What part of the ordination vows did Mark Lawrence not understand?

The trial in South Carolina concerning the ownership of properties of the churches in the jurisdiction of the Diocese of South Carolina, as defined by the Episcopal Church, (being the residue of the Diocese for the whole of the State of South Carolina prior to its division into two dioceses) begins today.  It is a complex mess, due in large part to the premeditated efforts of Lawrence and other diocesan leaders, contrary to the canons of The Episcopal Church, to remove all properties from any connection to the Episcopal Church prior to the decision taken by the leaders and Lawrence to leave the Episcopal Church, .  How much of this will be seen and understood by the court remains to be seen.

Mark Lawrence has written his community about the trial. You can read the full letter HERE.

In it he says, "The path that has brought us as a diocese to this hour has been long and winding. Yet through it all we have been guided by a desire to be faithful to the doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ as we have received it ever striving to be mindful that we have been entrusted with this Truth, this Good News and rich heritage, in order to share it with those who have yet to come into the reach of Christ’s saving embrace."  (underlining mine)

Now when Bishop Lawrence was made bishop he was (at least as the Ordinal directs) asked to make the following promise:

"In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, I, NN, chosen Bishop of the Church in N., solemnly declare that I do believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation; and I do solemnly engage to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the [Protestant] Episcopal Church [in the United States of America].  He then signs this declaration.  

I presume Bishop Lawrence did so.

But he states, "we have been guided by a desire to be faithful to the doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ as we have received it..."   Those are fine words, and I would hope we are all guided by The Lord Jesus Christ, who is, after all the true Good Shepherd of our souls.  However,  the "doctrine, discipline and worship" to which he was pledged as bishop had to do with Church.  The connector here is that "the Church" is also understood as "the body of Christ."  So perhaps Lawrence was simply making a shortcut... from Church to Christ. But I don't think so.

Mark Lawrence apparently does not understand that his promises had distinctly to do with the church - in his case specifically with The Episcopal Church. He promised to engage to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship" of the Episcopal Church.  He has broken that promise.  

If he had to choose between "the Church" and Christ I would hope he would choose Christ. But he would do so as a Christian outside his vows as bishop, which are to the church as incarnating (in some way or another) the body of Christ.  

His choice is that which every Christian at one time or another confronts, given the often messy and fallen state of Church life.  It does, however, change his relationship to the Church. He is acting not as a bishop, bound by vows to the Church, but as a believer freed from those vows.  

Mark Lawrence has made a radical Christian response to a church he feels has lost its way.  It is unclear when  he believed that he needed to make such a decision, but many of us now believe it was prior to his being ordained bishop, in which case he was ordained with his fingers crossed. He really did not mean "conforming" to ... of the Episcopal Church (or any particular Church for that matter). He meant conforming to Christ directly and without connection with the church at all.  Still, it is his decision - but not as a bishop. Having made the decision for personal conscience he is acting personally, not as bishop.

He is leader of a group of congregations floating freely now in the rarefied world of vagrant church bodies. It is hard to see how this group is a diocese (since they are not part of a larger synod - a province) and how he is a bishop (deposed in the Episcopal Church and not incorporated into the governance of any other provincial or national church.) But there it is.

The trial will be what it will be. And when it is over it will not lead to any great satisfaction for either side. The continuing Diocese will be part of The Episcopal Church, a constituent member of the Anglican Communion, and the Lawrence led group will be looking for a larger church home where it may or may not be part of anything having to do with the Anglican Communion. The property will belong to someone and hopefully those someones will us it for the good of the Church on some level and the glory of Christ. 

 We will see.

As to Mark Lawrence... what part of the ordination vows did he not understand?


  1. Bryan Hunter8/7/14 12:52 PM

    Actually, I think Mark well understands his role as Bishop. The issue before the TEC is the authority of Holy Scripture. Do we as believers follow the Bible, which makes it crystal clear in 17 different Old and New Testament passages, that sex was designed by God to be between one man and one woman in marriage. Period. Everything else is adultery. Mark has chosen, along with many others, to submit to the authority of Holy Scripture vs. the current teachings of TEC, which do not submit to the authority of Holy Scripture, but instead are going a different way. Just to be clear - TEC has initiated over 100 lawsuits against parishes/dioceses to the tune of $40,000,000, and has deposed over 400 clergy. "By their fruits you will know them".

  2. The Episcopal Diocese of SC was invited to be a part of the GS and their convention voted to do so. That is the largest Anglican Communion entity that exists, so it is hard to know what you are referring to.

    As for ordination vows, what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. No less than Frank Griswold declared that, strictly speaking, the position on SS relationships he held was against the scriptures. Those were his exact words.


  3. Bryan...Mark Lawrence may or may not be right in his assessment that TEC has moved away from the authority of Holy Scripture. He may or may not be right that it was time to leave TEC for better lands. What he is wrong about is the matter of his vows. He either changed after making those vows or before, and either way he is no longer engaging the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Church, which engagement was the basis for proceeding with his ordination as bishop.

    If he had stayed he would have been a mighty problem for TEC, one that we would have to deal with. As it is, he has left, and life will go on without him, a matter which I regret. I totally disagree with Mark Lawrence and what he is doing, but I also hoped he would be part of us and bring his voice to the conversation.

  4. Jim... the Lawrence led Diocese of South Carolina did indeed become part of the GS, whatever that means, but the diocese has not (as I understand it) become part of a particular province, regional or national church that is recognized by the ACC as part of the Anglican Communion. So recognized by some, yes, part of the Anglican Communion in any normal sense, no.

    More later.

  5. He didn't leave simpliciter. He was driven out by actions clearly intended to deprive him of his episcopal authority. The mechanisms were put in place to have the diocese face a disassociation vote should these actions be forthcoming. They were. The diocese voted to disassociate.

    One of the more inane things we have witnessed in recent years is the idea that a Bishop single-handedly leaves a church. No, dioceses are run by standing committees, conventions, and other ecclesial entities in TEC.

    These acted. EDSC disassociated.

    If you want him to be a part of things, do not allow processes like he faced to be tolerated in TEC. Stand up against the legal juggernaut of TEC.

    As it is, you have lost both the Bishop and the Diocese to the wider Anglican communion, and this is all of TEC's making.

    This is tragic and needn't have been what TEC legal power pursued.


  6. Mark, the offer of the GS (within whose context +Welby was present at the time in Cairo) was to be 'extra-provincial' in the AC, consistent with what all the Primates signed off on at Dar es Salaam.

    That we have heard no further reference to this likely means that the ABC refused to stand in its way.


  7. Bryan Hunter8/7/14 6:09 PM

    Hey Mark - thanks for your respectful response - much appreciated. I guess I am left wondering how you keep your vow to TEC when the "mothership" isn't keep THEIR vow to uphold the teachings of Holy Scripture? How do you personally deal with this inconsistency? Thanks!

  8. Jesus had a lot to say about this kind of "Sophie's Choice" you are trying to portray but Jesus clearly has a different perspective than you do Mark. Mt 15:7-9 "You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: “‘This people honors me with their lips,but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”

    Insinuate ulterior motives all you will but you well know that it was the aggressive actions of TEC that precipitated and effected the Diocese of SC departure. THEY WOULD STILL BE IN TEC EXCEPT FOR THE FALSE CHARGES BROUGHT AGAINST HIM. This is fact, unlike your wicked insinuation.

  9. Oh dear yes. It's true that some human beings, Gay or not don't even have SEX! Perhaps various idle minds are the devils workshop but I believe we can ASSIGN those continous thoughts about other peoples SEXUAL INTIMACIES to groups of Puritans who seem more interested in displaying a religiouslike scrub-a-dub-dub than ACTUALLY practicing loving thy neighbor...ALL of thy neighbors and not just the ones that prance around alters pointing fingers at a goodly and Godly number of innocents at Church. Silly geese, what is it you crave as you persecuted fellow Christians/others in the name of God that no loving person recognizes. Shame on the whole Pasturized lot of you and Mark Lawrence too.

  10. Richard Crocker8/7/14 7:46 PM

    I understood in the case of Bp Mark Lawrence that he sought to remain in the church, but that his convention acted to withdraw from TEC after they made moves, in the form of ecclesiastical charges, against him.
    Richard Crocker

  11. I take no pleasure in saying it, but Mark Lawrence was not truthful, plain and simple. No amount of "spin" from his followers can change that fact.

    Now, the conversation about his being (shall we say) "less than forthright" when he was consecrated Bishop of SC is finished. His dishonesty has cost him his office, and that is about as much punishment as can be given him on this side of the veil. He is no longer a Bishop, no matter how much he wishes to think himself so. He is no longer "officially" a member of the Anglican Communion, despite the dubious claims of his followers.

    The problem at hand is much more simple. It is a matter of premeditated theft. If allowed to see the light of day in court, it will become clear that Diocese of SC leadership have been planning feverishly for years to leave the church and take everything on their way out the door. Indeed, Lawrence was chosen as bishop for just such a purpose. One of the questions asked of some prospective bishop nominees concerned their willingness to help the diocese leave TEC, and no reasonable person could doubt what Mark Lawrence's answer was....it is playing out in court at the moment.

    Some may think my thoughts on this as being harsh, and they may well be. However, I have never known anyone to give (money, land, whatever) to a church and expect a full refund unless everybody agrees with them forevermore. That's not how giving works.

    No matter how it ends up in court, I think Mark Harris is right, neither side will be "greatly satisfied". I think it will likely proceed slowly to the supreme court before a final decision is reached, and while TEC will most certainly come out the winner, it will be a hollow victory. The ones who will end up being hurt the most won't be Mark Lawrence and his standing committee, but laypeople...the people in the pews who have been taken in by the slick rhetoric and half-truths told by those whom they should have been able to trust.

    1. A quitclaim deed to a congregation is hardly theft... All those congregations who stayed in ecusa did so without any angst or hostility or accusations of theft or unkind words- can you say that the ecusa bishops acted with the same clear and graceful leadership?

  12. Gotta hand it to you, Mark. All these years later, and your blog still brings out the unrepentant homophobes! ;-p~~~

  13. Sir, in your 7th paragraph, where it reads "who is, after all the true Good Shepard (sic) of our souls," you might want to correct that to "Good Shepherd." peace, david+

  14. David+ Thanks, done. (Sigh...)

  15. Bryan...you are welcome. About vows. I made a vow at ordination (twice) saying "I do believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New
    Testaments to be the Word of God, and to contain all things
    necessary to salvation; and I do solemnly engage to conform
    to the Doctrine, Discipline, and Worship of the Episcopal
    Church." I hold to it.

    I also believe TEC bishops and clergy have generally held to it as well. "The authority of Holy Scripture," is NOT part of the vow made, but is clearly present in our worship, in which Holy Scripture is central.

    Bryan the issue before TEC is not the authority of Holy Scripture. That's the issue some of TEC's critics would like to make central.

  16. This is essentially an unanswerable question, something along the lines of "Have you stopped beating your wife?" I withdrew from the ordination process in the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut in 2003, in part because the ordination vows had become incoherent. As I wrote to Bishop Andrew Smith on Sept 7, 2003:

    "[A] new dilemma arises when the candidate is asked to swear obedience to the bishop. A bishop represents not simply his or her own authority in a geographical diocese, but the entire catholic Church in continuity with the faith delivered once and for all, and maintained through historical succession from the apostles. But now that the official teaching of the Episcopal Church is no longer in agreement with the catholic doctrine of the Church about sexuality, or with the affirmed teaching of the Anglican Communion, the question arises as to whom or what the candidate is now swearing obedience. Is the candidate swearing obedience to the bishop merely as an individual? What then becomes of the affirmation that the bishop is representative of the tradition and authority of the entire catholic Church as a member of the universal episcopate? Is the candidate swearing obedience to the bishop as a representative of the Episcopal church as a denomination, and to its new teaching on sexuality, to the exclusion of the consensus of the rest of the Anglican Communion and worldwide Christendom? Then the candidate would be swearing obedience to the bishop as representative of a national Protestant sect, and not as part of the catholic Body of Christ, and would in effect be renouncing membership in the Anglican Communion. Is the candidate swearing obedience to the bishop as a representative of the Body of Christ as manifested in the worldwide Anglican Communion? But the vast majority of the bishops of the Anglican Communion are at odds with the Episcopal Church’s new teaching on sexuality, and the candidate would have to decide between loyalty to the bishops of the Anglican Communion, and loyalty to the local bishop."

    Did Mark Lawrence understand the ordination vows? No doubt he did not understand them as vows of obedience to a "national Protestant sect."

    William G. Witt

  17. Mark

    'Sigh' is a response many of us have. Do you not see the line that connects 815's overreach to EDSC? Using wrong canons to 'depose' clergy. Using an unconstitutional Title IV as a threat. Spending huge sums of money, including 1M to an
    'expert witness.' Refusing to enact recommendations of the last GC. Manhandling the mite-box ladies.

    On it goes. Sigh.


  18. Bryan Hunter9/7/14 6:40 PM

    Hi Mark - in your opinion, if the "battle" isn't about the authority of Holy Scripture, then what is all the hub-bub about? I have been following this tragic saga for at least 10 years. The main sticking point seems to be whether it is OK to marry folks who are engaging in homosexual behavior. Well, there are 17 scriptures in the Old and New Testament that clearly show that any sexual behavior outside of marriage, which was designed by God to be between one woman and one man, is sin. There are also plenty of passages that make it clear homosexual behavior is "unnatural". There really isn't a middle ground on this - you believe what the Bible clearly says, or you don't. That isn't hateful or homophobic - just what the Bible says.

  19. RE: "your blog still brings out the unrepentant homophobes!"

    Always nice to be complimented by people like JCF.

    RE: "His dishonesty has cost him his office, and that is about as much punishment as can be given him on this side of the veil."

    Yes . . . and I'm sure he feels dreadfully punished -- by being the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina. ; > )

    RE: "He is no longer a Bishop, no matter how much he wishes to think himself so."

    Actually -- no matter how much *you* wish he weren't, the conservatives in TEC, of course, like me, and the vast vast vast majority of those who matter to Bishop Lawrence within the Anglican Communion, *do* recognize him as bishop. I expect he's quite comfortable with the revisionist activists not deeming him to be a bishop.

    RE: "He is no longer "officially" a member of the Anglican Communion, despite the dubious claims of his followers."

    I'm not a follower but I'm not hearing people say that he's a member of the Anglican Communion. He and his diocese are merely in communion and accepted and licensed to officiate -- which is more than KJS gets -- in the provinces of the Anglican Communion which share his faith and the same Gospel. I expect that's good enough for him.

    RE: "One of the questions asked of some prospective bishop nominees concerned their willingness to help the diocese leave TEC, and no reasonable person could doubt what Mark Lawrence's answer was....it is playing out in court at the moment."

    Well actually the guy who stated he wished to leave TEC along with the diocese was wholesale rejected as bishop. Lawrence was willing to stay in TEC and be differentiated from the gospel and foundational worldview of the current leaders of TEC just as long as Jefferts Schori was willing to not force the diocese to choose a bishop more acceptable to her. But -- thankfully for the Episcopal Diocese of SC -- she couldn't hold out that long and did the foolish thing -- and tried to depose him. Big mistake -- but she was too bitter and angry to hold back.

    RE: "Some may think my thoughts on this as being harsh, and they may well be."

    Not at all -- I expect most conservatives think them entertaining. They're only harsh if we think them correct.

    RE: " . . . neither side will be "greatly satisfied".

    We'll see. It does no good to sling predictions back and forth. I have my own opinion and am excited for the Episcopal Diocese of SC.

    Sarah, the Blonde Buddhist because I say I am, and that should be good enough for all Blondes and all Buddhists

  20. I'm always surprised at the use of "by their fruits shall you know them" by right-wing "christians" - given the fruits of death, misery, madness, suffering, drug use, alcoholism, suicide that their own trees have produced for glbti's everywhere and always (to use another of their favorite terms), and without the slightest regret or even self-conflict about it. Happy to rend, destroy and kill without a second thought.

  21. JCF -

    PLEASE don't engage them.

    It's difficult, as humans, to not respond to their attacks and hatred. We have to stop ourselves, though. We must. It only feeds the Darkness that flows through them from a Darker source. It gives them the joy of tearing at you, humiliating you, coldly mocking and hurting you.

    Don't do it.

    Turn your back on them. We cannot help. Cut them off.

  22. What about his oaths to "obey Christ, and serve in his name," and "guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church." Depending on your point of view he would break this vow if he had stayed.

    Plus what about the older bishops who had sworn to, "banish and drive away from the Church all erroneous and strange doctrine contrary to God's Word." If they had kept their oath we would be having this discussion, but I don't hear you criticizing them.

  23. Fr. Harris,

    Please. This just feeds a darkness that thrives and grows with attention and loves the chance to attack, to hurt, to mock, to scorn. It is a disservice to yourself, a good, gentle, decent man, and to those in whom this darkness has rooted itself, to grow and finally drive out all that is light within them. Please remind me not to engage this, either. It is so hard not to respond with anger to such hate, but it just feeds the hate, while any attention - any sympathy - feeds the ability to give hurt, insult, cruelty.

  24. Boy, the cross examination by EDSC is holing TEC's side below the waterline, and exposing a massively faulty set of governance claims. I wonder why Tisdale et al are allowing this to happen? It will be fatal not just in SC but elsewhere.

    On Day Six the witness called by TEC admitted that +Lawrence's mantra was 'Intact and in TEC.'


  25. I'm always a bit amused, and not a little frustrated, by the "driven out" language that has been used and continues to be used by those who left TEC. As a priest, I am not required to agree with my bishop or with the rest of the church regarding the authority of scripture or same-sex blessings. I am not required to perform such blessings (just as I can refuse to perform a wedding). Perhaps I have led a sheltered ordained life, but I have never felt as though my personal convictions were under scrutiny, much less under attack, in TEC. No one from either the various dioceses I've served has forced me to explain my theological position on any given doctrine--or even asked me what my position is!

    So, I'm sorry, but to claim persecution or being "drivien out" because your convictions are not mirrored in official church teaching mistakes TEC for the Roman Catholic Church, in which such "you must toe the official line" admonishments are common. If you cannot serve in the chuch that ordained you, the honorable thing to do is to renounce one's orders and seek affiliation (and ordination, if called) in whichever denomination fits with your own convictions. But don't pretend that TEC drove you out. If that were true, Mark Lawrence would never have become bishop in the first place.

    1. Just spoke with an organist friend who was given the choice to play for a same sex wedding or resign his position - he resigned rather than violate his conscience and the plain teaching of scripture ..... That Tom is "being driven out" as an episcopalian.

  26. Appeals Court in Illinois tracking right alongside the SC 'neutral principles.'

    They even make it very clear that TEC would need to re-craft their c/c if they want to have an express trust. I can't imagine Liberal Dioceses would go along with that!

    The $1M 'Expert Testimony' was himself used against the TEC claims, given how he testified.


  27. "Just spoke with an organist friend who was given the choice to play for a same sex wedding or resign his position - he resigned rather than violate his conscience and the plain teaching of scripture ..... That Tom is "being driven out" as an episcopalian."--Anon

    Yeah, and probably the same parish had an organist 40 years ago who refused to play at the wedding of an interracial couple, too. But, thank the Lord, we don't have to deal with these people today either.

    Kurt Hill
    Brooklyn, NY


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.