[Please return here frequently, as these will be updated as new information becomes available.]
What is the Status of the Lawsuit?
(Updated 8/16/17) In the simplest terms, on August 2, 2017, in a divided (3/2) opinion, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that The Episcopal Church has a trust interest in some parish properties. That decision, if applied, would transfer the control of 29 church properties and all diocesan properties to the Episcopal Church in South Carolina. The Trustees continue to hold unquestioned title to the St. Christopher Camp and Conference Center but Justice Beatty’s opinion may shift control of that body to The Episcopal Church. This split decision overturned a lower court’s ruling, based on existing court precedent, that the Diocese of South Carolina and most of its churches successfully withdrew from The Episcopal Church. Following the release of the opinion, the Diocese had 15 days to submit a motion to the court to rehear the case. We requested and received an extension to 30 days. Our legal team is preparing a motion to rehear which they plan to submit on September 1, 2017.
How likely is it we will be granted a motion to rehear?
Though it is unusual for the Supreme Court to agree to a rehearing, in certain circumstances a rehearing may be granted. Our legal team believes we have grounds for a rehearing. Look for more on that in the next few weeks.
What are our possible options if the SC Supreme Court denies us our motion for a rehearing?
The Diocese would then have 90 days to file for a review by the U.S. Supreme Court. Many factors inform the decision of that court to accept a case for review. Assessing those factors would guide our final decision to file a Petition for Writ of Certiorari with the court.
Why did the Diocese of South Carolina file a lawsuit against The Episcopal Church?
In late 2012, The Episcopal Church had begun to try and take the Diocese of South Carolina’s identity by calling for a special convention to identify new leadership for the diocese, creating a new website using the Diocesan seal and producing material identifying this splinter organization as the "Diocese of South Carolina."
Our Diocese and 36 parishes filed suit to protect the Diocese’s property and that of its parishes. The suit asked the court for a declaratory judgment that The Episcopal Church has no legal, beneficial or equitable interest in the property of the Diocese, the Trustees of the Diocese or in that of the parishes. It also asked the Court to prevent the Episcopal Church from infringing on the protected marks of the Diocese, including its seal and its historical names, and to prevent the Episcopal Church from assuming the Diocese’s identity, which was established long before the Episcopal Church’s creation.
Why did we disassociate from The Episcopal Church in the first place?
The Diocese of South Carolina disassociated from the Episcopal Church (TEC) when TEC attempted to remove the Rt. Rev. Mark Lawrence as the Bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina. The move was intended as the first step in the removal of the people’s duly chosen leadership in both the Diocese and our parishes, with the end goal of taking control of both. Why would TEC seek control of the Diocese? This Diocese has held firm to positions of theology, morality and polity increasingly at odds with the rapidly changing and unprecedented positions of TEC. The attempt to remove the Bishop was clear evidence there was no longer a place for us within TEC, so we exercised our legal right to end that voluntary association. Over 80% of the parishes and members of the Diocese affirmed that decision.
This question is addressed at length in an article which appeared in the Charleston Mercury in 2013: http://www.diosc.com/sys/images/documents/tec/the-real-story-behind-our-split-with-tec.pdf. The following is an excerpt:
The denomination has been redefining itself since the 1970s effectively evolving into two churches under one roof – a traditional one that embraced historic Anglican doctrines and a modernist one. In the 1990s, for example, TEC’s then-Presiding Bishop, the Most Rev. Frank Griswold, proclaimed that “truth,” is “pluriform.” This meant the church recognized no single truth, no single theology, no single pathway to salvation. He effectively said that one person’s truth is as good as another’s. And many of us found that to contradict everything we believe as Anglicans.
It’s true that we live in a nuanced, multicultural world, but traditional Anglicans believe in the authority of Scripture. For us, a belief in Christ is fundamental to the faith, not one of several optional paths to salvation. It is why we are Anglicans, rather than Unitarians or Buddhists or Hindus or something else.
In a 2006 interview with Time magazine, the [then] Presiding Bishop, the Most. Rev. Katharine Jefferts-Schori, a strong pluriform proponent claimed that to believe, as Jesus said, that He is “the way the truth and the life no one comes to the Father but through Him,” was to put God in an “awfully small box.” That denial of Jesus' essential role clearly displayed the difference between traditional and modernist or pluriform Anglicans/Episcopalians.
How do we now plan for ministry going forward?
While the future of our buildings is uncertain the primary work of Gospel proclamation has not changed. Our worship and ministry will continue. Bishop Lawrence urged churches to continue planning for future ministry realizing that the location of that ministry may be changed. This decision is a check for all of us of both our priorities and the source of our faith. As the Bishop has observed, this is a test of whether we believe what we have been preaching. If we win, we win. If we lose, we win. Whatever the outcome, we will emerge on the other side stronger and more effective disciples, prepared for the work to which God now calls us.
Is it true that some parishes were able to keep their property? Which churches are they?
The court ruled that seven churches had not acceded to the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church. The latter document contains the so called “Denis Canon” which asserts that all parish properties are held in trust for The Episcopal Church. The congregations ruled to be free from that trust claim are: Christ the King Grace Church, Waccamaw; St. Matthew's Church, Darlington; St. Andrew's Church, Mount Pleasant; St. Paul's Anglican Church, Conway; Prince George Winyah Episcopal Church, Georgetown, St. John's Church, Florence and St. Matthias Church, Summerton.
Why didn’t we accept the “settlement offer” made to our parishes in 2015?
This question is answered in detail here, but in essence, the churches recognized the disingenuousness of the offer for several reasons:
• The offer did not come with authority to bind all parties on the Episcopal Church’s side. Counsel for TEC was contacted to request that they provide the necessary proof of authority. There was never a response to the request.
• The expiration date of the offer was the same day the Diocese’s reply brief was due to be filed with the State Supreme Court, showing that rather than being an actual offer, the intent was to disrupt preparation of our reply brief while seeming to be reasonable and conciliatory. Given the nature of the proposal and the number of parties involved, a serious offer would have given adequate time for confidential discussion and consideration The attorney receiving the original offer asked that it be withdrawn and resubmitted after the deadline for our reply brief to be filed. This request was rejected.
It should be noted that TEC has never, in the 90+ cases litigated nationwide, agreed to a settlement – even when it was requested. For these reasons the proposal was unanimously rejected by all parties to the litigation for the Diocese of South Carolina.
Is there any hope for negotiations in future with TEC?
If history is any indicator, this seems unlikely. The current provisional bishop of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina, the Rt. Rev. Skip Adams had this very same opportunity to negotiate a settlement with a departing congregation in his diocese of Central New York. He chose not only to reject the parish’s offer to buy back their property at market value, but sold the church building to a Muslim worshipping community at a lower price.
Since we joined ACNA this summer, does this provide us with any support?
We are thankful to our brothers and sisters in Christ, throughout the Anglican Communion, who hosted a day of fasting and prayer on behalf of the Diocese of South Carolina. Our Bishop has received many emails, phone calls and notes from fellow Bishops and Anglicans around the world who stand with us as we seek to glorify God in proclaiming Jesus as the true and only way to the Father. In addition, many clergy who led their parishes out of TEC and left their properties, have offered the benefits of their experience to the parishes of this Diocese. It is encouraging to be part of this global body of faith and to know we have their ongoing prayers and support.
Isn’t this really all about sexuality?
No! While that is one issue about which we are in disagreement with TEC, it is not the central issue, just a symptom of the deeper divisions. We believe that God has revealed in scripture a model for living that is in keeping with His created order, is subject to His blessing and has the greatest likelihood of experiencing that wholeness of life we all crave. That happens to encompass, along with many other areas, our expressions of human sexuality. TEC has chosen the path of least resistance, opting to bless what the culture wishes to bless and avoiding the harder work of calling God’s children to repentance and amendment of life. This Diocese, because we uphold the inspired and authoritative character of scripture, continues to affirm the historic teaching of the Church in this and many other crucial areas. We do so because we believe it essential both to our love for God (the response of love is obedience) and because of our love for others (we wish for them what we believe is God’s best). Consequently, we will love and accept everyone who comes through our doors, whatever their sexual orientation. But what we will tell them, as we tell every other sinner redeemed by grace, is that we are called to amendment of life, a new life, in Jesus Christ.
Where are we going?
After a multi-year process of study, self-examination and discernment, the Diocese voted at its Diocesan Convention in March 2017 to affiliate with the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). At its June 2017 Provincial Council, the ACNA voted to receive the Diocese of South Carolina as a member Diocese.
How is our standing within the Anglican Communion?
As a member Diocese of the ACNA, we continue in close fellowship with both the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (GAFCON) and the Global South Primates. We look forward to continuing in partnership with these brothers and sisters in Christ around the globe. The Diocese has received letters of support from Anglican primates around the world who recognize that we – like four other U.S. dioceses and at least 200 Episcopal parishes – have disassociated from the Episcopal Church over differences with its interpretation of theology, which many in the global Anglican community consider to be unorthodox. Our relationships with Provinces across the Anglican Communion are numerous and strong. The formal character of those relationships and how they may be expressed will be a decision arrived at only after much prayer and conversation as an entire Diocese. View the letters of support.
If we have left TEC, why do we still use the word “Episcopal” in our names and in our documents?
The term exists in the legal incorporated names of our Diocese and many of our parishes. The churches and the Diocese were always “episcopal” by name from their first founding, going back in some cases to the 1680’s. Its application is far broader than and not exclusively franchised by TEC. It is rightly used to designate any church that has bishops, for that is what the term refers to in the Greek and Latin from which the English word is derived. The episcopos is the bishop. An Episcopal church is simply one that has bishops. We continue, both as a diocese and as parishes to be that kind of church. This is both our legal and ecclesiastical heritage and we embrace it as such.
Prior to our disassociation from TEC what actions were taken against Bishop Lawrence?
On September 18, 2012, the Disciplinary Board for Bishops (a feature of the Title IV changes to the national Canons which our Diocese rejected because they are contrary to the TEC Constitution) voted to “certify” that Bishop Lawrence had abandoned the Church. Bishop Lawrence was not informed of this action until almost a month later.
What does that mean?
That means that the Episcopal Church’s Disciplinary Board for Bishops believed his actions amounted to renouncing the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Episcopal Church. The TEC canons require the Presiding Bishop immediately notify the Bishop. That did not happen. She informed him verbally nearly a month later of this certification and of her intention to restrict his ministry. This happened after beginning a conversation in the interim about the potential for a negotiated settlement of our differences.
What were those charges?
The first two were that Bishop Lawrence failed to prevent Diocesan Convention from voting to change our diocesan Constitution and Canons to limit or remove reference to those of TEC and for not preventing a similar resolution that had the same effect upon our corporate charter. The final charge was for participating in the granting of quit claim deeds to parishes. These legal documents confirmed what we believe was already established in South Carolina law, that parishes own their property, free of any imposed trust interest by others. All three items were known and the first two explicitly a part of the formal charges of which the Bishop was acquitted last November when the same disciplinary body considered accusations of abandonment.
Did Bishop Lawrence “abandon” the Episcopal Church?
No, he did not. The disciplinary board may disagree, but one reality is that we already did not recognize their actions, having agreed as a Diocese that the canonical changes creating their processes were contrary to the TEC constitution and so of no effect in the Diocese of South Carolina. Those same national canons are presently under review by resolution of the General Convention for that reason. Further, if there was substance to the charges, why were both the Bishop and our deputation granted seat, voice and vote at General Convention in the summer of 2012? All our actions were over a year old by then. If the Bishop can be charged with abandoning the communion of the Church for these actions, so can the Diocese. It is also worth noting that we have received letters of support and affirmation from across TEC and around the worldwide Anglican Communion. It is clear the larger Church recognizes we have not abandoned its communion.
What does it mean that we are “disassociated” from The Episcopal Church?
It means that we have now completely withdrawn our accession to the Constitution and Canons of TEC. The Diocese of South Carolina continues as it has since its founding as those parishes in union with one another and legally organized and incorporated as The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina. That identity has not changed.
How was that accomplished?
The Standing Committee voted to withdraw our membership in The Episcopal Church and our accession to its constitution effective upon the occurrence of any action against anyone within the Diocese. When that occurred, we were automatically disassociated from The Episcopal Church. The actual language of the resolution may be found at: http://www.diosc.com/sys/images/documents/tec/sc_conditional_disassociate.pdf)
Were there additional conditional resolutions?
Only one, which also took effect immediately. When charges were being considered in the fall of 2011 against Bishop Lawrence, the Standing Committee passed a similar resolution that called a special convention to be held for the first Saturday more than 30 days from any action taken against the Bishop (the minimum notice required by our diocesan canons). [The minutes of the meeting in which that decision was made can be found here: http://www.diosc.com/sys/images/documents/tec/sc_min_bd_dir_diosc_11_1_11.pdf)
Doesn’t a Diocesan Convention have to vote on whether or not to leave the Episcopal Church?
Our diocesan canons give the Bishop authority as the final arbiter of the meaning and application of our constitution and canons. The Standing Committee formally requested an interpretation of those canons and who had the authority to take such an action. The formal reply of the Bishop made it clear the Standing Committee has such authority to act on behalf of the Diocese (That interpretation can be found here: http://www.diosc.com/sys/images/documents/tec/sc_interpret_cons_can.pdf ]
What happened at the Special Convention Held November 17, 2012?
On Saturday, November 17, 2012, the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina met in Special Convention at the “mother church of the Diocese,” historic St. Philip’s Church in Charleston. There, an overwhelming majority passed three resolutions. The first resolution affirmed the act of disassociation taken by the Bishop and Standing Committee of the Diocese, in response to actions of The Episcopal Church (TEC). Though it was a voice vote, only one “nay” was heard. The second resolution also passed on first reading. It approved amendments to the Diocesan Constitution removing all reference to the Constitution of the Episcopal Church. On this voice vote only two “nays” were heard. The final vote, which was by orders, was for approval of amendments to the diocesan canons, likewise removing all such reference to the Episcopal Church. It passed with an overwhelming vote of 96% (71 clergy) in the clergy order, with 3 abstaining. In the lay order, the vote passed with 90% in favor (47 voting yes with 5 abstentions).
How will these actions affect the day-to-day workings of our churches?
They will not affect the day-to-day workings of our churches. This Diocese will continue to function and minister largely as it always has. The primary work of the Gospel proclamation will remain the same. Our worship and ministry will be no different. How we relate to one another within the Diocese, in accord with our own Constitution and Canons will be no different.
Most importantly, Bishop Lawrence will continue in all his functions as Diocesan Bishop. He will confer with the leadership of the parishes he is scheduled to visit, and where there are pastoral considerations, his visit may be postponed as seems best. Otherwise, his ministry will continue unchanged.
Practically speaking, our Diocese has its own Health Insurance program. That will remain unchanged. Many of our parishes have their own property insurance plans outside of the Church Insurance Corporation. These too will remain unchanged.
Those parishes that have their insurance through the Church Pension Group will need to begin exploring alternatives.
Clergy and laity will be provided a new Church Pension Fund. Plans are being finalized to do so for lay employees as well.
What is the significance of the Presiding Bishop declaring Bishop Lawrence’s renunciation?
Because the Diocese of South Carolina had already left the Episcopal Church, the Presiding Bishop’s declaration is of no effect other than for the purposes of their own record keeping. The November 17 Convention affirmed this legal and canonical reality. This action by the Presiding Bishop will come as no surprise to most, though it should be a disappointment to all. It has been done before. Just as the Episcopal Church has been increasingly characterized by ignoring the plain meaning of biblical texts, that same behavior has now come to characterize the application of their own governing canons as well. Those canons are quite explicit about the renunciation of ministry. It is to be a request, made in writing, to the Presiding Bishop, that the bishop in question wishes to be released from the ministry of the Episcopal Church. None of those qualifications have been complied with. Bishop Lawrence has never renounced his orders or expressed the desire to do so.