The conflict with South Carolina is in South Carolina

Two Primates of the Anglican Communion have written a letter of support to Bishop Mark Lawrence of South Carolina and a neighboring bishop laments the collision course that diocese is on with the Episcopal Church. Both letters assume that the collision is between the Lawrence and the Episcopal Church, namely the Presiding Bishop. In fact, the conflict is between a bishop and the loyal Episcopalians of that diocese who have no other recourse except the canons.

The Most Revd Dr. Mouneer Hanna Anis and The Most Revd Ian Earnest, writing on behalf of the Global South Primates Steering Committee, said the following:

Dear Bishop Mark Lawrence,

Greetings in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ!

Several of the Global South Primates met recently as we gathered in Singapore for the Installation of Rt. Rev. Rennis Ponniah as the new Bishop of Singapore.

We were saddened, but not surprised, by the news of your inhibition and possible deposition by the TEC. We all want to assure you and the Diocese of South Carolina of our continuing prayers and support. We thank God for your stand for the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ! We are proud that you are willing to suffer for the faith once delivered to the saints.

Please be assured that we are with you, and that our Lord is also proud of you and our brothers and sisters in the Diocese of South Carolina.

May the Lord bless you!

Yours in Christ,

+ Mouneer Egypt

Today, Bishop Scott Behase of Georgia wrote the following to his diocese:

I was saddened when I heard that the Disciplinary Board for Bishops charged the Bishop of South Carolina, Mark Lawrence, with abandoning The Episcopal Church “by an open renunciation of the Discipline of the Church.” They made that determination under Canon IV.16(A). You can read the details of this on the Episcopal News Service website and read reactions from the Diocese of South Carolina on their website. I commend both websites so you may better understand what is transpiring….

…I have prayed that the ongoing tension between Bishop Lawrence (and leaders of his Diocese) and The Episcopal Church would be resolved by other means and would come from our Anglican ethos of comprehensiveness and a generosity with those with whom we disagree. I regret that the Disciplinary Board for Bishops felt they had to act in such a way at this time. I’m not judging them harshly for I don’t know all of what they know nor was I privy to their deliberations. I simply believe that the pastoral work of grace is sometimes impeded by the application of the letter of the law.

I also regret the actions that Bishop Lawrence and other leaders in the Diocese of South Carolina have taken. Their actions have been and continue to be provocative and have not been marked by self-restraint and our Anglican ethos. The escalation of this conflict mirrors other conflicts we have all seen in human history where two sides are unwilling to back down. Both are acting out of fear that the other side will get the upper hand, so they escalate their defenses, begin demonizing the other side, and the drum beat for more drastic action continues unabated. Bishop Lawrence, like some of those in disagreement with him, has in my judgment participated in this escalation.

He ends his epistle with a prayer for all concerned and for a faithful outcome.

Bishop Benhase knows that this is a fight that will not result in any winners. He knows from his extensive parish development experience that resolution is found when the two sides meet in complete honesty, prayerful humility and generous listening.

But what if one side is spoiling for a fight and is counting on people of good faith to follow stated procedures in a predictable way? What if the only acceptable outcome for one side is to repeatedly say “no?” This makes reconciliation very hard.

Both the Global South Primates and Bishop Behase’s letters suffer from an assumption that is easy to make but crucial to avoid if any kind of positive outcome is to come out of this. Everyone assumes that “The Episcopal Church,” mainly in the person of the Presiding Bishop, is somehow pulling strings to make this conflict happen.

The reality is that the charges the Panel of Reference reviewed were initiated by Episcopalians in the Diocese of South Carolina.

Once the canonical process is started, the process–if it is to have any integrity–must be followed step by step. Once before, South Carolina Episcopalians charged Lawrence with abandonment of the communion. At that time, the same panel of reference found that there were no basis to proceed and the matter stopped. This time, they are saying that there is a case. They are not saying Lawrence is guilty, only that that there is enough to warrant continuing the process to the next step.

The next step is that everyone step back and take a breath, for an investigation to happen and if, warranted, formal charges will be pursued. The Bishop and Standing Committee in South Carolina are treating this second step as if it were a verdict and are escalating the fight.

Those of us looking at this from the outside must remember that the Episcopalians in SC would not have gone taken this canonical and disciplinary route, where the steps are very much proscribed and once begun must be seen through, if they had not already been completely frozen out of the deliberations in the life of their own diocese.

It may be that an application of the “letter of the law” will not result in the best pastoral response nor in reconciliation. But this assumes that (a) reconciliation is the goal and (b) other pastoral options are available. The loyal Episcopalians on the ground have watched their Bishop, Standing Committee and Council manipulate the canons and change their constitution and have had no meaningful voice in what is being done quite openly. If they cannot exercise their rights under the canons, then what other recourse do they have?

This is not Bishops Jefferts Schori and Lawrence on a collision course. It is Lawrence and an inner circle of leaders who, with wide support from a group of diocesan clergy, who have set on a course that a handful of faithful clergy and lay Episcopalians are trying to avert using the only tools they have.

The two primates and their cc’s in the Global South are wrong about this, too. If a bishop in their own provinces were acting in a similar manner to Bishop Lawrence, we have no doubt that they would want their canonical processes to proceed without interference from those outside their churches.

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