Anglicans have been worshiping in South Carolina since its establishment as a British Colony. From the beginning, they have defended and upheld the doctrine, discipline and worship of the faithful generations who came before them. That freedom is now under direct assault.
As a founding Diocese of the Episcopal Church, we have taken steps in recent years to defend our freedom of worship and order of gathering. On Monday of this week (October 15), the Rt. Rev. Mark J. Lawrence (14th Bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina) was informed by the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church that a disciplinary board had certified that he was guilty of abandonment of the communion of the church – that he had, in effect, by his words and actions, left the church. We believe that these actions of the Episcopal Church are both invalid under the Constitution of the Episcopal Church of this Diocese and violations of rights and freedoms which all Americans hold dear. We emphatically reject them, as well as the attempted restriction upon the ministry of our Bishop.
An Assault on the Bishop
This action is a deplorable assault upon the Bishop of this Diocese. The attack came in the midst of negotiations whose stated intent was to find a peaceful solution to our differences with the Episcopal Church. It involved a process in which there was no prior notice of the proceedings, no notice of the charges against him nor any opportunity to face the local accusers (who remained anonymous until today).
Also deeply concerning is the fact that all of the stated reasons for “abandonment” were known nearly a year ago, when an earlier attempt to remove him failed. This second attempt is double jeopardy of the most egregious sort and is contrary to the very canons they have used. Worst of all, canons that were originally meant for the removal of clergy who had well and truly “left” the church are now being used to purge a Bishop who has diligently sought to keep his Diocese both intact and within the Episcopal Church.
An Assault on the Diocese
These actions, however, are not just an attack upon Bishop Lawrence. They also represent an assault on this Diocese and its congregations. Two of the three actions that the Episcopal Church claims prove his abandonment are in fact actions of the Diocesan Convention. These were actions of the entire Diocese, all its parishes and missions, expressing together in duly elected convention what they needed to remain in the communion of this denomination. In effect, the Episcopal Church has said it does not care what the parishioners of this Diocese, who are its sole supporters, have to say about their own future. The final action for which the Episcopal Church claims Bishop Lawrence was found guilty was for confirming, by the release of quit claim deeds, that our congregations own their own property.
Bishop Lawrence’s actions have been taken to protect the integrity of the Diocese and its parishes. In the exercise of his freedom of speech, he has stated his personal good faith beliefs concerning the theology and polity of this Diocese. The parishes of this Diocese have repeatedly joined him in expressing those same beliefs. The actions taken by the Episcopal Church make it clear that such freedom of expression is intolerable to them. It is this Diocese and its Bishop who have been abandoned; left behind by a denomination that has chosen a radically different path from that of its founders. For that reason, we have disassociated ourselves from the Episcopal Church and will meet again in Convention on November 17th to consider further responses to these actions by the denomination we helped found. By God’s grace, we look forward to many more generations freely exercising the faith first brought to these shores so many generations before us.