Thursday, December 06, 2012

Another Trigger Gets Pulled

The appropriate expression, I believe, is "shocked but not surprised." The Presiding Bishop's office announced today that it has interpreted public statements by the Bishop of South Carolina as a de facto request that he be formally relieved of the obligations of ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church, and that she has indeed granted that presumed request, and so, by implication, declared the office vacant. This is one of the chess pieces that needed to get moved into order to clear the way for the erection of a reconfigured "continuing" Episcopal diocese in the low country of South Carolina. How this impacts the adjudication of the earlier charge that he had already long since abandoned TEC by a public renunciation of its discipline by abetting the amendment of the diocesan constitution to remove accession to the canons (not the constitution) of TEC remains to be seen. It does now all seem moot, but--who knows?--maybe the March 2013 House of Bishops meeting will still stake it up.

I have already delivered myself of my deepest thoughts and feelings on this matter in my previous two posts on this blog, so I won't re-plow that ground. Well, maybe just a little:

Bishop Lawrence has, indeed, made it publicly clear that he no longer considers himself an Episcopalian. And as there are clearly people within his diocese who do wish to be Episcopalian, it seems fair enough that the church at large work with them to push the reset button on the presence of the Episcopal Church in that area. But let's be honest: Mark Lawrence "left" the Episcopal Church the way someone "leaves" the top floor of a burning skyscraper: It was a voluntary act, but not one he would have chosen except under the most extremely anomalous circumstances. For any practical purpose, he was pushed.

If the rest of the church had just been able to let the Diocese of South Carolina be what it is, we wouldn't be in this pastoral and constitutional mess. What they did to their constitution left it no different materially than the constitutions of a whole bunch of other dioceses that nobody seems to be picking on. They continued to participate in the life of the larger church, even if they did grumble a bit. But since when is grumbling the unpardonable sin?

Yet, elements within the diocese simply could not abide life in the margin. So they conspired to abuse the Title IV canons on abandonment. The first time, they were unsuccessful, and Bishop Lawrence was exonerated. Then the composition of the Disciplinary Board for Bishops changed and the votes were suddenly there. In the absence of any double jeopardy protection in Title IV, they made it stick the second time. So a small group of disgruntled Episcopalians within the diocese, with an assist from a majority of the Disciplinary Board for Bishops, have succeeded in fomenting chaos. The damage they have caused is untellable.

Did they have help from outside? There is no lack of speculation in that direction, but I have no direct knowledge. If they did, though, whoever helped them is equally culpable.

Among the many victims of this disaster are parishes--with their clergy and faithful--who are in theological sympathy with the majority of the diocese, but disagree with the decision to leave TEC, and, in fact, have no desire or intention of doing so. Now they are faced with the distasteful prospect of making common cause with their offenders--those who instigated the apocalypse--or finding some other less unpalatable way forward. There are no "good" solutions. Our only hope, collectively, is to find some that are less bad than others.


Undergroundpewster said...

I think it wrong that the PB would insist on following the letter of the law during the consent process for Bishop Lawrence (consents had to be submitted in writing and not sent electronically), but now we see the requirement for a written renunciation is being brushed aside.

In fact, Bishop Lawrence in his letter of 12/05/2012 ( states,

"Quite simply I have not renounced my orders as a deacon, priest or bishop any more than I have abandoned the Church of Jesus Christ—But as I am sure you are aware, the Diocese of South Carolina has canonically and legally disassociated from The Episcopal Church. We took this action long before today's attempt at renunciation of orders, therein making it superfluous."

Anonymous said...

Dear Bishop Martins:
You may be next, considering how your quasi-archbishop treats her underlings. I hope you have your retirement figured out!

Matt Marino said...

Amen bishop.

What a sad display of Christian charity on our part. We have followed a Girardian path of picking a scapegoat and drumming up a false unity around attacking a minority. This has played out countless times in history. I falsely assumed we were bright enough not to be caught up in such a blood frenzy. As I learned in the conservative church: doctrinaire Puritanism can never tolerate dissent.

Lord, have mercy.

Unknown said...

While many of us in the Continuing Diocese of Quincy wish no doubt a fond and hearty hello to our Illinois neighbor Bishop Martins, perhaps he might take a moment to consider that many of those of us who have remained loyal to the TEC in the disputed dioceses wish we had been afforded by the ACNAs the same modicum of the grace and understanding the bishop so eloquently demands from the TEC regarding the ACNAs. As many state supreme courts have affirmed and the US Supreme Court has refused to contradict, the Episcopal Church is a hierarchical organization which one is free to leave, but not one in which the tail is free to wag the dog. How about just giving the keys back and foregoing your ultimately futile legal manipulations? Go and build your own churches to be proud of. And as with the ACNAs in Quincy, Forth Worth and San Joaquin, I wish these South Carolina dissidents well -- though heartily disagreeing with them on fundamental issues of human dignity.
If Bishop Martins feels the need for a “fire extinguisher” to dampen the flames on the “top floor of a burning skyscraper” of his own, many of us would heartily recommend the cooling waters provided by our provisional bishop, John Buchanan. We miss him here when he is in South Carolina with his wife Peggy, daughters, and grand children, and hope that his presence can help facilitate the workings of the Holy Spirit within both the loyal Episcopalians who remain and those dissidents who leave. Peace be with you.