Thursday, November 15, 2012

For the Love of God

UPDATE: I have been contacted by the Presiding Bishop about this. She assures me, after checking with her staff, that no one in her office issued any announcement that the offices of Bishop or Standing Committee have been declared vacant. She does acknowledge that some members of her staff have been working with the steering committee of Episcopalians in South Carolina who wish to remain in the Episcopal Church. She professes willingness to step back from the brink if Bishop Lawrence offers a refutation of the charges of abandonment within the 60 day canonical time frame, and indicates that she intends to communicate that willingness in the form of a pastoral letter before the special convention on Saturday. I share this information in the interest of fairness and truth.

This post is an exercise in futility. So why bother? Because it is sometimes in such moments when truth can be most clearly spoken. There is nothing to lose in being direct, and nothing to gain by being subtle.

The Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina has been "a thing" for some years now. The overwhelming majority in the diocese have been dismayed at a succession of decisions and actions taken by General Convention and the administrative leadership at a church-wide level. (I write as one who shares that dismay.) In response, diocesan leaders have taken steps to distance the diocese from the direction of the national church, while maintaining its historic formal connection (South Carolina is one of the original founding dioceses of the Episcopal Church).

Earlier this year, a small group of Episcopalians in the diocese--a handful of clergy and laity who feel themselves at odds with the tenor of the diocese--invoked a canonical process under Title IV of the national canons, those dealing with the discipline of bishops. They accused Bishop Mark Lawrence not  of misconduct, but of abandonment of the communion of the Episcopal Church. Under Title IV, this sort of accusation goes directly to the Disciplinary Board for Bishops (DBB), bypassing the Intake Officer and Reference Panel, which is how an ordinary misconduct charge would be handled. Last month, the DBB, in a formal--and, frankly, inexplicable--canonical step, "certified" Bishop Lawrence's abandonment of the Episcopal Church and notified the Presiding Bishop of its finding. The Presiding Bishop, in a canonical non-discretionary act, "restricted" Bishop Lawrence's ministry until such time as the House of Bishops can render a final decision. This would have to take place at the next regular meeting of the HoB, which is next March, or at a special meeting, and no such special meeting has been called.

Meanwhile, the action of the DBB triggered a failsafe mechanism that the Standing Committee of the Diocese of South Carolina had apparently, though not publicly, put in place, such that any action of the national church against the diocese or its bishop would automatically result in the diocese's disaffiliation from the Episcopal Church. and call a special convention of the diocese to take counsel for the future. That convention takes place this coming Saturday.

In a sequence of events that is reminiscent of the tragic beginning of World War I, earlier this week the Presiding Bishop declared the offices of Bishop and Standing Committee in the Diocese of South Carolina to be vacant, and established a process by which the "continuing" diocese would be reconstituted under new leadership. It must not go unremarked that there is absolutely no canonical authority for her to do this. While it might be argued that "new occasions teach new duties" and unanticipated circumstances call for improvisatory responses, the fundamentally rogue nature of Bishop Jefferts Schori's actions remains.

In the Presiding Bishop's defense, there is solid evidence that she had been a good-faith participant, with Bishop Lawrence and Bishop Andrew Waldo of the neighboring diocese of Upper South Carolina, in discussions pointed in the direction of creative avoidance of the impasse that has, in fact, ensued, discussions that were aborted by her receipt of the abandonment certification from the DBB. This reality only compounds the tragic dimension of the situation. How is it that we are so imprisoned by our own juridical processes that charity itself is suffocated?

Tragedy is the only word to describe all of this, and it would be difficult, if not impossible, to overstate its scope. South Carolina is a strong and thriving diocese. It has consistently been a statistical anomaly in an Episcopal Church that is steadily aging and deteriorating. All eyes have indeed been on South Carolina, but for the wrong reasons. Rather than arising from suspicion and malice, the attention should be springing from envy and a desire to emulate. Its loss will be no mere statistical blip, and will probably exceed the combined numerical total of the previously departed San Joaquin, Fort Worth, Quincy, and about half of Pittsburgh. For anyone who loves the Episcopal Church, Anglicanism, or just loves Jesus, this is an occasion of profound sorrow.

So here's my futility exercise.

To my beloved brothers and sisters in the Diocese of South Carolina, as you meet in convention this Saturday: For the love of God, step back from the brink. Lay aside that which is your right, in honor of him who laid aside everything for us, not counting equality with God something to be grasped. The entire Episcopal Church needs you, but none more so than we who have stood with you in witness to the revealed word of God and the tradition of "mere Anglicanism." I am begging you: Do not abandon us. Let us together be Jeremiah at the bottom of the well, bearing costly witness to God's truth. Let us together be Hosea, faithfully loving those who do not love us back, for the sake of the wholeness of the people of God.

To the Presiding Bishop: Katharine, for the love of God, step back from the brink. Rescind the announcements you have made about the offices of Bishop and Standing Committee being vacant. Give peace a chance. Create space for the seeds of future trust and love to at least lie dormant for a season in anticipation of future germination. When the Confederate dioceses formed their own church in the 1860s, the General Convention, in great wisdom, simply refused to recognize their departure, thereby greatly facilitating eventual reconciliation and avoiding the schism that other American Christian bodies experienced in the wake of the Civil War. You are renowned for your calls for nimbleness and imagination in the face of the challenges our church faces. This is the moment for you to exercise precisely that sort of leadership. The legacy of your tenure as Presiding Bishop will be written in the next three days. Will it be a legacy of juridical gridlock, or bold generosity for the sake of God's mission?

I am reduced nearly to tears, and they may yet flow.

For the love of God.


Maida+ said...

It is hard not to see in these actions - on both sides - some amount of eagerness. Perhaps circumstances are giving people reasonable cover, allowing them to take steps they have been wanting to take for some time? Both "sides" say they are doing what they do with sorrow, and yet there is a measure of fed-up-ness and lets-get-on-with-it-ness that is apparent from outside.

Sad indeed.

Neil Houghton said...

Bishop Martin,

I feel your pain, really I do. I have cried when my church did not see me as fully included. It has broken my heart as these modern day revelations have caused a rift in the church we both love.

As a member of a standing committee which prayerfully voted not to consent to Bishop Lawrence's election, I can say that our decision was not based on his theology, but on statements that were made indicating that he would not submit to the decisions of our polity. That's not an "I told you so." It is only to point out that this is not something that just happened. There is no eagerness. It's been years in the making.

I do not believe that either side is eager to walk away from each other. But there does come a point where we must walk apart.

I look forward to the time in which there will be full reconciliation in Christ.

Neil Houghton, Diocese of Rochester

Mark Harris said...

This is a wonderfully crafted statement and as usual I find myself appreciating your wisdom. I will be referencing and re-posting most of what you have written here, if permission is so given.

Mark Harris

Mark Harris said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Thomas B. Woodward said...

I certainly agree with Mark Harris in appreciating your wisdom and compassion. As one on the other side of the theological spectrum, I supported +Mark's consecration - in good part because of his open and engaging responses to my concerns about his full commitment to the doctrine and discipline of our church. I trust you and others that he has wrestled with that commitment honestly. I join you in your prayers for him, the different factions in the Diocese of South Carolina and for the church we love.

James said...

I am relatively confident that the PB's offer, as communicated in your "update" would never be accepted by either Mark Lawrence or the Diocese of South Caroline ("She professes willingness to step back from the brink if Bishop Lawrence offers a refutation of the charges of abandonment within the 60 day canonical time frame")

This would be like Mark Lawrence professing a willingness to step back from the brink if the PB accepts that the new disciplinary canons have no force or effect in the Diocese of South Carolina and if the PB agrees to adhere to the normal interpretation of the disciplinary procedures as they existed prior to 2006. In other words: it ain't gonna happen.

I know that you believe that the PB has acted in good faith in this, but her offer strikes me as being the obvious "poison pill." She is not agreeing to stand down at all, but rather is saying "If you accept MY view of TEC polity, I will stand down. If not, it's still Game On." I don't see the PB's offer as being in particular good faith at all, but rather more posturing.

And sadly, as TEC has now become such an unwelcoming and unfriendly place, I seriously doubt that anyone who decides to depart would ever return unless there is a lot more done to open TEC up again. And that doesn't mean just mere posturing or empty words. That means concrete action. And that is not likely to happen anytime soon.

Anonymous said...

Praise the Lord for that update!!! Thank you!

Father Ron Smith said...

Schism is a sad thing - whatever the reason for its intentional, wilful application.

Anonymous said...

I disagree with the moral equivalence implied in this post. The Presiding Bishop is following a now well-worn and recognized path -- a systematic process for eliminating another enemy and replacing conservative leadership with her chosen apparatchiks. The Diocese of South Carolina was brazenly attacked by those currently in power in The Episcopal Church and its leadership has acted in appropriate self-defense in order to protect the diocese from obliteration by the revisionist activists currently in charge at the highest levels of our church. I support them in their defending their diocese from complete destruction.

In regards to the Presiding Bishop's "willingness to step back from the brink if Bishop Lawrence offers a refutation of the charges of abandonment within the 60 day canonical time frame" -- that is laughably and transparently obvious, tactically. The Diocese of South Carolina has made clear their belief that the Title IV revisions are in direct and flagrant violation of the Constitution and thus unacceptable. It is a pity that other diocesan Standing Committees have not publicly recognized this as well. But the fact is that if Bishop Lawrence refutes those charges he is acknowledging and validating a set of canonical changes that violates the Constitution and there is no reason for a diocese's leadership to do such a thing.

What I can't understand is . . . why would any bishop want a Diocese to act in such a way that would utterly destroy it? I can't conceive of a reputable and credible set of leaders doing such a thing, in the face of the deliberate and calculated efforts of our current leadership.

In a larger context, the Diocese of South Carolina caving on this particular issue merely delays the inevitable. If it's not this issue, it will be another. For ultimately -- since the foundational worldviews and respective gospels are antithetical and mutually opposing between the two groups within TEC -- those two groups will divide. Intrinsically communion-dividing acts and theologies have been enacted, promoted, and forced upon others, and the inevitable consequence of those intrinsically communion-dividing acts are that the two groups will not ultimately reside in the same organization together.

The consequences of the chasm between the two groups will occur now, or later. But they will occur. Eventually, The Episcopal Church will encompass the revisionists, and the rest will be gone. It can happen tomorrow, or ten years from now. But happen it will.

I support the Diocese of South Carolina taking such steps as it can to protect itself now so that the institution of that diocese can continue on, long into the future, detached from The Episcopal Church.


Sarah Hey, an Episcopalian

Reformed Catholic said...


your update only reflects how actions are stronger than words.

She said that no one in her office issued any announcement that the offices of Bishop or Standing Committee have been declared vacant. She does acknowledge that some members of her staff have been working with the steering committee of Episcopalians in South Carolina who wish to remain in the Episcopal Church.

Yet why is there a statement in a newspaper, entitled "An Open Letter to Episcopalians in the Diocese of South Carolina" listing a 'Steering Committee' of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, that legally cannot exist: newspaper ad .

It appears that the PB is doing as she did in other dioceses with Bishops who did not agree with the direction of TEC. However, in South Carolina she's in over her head.

Anonymous said...

Bishop Martin,
Thank you for your thoughtful and caring words. I believe that you truly care for the well-being of "both sides."

Maybe you can intervene? You said the PB had contacted you directly. Maybe you can persuade her to offer a *genuine* compromise -- which her letter of November 15 (today) clearly is not. She is all too aware that there is no way Bishop Lawrence can acknowledge the charges brought against him under the infamous Title IV -- since SC has consistently refused to accept the validity of Title IV.

What if the PB was to stipulate that Title IV has no authority over SC, and dismiss the "abandonment" charge altogether? And in the same breath, offer the Diocese of SC a place in TEC where it is (we are) allowed to continue to worship, free of the threat of removing our beloved bishop?

What if she had done so in October?

You may note that this is precisely the path that Bishop Lawrence has taken within the diocese, in order to hold together (most of) those parishes who sought to leave much sooner. He gave them the choice, and they stayed.

Nobody wants to see this schism. But the PB and her posse, and their Title IV innovations, have pushed SC into a corner where there is no other way. Title IV is the door that the PB could open, if she truly cared to reconcile.

Anonymous said...

God bless you, Bishop.

Anonymous said...

I am interested in James' comment. How are the new disciplinary canons a violation of the Constitution of TEC? This is the first I am reading that the leaders in SC are challenging the validity of the new disciplinary procedures.

Galletta said...

Bishop Martins,
I wish you had been at our deanery meeting this past Tuesday. Bishop Lawrence honestly told us his agony at the actions of General Convention this past summer. How he could not agree - just could not agree. Surely, you remember those closed door sessions of the HoB. Perhaps you need a reminder from +Mark?

I am afraid the trustworthiness of any statement by the PB is pretty much nil here in SC.

Anon, There has been much written about the unconstitutionality of the new Title IV canons.
The above website is the best place to start for that information

SC Blu Cat Lady

Galletta said...

Anon, I assure you that the PB has no plans for doing anything remotely like you suggest as she has already written that she is waiting for him to recant! Recant what? His faith in the Gospel of Christ???

James said...

You should be able to locate a lot of discussion about the questionable constitutionality of the new disciplinary canons. The ACI has an article here:

Dale Matson said...

"The legacy of your tenure as Presiding Bishop will be written in the next three days" Really? It seems to those of us in ACNA that here legacy is already written. This is volume II.

Fr. Jonathan said...

We do far too much prancing about, acting indignant, and not enough weeping these days. And I include myself in the "we." Thank you for speaking with both honesty and humility at a time when both are in short supply.

mousestalker said...

All she wants is the Sudetenland....

Bishop Daniel Martins said...

For the record, I never intended to imply a moral equivalence in responsibility for the present mess. The preponderance of responsibility clearly lies with the Presiding Bishop and the Title IV apparatus. But there is an equivalence of opportunity. Both sides can refuse to pull the next trigger. I come back to Sadat and Begin.

Michael said...

Comments re Bishop Welby: "So, don’t expect theological absolutism, ecclesial autocracy or assertions of spiritual authority, for that simply isn’t the Anglican way. With authority dispersed, spiritual tyranny is prevented. And in this model of governance, we find the ‘broad church’ of England, incorporating Protestants, Evangelicals, conservatives, liberals, Anglo-Catholics, agnostics, humanists and permutations of various fusions of these held ‘in tension’. All things to all people – and thank God for that". Seems that TEC is rather different from the Church of England, I'm very sad to observe.

Jon said...

To be fair, the more vulnerable judicial processes are to political considerations the more likely those processes are to be meaningless window dressing for cronyism and corruption. That's why the Presiding Bishop can't offer to nullify Title IV for South Carolina, and why she was only able to offer to step back if Bishop Lawrence offered a refutation of the abandonment charge. We'd also better hope and pray that political considerations played no part in the DBB's decision, since I'd hate to think that their decisions could be swayed by a clever crook. Not that Bishop Lawrence is a crook, but if the DBB showed itself vulnerable to political considerations that would create concern if they ever had to deal with a crook.