The Standing Committee of the Diocese of South Carolina has published a letter disassociating themselves from the likely outcome of the 2012 General Convention regarding the blessing of same sex unions. It is a document that slips and slides nearer and nearer the edge of whatever it is we mean by "union with the General Convention." It is also filled with a very peculiar view of polity.
Here is the letter (in purple) with highlights by Preludium and commentary (in red.)
"Declaration of the Standing Committee The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina
June 15, 2012
June 15, 2012
1. As the Standing Committee of the sovereign Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina, we view with dismay and great sadness what appears to be the inevitable outcome of the 2012 General Convention of the Episcopal Church, that is,the official approval of a rite for the blessing of same-gender unions. This is a defining
moment in the life of the Episcopal Church, being the first formal adoption of doctrine, discipline and worship which are contrary to the unequivocal mandate of Holy
Scripture, the historic Christian faith, Anglican doctrine, and the pronouncements of the four instruments of Anglican unity. Furthermore, the adoption of such a rite at General Convention contravenes the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church, and the Book of Common Prayer, and in so doing reveals the bankruptcy of our own polity and institutional integrity. "
The Standing Committee continues the argument that the Diocese of South Carolina and its Bishop, Mark Lawrence, put forward, that dioceses in The Episcopal Church are "sovereign", particularly those that were founding dioceses, and that their union with The Episcopal Church is voluntary. Therefore they are not bound by anything in the Canons or acts of General Convention that do not meet the diocese's standards of orthodoxy. The matter is carefully couched to be about the diocese and not about the bishop. The second highlighted comment, about the adoption of such a rite contravening the C and C... is just wrong. In the first place the resolution being proposed does not involve adopting a rite, but rather suggesting it to bishops and dioceses where it might be used during this further period of study. It is not yet being proposed as an official rite of the Church.
"2. Of greatest concern is not that a blessing of same-gender unions contravenes specific
verses of Scripture, though that is unacceptable – of greatest concern is the theology which underlies this rite, set forth in the 82 page I Will Bless You document, which
patently redefines the Christian faith, subverting the doctrines of creation and baptism, the nature of sin and salvation, and the grace of the Gospel of Jesus Christ."
That is way too simple. I think there are several problems with the "I Will Bless You" document, but the Standing Committee seems to believe it subverts basic Christian doctrine. Too simple...
"3. We have compassion for those who struggle with and act upon same-gender attraction, and we urge equal treatment for all men and women in the church. Our Lord calls us all, equally, to repent of sin that we might receive forgiveness and cleansing through the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, restoration to the Body of Christ, and transformation through the power of the Holy Spirit."
Ah... now we get to the meat of the issue. The Standing Committee has compassion on sinners who "act upon same-gender attraction," believing no doubt that such actions can be avoided by sufficient activities of repentance, forgiveness, cleansing and transformation. The contrary to believing that same gender attraction is simply part of the larger world of attraction between persons is to believe that some attraction serves God's purposes and good, and other attractions does not. Acting on those attractions that do not serve God's purpose should be avoided, and if given into should issue in repentance, etc. Acting on those attractions without remorse is evil.
Well, I don't buy it. But at least here the Standing Committee is getting to the nub of their concern.
"4. We hereby repudiate, denounce and reject any action of the Episcopal Church which purports to bless what our Lord clearly does not bless. Specifically, we declare any rite
which purports to bless same-gender unions to be beyond the authority and jurisdiction of the General Convention of the Episcopal Church and without force or effect."
The Standing Committee has guts, no doubt about it. They stand ready to declare any such rite "beyond the authority and jurisdiction of the General Convention of the Episcopal Church." So far just an opinion. Then they issue a judgment " and without force or effect." Where the hell did they get the right to make such a judgment? Well, from the above mentioned "sovereignty" that they claim for themselves. Interestingly they don't claim that it has no force or effect in the Diocese of South Carolina. They claim it in a more universal sense. It comes close to be an anathema statement.
"5. In view of the persistent movement of the General Convention of this church away from orthodox Christianity, including its expected embrace of such a rite of same-sex
blessings, we further affirm and assert our calling in this diocese to seek to “make Biblical Anglicans for a global age,” and we declare that we will not walk with General
Convention down the road they are choosing. We will instead continue to partner with Anglican dioceses, provinces and other Anglican entities here and abroad to further the spread of the Good News of salvation for sinners through faith in Jesus Christ."
Well, there it is. The Diocese of South Carolina has essentially produced an anathema against General Convention, accusing it of heresy and refusing to "walk with GC" but rather associate itself with "Anglican Dioceses, provinces and other Anglican entities here and abroad" meaning of course ACNA, Rwanda, Nigeria, etc.
So what we have is the Standing Committee, on the basis of a possible action at General Convention, moving to associate itself with the so called Biblical Anglicans, rather than with General Convention. We can expect that South Carolina will have a token representation at General Convention, but not much more. The Standing Committee has issued an anathema, the Bishop finds his friends in bishops of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans. Will he be present or absent at the House of Bishops? Probably he will be there, but if he has encouraged his standing committee, his heart will be elsewhere. South Carolina will maintain the minimum presence at General Convention necessary to 'get by" and that's it.
It's hard to know what to say. The Standing Committee's decree is quite amazing. The leadership of the Bishop has apparently pointed South Carolina away from General Convention, invoking Diocesan sovereignty ( a really bad idea) and toward a cluster of "Anglican-like" bodies whose ecclesial sensibilities are more Puritan and Calvinistic than Anglican. That cluster is no jewel either... as will one day be seen in its internal disease over the ordination of women, the role of bishops, etc.
At some point Bishop Lawrence will have to stand at the bar and deal with the fact that he is bishop because this Church, the Church that gathers in General Convention, made him one. He has license from it to be bishop of South Carolina, and that license is given by an ecclesial community that does not take kindly to being called unorthodox.