Posted by Christopher Johnson | Friday, March 26th, 2010 | Uncategorized | 36 Comments
Mark Lawrence has three words for Katharine Jefferts Schori. Bring it on:
I come now to the reason why this Annual Diocesan Convention was postponed. If the challenges I mentioned above were not enough for a diocese to face in a downturned economy, since our Special Convention in October, which addressed the many theological challenges before us, an entirely new challenge has surfaced: A constitutional question about the ability of a diocese to govern its common life in a way that is obedient to the teaching of the Bible, the received heritage of The Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America, and in accordance with The Constitution & Canons of The Episcopal Church. In December of 2009 our Chancellor, Mr. Wade Logan, was finally informed by a local attorney that he had been retained by the Presiding Bishop’s Chancellor. In a subsequent series of letters he presented himself as “South Carolina counsel for The Episcopal Church” and requested numerous of items of the Bishop and Standing Committee, as well as information regarding parishes in this diocese. This way of presenting himself fails to acknowledge that this diocese is the only recognized body of The Episcopal Church within the lower half of South Carolina. There is no other representative or ecclesiastical authority of The Episcopal Church here but our Bishop and Standing Committee. Furthermore, this was carried out without the Presiding Bishop even so much as calling me. Subsequently, the Presiding Bishop has stated publicly, as well as to privately to me, that the retaining of this attorney was in keeping with the mutual litigation in the Pawleys Island case of All Saints’ Parish versus All Saints’, the Diocese of South Carolina and TEC. But as I had pointed out to her privately, and Bishop Ed Salmon made clear during a brief discussion at the recent House of Bishop’s Meeting at Camp Allen, in the prior circumstances the Diocese and The Presiding Bishop’s Office were partners in a law suit in which both were named by the other party. This present matter is quite different. The retaining of counsel now has all the signs of an adversarial relationship—one of monitoring through a non-constitutional and non-canonical incursion how a Diocesan Bishop and Standing Committee may choose to deal with its priests and parishes.
What is astonishing is that this Diocese of South Carolina, while seeking to be faithful to the Holy Scriptures, historic Anglicanism and the received teaching of the Anglican Communion as expressed through its four Instruments of Unity, as well as to The Book of Common Prayer, and adhering to The Constitution & Canons of this Church, has experienced incursions not authorized by these very constitution and canons. A reference here to Powel Mills Dawley’s book in the Church Teaching Series, The Episcopal Church and Its Work, may be helpful for many. Writing of the Presiding Bishop’s authority, Professor Dawley notes, “[He] exercises no direct pastoral oversight of his own, nor does he possess visitatorial or juridical powers within the independent dioceses of the Episcopal Church.” The absence of the Presiding Bishop having juridical powers within an independent diocese makes the hiring of an attorney by the Presiding Bishop’s office an unauthorized act. The stated purpose for her incursion is the protection of Church property. Whether there are other more disruptive reasons for such non-canonical intrusion can only be surmised. But in addressing only this stated purpose we can summarize that the Presiding Bishop has decided that the best way to resolve the challenges TEC faces over profound questions of doctrine, morality and discipline is to interpret the so called Dennis Canon as demanding that every diocese institute litigation in the secular courts with parishes that decide to depart, therein exercising coercive power to the fullest extent of the law regardless of the local issues, or the decisions of the diocesan bishop and Standing Committee.
All this is a profound overreach of the Presiding Bishop’s authority. Certainly I know there are many within TEC who strongly disagree with my theological commitments, and regardless of how monolithic people may believe this diocese to be, there are those within this diocese who share their disagreement. I acknowledge this and respect it. Even more, some do not like the strong statements I have made criticizing certain actions and resolutions successive General Conventions have affirmed, as well as the steps that many leaders of the “national” Church have taken, tearing the fabric of the Anglican Communion. But the thing we are confronting now is not a challenge of this nature. It is a challenge to how for over two hundred years The Episcopal Church has carried out its mission and ministry. It is one of the ironies of this time that we in a diocese like South Carolina, which has been one of the most vigorous critics of the “national” church, should be the ones that are called to defend the polity of TEC—to defend the way Episcopalians have for so long carried out their mission. But history is full of such paradoxes. In standing up and protecting our autonomy or independence as a diocese in TEC, in protecting the diocesan bishop’s authority to shepherd the parishes and missions of his diocese, and in defending the bishop and, in his absence, the Standing Committee as the Ecclesiastical Authority, we are in fact defending how TEC has carried out its ministry and mission for these many years. Every Diocesan Bishop, every Standing Committee, indeed every Episcopalian ought to know that if this is allowed to stand, that if The Presiding Bishop and her chancellor are allowed to hire an attorney in a diocese of this Church, to look over the shoulder of any bishop or worse dictate to that Bishop or Standing Committee how they are to deal with the parishes and missions under their care, imposing upon them mandates or directives as to how they disburse or purchase property then we have entered into a new era of unprecedented hierarchy, and greater autocratic leadership from the Presiding Bishop’s office and his or her chancellor. It may then be the case that a chancellor who has heretofore been only a counsel of advice for the PB can now function, without election, confirmation or canonical authority, as the de facto chancellor of the Church, exercising power not authorized by this Church and therein dictating to the dioceses of this church how they shall deal with their parishes and property.
Recently, the Presiding Bishop and I have had a respectful conversation about this matter, during which she asserted once again what she has stated publicly on many occasions. That she has responsibility for the whole Church. That the property of The Episcopal Church must be protected and this is one of her duties. But if so, it is a duty that she has assumed, not one stated in the Constitution & Canons, nor assumed by any previous Presiding Bishop. The PB’s role is to guide the work that the several dioceses perform together as may be voted upon by General Convention. It is not to direct the work or ministry of the independent dioceses that make up the Episcopal Church. That has always been the role of the Bishop of the Diocese and the various elected bodies of the local diocese. The Standing Committee, the Bishop and perhaps the Board of Trustees of the local diocese alone have charge in various ways over these matters of property. As a case in point, should a diocese decide to purchase property to plant a congregation, or alienate or sell the property it possess, it seeks no further authority than itself for such action. So too if a diocese chooses to close a congregation there is no higher authority than the bishop. The Presiding Bishop’s decision to hire counsel in South Carolina leads us all into such precarious waters that every diocese and bishop in this Church ought to be concerned, lest the polity and practice of TEC be changed by a precedent without constitutional or canonical authority. As I have said to our various deanery gatherings, and as I stated to the Presiding Bishop, precedent unchallenged may establish practice and practice unchallenged in time may turn to policy. Therefore, we have a constitutional and canonical obligation to demand the removal of her legal counsel. Especially is this fitting in that her public defense of her position was that they had previously had counsel in this diocese to assist in the Pawleys Island law suit. Since the case is now finished there should be no further reason for such a retainer. Unfortunately, after lengthy and respectful conversation, the Presiding Bishop and I stand looking at one another across a wide, deep and seemingly unbridgeable theological and canonical chasm. At present both of us have signaled a willingness to continue the conversation even if it requires phone conversations from vastly different area codes.
And with that, Mark Lawrence has just crossed the Rubicon. Will Lawrence’s stance cost him? Of course it will; with this message, the Bishop has just painted a bullseye on his chasuble and his tenure as an “official” Episcopal bishop can now be measured in months rather than years.
Should Lawrence’s line in the sand have happened sooner? Absolutely.
But one of the things that irritates me the most about Anglican conservatives is this need to continually argue about what should have happened, where the line in the sand should have been drawn.
Guess what? The line wasn’t drawn where we think it should have been drawn and we’re not back there anymore, we’re here. So what say we deal with actual reality rather than the reality we think should have been?
Is Mark Lawrence going to get run? No doubt whatsoever. Does South Carolina have some difficult choices ahead? Yup. Will they make the correct call?
That remains to be seen.