Bishop Lawrence postpones Diocese of South Carolina Convention

The New Orleans Saints, there being precisely one football team load of them, all the rest of NOLA folk being sinners, won the Super Bowl. They are sovereign - that is they RULE.

Over in South Carolina Bishop Lawrence has written his clergy and people a letter, dated February 9, 2010, in which states that the retaining of a lawyer in South Carolina by the Chancellor to the Presiding Bishop to represent The Episcopal Church in "some local matters" constitutes an action that is "an unjust intrusion into the spiritual and jurisdictional affairs of this sovereign diocese of The Episcopal Church."

Got to love this sovereignty business. The diocese is sovereign, just as one supposes the NO Saints are sovereign. They RULE. I suppose in a monarchical turn of the head the Bishop could say he rules in the Diocese of South Carolina, and not the Presiding Bishop, but I doubt he would go there. South Carolina may wish of for the good old days at times, what some of my relatives used to call "anti-bedlam" times, but the good citizens of South Carolina are as dubious of monarchical rule as any of us. No, let's take him at his word: it is the local organization that is sovereign, not an individual. The NO Saints rule: The Diocese of South Carolina rules.

Except of course that is just not true. The bishop has jurisdiction just as the local manager and owners of the NO Saints have jurisdiction, but they exercise their rule in accord with the wider context of NFL or TEC law, and within those as they even further involved the organization with State and Federal law. And, contrary to the sense we are sometimes given by the Communion Partner bishops, episcopal sovereignty is limited by license and vows of obedience to canons beyond those of the diocese.

I am sure Bishop Lawrence, by saying that the diocese is sovereign that it exists apart from TEC, but only that it exists apart from interference by the Presiding Bishop and her chancellor.

Well, he knows what is going on. For The Episcopal Church to have a lawyer in town, mucking through the papers and flashing a card that states that he is the "South Carolina counsel for The Episcopal Church," is for TEC to be something more than a second level abstraction from the real context for sovereignty, namely the diocese. For there to be a TEC counsel in South Carolina is for the long tendrils of the dreaded synodical hierarchy so present in England but surely, surely not here in the land of the free. No, the Bishop of South Carolina knows what is going on here: for there to be a local branch officer of the national chancellor cannot go unnoticed. It is the beginning of the end of autonomy for the Diocese.

Something like this must be what is going on here. If so, I kind of admire the spirit of it all.

Bishop Lawrence has hung his hat with the Communion Partner bishops who among other things are again' the idea that The Episcopal Church is anything other than a voluntary association of dioceses. The argument, mentioned in the letter, that the Diocese and several of its parishes predate the beginning of The Episcopal Church is of limited value, although it is regularly brought up. Several of the parishes do indeed predate the establishment of TEC. The Diocese of South Carolina, however, was formed from the hearth that forged TEC, not before it. And, not to put a fine point on the matter, when the Diocese of Upper South Carolina was formed in 1922 from it, the Diocese of South Carolina had to receive permission from TEC, by way of General Convention, to do so. The limits on diocesan sovereignty included the fact that it could not split into two or otherwise change its jurisdictional boundaries without General Convention approval.

So, the challenge Bishop Lawrence sees in the presence of a lawyer for TEC in South Carlina is being met by postponing the Diocesan Convention from March 4th to March 26th so that the "Bishop and Standing Committee and Diocese" have a chance to "adequately consider a response to this unprecedented incursion into the affairs of the Diocese of South Carolina."

What that response might be is an interesting question.

The Bishop's letter, as well as letters from the TEC Lawyer and the Diocese of South Carolina lawyer, can be found as PDF files HERE.

The DSC lawyer, you will notice, makes use of the sovereignty issue several times in his letters to TEC's lawyer.

Two things: (i) Sovereignty sounds an awful lot like States rights, an idea that backfires sometimes. (ii) TEC was, I believe, involved with the legal battle in DSC over a previous property battle. The door has been opened to inviting the hierarchy in. How do you close it? Some of the correspondence suggests that the Presiding Bishop and the Bishop of South Carolina ought to speak to each other. OK. That would be useful, I am sure, but it does not address the issue of this being a hierarchical church, and if so what sort of hierarchy it has.

My, my, my. Interesting stuff. Still, I must agree with Bishop Lawrence. We ought not get too riled up. "Proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit" trumps this stuff every time.

Meanwhile, keep your hand upon the throttle and your eye upon the rail.


  1. What exactly is the authority of the Presiding Bishop, Executive Council or anyone else for that matter to require that the Bishop of SC provide what has been requested? Where in the canons or constitution does that authority reside? If it is not there, why should the Bishop comply with the requests? If it is there, then he needs to fish or cut bait - comply or be kicked out of the club.

  2. Bishop Stanton of Dallas is quoted claiming sovereignty at a recent conference of the Anglican Communion Institute. "According to Stanton these [legal cases] are unjustified because TEC has no right to sue dioceses for acting independently. Quoting the Rt. Rev. Alexander Garrett, first Bishop of Dallas, Stanton said that a diocese is "an independent and sovereign state."
    http://www.virtueonline.org/portal/modules/news/article.php?storyid=12087 . Sounds like we are back in the 1860's.

  3. Where questions of national sovereignty are concerned, the good folks of Charleston, as Talleyrand observed of the restored Bourbons, "n'ont rien appris, ni rien oubliƩ" from the late unpleasantness of 1861-65.

    Wade Logan's February 5th letter to Thomas Tisdale is a classic of mock-offended evasiveness. Love it!

    It speaks volumes for the suspicion with which the motives of Lawrence and his co-conspirators are regarded in the adjacent, and by national standards relatively conservative, diocese of Upper SC, that John Burwell, the candidate from the Charleston-based diocese in December's election for the new Upper SC bishop, received only 4, 2 and 1 clergy votes in consecutive ballots, and that Andrew Waldo, generally considered to be the most liberal of the candidates ("my friend and mentor Gene Robinson") was elected handily on the third ballot.

  4. Bishop Lawrence and his Standing Committee should count themselves lucky that they are not being required under South Carolina law to register as members of a subversive organization.

    And Dan, read Canon I.2, and particularly I.2.4(a)(6) (Presiding Bishop "shall" visit every diocese for purposes, among others, of having "pastoral consultations" with their bishops). The PB is asking her agent to gather information about the diocese so that she can consult with its bishop.

    If Bishop Lawrence were more diligent about paying attention to his ordination vows, he wouldn't be so nervous about these inquiries. Or so one would assume.

  5. Deacon Charlie Perrin11/2/10 8:52 PM

    Save yo' Confedrit money boys, the south shall raahz agin!

  6. Lawrence will be deposed, those who don't want to belong to TEC will have to leave and those who do want to belong to TEC get to take all their property. Then the national church can get its pledges again. Any diocese that refuses to pledge take note. No pledge, no buildings. TEC has lost 10% of its attendance in the last 5 years and is hurting. Bishops may need to take salary cuts on their 6 figure incomes. Its time for everyone to pay their full share.

    TEC is going to follow Canada into extinction over the next few years and it deserves its coming fate.

    What to do when you are bleeding members? Call in the lawyers! Sue those remaining! Sue the vestry! Depose the bishops. Fire the rectors!

    Hmmm...why doesn't anyone want to be on the vestry anymore? Why doesn't anyone want to join our loving church anymore? Where did we go wrong? Maybe we need a better marketing strategy, that must be it...lets advertise, that will help our church grow again...



  7. Tokyo Rose and Axis Sally . . .

    Working Hard for Orthodites!

    Paaathethic, Dan, Jeremiah.

  8. I think that this may all be instructive to a lot of lay people about how the Episcopal Church really does work, it's "polity" and all that. I was an Episcopalian of the high-candle sort for 20 years before I understood that Bishops didn't have the power that I thought they had - GenCon did. Now, that happened to really bother me, but it may really encourage others. Somehow all of these cases may be an opportunity to explain that all to the folks in the pews, and then they can react as their hearts lead them (to stay or go). Information is power, you know!)

  9. Kahu Aloha12/2/10 3:06 AM

    Oh Jeremiah-
    Don't be so pessimistic. Think on the positive side. This time maybe secession will work. You'll have a governor whose hottie can appear regularly on the balcony of the Manse to belt out "Don't cry for me South Carolina" and you can become your own province in the "New Anglican Church" with your own archbishop. Think about the glory!! You can at last become English again!!! Done with all these liberals. Done with those other people.
    I can see it now. The "Bishop Lawrence Hour" on Fox TV just like the '50's with Bishop (maybe then archbishop) Lawrence like Bishop Fulton J. Sheen cascading down the stairs like Loretta Young to proclaim the gospel that "Yes, you, too, can be just like us!!
    Yes, I, too, can see that vision and I am gratful that at last TEC sticks up for itself and its history,

  10. Still waiting for a REAL answer to the questions I asked. Paul (A.) - that answer would earn you a failing grade. First, nothing in that canon requires the diocesan to assemble the records the PB's attack dog requested. Second, hasn't she already made her manadatory visit to South Carolina? Third, does she require this kind of information for a future visit from every diocese? And finally, if this were a normal function, why would she retain a local attorney to make the demand and not simply call or write to Bp. Lawrence herself? How about if Bp.Lawrence wants information from 815 - how much has it spent on litigating and fomenting litigation? Any less a part of "pastoral conversations?" Diocesan canons often specify what records are to be maintained and made available at each parish for the Bishop's review when he/she visits. Show me where these specific records are required to be maintained for inspection by 815 and its legions?

  11. As I recall, the same South Carolina that in 1832 demanded the right to nullify federal law within its boundaries, loudly demanded that the federal government send troops into Boston to enforce the fugitive slave act.

    I've always noticed that enthusiasm for "states' rights" and local sovereignty depends on who's ox is getting gored.

  12. This is odd. It seems to me, unless I am remembering wrong, that Mark has gone from arguing against primate-like powers in the PB position to arguing FOR them. And, with the caveat that again I may be remembering wrong, I would have thought a canon might have quoted the actual canons to support these actions. That might have made the dismissal here of Bishop Lawrence's response much more credible. Instead, it reads like a partisan response, full of sarcasm but absent of facts.

  13. This appears to be a major misstep on the part of TEC (if the Presiding Bishop is actually behind it). To use a former diocesan chancellor of DSC to speak for them in an adversarial context apparently raises serious legal issues. Furthermore, if you wanted to further alienate a diocese already at odds with the general church, this would be an excellent way to go about it. I suspect this may be the beginning of even greater autonomy for the Diocese of South Carolina, not the end of it, and that ACNA may gain at least one more diocese as a result. (Others could follow as well in response to these bullying tactics.)

    BTW, TEC is not the federal govt., and this has nothing to do with state rights. Furthermore, General Convention didn't make the request of Bishop Lawrence (and it's not clear that the Presiding Bishop did either).

  14. Mark Brunson
    If the FBI were to show up at your door and demand to enter your home and search your papers, would you not insist upon knowing its authority for doing so? Is there a warrant? What is the scope of the warrant? Where may the FBI search? What may it seize? It is not subversive to require that those who exercise power do so within the bounds of their proper authority.

  15. Bishop Edmund12/2/10 12:00 PM

    The very weirdness of your core metaphor---comparing the Saints to the Diocese---betrays the weakness of your position. By "position" I mean legal, religious, ethical, and political.

    How does it feel, Father Harris, to have gone from a free-wheeling liberal kook to a vicious cop in less than one generation? Ask your younger self if you haven't turned into an LBJ or a Nixon.

    Hands off the Diocese of South Carolina, man! And turn the altars back around so they face the right way again, man!

    Stop hassling the people, man!

  16. Here we go again with the lazy “secessionist” references. Never mind that Mark Lawrence was born in California and spent a big chunk of his career in Pennsylvania, he obviously flies the Stars and Bars just above the gun rack on his pickup truck; and never mind that DioSC has continued to profess loyalty to an ECUSA that doesn’t deserve it.

    Is it too much to ask for critical thinking of the sainted ECUSA and its Dear Leader, just once? What in the world is one of her lawyers doing harassing a constituent part of her organization? And why is she using a lawyer who has no ethical business being within 10 miles of the matter?

    By the way, for those who think references to secession generations ago is the maximum level of intelligence needed in the discussion, why haven’t you moved to Canada, or, better yet, England, and sworn loyalty to the Queen?

  17. Bishop Edmund...interesting. Too bad you don't see the humor in looking at what ruling seems to be about.

    As to the rest, I don't know you, unless of course your name is just a name drawn from a hat.

    Your assessment of me is really off.

  18. Is there the possibility that folks are jumping the gun?

    TEC was involved with DoSC recently in the case initiated by Bishop Salmon against a succeeding parish leaving with property which the general church and the diocese lost. The case was lost because of activity by the diocese regarding the parish of many years past. Perhaps with the loud discussions of different DoSC parishes regarding withdrawing from the diocese and general church, the PB and/or her chancellor would like to make sure a similar outcome is not the result of any future property litigations. It is certainly a part of her fiduciary responsibilities to look after the welfare of the TEC patrimony, even in South Carolina.

  19. Thanks for letting us know we got your goat, Phil.

  20. Glad to oblige, Lapinbizarre. Have a nice weekend.

  21. It's the zombie apocalypse!


    Can we get even more ridiculous and hysterical, Dan? Would it help if one of us provided some other incredibly lame "analogies" of the sort you people use?


    Take it away, Axis Sally!

  22. See you've been noticed and linked on SF's thread. As always, fun stuff over there. Parallels between a certain lady and Jezebel's actions against God's prophets. Not to mention more references to "Shoria Law" (which was witty, first time around).

  23. Mark Brunson, I suppose that's possible. I'm just a Yankee, but it sounds as though you're a Southerner and might know. More likely, though, is that allusions to the Civil War and actions that shaped the fate of a nation are so incongruous to the case of a minor Protestant organization as to be laughable.


OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with some cautions and one rule:
Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.