whatever happened.
The very best thing that could happen to the Diocese of South Carolina would be for the emotions—the fury—of our church’s national leadership to get the better of their clear-headed strategy of allowing the Diocese to fracture and come apart at the seams. The most helpful and unifying and energizing thing for the Diocese of South Carolina would be for our Presiding Bishop, her legal advisor, and others to “give the Diocese her freedom” by attempting to rid themselves of the troublesome diocese in the most ham-handed of ways.
But could our church’s national leadership really be that foolish? Would they allow their feelings—intense as they were—to over-ride clear thinking and calculation? Perhaps not, I thought. Perhaps—through sheer force of will—our church’s national leaders had determined to simply allow the Diocese to die “from within”—or continue to raise a clamor, with no power whatsoever. As galling as it would be to hear the continuous clatter of a diocese which didn’t share the same faith as our church’s national leaders, surely that was the better part of wisdom, since there wasn’t actually anything that the Diocese of South Carolina could accomplish other than speak, albeit loudly.
Nevertheless, my stance has always been that ultimately, against all reason and strategy and wisdom, our Presiding Bishop and other advisors, along with multiple other revisionist activists on the disciplinary board, had to do what they did this week, because of who they are—they simply could not allow another entity to be so publicly and boldly differentiated from their own personal faith and agenda, and remain within The Episcopal Church. They did what they had to do, considering the level and force of their emotions—considering who they were. They were never going to be able to overcome the depth of their own bile, spite, vengefulness, and anger.
General Convention 2012 occurred—and the canons were changed yet again, this time to force parishes to consider cross-dressers as potential clergy, not to mention approving a vacuous temporary “rite” for blessing sexual relationships between two men or two women. My greatest personal concern was that the Diocese of South Carolina would simply leave TEC, because of the rank inconvenience of having to continually and loudly say “yes, yes, our denomination’s leadership as a whole does not share the same faith as our diocese’s, but we are willing to stay within it and harry and hound our leadership to the end, proclaiming our differences to the world.”
As I’ve been clear over the years, I believe that it is perfectly possible to remain within a corrupt and evil organization, and I believe that some are called to do so—until they are not. It is not intrinsically immoral to remain within a corrupt and evil organization, as long as one’s differences are made clear. [Indeed, there are some who are a part of China’s government, or Russia’s, or Cuba’s who are hiding within those governments and making no such public distinction—and they are doing good work.] And there were some who were a part of the highest levels of leadership of countries whose very nature was intrinsically religious: Daniel in Babylon and Joseph in Egypt are obvious examples, but there have been many more down through the ages, not to mention, of course, faithful Jews within a corrupt and evil Israel, century after century after century.
But my goodness, it’s a tough thing to carry forth—continually, over and over and over, maintaining one’s antithetical differences with the leadership of an organization, while maintaining a stressful, high-conflict position within such an organization.
Given the best possible option, my hope was that the Diocese of South Carolina would remain within TEC and continually and loudly assert its differences with our leadership and re-assert the Gospel, which they have done so well. My hope was that the leaders of our church would swallow their anger and do the wise thing, not seeking further fracture, and simply allowing the Diocese of South Carolina to continue as a tiny, irrelevant, and powerless minority.
The second best option—and “second-best” is poor phrasing, since it is indeed a historically tragic decision—was for The Episcopal Church’s national leadership to behave as it did on Monday, October 15, 2012 and attempt to rid themselves of their most active internal opposition by attempting to depose Bishop Lawrence on three charges, two of which had already been declared as invalid charges by a previous committee. Quite rightly, diocesan leadership had already decided in advance what its response would be to such an act; they rather cleverly had created a contingency action beforehand that was automatic, should our national church leaders behave so stupidly as they did. And so now, the Diocese of South Carolina, one of the oldest, thriving dioceses in The Episcopal Church, is gone.
The next steps are fairly obvious, since we’ve seen them enacted so many times now within The Episcopal Church. The Presiding Bishop will assert that she “no longer recognizes” the Standing Committee of the Diocese of South Carolina, and appoint her own potemkin crew as the “Standing Committee” of a faux “diocese” made up largely of the parishioners of the four revisionist parishes in the Diocese, and then attempt to freeze the Diocese of South Carolina’s funds. Then the lawsuits can begin—and along with that, many more millions of dollars, probably between $3-6 million over the next few years on the Diocese of South Carolina alone, all funded through portions of the pledges that Episcopalians give to their local parishes. [By the way, if you haven’t yet Written The Letter regarding future pledges, now is a perfect time to do so.]
With all of the above being fairly obvious, let’s go ahead and list the consequences of these latest actions of the national leadership of our denomination.
1) The Diocese of South Carolina—with the exception of the four revisionist parishes—is now beautifully unified and energized, and it didn’t have to make any kind of divisive or frightening decision regarding its future within The Episcopal Church. Its strategy was, after all, correct—it had but to wait for the leaders of our church to surrender to their fury and act against the Diocese by moving to rid our church of Bishop Lawrence, while having already pre-set a response from the diocese that would be triggered by the actions of the leaders of our church.
I am so proud of the Diocese of South Carolina and its leadership. They waited it out—against all the anathemas and castigations from both within and without The Episcopal Church—and their patience and discipline were rewarded with a buffoonish, ham-fisted, and petty action from the national church. They were strategic, and they were ready, without ever jumping the gun or leaving from mere inconvenience, hurt feelings, frustration, depression, or a simple desire not to fight anymore. They committed to the inconvenience, the hurt feelings, the frustration, the depression, and the fighting; they were willing to undergo anything but annihilation, and I honor that more than I can possibly describe.
They didn’t leave until the triggering action occurred—as was inevitable, considering who our leadership is and the depth and intensity of their emotions. The diocese suffered through a lot of grief and horror—but they never just “sat there and suffered” or whined, while wringing their hands. They were a bold and constant, public and differentiated witness within The Episcopal Church. They left it all out there on the field of honor, never wavering, always clear, always forthright. Nobody ever “wondered what the Diocese of South Carolina believed.” Everybody knew what they believed—and the Gospel was preached in our church, thanks to the Diocese of South Carolina.
And now, they will, by the grace of God, be a bold and constant witness outside The Episcopal Church.
2) Provinces all around the Anglican Communion will be aghast at further demonstrations of the consequences of our leadership’s particular customized foundational worldview and faith. It’s hard for me to imagine just how awful this will look to bishops, clergy, Primates, and laypeople in just about every Province of the Communion, from the Church of England, to the Middle East, to Nigeria, to Australia—for without any need or provocation, other than vengeful bile, the leadership of our church has managed to lose another diocese.
3) Conservatives, moderates, and even some old-fashioned liberals within The Episcopal Church will recognize this act by our church’s leaders for what it is: petty, controlling, angry, aggressively domineering, and very very stupid.
4) We will have very very interesting times in the Diocese of Upper South Carolina.
—We’re a very happy, unified state. We vacation at the beach, our parishioners are all connected by family and politics, we have relatives all over both dioceses, and—save for the 2/3 imported revisionist clergy in Upper South Carolina—there’s a sympathy for the lower diocese.
—Bishop Waldo is happily trampling towards instituting same-sex blessings in our diocese, using a heavily weighted revisionist “Unity Task Force” to rubber stamp the decision. It’s not going to go well, since there is absolutely no outcry for him to authorize the trumped up, tawdry rite that the General Convention approved in our diocese for the significantly less than 1% who are actually both a) gay and b) in a sexual relationship and wanting that particular sexual relationship to be recognized and approved of. Parishes will fracture over it, those moving to the area will recognize that the Diocese of Upper South Carolina is no longer a moderate option, and plenty of individuals will depart for happier Christian climes. I personally think that revisionists in the Diocese recognize those consequences as utterly predictable. So all the authorization of the rite by Bishop Waldo will ultimately accomplish is a further use of another bizarre form of diocesan and/or parish seppuku, of which there are obviously many varieties.
—But now . . . well, things are getting interesting. Because there’s going to be all sorts of pressure from national church apparatchiks for our diocese to recognize the faux “Standing Committee” and the faux “diocese” in the lower diocese and engage in joint liturgies and hand-waving meetings.
—And Episcopalians up here . . . and in East Carolina . . . and in Georgia . . . and in Northern Florida . . . and in other parts of the country, are positively salivating over the possibility of simply joining the Diocese of South Carolina, and asking that Diocese to act as a sending diocese for mission outreaches.
—If a group of parishioners up here should decide to plant a church, there’s nothing to prevent them from petitioning the Diocese of South Carolina to accept them as a parish or mission of the diocese, contingent within the congregation’s bylaws of the diocese not joining any alternate Anglican entity save a Province of the Anglican Communion. At that point, you’ve got an opportunity to found congregations and parishes that are allied with a single, functional, healthy Anglican diocese without the entanglements of being involved in various dysfunctional, unhealthy umbrella Anglican options. This has Gold Rush possibilities.
—Long term, the decision by our national church leaders to eliminate their opposition in the Diocese of South Carolina has utterly devastating implications for the Diocese of Upper South Carolina. Without a major miracle, and some kind of born-again conversion of revisionist clergy and bishop [akin to God pouring fire down from the heavens onto the soaked altars and burnt offerings to Baal], we will have a slow and determined migration—physically and/or ecclesially—between the two regions. Ultimately, because we don’t share the same gospel, the revisionists will end up together. And the conservatives will end up together. And that can only mean decline for Upper South Carolina over the long term as “the earth shifts under our feet.”
People go where there is health and wholeness—that is our nature and migration is inevitable. I could go parish by parish in my diocese and point out the hard cold facts. But there is no need to do that—we have but to watch in the coming years.
In one sense, this day is a very sad day. We’re seeing another massive fault line open up in The Episcopal Church—and another self-slaughtering act by our leaders. We’re seeing another diocese depart—like chunks of a melting ice floe detaching and drifting away. We’re seeing the gradual break up of a historic denomination—one that will always hold a very dear place in my heart. We’re seeing quite epic mistakes made that will feature huge consequences in money, time, energy, public relations, and ultimately identity and failure and death.
But in another sense, it’s a relief. Our church’s leaders are doing what they do, and “living into” who they are, at core. They are demonstrating their foundational worldview, their unique gospel, and its values and theology, to the entire world, Anglican and otherwise. It helps to see reality. It helps to have clarity.
Now—in consequence of our church’s decisions, other people get to make decisions—Primates, bishops, clergy, laity—in a continuous round of actions and reactions, behavior and consequences.
I am reminded of the Pharaoh and his armies—his pride and anger urging him forward into a foolish and dangerous situation as his armies pursued the Israelites. I wonder what those men felt as their chariot wheels sunk into the mud of the sea.
I wonder at what moment they recognized that they had made a series of terrible and foolish mistakes.
I don’t think this ends well for The Episcopal Church.
But God bless the Diocese of South Carolina!
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