South Carolina’s race against accountability

Updated. The Episcopal Forum of South Carolina says the Bishop and leadership of the Diocese of South Carolina has not only allowed a parish to withdraw from the Episcopal Church taking their property with them, but that they are setting the stage to attempt to alienate the entire diocese from the Episcopal Church. The group has written to the the Executive Council and the House of Bishops asking for an investigation. Update: Bishop Lawrence has responded on the Diocesan web-site.

The Episcopal Forum writes:

We wish to call to your attention the recent actions and inactions on the part of the diocesan leadership and leaders in parishes and missions within the Diocese of South Carolina, which we believe are accelerating the process of alienation and disassociation of the Diocese of South Carolina from The Episcopal Church.

In accordance with our Mission statement, we feel compelled to emphasize the importance of the issues that we include in our attached documents. Specifically, we enumerate issues that present grave concern to us, as Episcopalians in our Diocese, and we request that The Episcopal Church leadership investigate the situation in our Diocese.

Among the issues they enumerate:

*parishes which, from their Web sites, seem to have taken measures to facilitate their withdrawing from The Episcopal Church.

*Actions taken and not taken regarding the departure of St. Andrew’s, Mt. Pleasant.

*Property titles and corporate documents, in order to evaluate legal risks to the church that they might represent.

In addition, the group documents pressure brought to bear by diocesan attorney’s to get parishes to change their by-laws to the liking of diocesan leadership.

Joan Gunderson has also written the first of two essays about the proposed canonical changes coming before the Diocese of South Carolina. A lengthy essay criticizing the upcoming changes in Title IV appeared earlier this month on the web site which is the Anglican Communion Institute. The Diocese now claims that the revised Title IV amounts to a power grab by the General Convention and impinges on the power of the individual dioceses, in particular the local bishops.

Here is what the Cafe reported earlier along with a detailed report by ENS.

Gunderson wonders why it is that the ACI and the Diocese of South Carolina only now are making an issue of the changes to the disciplinary canons, which have been a long time coming.

I am truly surprised by the Anglican Communion Institute’s and the Diocese of South Carolina’s sudden negative reaction to the revised Title IV (ecclesiastical discipline) of the Episcopal Church canons. While I do not find the revision perfect and hesitated briefly before voting for them as a deputy at the 2009 General Convention, the time for protest is long past. In fact, these canons were developed over at least seven years in an open process that included posting of multiple drafts. The 2006 draft received numerous criticisms, but questions of constitutionality were not raised. In fact, conservative blogger Brad Drell republished (June 9, 2006), a set of comments made by Province I Chancellors after a careful study of the 2006 draft. Constitutionality issues were raised neither by Drell nor the Province I Chancellors. General Convention listened to the many critics and, rather than pass the 2006 version sent the draft back to committee for further revision. The intent of the revision was to move away from an adversarial mode based on a courtroom trial model focused on uncovering truth and fostering reconciliation. Its closest model was the professional standards board. Driving the revision were concerns about dealing with sexual misconduct, not theological controversy.

The current version was made available to the general public in early 2008—three and a half years ago. While the approach to discipline remained the same, the committee had responded to a number of criticisms of the earlier draft. Notices of the new draft were public enough that I downloaded the revisions in February 2008, despite the fact that, at that time, I was not scheduled to attend the General Convention, and did not expect to have any say in the decision about the Title IV revisions. There were hearings at General Convention 2009 in Anaheim, and South Carolina had deputies present in Anaheim. Because of other committee duties, I did not attend the hearings, but, as a deputy, I cannot remember anyone raising issues about the constitutionality of the Title IV revisions during discussion by the House of Deputies. The ACI authors complain that debate was cut off and those trying to raise issues were denied the floor. By the time this revision reached the floor, there had been numerous opportunities to raise issues. The amount of time spent on any issue was limited, but except for the budget those left standing in line to speak when time ran out had had opportunities to respond to the actual draft presented to the House during committee hearings.

The first set of model canons for dioceses is dated November 4, 2008. I downloaded it immediately after returning from General Convention in 2009 because I had been elected in 2008 to the Pittsburgh Committee on Canons and the committee would need see the model. It was republished in September 2009. As a few dioceses began modifying their canons to fit the new Title IV, their canons were made available as resources. The canons were the subject of a meeting of diocesan Chancellors in early 2010 that focused on the many choices dioceses would need to make in revising their current canons, choices that allowed each diocese to shape the balance of power between the bishop and elected bodies in selecting those who would handle incidents under the revised Title IV. Again, constitutionality issues did not arise at the Chancellor’s meeting.

As Tobias Haller comments in a blog post by Lionel Deimel, the problem in South Carolina appears to be not in the substance of the canon but how it might be applied. Which raises the question, what does the leadership in South Carolina want to do which might run afoul of the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church? If they succeed in striking all references to the Canons of the Episcopal Church from their diocesan constitution and canons and only accede to the Constitution, how can they claim to still be within the Episcopal Church and how can their leadership possibly claim to be upholding the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Church?

In particular, the ACI essay zeros on the process when charges are brought against a diocesan bishop, and the specificity that an inhibited priest, deacon and bishop shall have not only be inhibited sacramentally but also inhibited from exercising fiscal and corporate authority in their parish or diocese. When a diocesan bishop is charged, all the same processes for empaneling an investigation and supporting both the accused and the victim take place, but with the Presiding Bishop taking on the role normally taken by the Diocesan Bishop. It is this aspect of the new Title IV that appears to have both the Diocese of South Carolina and the ACI most upset.

Lionel Deimel wonders if Bishop Lawrence is about to cross the same line that former Bishop of Pittsburgh, Bob Duncan, crossed in trying to separate his diocese from the Episcopal Chuch.

Given the apparent impasse in the Diocese of Pennsylvania, where under the current canons, all the House of Bishops can do is ask for a resignation for a Bishop deemed to have committed “conduct unbecoming” but outside of a statute of limitations, the opposition of the Diocesan leadership to the revisions is more than breath-taking.

As Gunderson concludes:

So why is there such a fuss now? Is it really the changes that worry South Carolina, or is it that some are looking for a wedge issue to drive South Carolina further from the rest of the Church and isolate it more? Were some of South Carolina’s leaders following a strategy based on evading one set of disciplinary canons only to find that the loopholes they had counted on were about to be closed? Were South Carolina leaders so asleep at the switch that for five years they didn’t notice a major revision of the canons until the deadline for implementation of the canons drew near? Whatever explanation you pick, it would seem the problem lies more within the Diocese of South Carolina than in Title IV.

Update: From Bishop Lawrence’s response:

They (The Episcopal Forum) have cited seven concerns as the foundation for their request. While these are trying times for Episcopalians and there is much need for listening carefully to one another, I do not want to let these accusations stand or go without response. Perhaps in their anxiety they have done us all a favor—indeed, presenting me with a teachable moment for this diocese and, dare I hope to believe, for others as well who may have read their letter. I will strive to refrain from using ecclesiastical language (Episcopalianese) or unduly difficult theology. Unfortunately, due to the accusations, a certain amount of each is necessary.

Read the rest of his response here.

He concludes his letter by saying:

It is increasingly clear that we are engaged in a worldwide struggle for the soul of Anglicanism in the 21st Century. This Diocese of South Carolina has been affirmed in our stand by numerous Dioceses and Provinces around the world: Archbishops and bishops from Ireland to Australia, Southeast Asia to Tanzania, from England to Egypt have pledged us their prayers and their hearts. What will emerge from this struggle we cannot say—but I am convinced of our vocation to Make Biblical Anglicans for a Global Age. It is far more than a slogan for a T-shirt. Not unlike a battalion in a military campaign which is ordered to hold a pass even against overwhelming odds, we are called to resist what appears is a self-destructive trajectory by many within The Episcopal Church. We are called to stand our ground and proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ until it is no longer possible; and at the same time to continue to help shape the emerging Anglicanism in the 21st Century, which is increasingly less provincial, less institutional and more relational. If this is our calling then we rejoice that his strength is made perfect in weakness. This is not a time to give-in nor give up; rather let us hold fast to the best of our Episcopal heritage while sharing Christ’s transforming freedom—with hearts set free—to a needy world today.

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