In an atmosphere of prayerful solemnity, the Bishop and Clergy of the Diocese of South Carolina gathered at Saint James Church, James Island, S.C. for more than two hours on Tuesday, October 12. In focus were the “serious charges” that have been made against Bishop Mark Lawrence and the diocese under the new Title IV canons.
Bishop Lawrence began by restating the diocesan vision of “Making Biblical Anglicans for a Global Age” and then traced the history of the current controversy in The Episcopal Church and the many obstacles they presented to pursuing our diocesan vision. He ended with the two recent diocesan conventions in which the diocese refused to be coerced into the Episcopal Church’s embrace of the new title IV canons which violate both due process and the Episcopal Church’s own constitution. Of further concern with the current allegations is that evidently this process doesn’t allow the accused to know who his accusers are.
Lawyer Alan Runyan then made a presentation based on his best understanding of what canonical process seemed to be being used by those in national leadership. It would appear they are proceeding under the abandonment canon with its fast track. Based on what has happened in other dioceses, a deposition of the bishop would be followed by attacks on diocese and the parishes. The picture painted was an ugly one of expensive litigation, confrontation and acrimony in which all involved significantly lost.
It was stressed that individual clergy, vestry, and parishes needed to be informed about the allegations, the purported process, and the implications at every conceivable level: financial, personal, legal and spiritual. All the clergy were encouraged to share their concerns with the bishop or the ordained members of the diocesan Standing Committee.
Two themes underlay the whole discussion. First, the Episcopal Church is in a constitutional crisis in which its own polity is being radically altered in violation of its history and founding documents, yet with no structural provision for a means of resolution when just such foundational disagreements occur. That such a deep dispute has arisen with one of the Episcopal Church’s founding dioceses only adds to the unfortunate environment into which all have been plunged. The Reverend Jeffrey Miller, past President of the Standing Committee stated during the gathering, “The question is not whether we can stay; it is whether they will let us stay and follow what we believe.”
Second, the deeper fracture is about a departure of the Episcopal Church’s leadership from Christian doctrine. Bishop C. FitzSimons Allison (XII Bishop of South Carolina) rose to express his concern with these theological innovations and to voice support for Lawrence. While these include a changed understanding of sexual ethics and Christian marriage, it goes much further to the matter of Scriptural interpretation and authority and the uniqueness and universality of Jesus Christ. These recent actions mark yet another hindrance to the Diocese of South Carolina’s duty to be faithful to the truth of exactly that gospel and its proclamation to the world.