Just when it appeared that things were quieting down, what with charges of abandonment against Bishop Lawrence of South Carolina having been dropped for lack of sufficient cause, new concerns have been lifted up from other quarters.
The Bishops of the Fourth Province (most of the South) have written a letter to ask for a meeting with Bishop Lawrence to ask him to explain just what is going on with this business of quitclaim deeds being given to parishes in the Diocese of South Carolina.. They write:
We also considered, with some concern, recent publicly reported actions regarding quitclaim deeds given to parishes in the Diocese of South Carolina. Since we have had no direct communication from you regarding these reported actions, we determined that it is our duty as bishops of this province to address these concerns in direct communication with you, as Jesus exhorts his followers in Matthew's Gospel (18:15-20), and in accord with our ordination vows regarding the unity and governance of the church. What we seek in the coming weeks is a face-to-face meeting with you and and a representative group of your fellow Bishops Diocesan of Province4 in order to have a clarifying conversation and to address the concerns raised among us:
A. We have heard and read reports that you have given a quitclaim deed to each congregation in yourdiocese. Is this true? If this report is true, under what canonical authority did you proceed? Did you involve theStanding Committee and are the members of the Standing Committee in accord? Who signed the deeds?Would you provide a sample copy of a deed and the letter of explanation that accompanied it?
B. In order to better understand your action, the Bishops of Province 4 gathered in Memphis respectfully request that you meet with several of your fellow Provincial Bishops Diocesan in Charleston, orelsewhere if you desire, to discuss what has been noted above. We make this request in a spirit of collegialityand fellowship as well as out of concern for the people of the Diocese of South Carolina and concern for thewell-being of The Episcopal Church.
Unlike the charges for abandonment this letter addresses a concern that might have greater weight precisely because the quitclaim deeds directly come from him (although they may have Standing Committee or other approval) and because as a wholesale lump they are not directed at any particular parish and its desire to quit The Episcopal Church or sell their buildings, but rather as a direct test and confrontation with what the Bishop believes is a rotten canon. The Bishop believes that he is bound to the Constitution of The Episcopal Church but not its canons if they are deemed bad law. This is sort of like saying you uphold the Constitution of The United States, but are free to disregard laws that don't meet your standards re conformance to the Constitution.
I am glad the bishops in Province IV have raised questions and done so in a friendly way. But things will get increasingly unfriendly if Bishop Lawrence can't do better than argue that the oath and vows don't mean paying attention to both Constitution and Canons until such time as you change them by due process.
The Bishop is quite right to argue that we don't have a parallel to the Supreme Court to try and test the validity of particular laws and so they must be tested in some other way.
He has chosen the way of distancing himself and his diocese from supposedly bad canons - the Dennis Canon (Title I 7.4) and the whole of Title IV. But that is by far the least helpful way to go, since it leads to yet another round of charges, trials and mess. A much better way, actually a democratically useful way, is to take the matter back to General Convention and push back against canons that are believed to be unconstitutional. But the Bishop of South Carolina seems distant from any such action.
One could bring forward a resolution, "resolved that Title i 7.4 be rescinded because judged by this General Convention to be unconstitutional." See how far that goes. General Convention passed the thing. Give General Convention the option to reconsider.
Good luck with that! But about Title IV there might be a better chance. But the way to get these things out of the way is to challenge the constitutionality in Convention and see what the bishops and deputies do then.