There has been a bubbling up of matters pertaining to the legislative actions of the Diocese of South Carolina and the case made by its bishop, Mark Lawrence, with the tidal wave of paper today - a 63 page document outlining the basis for charges by members of the Diocese of South Carolina that Bishop Lawrence ought to be held accountable and found to have abandoned The Episcopal Church. The Episcopal News Service article is HERE. The Living Church has an article HERE.
Almost immediately there were charges that this is another case of the Presiding Bishop and those awful people "up there" trying to do in a righteous bishop, etc, leading BabyBlue to this little essay on conspiracy in high places to divert attention from other matters.
The President of the Title IV Disciplinary Board wrote a memo to clear matters up a bit. (thanks to The Episcopal Cafe for the text.)
"From Bishop Dorsey Henderson President of the Title IV Disciplinary Board of the Episcopal Church
Concerning the Diocese of South Carolina:
•In the matter concerning the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, information is being reviewed by the Title IV Disciplinary Board. Bishop Dorsey Henderson is President of the Title IV Disciplinary Board.
•Information was presented from communicants within the Diocese of South Carolina.
•The information was not brought forward by the Presiding Bishop’s office, or by the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church. Therefore, the matter is not being handled by the Presiding Bishop’s office or anyone in the employ of the Episcopal Church Center.
•All information has been presented to the Disciplinary Board under the Episcopal Church Title IV disciplinary canons (laws of the church).
•In situations as this, the “church attorney” is an attorney who is retained by the Disciplinary Board to investigate cases brought to the Disciplinary Board. The “church attorney” is not the chancellor to the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church.
•As a matter of law and a matter of respect to those involved, the Disciplinary Board operates confidentially and will continue to do so. As such, it would not be appropriate to discuss the details of the case in public.
•Bishop Henderson has been in conversation with Bishop Mark Lawrence of the Diocese of South Carolina.
•The Disciplinary Board is comprised of Episcopal Church bishops, clergy and laity.
It didn't take any time for Rev. Dr. Ephraim Radner at the Anglican Communion Institute to fashion this response: A Response to the reported Title IVdisciplinary process begun against Bishop Mark Lawrence, which closes with this strange paragraph:
"I personally stand beside Bishop Lawrence and the people of South Carolina. If he has abandoned TEC, then it must mean that I have as well. Will you drive all of us out, Bishop Jefferts Schori? I say as clearly as I can: Presiding Bishop, you have bankrupted your apostolic office, broken your vows, and sullied this church, of which I and others are still members despite your folly, and of which I am still proud to be a member precisely because of bishops like Mark Lawrence whose witness proves that God, in his mercy, has at least not abandoned us."
Radner apparently had not read, or did not believe, Bishop Henderson's message.
The charges are dangling out there: This is a put up job to avert attention to the chaos in The Episcopal Church; it is the Presiding Bishop's forces at work to hound Bishop Lawrence from the Church; it is further example (Warner of Olympia being the first, and now Lawrence the second) of the terror that is Title IV; it is the culmination of a well panned out long range attach against orthodox Christians in The Episcopal Church.
This is at the very least sad.
I take Bishop Henderson's memo at face value. Persons from the Diocese of South Carolina, for whatever reasons, have presented charges. Those must be investigated. Everyone who needs to know that such an investigation is under way know. The question as to whether or not there is sufficient evidence to warrant further work by the Disciplinary Board remains to be seen.
Looking at the presented evidence, there seem to be three sorts of charges: (i) The Diocese, with Bishop Lawrence's support and encouragement, passed resolutions that attempt to modify the "unqualified accession" to the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church, (ii) the Bishop has encouraged the Diocese to remove itself from all engagements with The Episcopal Church on a church wide level and has set the stage for an attempt to leave TEC, and (iii) he illegally ordained his son a priest in this church.. I don't see much hope for any of these leading to the conclusion that he has abandoned The Episcopal Church. But, we shall see.
I hope that the last of these charges - that he did not properly ordain his son according to canon law will not make it very far. The son was a deacon somewhere, could indeed have been admitted into The Episcopal Church on the grounds that his orders, although irregular, are real, and ordained here. Then again it may have been less clearly done, but there it is. Let it alone.
About the real desires of the Bishop of South Carolina, the extent to which he is itching for a fight, etc, who knows?
I think the clearest of the charges is that he has mislead the Diocese, with bad legal advice, to believe that it is not bound by the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church unless it wishes to be so bound. His letter arguing that the changes made in the diocesan constitution and canons are valid in spite of the reading otherwise by a committee of Executive Council's reading of General Convention actions is, to my mind, just plain wrong. You can read his letter HERE.
The notion that the original states (they were not called dioceses then) which became known as dioceses at a later point, are exempt from the rule that binds dioceses in "unqualified accession" to the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church, is very odd indeed. The matter of being in union with the General Convention and bound by its Constitution and Canons is established with the acceptance of those canons by the assembled General Convention itself. That the General Convention would later require "unqualified accession' by new dioceses presumes that those diocese already in union with General Convention have understood their similar accession to the Constitution and Canons. To think otherwise would be to suggest the General Convention was aware of, or approved of a two tiered General Convention with dioceses who were and are independent and others who were admitted into union and are not independent. That is a stretch.
Should it be clear that the Bishop has mislead the Diocese, and the Diocese has passed resolutions that are null and void, would that be grounds for the charge of abandonment? I think not. If the Bishop or Diocesan Council or Convention were to act in ways that ran counter to the Constitution and Canons then they could be brought to trial for disobedience of the Canons, itself a reason for deposition. But at least that would be on the basis of actions.
Abandonment, if it is to have much meaning, needs to be reserved for, well, abandonment. Before there is the jumping of ship, there is, however, often actions of defiance. Defiance of the canons is unbecoming a clergy person (although most of us have been unbecoming in this regard at one time or another), but more importantly it is, if grave and or serious, a basis for trial.
Perhaps an interesting place to test all that out is in what I understand to have been changes made in the ordination declaration which the Bishop personally hears in the service. Another place would be in his refusal, if he does so, to take his part in the councils of the church - the primary one being his part as bishop in the House of Bishops. Deliberately abstaining from attendance can be viewed, if it goes on long enough, as refusing to honor his vows taken at ordination.