The following frequently asked questions (FAQ’s) are offered as a more detailed explanation of recent events in the Diocese of South Carolina. Note: These are being updated regularly.
[Please return here frequently, as these will be updated as new information becomes available.]
What is the Status of the Lawsuit?
Despite numerous attempts at delay by TEC, the trial of our case started essentially on time and was tried by Judge Goodstein from July 8-25, 2014. At the conclusion, our Diocese and parishes were each asked to provide the judge with a three page summary (max) of all the steps taken to legally disassociate from TEC. They were then allowed 30 days to respond to each of those. All parties have now filed the requested submissions with the Court and await the Judge’s ruling. We hope to have a ruling by the end of October 2014.
Why did the Diocese of South Carolina file a lawsuit against the Episcopal Church?
The Diocese and 31 parishes filed suit to protect the Diocese’s property and that of its parishes. The suit asks the court to declare 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 asks 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.
On January 31, 2013 South Carolina Circuit Judge Diane S. Goodstein issued a Temporary Injunction which blocks the Episcopal Church (TEC), its continuing parishes, individual, organizations or any entity associated with it from using, assuming or adopting, in any way directly or indirectly the registered names and the seal or mark of The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina. The Temporary Injunction replaces the Temporary Restraining Order which was issued on January 23, 2013
Is there any reason to believe The Episcopal Church will try to hijack our Diocese’s historic property and other assets?
Unfortunately, yes. The Episcopal Church has a history of suing any diocese or parish that leaves in order to obtain the property. It also has a history of trying to assume the identity of those who left and it had begun to try and take the Diocese of South Carolina’s identity by calling for a convention to identify new leadership for the diocese, creating a website using the Diocesan seal and producing material identifying this splinter organization as the Diocese of South Carolina. In recent years, it has spent more than $40 million on lawsuits to prosecute dioceses and parishes that have separated themselves from their extreme positions.
The Presiding Bishop has said that a Diocese may not leave The Episcopal Church.Is that true?
No. The Episcopal Church is a voluntary association. There are no provisions stating that a diocese cannot leave. Were there such provisions, they would violate our freedom of association, which is protected by the United States and South Carolina Constitutions.
Why did we disassociate from The Episcopal Church?
The Episcopal Church attempted to remove Mark Lawrence as the Bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina on grounds that are invalid. 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. The 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 is clear evidence that there is no longer a place for us within TEC, so we have exercised our legal right to end that voluntary association.
The Diocese embraces the theology, morality and policies that have united Anglicans for centuries. However, many in TEC have broken with these positions that guide 80 million members of the world Anglican Communion. It is no longer the church we helped to establish more than 200 years ago. Today, we differ on the most fundamental cornerstone of Christianity: As good Anglicans we in the Diocese believe a moral life comes from the transforming power of faith in Christ alone; TEC says that is only one of the options available to members.
Minimizing the importance of Christ and his teaching calls into question much within TEC . This fundamental shift has resulted in families, parishes and entire dioceses leaving the church. In response to this dramatic loss of resources, TEC has tried to claim more centralized authority over its historically decentralized dioceses and parishes, including the authority to seize their property. TEC has every right to choose its path, but it has no right to impose it on us under the threat of commandeering property acquired through the blood and sweat of faithful believers.
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 believe 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 after beginning a conversation in the interim about the potential for a negotiated settlement of our differences.
What are those charges?
The first two are 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)
Are there additional conditional resolutions?
Only one, which also took effect immediately. When charges were being considered in the fall of 2011 against Bp. 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?
It 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.
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?
There are no plans to go anywhere. Going somewhere has never been the focus of the work of the Bishop or Standing Committee. Their objective has always been to plan ways to protect the Diocese while remaining within TEC. That option is no longer open to us. For the foreseeable future, we will remain who we have been since our founding in 1785. We are the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina. Our relationships 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.
How is our standing within the Anglican Communion?
As we begin this process of discernment together, we celebrate that our Diocese is now a member of the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (the organizers of the GAFCON conferences). We have also been given a Primatial Relationship by the Primates Council of the Global South Primates as a means of creating a formal ecclesiastical relationship with the rest of the Anglican Communion. 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 are out of TEC, what does it mean when we gather as a Convention?
As with every other Diocesan Convention, since the first seven conventions of the Diocese when there was no association called The Episcopal Church, we gather as the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina. We will continue to do the work of ministry that God has put before us, in covenanted fellowship with one another. Our gathering in Convention has never been predicated upon being part of TEC, as we operate under our own constitution and canons. These things remain unchanged.
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.