South Carolina Episcopalians
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December 4, 2017
Second Try at Federal Mediation Also Ends Abruptly

After losing its parish properties, breakaways' new strategies are aimed at sabotaging any progress toward resolution of any legal issues


Larger issue of who controls the "Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina" looms as Court-sponsored mediation to avert March 2018 trial falters

COLUMBIA -- Representatives of the Episcopal Church, its continuing South Carolina Diocese, and what remains of breakaway parishes loyal to ex-bishop Mark Lawrence today attempted to continue Court-sponsored mediation over a potential injunction to stop Lawrence from "falsely advertising" himself as an "Episcopal bishop" and leader of the "Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina."

However, as with their initial session last month, today's talks ended abruptly after only a few hours.  The mediation had been scheduled for tomorrow as well, but its been cancelled as well. 

Retired Federal Judge Joe Anderson announced that a third try would take place January 11-12.    No explanation of the talks' collapse was offered by either the judge or the ten representatives of the two sides.

The mediation is necessary to avoid a long trial currently scheduled for March in Charleston with U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel.  Anderson was asked by Gergel to try to get the two sides to come to some resolution of the outstanding issues in the case.

For an excellent summary of pending legal issues, please read Dr. Ron Caldwell's recent blog posting


Five-year-old Federal case has languished in the shadow of Lawrence's lawsuit in state courts

For the past five years, the state courts have been dealing with an unprecedented lawsuit brought by Lawrence and 36 congregations that want to leave the Episcopal Church with him, their parish properties, and the corporate entity known as the ”Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina.

On August 2nd, the state Supreme Court narrowly agreed that only seven of the 36 parishes could leave the Church with their properties intact, while the others needed permission of the Church to do soThe justices also agreed the diocesan corporation belongs to the Church, but deferred to the Federal court for final determination.

"False advertising" case raising the question of corporate control of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina 

With the state case over, the legal venue for deciding who owns the "Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina" shifts to Federal Court, where S.C. Bishop Skip Adams of the continuing Episcopal diocese is seeking an injunction to stop Lawrence from running around falsely advertising himself as an “Episcopal bishop."

Without the consent of Adams or the Episcopal Church, Lawrence has continued to claim to be an Episcopal bishop of a diocese that is somehow outside the governing structures of the Episcopal Church.  The action was initially brought by Bishop Charles vonRosenberg, Adams' predecessor, in 2013, but was bottled up by the late Federal Judge Weston Houc

The Federal case is more complex than it seems

The case has more to it than it seems as it raises the question of the legal status of the “Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina” and who leads it.  The Diocese has millions of dollars in assets and property, including Camp St. Christopher on Seabrook Island, that were left to the Church by loyal Episcopalians over two centuries. 

In March 2015 a lower court judge ruled that the parishes and the diocesan corporation belonged to Lawrence and his followers
That was the first time we can find that the question of ownership of a diocese has ever been taken seriously by any state or Federal court.  Dioceses are administrative units created by a larger government or religious organization for the purpose of carrying on its work in a specific geographic area.  Dioceses are no more independent than counties are from the states in which they are located.

It was widely speculated that breakaway attorneys saw this as a potential bargaining chip down the road when it was included in Lawrence’s original lawsuit against the Church.  Even today the breakaway attorneys do not seem to be putting up much of a fight on the substance of the issue.

Three years ago, in a largely unpublicized ruling, a Federal judge in Charleston ruled that the continuing Episcopal Diocese known as “The Episcopal Church in South Carolina” was the legitimate Diocese of South Carolina for the purposes of an insurance policy which Lawrence took out when he was still a legitimate bishop in the Episcopal Church to protect the Diocese in the event it was sued.

In 2014, corporate control of the diocese was also a significant issue in breakaways' case in California where they were locked in battle for the Diocese of San Joaquin.  That was where Lawrence was prior to his election as a bishop. 

The German Bishop


Our loyal readers will remember, when this case was first argued in front of the late Judge Weston Houck in 2013, Lawrence's attorneys ridiculed Bishop vonRosenberg in the courtroom by repeatedly mangling the pronunciation of his name, and referring to him as the "foreign bishop" and the "German bishop."  

Lawrence was in the courtroom as well but made no attempt to ask them to show respect for his colleague who, at one point, had been his mentor when he was a new bishop.

Today the Church has a new Bishop in its continuing Diocese with a name that should be more managable for them. 


November 28, 2017

Courts Now Moving Forward
In new lawsuit, breakaway parishes ask for reimbursement from the Church for centuries-old improvements

Historic parishes even appear to want payment for structures built
by their communicants' slaves

It has been a wild two weeks since the State’s Supreme Court brought closure to a five-year-old lawsuit brought by ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence and his followers against the Episcopal Church and its 7,000 members in eastern South Carolina.

Last week the Court’s decision, affirming that 29 of the 36 parishes that joined Lawrence as plaintiffs in the case are part of the Episcopal Church, was returned or "remitted" to the circuit court in Dorchester County, where the lawsuit was filed in 2013.

Betterments Statute

Implementation of the decision will likely be held up because the breakaways immediately filed a new lawsuit against the Church and its local diocese demanding that they be compensated for any improvements made over the past two or three centuries on the land on which the 29 parishes are situated. 

This lawsuit has been brought under what is known as the Betterments Statute

This provision of law is a legal oddity that allows losing parties in a lawsuit to recover from the winning party the cost of any improvements they may have made on property they occupied under the mistaken belief that they owned it.

This Betterments lawsuit, filed last Sunday,  is largely seen as frivolous since South Carolina law specifically states that the winning party must be the plaintiff in the case.  Lawrence and his breakaway congregations were the plaintiffs in their 2013 lawsuit... but lost. 

None of the lawyers we contacted about this could understand how the South Carolina Betterments statute even applied to this case.

Mediation on Bishops' dispute resumes Dec. 4-5

The breakaways' attorneys may simply be planning to use this Betterments lawsuit as a bargaining chip as they enter a second session of Court-sponsored mediation next week over a Federal lawsuit brought by the Bishop of the Church’s continuing Diocese in South Carolina asking for an injunction preventing Mark Lawrence from advertising himself as an Episcopal Bishop.

Over the past five years Lawrence has even spun an elaborate fantasy that the “Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina” is a legitimate and unique religious organization in the Anglican Communion that is somehow separate from the Episcopal Church and the official South Carolina bishop who is recognized by the Anglican Communion and its American branch, the Episcopal Church.

The imaginary diocese

Lawrence and his lead attorney have also insisted that this imaginary “diocese” pre-existed the founding of the Episcopal Church. 

By definition dioceses are administrative units, created by larger religious entities, to conduct local business on their behalf and create opportunities for Christian worship and community for their members.  Dioceses do not create themselves.  They are established by a higher Church authority and are not free to operate independently.  

It would be as absurd as Dorchester County claiming it is not part of South Carolina or the United States.

In most hierarchical denominations, dioceses are led by bishops.  In the case of the Diocese of South Carolina, no bishop was consecrated until well after the Church was founded. 

The Anglican parishes that were liberated from the Church of England after the Revolutionary War did continue to operate as "state churches."  They were the places where state and local government did business, and even had the power to raise taxes and mediate civil disputes.

However, at no point were - what were referred to as "The Protestant Churches in South Carolina" - ever the considered a "diocese."  That didn't happen until the Episcopal Church was organized and those Protestant churches subsequently joined.

This imaginative theory about free-wheeling dioceses was put forward by breakaway lawyers in California and Virginia several years.  Courts in both states rejected it, so it was a surprise that the breakaways' legal team in South Carolina invested so much of their case in this idea.

The state's Supreme Court justices didn't buy it and rejected the idea that any entity other than the Episcopal Church was the owner of the “Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina” including its camp & conference center on Seabrook Island.

The breakaway group has said it will appeal the state Supreme Court decision to the United States Supreme Court on the grounds that its "religious freedom" has somehow been violated.  Good luck with that.


November 25, 2017
Questions Surround Brief Supporting Breakaways at S.C. Supreme Court
Not all 106 "religious leaders" aware they signed

Religious leader #1:  “I am not sure how I have been included in this. I have no issues with the Episcopal Church in any way. Thank you for bringing this to my attention and I will get to the bottom of this.

Religious leader #2:   “I don't know where or who you received your information from, but that is not true, I have not joined in any attack or lawsuit.”

A few weeks before the state Supreme Court washed its hands of the breakaways’ lawsuit last week, an odd amicus curiae brief from 106 “religious leaders” was submitted to the justices in support of a motion for rehearing by former Bishop Mark Lawrence and 29 parishes loyal to him.

The “leaders” urged the Court to rehear the appeal of a 2015 lower court ruling in Lawrence's favor, in which an estimated $500 million in Church property and assets was taken from the Episcopal Church and 7,000 Loyal Episcopalians and given to Lawrence and his supporters. 

They made the argument that  the Court's August 2nd ruling in the case did not properly apply the legal concept of neutral principles of law, and that such a misunderstanding would possibly create some kind of jeopardy for their congregations.

SC Episcopalians
would not have paid much attention to this except that the breakaways' public relations team seemed a bit to well-prepared to trumpet this happy news from such an unexpected source.

Nearly instantly, pro-Lawrence news releases heralded the seemingly unanticipated intervention by a “diverse group of 106 South Carolina religious leaders, representing 52 cities and … Baptist, Presbyterian, Christian, United Methodist, REC, Nazarene, Holiness and non-denominational churches” were sent out across the state. 

However, none of them explained how this group of “leaders” just came together spontaneously and decided that the state’s Supreme Court justices were endangering their “religious freedom."

Amicus Curiae and the Amici

We are not lawyers so we checked several sources for a definition of an amicus brief, also known as a Friend of the Court brief. 

Generally, it would be filed by an independent person or persons who believe they may be directly impacted by issues raised in the case, but are not themselves parties to the case
. 

They are “friends” (amici) to the judge or judges in the sense of being impartial assisters, without ties to any of the parties in a case.  They are not friends to plaintiffs or defendants.  Their role is to share some unique expertise with the Court and provide insight into complex issues.  “Friends” and their participation in a case cannot have been solicited by or paid for by any of the parties associated with the case.

Who are these “religious leaders”?

As we looked deeper at the list of amici, we noticed that, other than their names and that of a congregation or organization with which they are associated, there was no mention of  hometowns, addresses, email or any other contact information.  None appeared to represent any cities, much less 52 of them.

As we googled the religious organizations listed, we found none that would likely be affected directly by any of the key issues in the case.  Many were Baptists and others were independent evangelicals with their own ministry brands, websites, and video ministries. 

Many were not listed in leadership positions on their congregation websites.
 

Among those was a music and praise leader, and others were lay people employed in secular jobs.  Some had many years of post-graduate theological education, while others appeared to be self-taught. 

How they were considered “religious leaders” and felt the breakaway lawsuit is relevant to their places of worship is not spelled out in the brief.

However, one of the amici was actually the rector of one of the breakaway parishes and a plaintiff in the case – hardly an independent, non-partisan “religious leader”.  

It also seemed particularly odd that these "religious leaders" would have had the funds and contacts to find a top-drawer legal firm in Washington DC and an expert witness in California to write a sophisticated treatise on the arcane subject of neutral principles of law. 

We tried to contact the “leaders”

With that, we tried reaching out to some of the 106 amici.  The first two that responded had no idea their names were even on a brief at the Supreme CourtMost did not respond at all

One of the more prominent signers was Gary Hollingsworth, Executive Director of the SC Baptist Convention, who argued that: “One of the founding principles of our nation has been religious freedom and any threat to that freedom is an affront to every other freedom.  We stand with our Anglican brethren in that same spirit.

Hollingsworth’s statement is a little confusing.  Lawrence’s legal team, at least in the courtroom and in its filings with the courts, maintains that the case is not about “religious freedom ... and every other freedom.”  Over the past five years they repeatedly argued that their case is purely about property ownership and corporate control.

Hollingsworth also doesn’t appear to understand that Anglicans and Episcopalians are the same people, nor does he seem to be aware that Lawrence and his brethren are not recognized as “Anglican” by the Anglican Communion.  

Only the Episcopal Church is considered the official and legitimate expression of Anglicanism in the United States.

We contacted the South Carolina Baptist Convention to determine if Hollingsworth was representing the entire organization in signing onto the amicus brief.  No response after one week. 

Palmetto Family Council

As nearly as we can tell the brief was generated by a controversial political/religious group known variously as the Palmetto Family Council and the Palmetto Family Alliance.   

Lawrence met with the group for an “extended” period just eight days before the filling of the brief, which obviously raises questions about the independence and legitimacy of these “friends.”

According to the IRS, the Council’s mission is the “Dissemination of publications for the purpose of education and helping individuals to become better citizens and to strengthen family relationships.” 

On its tax forms the group says it does not participate in political activities ... so it may have been embarrassed last year when it was disclosed that the group received funding from Donald Trump
. 

The group has published on its website Lawrence's imaginative history of the schism, including that “the denomination … voted by 80% margins to leave [the Episcopal Church] in 2012” and that Lawrence has 23,000 followers in his parishes, which is substantially at odds with the 13,000 documented by his own ‘diocese.

Those misstatements plus the accusation by Lawrence that the Episcopal Church is about to throw his followers out of their churches are completely at odds with reality, but sounded good enough to be replicated on the Council’s website in the amicus brief.

The brief was written by a conservative former Federal Circuit Judge at Stanford University Law School, along with two attorneys with the law firm, Winston & Strawn in Washington, DC. 

We tried to contact all three by email to get some answers to these questions – including who was paying them – but they did not respond.


November 23, 2017

A Hopeful Sign


Last Saturday, Episcopalians in South Carolina learned that the state's Supreme Court had finally put an end to the five years of litigation foisted on us by our ex-bishop Mark Lawrence.  It has cost millions, emptied the pews and wallets of his followers, and destroyed an outstanding, centuries-old witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ in South Carolina.

Many don't realize that Lawrence has spent his entire ministry tearing apart Christian communities from Pennsylvania, to California, and now South Carolina.  His is a long record of exploiting relationships, turning friend against friend, family against family, and Christian against Christian.

One place that suffered from this polarizing Lawrence effect was St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Bakersfield, California.  That is where in 2006 enemies of the Church discovered Mark Lawrence and engineered his election as Bishop of the unsuspecting Diocese of South Carolina.

As did 38 congregations in our Diocese, St. Paul's tried to leave the Church with its dissident bishop and became embroiled in a costly legal case that ultimately determined the parish and breakaway diocese were indeed part of the Episcopal Church and always had been.

St. Paul's congregation, having once looked to Lawrence as its shepherd, was left broken and bitterly divided.  Many left.  We know the story.

Fortunately, a new congregation emerged at St. Paul's, and it celebrated its ministry just last Sunday with a rousing visit from the Most Rev. Michael Bruce Curry, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church.


Perhaps just a coincidence, but SC Episcopalians prefers to see it as a hopeful sign that at the same time Mark Lawrence was plotting with his lawyers to file yet another lawsuit against his former flock... the amazing leader of our Church was standing in Lawrence's old pulpit, proclaiming the ultimate triumph of God's love through the Risen Christ.

Onward!



November 21, 2017
(one of two)
Lawrence:  I'm Going to the U.S. Supreme Court
At the same time his followers were conceding defeat in state court, Lawrence decided to appeal last week's defeat to the nation's high court

Will Lawrence demand the lone Episcopalian on the Supreme Court recuse himself?


Expensive lawyers have a field day, as Lawrence parishes struggle with declining membership and red ink


Just four days after his defeat in the state Supreme Court, Mark Lawrence has directed his legal team to lash out in all directions, even as they appear to be tripping all over each other.

The former Episcopal bishop looks like he is determined to go down in a blaze of glory ... and drag everyone who has ever believed in him along for the ride.

Betterments

Over the weekend, 27 of 29 pro-Lawrence parishes, that lost their claim of independence from the Church last week, filed a lawsuit asking a state court in Dorchester County to order the Episcopal Church to compensate them for “improvements” that have been made on their properties since the founding of their parishes
. 

The Lawrencians did not explain which of the improvements they are talking about or how much they think they are worth, but they left little doubt that they want everything
.

Lawrence's legal team has brought the lawsuit under the state's Betterments Statute, which allows for this kind of compensation in cases in which the plaintiffs win.   (Yes, we are confused as well.  Lawrence and his followers actually were the plaintiffs in their lawsuit and they did not win.)

Paraphrasing Professor Ron Caldwell, whose analysis was echoed by online legal advisors to SC Episcopalians, believes those seeking compensation under Betterments statutes assume that the property in question is occupied by people who are not its rightful owners.  Plaintiffs seeking monetary compensation under these laws are, in fact, conceding that the property is owned by someone else.

This is the exactly the premise on which the state Supreme Court rejected Lawrence’s original lawsuit last week. 

Even more compelling, the leadership in many pro-Lawrence parishes have already announced that they are leaving the parish properties and have taken legal steps to establish new worshiping communities in new locations.  This too appears to be an explicit admission that they accept the ruling of the state Supreme Court.

(Scroll down to read the earlier story on this lawsuit just below this one)

The United States Supreme Court

Lawrence appears to have little concern about funds to pay his high-brow legal team that has yet to give him a legal victory.   Our guesstimate is that he has long since blown thorough the funds donated by parishes to his legal slush fund, and is receiving money from somewhere else.

So we are hardly surprised today that Lawrence has announced that his Standing Committee has decided to appeal his case before the state Supreme Court to the United States Supreme Court. (Lawrence typically suggests that it is others who have dragged him along on his controversial decisions, rather than taking responsibility himself.)

It is ironic that Lawrence is so freely able to afford millions for frivolous lawsuits and appeals while his congregations struggle with a nearly 44% decline in membership and one-third decline in income.  Many of his larger and more prestigious congregations have been swimming in red ink for years.

None of the parishes involved in the Betterments lawsuit nor the decision he has made to drag them to the Supreme Court appears to have actually voted on whether they want to be a part of either.

The Gorsuch Challenge

Lawrence's statement today announcing his decision to ask U.S. Supreme Court to hear his appeal was short on exactly what grounds he will be appealing on.

It does appear that part of his argument would be that he and his parishes were denied fair treatment by the state's high court because Associate Justice Kay Hearn, an Episcopalian., was one of the five justices who decided the case.  

However, Lawrence's legal team had over two years to challenge Hearn, but waited until after the case was decided and they knew how she voted.

Here's why this part of the appeal would be awkward.

Donald Trump's one and only appointee to the U.S. Supreme Court is Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch. He too is an Episcopalian.

In the unlikely event the nine justices actually decide to hear the appeal, will  Lawrence's lawyers be able to argue with straight-faces that they were denied "due process" because Hearn's of religious affiliation without asking Gorsuch to recuse himself on the same grounds? 

Gorsuch might just do it on his own without prompting and that would be a huge problem for the Lawrencians. 

The U.S. Supreme Court doesn't add justices to its ranks when one of them doesn't participate in a case. They just go with the remaining eight.

That means that a 4-4 vote would not be out of the realm of possibility ... and Lawrence and company could lose for failure to get a majority. To win, the Episcopal Church would only need four votes. The Lawrence crowd would need five.

Oh yeah, there is also Associate Justice Clarence Thomas.  He is now back in the Catholic Church, but for a number of years he and his wife belonged to a breakaway congregation in the Episcopal Church in Virginia.


Read Bishop Lawrence comments after meeting with his standing committee

Lawrence could just be buying time

A reasonable interpretation of Lawrence's actions is not he is not serious with either the Betterments lawsuit or the appeal to the Supreme Court. He is buying time so his followers can re-organize themselves outside their current buildings and leave things in as disastrous condition as they can.

He is also facing a disastrous mediation session with former Federal Judge Joe Anderson on Dec. 4-5, so he might have something to bargain with if it looks like he is serious about these two legal actions.


November 21, 2017
(two of two)
Breakaway Parishes to Church:  PAY US!!!
New Lawrence lawsuit asks for the Church to pay them unspecified compensation for improvements (revised 5:30 pm)


SAINT GEORGE - Breakaway congregations loyal to Bishop Lawrence want to be paid for improvements they have made on their properties while they say they mistakenly thought they owned them.  Some of these "improvements" go back two or three centuries.

The lawsuit was officially filed on Sunday in Dorchester County, under what is known as betterments laws.

The breakaways' lost their five-year-old lawsuit against the Church and its local diocese last week in the state's Supreme Court.  In that lawsuit, they claimed they were sole owners of their parish properties and financial assets, as well as those of the Church's Diocese of South Carolina.

This new lawsuit seems to be asking for the value of all the improvements generations of parishioners have made on Church lands over the years.  In essence, they are saying, if we aren't owners of the property, we are entitled to compensation for everything that has been built on our land by current, former, and even dead Episcopalians, who were members of our parish.

Circuit Judge Diane Goodstein was the trial judge in the original lawsuit and largely made a mess of it.  She was highly criticized by the state Supreme Court before it overturned her ruling in the case. 

Lawrence's chief political and legal advisor is Beaufort attorney Alan Runyan, who doubles as an attorney for 11 of the 29 breakaway congregations, and appears to be the mastermind behind the suit.

This could be just an attempt by breakaways to shake down the Church for money, or a back-handed scheme to get last week's decision against the breakaways re-heard by the state's high court.

This could also be a ploy to get leverage on the Church and its Diocese in eastern South Carolina heading into mediation with a Federal Judge that could address outstanding issues -- like compensation owed to the Church and court costs.   

Breakaway parishes are also concerned that their vestries, wardens, and clergy may be forced to repay funds they've spent that were intended for the work of the Episcopal Church.  This would also apply to repayment of any loans or mortgages they took out. 

Goodstein:  I'm baaack ... kinda

The suit appears to have been filed Sunday afternoon by a law partner of Runyan, who is also a former law clerk to Judge Goodstein.  It is not clear if Goodstein has been formally assigned the case.

The Presiding Judge in St. George is a highly regarded lawyer and judge... who is also a member of one of the breakaway parishes.

Here's a link to the filing


Here's a link to Professor Ron Caldwell's excellent analysis of what the new lawsuit says and doesn't say about the changing legal position's the breakaways

Here's link to the response of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina



November 19, 2017
Bishops Adams and Lawrence React to Supreme Court's Refusal to Re-Hear Lawrence Lawsuit

Bishop Adams' response
Bishop Lawrence's response


November 18, 2017
Schism Derailed as Supreme Court Rejects Breakaways' Motion for Rehearing

Former Chief Justice lashes out at Lawrence's legal team for its "unreasonably harsh criticism" of Justice Hearn, blames them for bungling recusal request

Hearn will not participate in similar cases in the future, as Court dismisses Lawrencian demands that her vote and opinion be vacated


Parishes on both sides of a five-year-old lawsuit against the Episcopal Church and its continuing Diocese in South Carolina were stunned today as the state Supreme Court said it would not re-hear the appeal of a 2015 lower court decision awarding ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence and 36 parishes loyal to him an estimated $500 million in Church assets, including its historic "Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina."

The parties in the case were notified by mail today that the breakaways' request to the Court for a rehearing had failed on a 2-2 vote, leaving its decision of August 2nd intact.  In that ruling the Court said that 29 congregations seeking to leave the Church with their properties can not do so without the Church's consent.

The justices also said that they would not retroactively remove Justice Kaye Hearn or nullify her vote in the case, as the breakaways had requested in a second motion.  The breakaways did not challenge Hearn's participation in the case for two-and-a-half years until after it was decided and they found out how she voted.  

Hearn is an Episcopalian.  She did not vote on motion for a rehearing.

Former Chief Justice Jean Toal, who supported a rehearing,  slammed the breakaways' legal team for their post-ruling attacks on Hearn as an "unreasonably harsh criticism of a highly accomplished judge and a person of great decency and integrity."


Read comments of Justices Kittridge and Toal here

Reaction from breakaways'

Mark Lawrence has not made any public statement yet, but his long-time lieutenant, Jim Lewis, responded with an attack on the impartiality of the Court and hinted that the breakaways might appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.  Even with Hearn recusing herself from voting on the rehearing motion, it still failed to garner a majority.

"Given the gravity of all these concerns, we will now give serious consideration to seeking review by the U.S. Supreme Court. We believe the number and character of the issues at stake in this ruling merit review by the high court. Because of the long road of litigation that has brought us to this day, all the parties to this case will need to take counsel together before deciding our next steps," he said.

Winning the case in the nation's highest court would be a monumental task. 

One of the few issues on which the justices have been unanimous in recent years has been First Amendment protections for "hierarchical" denominations like the Episcopal Church.  When legal disputes involve doctrine or theology, the Court has historically deferred to the position of the governing bodies of the Church.

The decision by the state's high court is in line with those of 14 other states that have decided other breakaway cases.  The last breakaway group to appeal to the high court was one in Virginia.  In that case, the high court refused to even hear the case and let the pro-Church ruling in that state stand.

Bishop Adams facing an extraordinary task

The Right Rev. Gladstone "Skip" Adams, the Bishop of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina, is now increasingly the focus of attention as all parishes consider their future ministries.  Adams has urged both loyal and dissident Episcopalians to seek reconciliation and unity, and repeatedly said that he has no plans to evict pro-Lawrence congregations from their parish buildings.

Ironically, Bishop Adams spent today in Pawleys Island, ordaining and celebrating the new ministry of the Rev. Jason Robeson, now assistant rector at Holy Cross Faith Memorial Episcopal Church.  Pawleys Island was the site of the first challenge to the Church in South Carolina by a breakaway parish more nearly 15 years ago. 

Today's decision by the Court effectively ends any realistic hope of the Lawrence schism finding any support in the state's judicial system.  Ironically, it was decided exactly five years to the day that a convention of pro-Lawrence parishes voted to try to leave the Episcopal Church with him.


Read the state Supreme Court's order here


November 14, 2017

The ACNA Braces for Battle over Female Clergy
Once divisive elements of the Episcopal Church now roiling breakaway organization

St. Paul: "There is neither Greek nor Jew, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Jesus Christ."

ACNA Bishops:  "There is insufficient scriptural warrant to accept women's ordination to the priesthood..."

One of the first things we learn about the early Church in Acts is that it struggled over who was in and who was out.  St. Paul was driving the Jerusalem Church crazy by baptizing just about anyone in the Roman world who wanted to follow Jesus Christ. 

Christians who'd been closest to Jesus in his life on earth were not pleased, and demanded new converts first become Jews.

The inclusion question eventually found its way into Paul's young churches, leading to his eloquent pronouncement to the Galatians that all are equally valued in the eyes of Christ. 

Paul's words didn't seem to get much attention though.  Today, nearly 2000 years later, the zeal by insiders to keep people out continues to plague Christian communities and hinder their proclamation of the Gospel.

One of the obvious effects of recent, failed mini-schisms in the Episcopal Church is that its most aggressive advocates for excluding people have migrated to other religious organizations with a more compatible polity, most notably the "Anglican Church of North America."

This fall the ACNA's all-male, mostly white House of Bishops affirmed its ongoing approach to the issue by dodging it.   The Bible doesn't speak to the question sufficiently to allow them to endorse women's ordination, they say, but a provision in the ACNA Constitution will continue to allow dioceses to do it if they'd like.  However, no female priests can become bishops.

This past weekend Jack Iker, ex-Episcopal bishop of Fort Worth, speaking at the Annual Meeting of his ACNA diocese, poured cold water on the dual standard:

"We now need to work with other dioceses to amend the Constitution to remove this provision. As you know, women bishops are not permitted in any diocese, and no bishop wants to change that prohibition.

I would underscore that the recent Bishops’ statement declares that the ordination of women “is a recent innovation to Apostolic Tradition and Catholic Order” and that “there is insufficient warrant to accept women’s ordination to the priesthood as standard practice.”  Needless to say, the women priests and their supporters are very unhappy about that.

We are in a state of impaired communion because of this issue..."

Good luck with this, folks.



November 11, 2017

Adams Presses Annual Convention to be Open to "Rich and Full Possibilities" of Reconciliation
The Episcopal Church in SC reckoning with a future that includes returning breakaway parishes

The Rt. Reverend Gladstone "Skip" Adams wasted little time tonight urging lawsuit-weary delegates to his annual Diocesan convention to "trust the Spirit of God among you," as dramatic change is about to sweep through both loyal and rebellious parishes in the Episcopal Church in South Carolina.

Adams believes his calling as Bishop of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina is to bring about reconciliation among those who have been divided by nearly 40 years of a culture war on the Church by embittered ultraconservatives in eastern South Carolina. 

Adams believes that Christians are obligated to seek reconciliation in the same way that Jesus called on his followers to be reconciled to each other.  Read full address here

Five years after ex-bishop Mark Lawrence and 36 parishes loyal to him filed a $500 million lawsuit against the Church and its continuing diocese led by Adams, light is appearing at the end of a dark tunnel as a recent ruling by the SC Supreme Court has begun to give clarity to an unfolding resolution of the schism.  

State Supreme Court


The Court ruled 3-2 that only seven of the 36 parishes could leave the church with their properties.  The decision was handed down in early August, but the breakaway group has been pelting the Court with personal attacks on one of the justices and demands for a rehearing of the case.  Motions to that effect have been filed with the Court, but the justices have given no indication when or if they will rule on the motions.

Federal Court


Meanwhile, U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel has scheduled a trial a Federal lawsuit, originally brought by former Bishop Charles vonRosenberg now Adams, for March 2018.  That lawsuit will address the question of whether ex-bishop Lawrence has been illegally masquerading as an Episcopal bishop and the leader of the "Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina." 

Four of the five members of the state Supreme Court said that the "Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina" belonged to the Episcopal Church, but deferred to Judge Gergel to make that final determination.

Currently, the parties in the case are in mediation ordered by Gergel but there is no requirement that all parties must accept the outcome.  The mediation is taking place under the direction of retired Federal Judge Joe Anderson.

Tonight's opening session included a Eucharist, followed by barbeque supper accompanied by a Dixieland band.  Tomorrow the Diocese's Chancellor will give an update on legal developments in the resolution of Lawrence's lawsuit.


November 7, 2017
Mediation Halted

Without explanation, South Carolina Bishop Skip Adams and Diocesan Chancellor Tom Tisdale announced that court-ordered mediation in Columbia has recessed until December 4-5.  They made the announcement at 10:45 this morning, less than halfway through the second day of a planned three-day session with U.S. District Judge Joe Anderson. 

November 7, 2017
Little Optimism as Complex Court Mediation Begins  Lawrencians scramble to survive in the venue they fear the most:  Federal Court

In filing their $500 million lawsuit against the Episcopal Church and its continuing South Carolina diocese in 2013, attorneys for breakaway Bishop Mark Lawrence and 36 parishes aligned with him made two very calculated gambles:  They made their case all about the ownership of property, and they filed it in state court before the Church could figure out what was going on.

The breakaways were seeking court permission for their parishes to leave the Church with their properties and financial assets, and the right of sole ownership of "The Episcopal Diocese for South Carolina."

The gamble was that a state court would be more concerned about the property issues and not so much Constitutional concerns of separation of Church and State that a Federal court would.  They also correctly anticipated that as long as their case was active in the state courts, the Feds would be unlikely to hear any similar cases the Church might bring against them.

The strategy worked ... at first 

By 2015, the breakaway group had won a huge victory in the courtroom of Dorchester County Judge Diane Goodstein, who awarded them everything they were asking for, including the "Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina" itself. 

Goodstein cooperated fully and refused to allow testimony or other evidence to be presented except that which was narrowly focused on property matters.

As anticipated, a related lawsuit in Federal court, brought by the rightful Bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina in April 2013, got bogged down for years as a contrarian Federal judge stubbornly insisted the two cases were the same and he would wait for the state courts to rule before moving forward.

However, the tables have turned since 2015.

In August of this year, the state Supreme Court overturned Goodstein and ruled that 29 of the 36 pro-Lawrence parishes could not leave the Episcopal Church with their buildings without the consent of the Church.  It also dismissed the Lawrencians' claims to the "Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina," but that would have to wait until a related Federal case before U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel is decided.

The Supreme Court saw the case as much more than a simple property matter.  At least three of the five justices saw it as a dispute over Church doctrine masquerading as a property issue.  Once that determination was made, the Court was obligated to defer to the Constitution and Canons of the Church in deciding the case.

The 3-2 outcome was closer than anyone expected, but its ruling was consistent with those of state supreme courts in 14 states with similar legal challenges from breakaway groups.

In one brief month, Lawrence's legal team lost control of its laser focus on property and found itself straight in the cross hairs of a fully-charged Federal lawsuit that almost certainly will be decided mostly, if not entirely, in the Church's favor.

Mediation


Today was the first day of three in which Federal Judge Joe Anderson is attempting to mediate the remaining issues in the schism, and the Lawrence crowd now faces very serious issues. 

While their hope is to negotiate back some of what they lost in the Supreme Court, they are going to encounter new questions about the way they have managed the assets of the Diocese of South Carolina and its parishes. 

Church lawyers almost certainly will insist on a forensic audit of the finances of the Diocese under Lawrence's leadership.  There are millions of dollars in trust funds and other revenue-producing instruments that have been provided by generations of Episcopalians for the use of Episcopalians in South Carolina... and all have been in the hands of Lawrence and his "diocesan" leaders for five years.

Liquid assets of the Diocese have reportedly been moved around and hidden in the event Lawrence lost his case in court.  Millions more were reportedly raised by the Lawrencians to underwrite the cost of the lawsuit, and their 40+ member legal team. 

Any of these that might be missing or improperly expended will almost certainly be an issue in the mediation.

There are also court costs which -- after five years -- have spiraled into the millions of dollars.  The Church's legal team will argue that the breakaways have the burden of repayment since they filed the lawsuit in the first place.

There is also the question of whether actions by Lawrence and his chief lieutenants amounted to a conspiracy to illegally defraud the Church of property and financial assets that have accumulated over the 240 years of its presence in South Carolina. 

Church attorneys tried to raise this issue in the original trial in state court but Goodstein blocked its consideration.  Now, without the protection of that judge, the Church could bring a civil suit against the would-be conspirators.


October 31, 2017
Former Bishop Allison Fumbles the Ball
Essay in Sunday's P&C shows how breakaway leaders are trying to undermine mediation

Gospel of Matthew: "Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and remember there that your brother has something against you, Jesus said leave your gift at the altar and go your way.  Be reconciled to your brother and then come and offer your gift."

Bishop Allison in Sunday's Post & Courier: "A word often used by TEC bishops and legal counsel is 'reconciliation.'  While an attractive word to readers and pleasant to the ear, it creates false expectations...  That is not a viable way forward."

Imagine years ago you rented your fully-furnished house to your brother, who has been living there ever since.  You even signed a rental agreement. 

One day you are shocked to discover that your brother has changed his name to yours, filed a lawsuit claiming he is the owner of the house, and found a judge to rule that, not only are you not the owner, you never have been.

In essence, this is the situation in which Episcopalians in eastern South Carolina found themselves nearly five years ago, when renegade Bishop Mark Lawrence and 36 parishes loyal to him announced they were no longer in the Episcopal Church. 

Almost immediately, the breakaways filed a lawsuit claiming they owned nearly $500 million in Church property and financial assets that had been built up by Episcopalians and their Anglican predecessors over the preceding 325 years.

In the the Post and Courier last Sunday and The State the previous weekend, Fitzsimmons Allison, a former Bishop of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina and godfather of its current schism, set forth the gist of an argument supporting the claims of your brother and the ruling of the judge. 

It followed the same peculiar logic taken by Circuit Judge Diane Goodstein in 2015 when she awarded the Lawrence crowd everything they were asking for in their lawsuit, including ownership of the 'Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina' itself.

Fortunately for loyal Episcopalians, the South Carolina Supreme Court would say your brother and the judge were in the wrong.  The Court would likely argue that you continue to own the house and your brother must honor the terms of your original agreement, if he wants to continue living there. 

It is the same message the justices sent in August overturning Goodstein, declaring that ownership of Church property belongs to its loyal members and the Church itself.

Fourteen other states have had to deal with similar lawsuits, and their supreme courts have taken this same course.  If it had been allowed to stand, Goodstein’s ruling would have gone down in history as the single most aggressive breach of the Constitutionally-protected separation of church and state in the history of American jurisprudence.

Mediation

Today, the entire case is in mediation under retired U.S. District Court Judge Joe Anderson.  Given the recent ruling by the state Supreme Court, Anderson is trying to knit together a broader agreement to address the remaining issues between the parties and avoid a scheduled trial in Federal Court in March.

Bishop Allison’s new-found zeal for an out-of-court settlement in which everyone just walks away with what they've got makes very little sense now.  

He must have been asleep in 2015, when the Church and its continuing loyal diocese tried to settle the lawsuit using the same, but slightly modified, premise.  They offered to settle the lawsuit by allowing pro-Lawrence parishes to leave the Church with their properties and assets in exchange for giving up their claim to owning the actual “Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina.” 

Lawrence’s 40-member legal team rejected the idea even before it could be formalized and considered by the parishes.     

Settling the case is more complicated today than in 2015

Today, the dynamic between the loyalists and dissidents is very different than in 2015. 

First, there are questions about the continued viability of the 36 parishes and whether they can even afford to stand on their own and maintain their buildings. 

Three years after the lawsuit was filed in 2013, only one of them had grown.  Collectively, their membership had declined by 29% (as opposed to the 22% increase in parishes that remained loyal to the Church).  Income declined as well, as many parishes labored under excessive indebtedness taken on in anticipation of new growth and payments to their oversized legal team.

Second, significant questions have arisen about the stewardship of the Diocese’s considerable financial resources under Lawrence’s control during the past five years.  It is impossible for any mediation agreement to work without a full accounting of Diocesan assets and finances, as well as those of the 36 parishes.  

Very credible reports suggest that some of these assets have been intentionally hidden or encumbered.  Some appear to have been spent.  Documents revealed in court show that the Trustees of the breakaways' "diocese" awarded Lawrence a 10-year, $1-per-year lease on an home in pricey downtown Charleston that loyal Episcopalians had purchased years earlier for their legitimate bishop. 

Thirdly, legal fees incurred by the Church and its continuing diocese in defending themselves against the breakaways' lawsuit have skyrocketed. 

At one point an insurance policy was able to subsidize those costs, and the insurance company is almost certainly is going to press to have those repaid by the breakaway group.   The Episcopal Church as well is in no position to simply write off the legal fees it incurred in defending itself from the spurious legal challenges from breakaway groups in this and other dioceses. 

Finally, in a backhanded way, Bishop Allison himself raises one of the thorniest issues facing those involved in the current mediation:  Who speaks for the lay people in the parishes that have remained loyal to Lawrence?   

Lawrence’s rebellion against the Church was carefully-planned and managed by a closed, secretive group of very angry bishops and clergy.  It was part of a much larger attack against the Episcopal Church and other denominations by people mostly outside of South Carolina.  There has even been the suggestion in court that Lawrence's behavior and that of his lieutenants amounted to a criminal conspiracy to defraud the Church of its money and property.

The voices of the laity were muffled in all of this.  Often they were asked to consent to actions taken by their leadership only after the fact.  Many said they voted for changes in the parish bylaws aligning them with Lawrence after being assured they were not sanctioning secession from the Church. 

Even more, there are questions of compensation for loyal Episcopalians who were muscled out of home parishes and forced to create worshipping communities in new buildings at considerable cost.

In many ways lay people in Lawrence parishes may have been as much victimized by the schism as those in the parishes that remained loyal to the Church.  However, the extent of their culpability in any wrongdoing by their leadership has yet to be determined.

God:  Believe me, reconciliation is hard

When Allison insists reconciliation is impossible, and that litigation will continue unless his side gets what it wants, he is taking his cues from a very small circle of bitter people who are quite detached from the devastation their schism has visited upon the Christian witness of both loyalists and the breakaways.

Fortunately, the people in the pews on both sides of the conflict understand that that the foundation of Christianity is that Jesus died so that we might not only be reconciled to God, but to each other.

After decades of battling fellow Christians, maybe even those wearing collars in the hierarchy might be still forgiven for ignoring St. Paul's words, "All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation."  


October 27, 2017
Language of Schism:  And you think ours was bad??
Upcoming mediation in Lawrence schism coincides with 500th anniversary of Martin Luther's 95 theses

For Martin Luther, the printing press was his version of the internet when it came to spreading the Gospel ... as well as his vicious and stinging attacks on those with whom he disagreed.

Next week's 500th anniversary of the Reformation is a kind of Holy Week for pro-schism bloggers who have become well-known for their own vicious personal attacks on everyone from the Church's first female Presiding Bishop to a highly regarded Associate Justice of the state's Supreme Court.

In one famous episode, a popular breakaway website linked to the South Carolina schism went on a rampage against Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, attacking him as "a theological and moral infidel," "a moral compromiser," "openly homoerotic," "blatantly apostate and heretical","satanic," and "a bald-faced liar."  The editor's rampage ended with "the long, but certain decline of Griswold into Hell, a Hell that Griswold has chosen for himself, and which will be his ultimate destiny."

Next week is also the week in which lawyers for the Church and Lawrencian breakaways prepare for a three-day attempt at mediating their differences under the direction of Federal Judge Joe Anderson Nov 6-8.



October 16, 2017
Breakaways Approach Mediation with Guns Blazing
Lawrence lieutenants, out-of-state PR firm promoting bitter, pre-mediation attack on the Church and a Supreme Court Justice they wrongly blame for their loss in Court

Amid what is surely the most bizarre closing act in the history of religious theater, attorneys for the Episcopal Church and what is left of parishes in rebellion against it will head to Columbia Nov. 6-8 for a court-ordered mediation with retired United States Federal Judge Joe Anderson.

All state and Federal issues raised by ex-Episcopal bishop Mark Lawrence and his followers in a 2013 lawsuit against the Church and its continuing Diocese in eastern South Carolina will be presented to Anderson who will attempt to find a comprehensive settlement agreeable to both sides.

If successful, such a settlement will head off a blockbuster trial in Federal Court in Charleston in March in a venue considered favorable to the Church.


Advantage to the Church


Loyal Episcopalians have a head of steam going into mediation after the state Supreme Court recently overturned a lower court ruling awarding the breakaways ownership of their parish buildings as well as the actual "Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina."  Added together, the value of the win was estimated at around $500 million.


The high court ruled 3-2 that, of the 36 parishes joining in Lawrence's lawsuit, the Church had a legal interest the properties of 29 of them and as such their congregations could not leave the Church with those properties without its consent.

Four of the five justices agreed that the corporate structure of  "Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina," including its financial assets and properties, rightly belongs to the Episcopal Church, but they deferred to the Federal judge in a related case to make a final ruling.

Technically, the case before Anderson is not an appeal of the state Supreme Court's ruling, so it is not clear that the ownership of the parish properties is even going to be a significant issue in the mediation.  It also appears certain that the ownership of the "Diocese of South Carolina" and its properties will remain with the Church.   

Masquerade

However, Lawrence's lawyers are anxious over they will actually have as the legal drama moves onto the Federal stage.  This goes way back to why they originally filed their lawsuit in state court.

The interest of Federal courts in matters like this is to uphold the separation of Church and State.  That is not necessarily the priority of states courts.  Federal precedents have held that state and Federal courts must defer to the position of the highest governing structure in denominations like the Episcopal Church when matters of doctrine and theology are involved. 

In spite of the breakaway's claim that his lawsuit is solely a property dispute, the justices saw in it a dispute about doctrine and theology masquerading as a case about property.  That makes it subject to Federal law and precedence... and the governing structure of the Episcopal Church.

It also didn't help the breakaways since the justices also could not agree on the proper application of state law, even if they did choose to bypass Federal precedents.

The Constitutional protection of denominations like those of the Episcopal Church from intrusion by the courts takes priority over state property laws in a Federal courtroom.   The lower court decision in Lawrence's lawsuit was the largest intrusion by any state court in the country into the governance of a Church that is protected by the First Amendment

As long as Lawrence's attorneys could keep the case in state court, they had a chance of winning something.  Now, that it is in the realm of the Federal courts, they are looking at a very different story.

Lashing out

The Lawrence crowd has responded to this challenge by lashing out at both the Court and the Church. 

They have apparently hired a Washington DC public relations firm to help orchestrate a premediation campaign bashing the integrity of Associate Supreme Court Justice Kaye Hearn, who voted in the majority in overturning Lawrence's lower court victory, and Church leaders like Bishop Skip Adams, who will ultimately have the biggest say in how the Court decisions will be implemented. 

Hearn is an Episcopalian, and Adams is the legitimate Bishop of the Church's continuing Diocese.

After the Supreme Court vote did not go their way, the Lawrencians went after Hearn, demanding that the other four justices throw out her vote and/or give them a new hearing with a new panel that does not include Hearn. 

Asked why Lawrence's attorneys did not ask Hearn to recuse herself before the Court took up the case, chief strategist Jim Lewis told the Charleston Post & Courier, somewhat implausibly, that they had thought she "would do the right thing" and self-boot herself.

When her vote did not go their way, they went into full character assassination mode in the same way they went after former Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori years ago.

Breakaways created their own problem with Justice Hearn


The breakaways' problem with Hearn is actually of their own making: they based their entire lawsuit on the claim that their dispute with the Church was only about property.   As long as the case was seen as a property dispute, it could remain in breakaway-friendly state courts  and away from certain death in the Federal courts.

Breakaway attorneys persuaded the lower court judge in the case to go along with this fiction to the point that she refused to allow the Episcopal Church to enter any evidence at trial suggesting that the case was about doctrine or theology. 

In fact, the judge even refused to allow the lawyers to use the term "The Episcopal Church" during the two-week trial.  Too confusing, she said.

Consequently, when the lower court decision was appealed to the state Supreme Court, there was very little in the record to suggest that Justice Hearn's religious affiliation was relevant in deciding a case about property law.  There was little in it about doctrine, theology, or even the Constitutional guarantee of separation of Church and State, according to both Lawrence's attorneys and the trial record. 

That left Team Lawrence without grounds on which to challenge Hearn on her potential bias in a property law case.  It also left Hearn without a rationale for recusing herself.  

A second issue in Hearn's favor is that the final ruling by the Supreme Court was fully consistent with First Amendment precedence that has evolved in Constitutional law over the past 200 years.  The conclusion at which she and colleagues Costa Pleicones and Donald Beatty arrived was right out of a law school textbook, fully conforming to similar cases that have been decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in the past. 

Their three-vote majority also put South Carolina on the side of 14 other state supreme courts that have ruled in almost exactly the same way in breakaway lawsuits on exactly the same grounds.

There was a third issue regarding, not so much the justice, but her husband.

In 2014, prior to the trial in state court, Lawrencian attorneys took a deposition from Hearn's husband, George, apparently in spite of an order from the judge temporarily barring depositions.

Mr. Hearn's relevance to the case was dubious from the get-go, and the episode seemed to have the appearance of a setup to subsequently challenge Justice's Hearn's participation in an appeal of the case on the grounds that her husband was a witness. 

This matter regarding her husband's deposition is now front and center in the breakaways' current motion before the high court demanding that the justice be recused retroactively and her vote and voice stricken from the case.

This kind of business is not viewed positively by judges and other public officials.  They hate it when their spouses and family members get dragged into something for apparent self-serving reasons by their opponents.

However, the thing that makes the current attack on Hearn so implausible is that one of the outcomes of the Supreme Court ruling is that her home parish in Conway was among the seven allowed to leave the Church with its property. 

If she was trying to throw the case, you'd think she'd have done a better job for herself.

Smearing the Episcopal Church

As self-defeating as the legal shenanigans have been, a series of nasty public relations spasms by Lawrencian spokesmen over the past three weeks have been off the charts. Their strategy appears to be more about throwing every vicious thing they can think of against the Church, in the hope that something will stick in the minds of their followers or even the judges in the case.

The Rev. Jeff Miller, currently the rector of St. Philip's in Charleston, recently published an opinion piece in the Charleston Post & Courier, claiming that his parish's "free exercise of religion" was being violated by the state Supreme Court and its property was being taken away illegally.

The Rev. Mr. Miller went even further by claiming that "In 2012, the Episcopal Church concluded that the bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina, in part, by affirming the divinity of Christ and the authority of scripture, had 'abandoned' the Episcopal Church and it attempted to remove him."

Statements like these from Lawrence zealots are part of the reason the breakaways lost in the state Supreme Court.  Because of this kind of rhetoric, judges in the case were able to see that, contrary to the claims of their attorneys, their lawsuit was about much more than a simple property dispute.


Even more damaging is that Mr. Miller's version of Bishop Lawrence's departure from the Episcopal Church is not consistent with accounts of it provided in court. 

Lawrence was accused of giving away millions of dollars in parish properties without the consent of the Church, and of engineering a revision of the Diocese's Constitution and Canons, effectively taking it out of the Church.  Lawrence has admitted that he did everything contained in the allegations.  His understanding of the identity of Christ and interpretation of scripture was never an issue.  He also left the Church on his own, no one pushed him out
.

Regarding Mr. Miller's claim that his parish is having its property taken away, the state Supreme Court ruling makes it clear that is not the case.  St. Philip's was never the owner of its property to begin with.  You have something taken away that was never yours to begin with.   The parish's efforts to leave the Episcopal Church with its property were invalidated by the state Supreme Court, in effect ruling that St. Philip's never left the Episcopal Church.

Mr. Miller's suggestion that the Supreme Court ruling is resulting in their having to leave their buildings is pure hysteria.  Bishop Adams has made it clear that his goal is forgiveness and reconciliation.  Mr. Miller forgets that in 2015 the Episcopal Church offered to give up its property interest in St. Philip's in order to settle the lawsuit, so it is unlikely now that it wants to kick out the people who, along with their families before them, built up and sustained the congregation. 

Harmon-ia

The Rev. Canon Kendall Harmon, one of the breakaways' angriest spokesmen, recently launched an attack on Bishop Adams in the British-based Church Times subtly implying that the leader of the continuing Diocese in South Carolina might secretly want to sell off the breakaways' properties to Muslims.

Both Mr. Miller and Dr. Harmon suggest that the ongoing dispute between the breakaways and the Church is "sad" and "unseemly."  However, both appear unable acknowledge that the entire matter has been driven by Bishop Lawrence's decision to reject St. Paul's advice and take the matter to Court rather than to engage in dialogue with either Bishop Adams or his predecessor, Charles vonRosenberg.

One of the most eye-popping claims in Dr. Harmon's letter to the Times is that the breakaways' actions have been guided by their hopes for a "peaceful settlement."


October 7, 2017
Anglican Leaders End Meeting Renewed and Unified
Primates re-affirm "Anglican Church of North America" is not Anglican, while reprimanding Scottish Episcopal Church on same-gender marriage

CANTERBURY -- Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby appears be succeeding in his years-long effort to bring together the fractured Anglican Communion he inherited, as the just-concluded, four-day Primates Meeting came to an end today. 

In a communique issued at the end of the meeting, there seemed to be a clear message that the 2020 Lambeth Conference of all Anglican Bishops, once in jeopardy of a massive boycott, was fully on track.  Welby has invested a great deal of his prestige in pulling together warring factions of the Communion to attend the once in a decade Conference.

Among the factors working in his favor was that sixteen of the 33 provincial leaders at this week's meeting were attending for the first time.  The popularity of the American Primate, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, has also made the progressive actions by his Episcopal Church less contentious among conservatives, and that has worked in Welby's favor as well.

The key to Welby's success has been a strategy of triangulation that continues to reprimand provinces adopting same-gender marriage, reject cross-border interventions among provinces, and encourage efforts to find common ground among the provinces in Church-wide focus on human-trafficking, poverty, hunger, climate change, and religious freedom. 

Biggest loser?  ACNA

Much to the disappointment of American conservatives, the biggest loser at the gathering was the so-called "Anglican Church of North America," created nearly eight years ago by a handful of angry ultraconservative African Primates in league with Anglican dissidents and former Episcopalians over their acceptance of gays and lesbians. 

The ACNA has been very aggressive in trying to undermine the Episcopal Church, including a very aggressive effort to convince the Communion to allow it to replace the Episcopal Church in its leadership.  According to the communique, the Primates re-affirmed their earlier position and that of the other Instruments of Anglican Unity that ACNA is not part of the Communion.

ACNA didn't do itself any favors by publicly criticizing the Primates for asking Presiding Bishop Curry to offer a prayer at Monday's evensong for the victims of the Las Vegas shooting and their families.  ACNA's official spokesman said the move was insensitive and upset conservative primates. 

However, shortly after the story hit the airwaves, the stunt backfired when the primates who were supposed to be upset with Curry said they weren't, and made it clear that ACNA did not speak for them.

Scots in three-year timeout

The other big loser was the Scottish Episcopal Church that has chosen to follow its American cousin in permitting same-gender marriage.   As was the case with the U.S. Church, the Scots were forced to accept "consequences" that essentially amount to a three-year time out from holding key positions of leadership and policy-making in the Communion.


October 3, 2017

ACNA Lashes Out at Prayer in Canterbury Cathedral for Las Vegas Victims
Archbishop Welby "surprised and disappointed" that embittered former Anglicans would try to score political points amid tragedy

A spokesman for the renegade "Anglican Church of North America" lashed out at the Primates of the Anglican Communion today because they asked the leader of their province in the United States to pray for victims of the recent massacre in Las Vegas. 

According to Andrew Gross, who claims to speak for the ACNA, praying to God with the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church put ultra-conservative Primates (Anglican provincial leaders) at the service "in a difficult position" because it gave its gave a false impression of unity. 

It was not apparent who Gross was talking about or why he was even in London since ACNA is not part of the Anglican Communion. 

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby had asked the Most Rev. Michael Curry to open Monday's evensong in Canterbury Cathedral with a prayer for the victims and their families.  As Presiding Bishop, Curry is also the Primate representing the Anglican Province known as the Episcopal Church that includes the United States and 16 other nations.

After hearing of Gross' criticism, Welby was clearly disgusted and said he was "surprised and disappointed".   With some irritation he added, "I don't think we ought to bring Church politics into Las Vegas."

The ACNA is part-church and part-political party, created by a handful of anti-gay leaders of Anglican provinces in Africa and South America to bolster their political influence in the Communion and eject the Episcopal Church from among its members.   

The ACNA has less than 100,000 members drawn from a variety of neo-Anglican religious organizations and anti-gay former Episcopalians.  ACNA has had a rough couple of years during which its claim to belong to the worldwide Communion was rejected by its governing entities.

Last June it got a shot in the arm when ex-SC bishop Mark Lawrence and congregations loyal to him announced they had joined ACNA's ranks.   

Whatever joy ACNA felt over the merger was cut short less than two months later when the SC Supreme Court ruled that only six pro-Lawrence parishes have legal authority to leave the Episcopal Church with their properties.  The Court also said that the corporate entity Lawrence describes as the "Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina" belongs to the Episcopal Church.


September 22, 2017
Breakaways Courting Alt-right News Media in War against the Church
Departed diocese revels in "national" coverage from major source of fake news, while its new, out-of-state public relations firm enlists local writers to attack the Episcopal Church

Earlier this week, the website of the breakaway Lawrence "diocese" reveled in headlines from a news source its readers think they've never heard of... but they have.

The Daily Caller is one of a handful of ultra-right, online news organizations, largely responsible for twisting or otherwise inventing news stories to degrade public officials, political candidates, and others they don't like.  Many of its stories have racist, anti-immigrant, and anti-Muslim overtones, and have even been linked to the recent racial violence in Charlottesville.  

The Daily Caller is a first cousin to Breitbart News, led by white nationalist Steve Bannon, and FOX News.  The three routinely appear to replicate dubious stories created by the others to make them seem more credible to unsuspecting readers.

Lawrence team revels in news stories it is paying for

This week The Caller published a story on the Lawrencians' most recent version of their schism with the cooperation of their leadership.  Not only did Lawrence's team republish the article on its own website, but gleefully sent it out in a newsletter urging his followers to resend it to their own social media networks.


But why would a despicable publication like this even be interested in a church dispute in South Carolina?   

New out-of-state PR firm now hawking breakaways' story

The Lawrence crowd has apparently hired a PR firm in Washington DC to sell its imaginative interpretation of the past five years to various news media.  The firm is even signing up and apparently paying local writers to submit letters to the editor and opinion pieces, attacking the Episcopal Church in ways that seem random and spontaneous. 

It is not clear if the Lawrencians paid the Daily Caller itself to run the story, but it is clear that the PR firm is feeding the story to The Caller's reporter and arranging interviews for him with Lawrence's top staff and supporters. 

The firm will assist writers who want to join in the bashing by arranging interviews with Lawrence, his aide-de-camp Jim Lewis, and lawyer Alan Runyon.   If a writer would like, the firm will also arrange an interview with the reporter for The Caller.


Lawrence's lieutenants are apparently trying to get national news sources to inspire ultra-conservatives to pressure our state 's Supreme Court into retroactively nullifying the vote of Associate Justice Kaye Hearn in its recent rejection of their lawsuit against the Episcopal Church. 

Lawrence's legal team officially demanded that Hearn recuse herself... thirty days
after the decision was handed down.  they made no such demand that the two male justices who voted with her be disqualified.

Disgraceful and disreputable

It is difficult to understand why Lawrencians would invest so much time and apparently money climbing into bed with such disreputable news sources.

According to a new study by 
Harvard University's Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society, the Daily Caller has provided "amplification and legitimation [for] the most extreme conspiracy sites" on the internet, and "employed anti-immigrant narratives that echoed sentiments from the alt-right and white nationalists." 


The study said that during last year's Presidential election, the publication played "a significant role in creating and disseminating stories that … stoked the belief among core Trump followers that what Clinton did was not merely questionable but criminal and treasonous.”

In an apparent effort to fan Islamophobia among voters, the Daily Caller also made the "utterly unsubstantiated and unsourced claim" that Secretary Clinton pressured the Environmental Protection Agency to close an American phosphate company to get a $15 million donation for the Clinton Foundation from the King of Morocco apparently to benefit Morocco’s state-owned phosphate company."

Move Bitch!

More recently, the Daily Caller has gotten in trouble over the ties of some of its contributors to white supremacist groups, especially one who was reportedly a key organizer in the recent pro-Confederate rally in Charlottesville.

According to this entry on Wikipedia, "In January 2017, the Daily Caller published a video which encouraged violence against protesters.  The video in question showed a car plowing through protesters, with the headline "Here's A Reel Of Cars Plowing Through Protesters Trying To Block The Road" and set to a cover of Ludacris' "Move Bitch."  (It's a video.)

"The video drew attention in August 2017 when a white supremacist plowed his car through a group of counter protesters at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville.  After the video attracted attention, the Daily Caller deleted it from its website." 

September 20, 2017
Unhinged

Lawrencians' attack on Supreme Court is coming off the rails, as senior justices blast smearing of female justice who supported the Church

An ugly legal and public relations campaign by dissident Episcopalians against a state Supreme Court justice who voted against them appeared to be coming off the rails this week.  

Lawrence's legal team went back to the Court this month and asked that it reverse an unfavorable ruling against them in their efforts to have 36 parishes to leave the Episcopal Church with their properties and the entire corporate structure of the "Diocese of South Carolina."

They filed three petitions for a rehearing addresses various issues, but the one that has inspired the most fireworks demands that Associate Justice Kaye Hearn be thrown off the case and her vote invalided, even though the case has already been decided.  The Lawrencians have never explained why they waited until after the case was decided to raise the issue.

To heighten the fury, the Lawrencians appear to have climbed into bed with a shadowy right-wing political group not especially known for its legal expertise or accuracy.  The group has published editorials in newspapers and ultraconservative media using long-discredited propaganda that the Lawrencians once employed to raise money for their cause

SC Episcopalians has learned that the campaign has been too much even for some of the Lawrence lawyers, and they have tried to distance themselves from it.  That was probably a good idea, as the state's legal community appears to be increasingly disgusted by the slimy tactics.

Retired Appeals Court Judges William T. Howell and Sam Stilwell came out swinging yesterday in defense of Hearn, describing the Lawrencian's character assassination as "an overzealous reaction to an unsuccessful appeal, which is unsupported by fact and law."  

They went on to say that the actions by Lawrencians attack against Hearn casts "an unwarranted shadow on a respectable and unimpeachable justice with more than thirty years of public service on the bench."

The attacks are similar to those launched by the Lawrencians years ago against former Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori.



September 18, 2017
Church Responds to Breakaway's Petitions for Rehearing of their Lawsuit in State Supreme Court
Breakaway attorneys argued that the justices misread the law, and that the opinion of a justice who voted against them should not be counted

Attorneys for the Episcopal Church and its continuing Diocese in South Carolina today filed relatively brief responses to three petitions filed with the state's Supreme Court ten days ago by attorneys for breakaway bishop Mark Lawrence and his followers.

Last month the high court overturned a 2015 lower court ruling allowing 36 pro-Lawrence parishes to leave the Church with their properties along with the entire corporate structure of the "Episcopal Church of South Carolina."

Lawrence's legal team took the permitted thirty days to request a rehearing of the case by lobbing everything including the kitchen sink at the Court's decision finding that 29 of the 36 pro-Lawrence parishes cannot leave the Church with their properties.  Four of the five justices said they believed that the "Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina" belonged to the Church as well, but left that to be decided by a Federal judge currently hearing a related case.

It is not the role of SC Episcopalians to judge the quality of the large numbers of legal submissions in this case.  However, this one is apparently a very good one especially given the limited time  its authors had to prepare it, according to lawyers who read this blog.

Click here to read the full response

Speculation is useless in matters like this.  Some breakaway lawyers feel the Court would not have asked the Church's attorneys to respond to their petitions if the justices did not find some merit in them.  On the other hand, pro-Church observers suggest their attorneys were only given ten days to respond to the petitions instead of an equivalent thirty days because the justices have made up their minds to reject them.


September 10, 2017
Federal and State Courts Pressing Forward to Resolve All Legal Issues in Lawrence Schism

Current and former Episcopalians have complained for the past four-plus years about the slow pace at which state and Federal courts were moving to resolve the 2013  lawsuit brought by ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence and 36 parishes allied with him against the Episcopal Church and its continuing diocese in South Carolina. 

In the state courts, pro-Lawrence congregations are asking for a declaratory judgement that they can leave the Episcopal Church with their properties, and the corporate entity known as the "Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina."  In Federal court, the Church and the recognized Episcopal Bishop in eastern South Carolina are asking that the Courts force Lawrence to stop claiming to be an "Episcopal bishop".

Now it seems these cases are moving too fast for everyone to keep up.  Here's a short summary of where everything stands.

State Supreme Court.  The state's high court ruled August 2nd that 29 of the pro-Lawrence parishes cannot leave the Church with their properties without the consent of the Church.  The Court found that these parishes had at some time in their histories declared themselves to be part of the Episcopal Church and as such the Church had an ownership interest in their assets.

Four of the five justices indicated that they believed the Church owned the "Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina."  However, they declined to include that in their ruling, pending its resolution in a related case before U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel in Charleston.

Thirty days after the decision was rendered, Lawrence's legal team filed three petitions asking the Supreme Court to rehear the case.  Requests for rehearings are not uncommon, especially in complex cases like this. 

Last week the justices asked attorneys for the Church and the continuing  diocese, known as The Episcopal Church in South Carolina (TECSC), to respond to the three petitions.   As of this writing, attorneys for the Church and the TECSC are busy doing exactly that.

U.S. Fourth Circuit.  In 2013, the Rt. Rev. Charles vonRosenberg, the duly recognized Bishop of South Carolina, filed a lawsuit against Lawrence, his predecessor, who was claiming that he was the rightful Episcopal Bishop in eastern South Carolina even though he had formally declared in 2012 that he was no longer an Episcopalian. 

VonRosenberg's lawsuit (now inherited to the Rt. Rev. Skip Adams) is based on the Federal Lanham Act, a law designed to prevent false advertising.


The Federal judge in whose lap the case first landed decided to sit on the matter while Lawrence's lawsuit worked its way through the state courts system.  That judge died this summer. 

Gergel took over the case, and declared that it would go to trial in March 2018. 

Gergel has asked both sides to attempt to mediate the issues in the case to avoid a lengthy trial.  Mediation will not stop normal pretrial activity from going forward as there is no guarantee that it will work.  Gergel has asked retired Federal Judge Joe Anderson to serve as mediator.

The outcome of this Federal case is likely to resolve all state and Federal issues that have been raised by the two lawsuits, without disturbing the ruling from the state's high court. 

It almost certainly means that the "Diocese of South Carolina" and its assets like St. Christopher Camp & Conference Center will revert to Church ownership.

Speculating on court decisions is, of course, a high-risk enterprise that almost always finds the sources of the speculation with egg on their faces.  We can be sure that much of the action in the coming months will be spent out of the public's view as the state Supreme Court justices wrestle with Lawrence's petitions for rehearing, and Judge Anderson attempts to fashion a comprehensive resolution of the issues raised at the Federal level.


September 4, 2017
Mediation Report Roils Clergy, Laity on both Sides
Continuing Diocese waited six days to comment on Court-ordered negotiations

Last Friday Mark Lawrence's lead attorney set off a firestorm when he  disclosed that lawyers for breakaways and the Church had agreed to a mediation of all Federal and state issues involved in Lawrence's attempt schism... three days earlier

Not only were clergy and lay people stunned at the idea of closed-door meetings to negotiate their futures ... many were furious that news of the Court-ordered mediation, under the direction of U.S. District Judge Joe Anderson, had been kept from them. 

In the case of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina, the story was not announced until today... six days after it had been agreed to on Aug. 30th.

The story broke as Lawrence's chief strategist, attorney Alan Runyon, asked the state Supreme Court for more time to prepare petitions for a rehearing of an appeal of a 2015 lower court ruling awarding ownership of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina to its ex-bishop and freedom to leave the Episcopal Church to 36 congregations loyal to him.

As part of his request, Runyon mentioned that U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel, who is presiding over a false advertising case against Lawrence in Federal Court, had ordered the mediation and that both sides had agreed to it.

SC Episcopalians received several anxious emails and phone calls, especially from loyal Episcopalians who'd been ejected from their Lawrence-majority congregations nearly five years ago:  "We should have a say in our future and not have some deal forced on us," said one disaffected parishioner.

Members of breakaway congregations continue to remember the failure of Lawrence's attorneys to ask them about a settlement offer in 2015 in which they would have received full ownership of their parish properties.  

The first time lay people heard about that offer was after it had been rejected by their lawyers.  "Why are we the last ones to hear about things like this," said a friend of SC Episcopalians in a breakaway congregation, who still talks to us.

Runyon broke the news Friday afternoon, which meant many loyalist and breakaway clergy were blindsided on Sunday morning when parishioners asked about it.

Mediation doesn't hold up other legal proceedings in either the state or Federal courts.  It can also fail.  In this case, the issues are so complex and emotionally charged that it would be divine intervention for sure if a satisfactory agreement is reached.

Dr. Ron Caldwell has written  an excellent summary of the suggested mediation process for Federal mediators. 


September 1, 2017
Breakaway Attorneys Ask High Court to Reconsider Aug. 2nd Ruling
Requests for rehearing targets justices' misapprehending the law and Justice Hearn's participation in the case

Lawyers for Mark Lawrence and 36 parishes aligned with him today asked the state's Supreme Court to re-hear the appeal of a lower court ruling in which they were awarded full ownership of their buildings, properties, and financial holdings.  The ruling was a result of a 2013 lawsuit filed by Lawrence and the parishes asking for a declaratory judgement that would allow them to leave the Episcopal Church with these various assets. 

The Episcopal Church appealed that ruling to the state Supreme Court and, on August 2nd, it was overturned by a slim majority.  In essence, the high court said that the Episcopal Church had an ownership interest in these assets, and therefore the congregations could not leave the Church with them without its consent. 

   Click here to read petition for rehearing on the legal merits  


   Click here to read breakaways' attack on Justice Hearn


In the unlikely event that the Court should decide that the case should be re-heard, the job would fall to the current members of the Court who include two newcomers elected to fill vacanies created when Chief Justices Jean Toal and Costa Pleicones retired.

Scrambling


The breakaways' 40-member legal team appeared to be somewhat in disarray this afternoon as they asked the Court for a 15-day extension to file their rehearing request... on top of the 15 days they automatically got under Court rules, and another 15 days they'd requested and received.  

The request for an extension today was not approved leaving the attorneys piecing together a rehearing request at mid-afternoon.  Apparently it was filed before the 5 p.m. deadline.

Attorneys for Lawrence and the parishes justified their requests on what they believe were the justices' misapprehension of the legal precedents that shaped their opinions in the case.  Their filings do not appear to break any new ground or raise issues that were not clearly addressed in the Court's decision.

Hearn

However, the Lawrencians did submit a voluminous motion in which they bitterly attacked Justice Kaye Hearn, claiming that four years ago she was a loyal Episcopalian in a parish that was openly hostile to the Church's leadership, and as such her judgement was compromised.


During oral arguments before the Court, Hearn was well-versed in Lawrence's bad acts as a bishop sworn to support the "doctrine, discipline, and worship" of the Episcopal Church but appearing to do exactly the opposite. 

However, former Chief Justice Jean Toal was no less critical of Lawrence, suggesting that his acts of disloyalty may have compromised his authority as a legitimate bishop in the Church.   Toal also has been criticzed for participation in the case because of her close personal ties to individuals on Lawrence's legal team.  This same criticism was raised when she carried the day for breakaways in the Court's 2009 ruling in the matter of All Saints'.

Today's filings did not appear to explain why the Lawrencians waited until after the case was decided to object to Hearn's participation.


The main opinion in the Court's ruling, written by former Chief Justice Costa Pleicones, relied heavily on a series of U.S. Supreme Court cases reaching back to 1872 in which the Constitution's protections for denominations like the Episcopal Church evolved.  In doctrinal disputes like the one created by Lawrence, state courts are obligated to defer to the governing bodies of the Church. 

Pleicones reasoning also followed that of other state courts handling recent breakaway cases in North Carolina, Georgia, Virginia, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Oregon.
 

Federal Judge names a mediator in Federal case

Meanwhile, SC Episcopalians has learned that U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel has asked the parties in a related lawsuit in Federal Court to try to mediate the outstanding issues in the case, and named retired Federal Judge Joe Anderson to serve as mediator. 

It is not clear if either side in the case actually requested the mediation, or if they are prepared to make any major concessions.



August 27, 2017
New History of the Schism is Spellbinding

No kidding.
Ron Caldwell's new book is a must-read for every loyal and not-so-loyal South Carolina Episcopalian

On August 2nd, Dr. Ron Caldwell had a hold-the-presses moment like no other.  
After nearly two years, he and the publisher of his History of the Episcopal Church Schism in South Carolina were done waiting for the state's inscrutable Supreme Court to rule on Mark Lawrence's lawsuit against the Episcopal Church.  They reluctantly decided to move forward with its publication in the next few days with or without the Court's cooperation


However, just as he had done every Wednesday since September 2015, Ron checked the Court's website for freshly issued opinions, and was stunned to discover a somewhat unremarkable entry for a ruling in "Protestant Episcopal Church vs. Episcopal Church".

Instantly, he was on the phone to the publisher, who had not started the actual printing, and wrangled a little more time to read the 77-page opinion and cobble together a new ending.

The result is a remarkable, unblemished history of the origins of the recent schism in the Episcopal Church in South Carolina, right up to what could well turn out to be its defining moment.  With an historian's eye for detail, Ron describes every critical moment in the dismembering of one of the Church's grandest dioceses at the hands of an angry spirit, blinded by zeal and misplaced righteousness.

The book is based on endless hours of  interviews with key players on both sides, meticulously researched minutes of meetings and diocesan records, private communications between diocesan leaders, and Dr. Caldwell's own eye-witnessing of important events.

The history of the Diocese is an elegant and complex story of a determined Christian witness, challenged for more than three centuries to make sense of the Gospel in a part of Kingdom crippled by slavery, racism, sexism, and most recently, homophobia.

Now, as the Diocese attempts to navigate an uncertain future, it does so through this new, very important lens that Dr. Caldwell has so generously provided.

For its first two centuries, the story of the Diocese of South Carolina was chronicled in the works of prominent historians, Fredric Dalcho and Albert Sidney Thomas.  Among others, the late Nick Zeigler added significantly to that body of work, as did Chancellor Thomas Tisdale and Archdeacon Calhoun Walpole.

Now, the name of Ronald James Caldwell can be added to that esteemed list to be remembered always for his gift of clarity and healing as a transformed Diocese ventured forth into a new era of bearing witness to the life-giving Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Click here to order your copy of Dr. Caldwell's remarkable history.  Click here to read recent new entries on his blog
 

August 24, 2017 
False Advertising Case against Lawrence goes to trial in March

Episcopal Church joins in Federal lawsuit over ownership of the 'Diocese of South Carolina' and false advertising by former Bishop Lawrence


CHARLESTON - The last thing Mark Lawrence's legal dream team wanted was to try any part of its case for leaving the Episcopal Church in Federal Court... and for more than four years they have kept that from happening.

However, all that changed today. 

Over the strenuous objections of Lawrence's attorneys, U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel ruled that a lawsuit filed in 2013 by the Church's actual bishop of South Carolina, alleging 'false advertising' by Lawrence, would finally be heard in March.  

The case is aimed squarely at Lawrence's claim that he and his followers own the the "Diocese of South Carolina."  

The Rt. Rev. Charles vonRosenberg -- now replaced by the Rt. Rev. Skip Adams -- filed the lawsuit alleging that Lawrence was masquerading as a bishop in the Episcopal Church after he claimed he had left the Church, and filed a massive lawsuit in state court claiming that he was the rightful owner of the "Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina" and that the "Diocese" and 36 parishes aligned with him were free to leave the Church with property and assets worth nearly $500 million. 

VonRosenberg claimed that this amounted to false advertising by Lawrence, and was creating confusion that was interfering in his efforts to lead the Church's legitimate Diocese.

See filings from Federal court


Lawrence argues that in January 2013 and later in 2015, Dorchester County Circuit Judge Diane Goodstein awarded him and his supporters the "marks" of the corporate entity known as the "Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina."  Consequently, as head of that corporate entity, he says he is an "Episcopal bishop." 

Marks are things like corporate seals, trademarked names, etc. that can only be used by the legitimate owner of the corporate entity.

The state Supreme Court overturned most of Goodstein's ruling, but four of the five justices agreed that the Federal court should rule on the legitimacy of Lawrence claim that he is "an Episcopal Bishop" because he holds the corporate marks of the "Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina."

The Church is also asking for a full audit of its assets and property while under Lawrence's direction, and for attorneys fees to cover it court costs.  Over the last five years reports have surfaced suggesting that under Lawrence, assets of the Diocese and some of its parishes intended for the work of the Episcopal Church, may have been relocated.

Until today, the parties in the lawsuit were just the two bishops.  However, since the ruling by the state's Supreme Court this month, attorneys for the Episcopal Church have argued that the Church has a direct interest in the resolution of the case and should be allowed to join the lawsuit. 

Gergel agreed, and allowed the Church to join its continuing Diocese as a plaintiff in the case. 

Read a summary of today's actions in here



August 24, 2017

Lawrence Issues Pastoral Letter
Calls for a day of fasting and prayer, and urges support for his clergy

Mark Lawrence is always at his best as a pastor.  This week he issued a sobering pastoral letter to his followers as they prepare for an uncertain future in the wake of a devastating ruling from the South Carolina Supreme Court earlier this month.

In his letter, he announced that he and his followers would hold a day of fasting and prayer next Wednesday, that his legal team would file a petition for rehearing with the Court on or before September 1st, and that his clergy, whose lives will be turned upside down as the Court decision is implemented, are in need of support and encouragement.

While Lawrence translated the rehearing request as “this litigation is not over,” he did not mention any plans to appeal the ruling to the United States Supreme Court or attempts to delay its implementation after the question of a rehearing is resolved.  

A request for rehearing is largely pro-forma in large cases like this.

He also did not mention a pending Federal lawsuit by the bishop of the Church’s continuing Episcopal Diocese claiming that Lawrence is and has been impersonating a bishop in the Episcopal Church since he announced that he was no longer an Episcopalian in late 2012.

Earlier this month the high court ruled that only seven of the 36 parishes that sought to leave the Church with Lawrence could actually do so.  In the eyes of the Court, at no point in their history had they explicitly agreed to be subject to the Constitution and Canons of the Church. 

A majority of the justices said they believe the “Diocese of South Carolina” belonged to the Episcopal Church, but would leave final resolution of the matter to U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel, who will hear the Federal case in the coming months.

Lawrence’s concern for the well-being of his clergy is surely weighing heavily on him.  When they left the Episcopal Church with Lawrence, they had to drop out of the Church Pension Fund, which may well be one of the best retirement plans in the world.  They also had to drop their health insurance coverage and join a plan with higher costs and less security.

In the aftermath of such devastating news, Lawrence used his letter to sound a hopeful tone by pointing to the future.  “We have humbled ourselves under the mighty hand of God (I Peter 5:6); and are confident that God shall either restore and establish us or empower us to move out in bold new ventures for Jesus Christ, his Gospel, and his Kingdom.”

August 20, 2017
Breakaway Diocese in Chaos 
Aborted attempt at spin control mirrors deeper confusion over future direction

Mark Lawrence's breakaway "Diocese of South Carolina" has been in a circle-the-wagons mode since early this month when the state's Supreme Court rejected his nearly five-year-old lawsuit against the Episcopal Church.  Lawrence himself admitted that he was stunned when he learned that only seven of 36 parishes that joined him in the lawsuit could leave the Church with full title to their property.  

When the ruling came down, Lawrence's lawyers announced almost immediately that they would petition the five justices for a re-hearing.  However, that was clearly more of a knee-jerk response to encourage the faithful than evidence of a coherent legal strategy for moving forward.  

The lawyers had no idea how they would proceed.  They had been so confident of winning that it seemed that they had not even considered potential next steps if they lost.  Even Lawrence was defensive and uncharacteristically defeatist in his response.  Some close to him say that he is worried that his actions in creating the lawsuit may have also created legal liabilities for himself.

Support for extended legal ventures appears to be waning

Support for further legal appeals among pro-Lawrence parishes is not as unanimous as it once seemed, as far as SC Episcopalians can tell.   

We know some Lawrence clergy are telling their parish leaders that they are skeptical of the various strategies being floated by Lawrencian lawyers, and feel the time will be right for settlement talks with the Church once the rehearing request is laid to rest.  They dismiss as unhelpful the harsh rhetoric of hardline Lawrence clergy who've taken to their pulpits to assure parishioners that their full repatriation in the Episcopal Church is years away because the case will be tied up in appeals.  

Morale among Lawrence supporters appears to be the lowest it has ever been, and Lawrence's leadership team is increasingly under pressure to explain why breakaway parishes were not given the opportunity to vote on a 2015 settlement offer by which the Church would have relinquished any claims it had on parish properties, and allowed them to leave the Church.

"Looks like we are worse off than before Lawrence," said one layperson in a pro-Lawrence parish in an email to SC Episcopalians.

Even if money and support is there to mush forward, an appeal in this case will be very difficult, given the legal corner into which Lawrence's attorneys have painted themselves. 

Appeals are tricky and could backfire

A successful appeal to the United States Supreme Court would require Lawrence's  lawyers to argue that the case raises significant Constitutional issues, which is exactly the opposite of what they have been saying since January 2013 when they filed their lawsuit against the Church.  They have been arguing that the lawsuit is simply a property dispute that can be adjudicated solely by state courts.

Even more discouraging is that the opinions of the two justices that did side with Lawrence are those most likely to be considered by Federal courts as outliers and in error. 

On the other hand, the majority opinion, written by former Chief Justice Costa Pleicones, is more in the legal mainstream and based on existing Federal case law.  It follow the logic of similar cases in other states that have been resolved.  He cited many settled cases that would have to be overturned for a higher court to find in Lawrence's favor.

There is also the question of what an appeal might mean for the seven Lawrence parishes in which the Supreme Court said the Church did not have an interest.  An appeal would risk an outcome that could overrule that part of the decision and deny them and any other similarly situated parishes the chance to leave the Church.

Once ridiculed Federal lawsuit could bring breakaway movement to an end

However, a rehearing or an appeal to the nation's high court is nothing in comparison to an upcoming challenge in Federal Court, which could well deal a death blow to what is left of the breakaway movement in South Carolina, and maybe even the country.  

The case is a lawsuit brought by former South Carolina Bishop Charles vonRosenberg against Lawrence, demanding that he be barred from pretending that he is a bishop in the Episcopal Church.   The case comes under the heading of false advertising, but goes to the legitimacy of Lawrence's claim that he is the leader of the "Diocese of South Carolina" even though he is not recognized as such by the Church and has said repeatedly that he is not an Episcopalian.

Lawyers for the Episcopal Church were not involved in bringing the Federal case, but now could be interested in asking the judge in the case to expand its scope to include larger issues that could even affect how breakaway lawsuits are handled in the future in other states.   

A majority on the state Supreme Court said they would have ruled that the "Diocese of South Carolina" belongs to the Episcopal Church, but left the matter to the Federal Court.

For more than four years, the late U.S. District Judge Weston Houck refused to let vonRosenberg's lawsuit (now Adams') go forward until Lawrence's lawsuit had run its course in the state courts.  Houck took the side of Lawrence's attorneys that the two cases were so similar that it would make sense for one to be decided first as it would very likely influence the outcome of the other. 

Lawrence's attorneys cheered Houck's position at the time, without realizing the potential negative consequence for Lawrence should the state case go south on them.  It was in hearings about this case that breakaway attorneys ridiculed Bishop vonRosenberg by consistently mangling the pronunciation of his name and, at one point, referring to him as "the German bishop."

Attempt to explain case points to confusion within Lawrence team

This morning someone on Lawrence's staff made an awkward attempt to put recent events into perspective for his followers by publishing - and then deleting - a "Frequently Asked Questions" page on its official website.  Most of the piece was a rehashing of five years of anti-Church propaganda.

However, it also it included admissions that seem to undermine critical arguments Lawrence's lawyers will need for their case for rehearing as well as defending Lawrence in Federal Court. 

One of the most significant of these was that the breakaways' motivation for filing the massive lawsuit against the Church was doctrinal and theological differences. 

This point may seem obscure to most of us, but it is hugely important to judges.  
If a dispute involving a Church like the Episcopal Church involves doctrine and interpretation of Scripture, the United States Constitution requires state court judges to defer to the Church's governing authority in making its ruling.  Lawrence has argued that the matter is simply a property dispute that should be decided by the state's property laws.

However, the 3-2 majority in the state's Supreme Court rejected Lawrence's claim and decided that this his beef with the Church is, in fact, a theological dispute masquerading as a property case, and that the position of the Church was relevant in determining the outcome of the case.  

In its FAQs today, under the heading of "why did we disassociate from the Episcopal Church?," the breakaway website cited its "theology, morality, and polity increasingly at odds with the rapidly changing and unprecedented positions" of the Episcopal Church.

The site went on to bitterly attack the theology of the then-Presiding Bishop and her predecessor, while providing a link to an article by Lawrence' lieutenant Jim Lewis that says, "Members of the diocese who voted to leave TEC feel the denomination has moved away from the authority of Scripture and their historic Anglican beliefs."

All of these admissions affirm the opinion of the Court majority that the case was always about doctrine and Scripture.  

The new FAQs page vanished from the breakaway website after only a few hours.


August 9, 2017
Federal Case Reassigned Again
U.S. District Judge who presided over the Dylan Roof trial will preside over Impersonation trial against Lawrence

CHARLESTON -  The lawsuit of vonRosenberg (now Adams) vs Lawrence will be tried in Charleston under the eyes of United States District Judge Richard Gergel, a highly regarded jurist with a history of taking on controversial cases.  

This case alleges that Mark Lawrence is violating the Federal Lanham Act by falsely advertising himself as an Episcopal bishop.  
The lawsuit doesn't directly involve the Church or Lawrence's followers, just Episcopal Bishop Skip Adams and former Bishop Lawrence. 

The lawsuit is a backdoor to having the Federal Court declare that Adams, who is duly recognized and elected by the Episcopal Church, is the rightful bishop and, as such, leads its Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina. 

An outlier state circuit court had declared that Lawrence was the rightful leader of the Diocese in 2015.

The case had been languishing for four years in the courtroom of  Federal Judge Weston Houck, who passed away last month.   The case was first reassigned to Judge Michael Duffy, then reassigned to Judge Margaret Seymour. 

Judge Gergel's most recent high profile case was that of Dylan Roof, who murdered nine people at Charleston's Emanuel AME Church in June 2015.


The case is almost certain to return the Diocese of South Carolina and its assets and property to the Episcopal Church.  Last week a majority of justices on the state Supreme Court agreed that that the Church owned its diocese, but deferred to this case in Federal court for a final decision.



August 7, 2017
Lawrencian Leadership Wants to Slog It Out

"Standing Committee" of Lawrence organization tells legal team to press on with legal case in spite of lawsuit fatigue

In spite of losses in income, membership, and in the courts, Mark Lawrence's Standing Committee says it still trusts the legal team that has led them on an expensive and disastrous odyssey to leave the Episcopal Church.

In a statement today, the leadership of the organization authorized its legal team to ask for a rehearing on the Supreme Court's recent decision declaring that 29 of the 36 parishes that tried to leave the Episcopal Church with Lawrence in 2012 belong to the Episcopal Church.  A majority of the Court also said it believed that the Diocese of South Carolina and its millions of dollars in assets -- including Camp St. Christopher -- belong to the Church, but left that decision up to a Federal judge in a related case.

Lawyers for Lawrence, led by Beaufort Attorney Allan Runyon, believe that if they are granted a rehearing, they can exploit sharp disagreements between the justices that were evident in Court's opinion.  The five-member Court that heard the case in 2015 was comprised of the active justices at that time.  However, two of them have retired and the Republican legislature has replaced them with two conservatives. 

Click here for the full story


________________________________

 SC Supreme Court 
August 5, 2017

Bishop Lawrence Responds to Supreme Court Ruling

He is reviewing options with his legal team this week to determine next steps

Click here to read his comments in full

___________________________________________

August 5, 2017
Where Do We Stand Now?
An excellent summary of the legal status of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina and the breakaway "Diocese of South Carolina"

Click here to visit Dr. Ron Caldwell's excellent blog


August 4, 2017

Righteous

I can go for days without thinking about righteousness. 

I know it is a good thing but, seriously, would you want to be married to someone who lists his or her best trait as "righteous," or go to a Super Bowl party to which only righteous people were invited?  Not really.

A few months ago, the Dean of St. Philip’s Cathedral in Atlanta preached a sermon that inspired many in the congregation to rethink our ambivalence toward righteousness.  He challenged us to re-imagine its traditional Biblical context, and think of it as meaning in a right relationship with God and our neighbors.

That was on my mind this week in the wake of the state Supreme Court ruling.  Many Episcopalians and former Episcopalians are taking stock of what their side has gained and lost.  Most of us know all too well what we’ve lost.  We are still struggling to understand what we have gained.  

Most of us are still handicapped by our us-versus-them mindset.

Lawyers are in overdrive combing the 77-page opinion for any speck of opportunity to advance the cause of their clients in appeals or even new litigation.  Lay people are needlessly fretting about the future of their church home or concerned that their children will be denied access to Camp St. Christopher.  


Most regrettable is that once close friends and families have been torn apart by the traumatic events of the past 15 years.  We have put so much energy into accusing each other of un-Christian and un-Biblical behavior, that we have had little left over to feed the hungry, care for the sick, comfort the oppressed… or care for each other.

“Lawsuit fatigue” is what a friend in one of the breakaway parishes calls it.

My suggestion is that all of us make it our mission – our priority, in fact -- to figure out what it will take to get us into right relationships with each other again.  We can’t go back in time, so we might actually have to take some risks and create something new and untested.

Righteousness is understood in parts of the Bible as a state of moral perfection essential for admission into the Kingdom of Heaven.

However, we cannot make ourselves righteous, nor can the courts, nor can a lifetime of good deeds and kind words in a good church. 

Righteousness comes from God and God alone.  It's a gift.


Perhaps then, our calling in this present time is to create those right relationships with each other that in some time of his own choosing, God’s transforming spirit will enter our hearts anew … and make us whole.

______________________

 

August 2, 2017 (revised 8.22.17)

Breakaways' Lawsuit Implodes

State's Supreme Court issues mixed opinion in Lawrence lawsuit, as lower court decision is mostly shredded 


Seven parishes can leave TEC, while 29 others must remain

Lower court's premise that Episcopal Church is not "hierarchical"  is rejected

Federal false advertising case will likely determine ownership of the "Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina" but a majority of the justices believe it belongs to the Church; St. Christopher will likely return to Church control as well


COLUMBIA -- The Episcopal Church and its continuing Diocese in eastern South Carolina won a stunning victory today, as the state's Supreme Court ruled on a 2013 lawsuit filed by former bishop Mark Lawrence and parishes aligned with him. 

In a vigorously engaged opinion, the Court overturned a 2015 lower court ruling that gave followers of ex-bishop Mark Lawrence control of parish properties and diocesan assets worth an estimated $500 million.   The lower court judge also gave them the corporate entity known as "The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina" and its Camp St. Christopher on Seabrook Island south of Charleston.

Today the Court determined that 29 of the 36 parishes that had joined Lawrence in his lawsuit were still part of the Episcopal Church, and not free to "disassociate" from the Church because the Church had a property interest in them.

The Court determined that there was no property interest evident with seven of the parishes aligned with Lawrence and they were free to leave the Church with their properties. 
Those parishes are St. John's in Florence, St. Paul's in Conway, St. Matthew's in Darlington, Prince George's in Georgetown, Christ the King in Pawleys Island, St. Matthias in Summerton, and St. Andrew's (and St. Andrew's Land Trust) in Mount Pleasant. 

The justices also said they would leave the decision of corporate ownership up to a Federal judge who is handling a related case in Charleston.

  Read the full opinion here  

Click here to read our full updated story

______________________

 SC Supreme Court  
August 2, 2017
Continuing Diocese Looks for Reconciliation
Bishop Adams urges gracious response to ruling;  There has been too much hurt on both sides, he says

The South Carolina Supreme Court today issued a ruling in our appeal of the state court decision in Dorchester County, and that decision is generally in favor of The Episcopal Church in South Carolina. We are grateful for this decision and for the hard work of the court in rendering it. We also give thanks to God for the faithfulness, support, and sacrifices of countless Episcopalians within our diocese and throughout the Church.

 

This is a lengthy and detailed ruling, and our legal team and leadership will be studying it closely in the days ahead. It is important to note that the legal system allows for periods of judicial review and possible appeal, so it will be some time before we can say with certainty what the journey ahead will look like. Please be patient and know that we will keep you updated along the way as information becomes available to us.

 

As clergy and lay leaders, you are likely to have opportunities to respond to the ruling within your congregation, as well as to the wider public. As you consider what to say, please keep in mind that 

 

- This ruling is one step on a longer journey and much is unknown at this point. Speculation will not be helpful.

 

- We can give thanks to God while avoiding excessive celebration. Kindness and graciousness are in order.

 

- Remember that our ultimate goal is reconciliation and unity, joining with our Lord in the desire that we all may be one.

 

- We ask for your ongoing prayer for the life of the Church in the service of Christ.  

 

In the next few days, we will continue to communicate with the clergy and lay leadership about what is taking place. A formal statement from the Bishop’s Office will be issued to the public later today. We anticipate calling a meeting soon for diocesan leadership to review the decision, receive legal advice and consider the next steps.

 

If concerns arise or situations develop that we need to be aware of, or that you would like guidance about, please be in touch with my office by phone or email.


The Rt. Reverend Skip Adams



 Federal Case  
July 28, 2017

New Judge Named in Bishop Impersonation Case
U.S. District Judge Michael Duffy ruled in favor of the continuing Diocese in a related case

CHARLESTON -- With the death of Federal Judge Weston Houck, a lawsuit alleging that ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence has been falsely advertising himself as an Episcopal bishop may finally go to trial.   Lawrence was sued by the legally-recognized Episcopal Bishop in South Carolina in 2013, who claimed Lawrence had left the Church the previous year, but was still running around pretending to be an Episcopal bishop.

The "false advertising" case was assigned to Judge Houck who appeared to have little appetite for seeing it go to trial.  At the time Houck was in his eighties and thought to be in poor health.  He refused to hear the matter until a lawsuit, filed against the Church by Lawrence in state court, was resolved.  

Houck was twice ordered by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond to get off the dime and move forward with the case.  At the time of his passing, Houck had ordered pre-trial depositions in the case to proceed. 

The new judge has previously ruled in favor of the Church in a related case by the continuing Diocese

Taking over from Houck will be Federal Judge Patrick Michael Duffy, a gregarious Charleston lawyer named to the Federal bench by President Bill Clinton in 1995.  Duffy served for nearly 15 years, until he took senior status in 2009.  He is a Citadel and University of South Carolina law school graduate.

Duffy's name may be familiar to those who have been following Lawrence's exit from the Church.   In a largely unpublicized decision in 2015, Duffy ruled that the Church Insurance Company had to cover the legal costs incurred by the continuing Diocese in defending itself from Lawrence's lawsuit. 

The substance of the case had to do with the coverage requirements of the insurance policy, but among its outcomes was that Duffy effectively recognized the continuing Diocese, known as "The Episcopal Church in South Carolina," as the legitimate representative of the Episcopal Church in the eastern half of the state.

Lawrence's "false advertising" started when he and his followers experienced a dramatic decline in membership and income after announcing they were leaving the Episcopal Church. They justified the charade by claiming that "episcopal" means "bishop", and they had a bishop.  Hence they were "Episcopal."


And then there is the small print...


Ironically, it was Lawrence who acquired the insurance policy pre-exodus when he was trying to convince his followers that former Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori was preparing to takeover their parishes and fill them with gays and lesbians. 

Among the provisions of the policy was a requirement that the insurance company only had to cover legal expenses in the event the Diocese was sued.  Lawrence failed to cancel the policy when he took off, and consequently the continuing Diocese had coverage for its legal bills when Lawrence sued it.  

Lawrence's lawsuit, claiming that he and his followers are the owners of parish property and financial assets valued in the hundreds of millions of dollars, has been awaiting a decision by the South Carolina Supreme Court for nearly two years.

SC Episcopalians
believes that the Lawrencians have also engaged in illegal behavior by referring to themselves as "Anglicans."  The Episcopal Church is the only officially-recognized entity in the United States as being part of the Anglican Communion.  An individual or parish can only claim to be Anglican if its belongs to the Episcopal Church.  The Anglican Church of North America to which Lawrence et al have affiliated themselves is an ad hoc assembly of dissident Episcopalians and Canadian Anglicans.

ACNA is not recognized by any of the official governing bodies of the Communion.  The Archbishop of Canterbury who leads the Communion describes it as "a separate Church.... not part of the Communion."


July 20, 2017

Federal Judge in Church Case has Died
Houck was moving forward with the case of ex-Episcopal bishop Mark Lawrence impersonating a real one

U.S. District Judge Weston Houck died this morning. 

A native of Florence, he was appointed to the Federal bench in 1979 by President Jimmy Carter and has handled his share of legal hot potatoes. 

Perhaps his most memorable case was that of a lawsuit against The Citadel's male-only admissions policies.  Houck said there was no Constitutional basis for denying women the same opportunities as men.

Houck was well into his eighties and battling poor health in 2013 when he was assigned a lawsuit filed by the Episcopal Church in South Carolina alleging that Mark Lawrence, its former bishop and ex-Episcopalian, was pretending to be an Episcopal bishop. "False advertising," as it is known in law.


Houck allowed the case to languish by refusing to hear it until the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled in a lawsuit brought by Lawrence in January 2013 claiming that he and his followers own Church property and assets valued in the hundreds of millions of dollars.  

SC Episcopalians felt the judge was far from unbiased in the matter.  In his courtroom, Houck seemed openly hostile to the Church's attorneys, while praising Lawrence's even as they mocked Charles vonRosenberg, the legitimate leader of the South Carolina diocese, as "that German bishop."

On two separate occasions, the Church turned to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond to force Houck to proceed with the case.   The second time around, it took.  Depositions of key witnesses, including Lawrence, have finally begun moving forward.  The case will likely be reassigned to another judge.

Houck will be buried in Florence, after a graveside service conducted by a former Episcopal priest now affiliated with the so-called "Anglican Church of North America."



June 28, 2017 (revised 7/3)

Lawrence Crowd Welcomed into the ACNA
Merger completes dissidents' exit from the Anglican Communion

The so-called Anglican Church of North America yesterday approved the request of followers of ex-Episcopal Bishop Mark Lawrence to be absorbed into its languishing culture war against the Anglican Communion.  

The merger is yet another giant leap into an ecclesial abyss created by Lawrence in his imaginary "war" with the Episcopal Church.   It is not even clear that the Lawrencians own their own parishes and "diocese", much less have legal authority to transfer them to another religious group.
 

Contrary to its name, the ACNA is actually not part of the 88-million-member, worldwide Anglican Communion.  The ACNA's claim of membership has been repeatedly rejected by its governing structures, including the Archbishop of Canterbury who described it as "another church... separate from the Communion".

The ACNA was founded by disgruntled members of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada seven years ago, with funding and political support from anti-gay elements of the Communion, mostly from Africa and South America.

Still, k
nowing all of this last March, Lawrence's followers voted to request a merger.  Meeting in Illinois yesterday, the ACNA's national assembly resoundingly embraced the Lawrencians as its own.  

The Anglican-ish Church of North America 

When Lawrence led his people out of the Episcopal Church in 2012, he did so with a promise that they would continue to be in the Communion.  Like many of his political promises, this was ever in the cards, but essential in winning the support of those in South Carolina who valued their Anglican heritage.  

While ACNA uses the word "Anglican" in its name, the Communion only recognizes the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada as its legitimate provinces in Canada and the United States.  To be Anglican in these two countries, you must belong to one of these two provinces.
   
ACNA's stock has been on the decline since its outlier status has been confirmed by these rejections over the past three years.  Its membership numbers seem to have stalled, and its leadership has proven largely ineffective in managing the unwieldy group of egos and dissident religious groups that have gravitated to its umbrella.  

Those divisions are likely to persist as ACNA introduces its new re-written Book of Common Prayer next year. 

Prior to yesterday's vote to include the Lawrencians, ACNA claimed to have 112,000 members in its various affiliated groups.

Anti-gay Anglican Primates fueled ACNA's founding

ACNA was founded seven years ago by ultraconservative leaders of Anglican provinces mostly in Africa and parts of Asia and South America, united largely by their loathing of gays and lesbians.  This group of Anglican Primates called themselves GAFCON, and began meeting and carrying on without the blessing or legitimacy of the Communion. 

GAFCON leaders have also been made infamous largely by their questionable alliances with despotic secular leaders in their home countries. 

This came to the attention of the wider world in 1994 when the Anglican Church of Rwanda was implicated in a nationwide genocide that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of that country's citizens.  Some GAFCON primates were also criticized for encouraging deadly fighting between Muslims and Christians in Africa. 

With the consecration of an openly gay bishop in the United States in 2003, GAFCON's leaders found a useful new enemy.  They often gave public support and encouragement to official efforts in their home countries to punish homosexuals with life imprisonment and even the death penalty.  Many were rewarded with expensive gifts and monetary donations from the governing regimes.

They also went to war against, what they saw as, the uber-liberal the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada by underwriting legal challenges to their existence, disrupting their unity, and creating ACNA.

ACNA infrastructure and authority still unclear

Lawrence’s “diocese” is now the fourth or fifth overlapping ACNA jurisdiction in eastern South Carolina, where each group has its own ways of governing and believing.  ACNA's official Bishop of the Carolinas is Steve Wood of Mount Pleasant, who was quietly selected by ACNA hierarchy, some believe, to block Lawrence from jumping from the Episcopal Church into a leadership role ACNA.  

After yesterday's vote, it was still not exactly clear how Lawrence would fit into the ACNA's super-secret hierarchy, or whether the issue has yet been resolved.


Lawrence still the lonely, but very comfortable warrior


Throughout his episcopate Lawrence has often romanticized his culture war against the Episcopal Church as a kind of military crusade. 

In his remarks to the ACNA gathering after yesterday's vote, he shamelessly likened his campaign to the homecoming of “The soldiers in WWII (who) fought for victory, sweated for victory, some bled for victory and some died for victory but they all dreamed of home – that moment when they would return to their home." 

However, Lawrence himself has hardly been struggling. 

Since announcing his departure from the Episcopal Church, he appears to have been making a good living with a full pension from the Church, and a full salary as the leader of what was left of the Episcopal Church's Diocese of South Carolina  His followers also pick up the costs of maintaining his home, his travel, and other expenses. 

During court proceedings several years ago, it was discovered that the trustees of Lawrence's  "diocese" had awarded him a ten year lease on the official residence of the Church-recognized Episcopal Bishop for $1 a year. 


Does Lawrence's move to ACNA mean anything at all?

Of course, there is considerable reason to believe that the move is meaningless, since the courts have not decided if the Lawrencian parishes and their so-called “diocese” even belong to them, much less allow them to be given over to another group.

Lawrence is locked in a bitter court battle in which he claims that he and his followers are the legal owners of property and financial assets belonging to the Episcopal Church valued in the hundreds of millions of dollars.  That case is still pending in the South Carolina Supreme Court nearly two years after it was first heard by the justices. 


March 27. 2017
Breakaways Vote to Join "Anglican Church of North America"

Lawrencians continue aimless odyssey away from the Anglican Communion

SUMMERVILLE - Episcopal parishes aligned with ex-Episcopal bishop Mark Lawrence voted unanimously today to formally apply for membership in the self-described "Anglican Church of North America". 

The 112,000-member ACNA is a loose affiliation of former Anglicans who've separated themselves from the Anglican Communion and its two provinces in North America.  ACNA's leadership will meet in June to decide on whether to accept the application
.

The ACNA describes itself as "Anglican" and a "province" of the Anglican Communion, but over the past two years its claim has been repeatedly rejected by the Instruments of Unity that govern worldwide Anglicanism.  The North American provinces of the Communion are the Anglican Church of Canada and the Episcopal Church.  The Anglican Church of Mexico is also recognized.  No parish or individual can legitimately claim to be part of the Communion without belonging to one of its 38 provinces.

Breakaways' momentum has slowed

Lawrence became the Bishop of the Episcopal Church's Diocese of South Carolina in 2008, but within six months of his consecration he was already aligning himself with a handful of ultraconservative bishops committed to using their positions to attack the Church.  They insisted that the Church was unbiblical and "sinful" for its inclusion of gays & lesbians, women in positions of spiritual authority over men, and understandings of the Bible that are inconsistent with their own literal interpretation.


Lawrence bolted from the Church in 2012 along with 38 parishes and missions loyal to him.  In January 2013 they then sued the Church and its continuing Diocese in eastern South Carolina claiming they owned nearly $500 million in Church property and financial assets, including the corporate entity known as the Diocese of South Carolina itself.

Lawrence's lawsuit made it to the state's Supreme Court nearly two years ago, where the Court's five justices heard oral arguments in September 2015 ... and have said nothing further about it.


Today's pro-ACNA vote could be rendered meaningless should the high court ever rule on this case.

Decision on Lawrence lawsuit could render ACNA vote moot

Today's vote comes after nearly two years of discernment and courting that included corralling of parishes that have grown weary of endless legal bills and unanswered questions.  Lawrence has gradually taken authority away from the parishes, such that he is basically the final authority on everything from theology to governance to politics.  

That control was made clear two years ago when the Episcopal Church offered to settle the lawsuit by relinquishing any legal claim to the property and assets of Lawrencian parishes in exchange for their withdrawing their claim to the Diocese of South Carolina corporate entity. Lawrence rejected the offer without appearing to even consult the lay people in those parishes.
 
In casting his vote today, Lawrence told the delegates "I believe a door will be opened, the fresh winds of the Spirit will blow, and a caged eagle will soar.”

Also on hand was ACNA Archbishop Foley Beach and former Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola, one of the most vocally homophobic clerics among the ultraconservative founders of ACNA.  Details of Lawrence's deal with ACNA have not been made public.


March 3, 2017
The ACNA Brings in Controversial Allies to Bolster Support for Affiliation Vote Next Saturday
Beleaguered breakaway denomination hopes merger with Lawrence "diocese" will jump start momentum lost after rejection by Anglican Communion
 

Backers of the self-described Anglican Church of North America (ACNA) are desperate for a big win next weekend as supporters of Mark Lawrence’s breakaway “diocese” end two years of discernment and decide whether to join them. 

The controversial eight-year-old denomination was created by ultraconservative elements of the Anglican Communion who aligned themselves with renegade bishops and other dissidents in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada over their acceptance of gays and lesbians, women in positions of spiritual authority, and fellow Christians who do not embrace their literal interpretations of scripture.
  
Today the ACNA claims a membership of 112,000, from among various groups that have affiliated themselves with the organization, headquartered in Pennsylvania. 


Unity and cohesion still elude ACNA

To describe the ACNA as a single, unified ecclesiastical entity is a stretch.  Even Lawrence, who supports the ACNA affiliation, has questioned how much clarity there is among the ACNA’s lines of authority and whether its structure is capable of enforcing churchwide discipline on matters of theology and doctrine.

Over the past few years, the ACNA’s momentum has stagnated as membership and income numbers appear to have slowed.  Along with this has come an identity crisis arising from its embrace of a wide range of theological traditions and repeated rejections of its claim to be “Anglican” by the leadership of the Anglican Communion. 

Because of its deep ties to the most reactionary provinces of the Communion, especially those in Africa, ACNA is also weighted down with the twin albatrosses of homophobia and misogyny.  Among ACNA’s founders are African church leaders who have supported capital punishment for gays and lesbians and accepted funds and expensive gifts from autocratic political leaders in what is arguably an exchange for Church support for their corrupt regimes.

The ACNA’s primary problem is the vagueness of what it is.  In many ways, it is still defined solely by what it is against, not how it is preparing the way for the Kingdom of God.

ACNA is hobbled by an internal governing structure that is highly secretive, deeply political, and clergy controlled.  Bishops (males only) are not elected but selected in a carefully guarded, non-transparent process.

In fact, the only thing that is clear about ACNA is that, in spite of its name, it is not part of the worldwide Anglican Communion.  Over the past two years, it has been rejected by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Primates Meeting, and the Anglican Consultative Council.  It is also on track to be denied an invitation to the 2018 Lambeth Conference, making its rejection by official Anglicanism complete.

However, a victory this week in South Carolina would give the struggling ACNA a huge boost and instant bragging rights to a 13% increase in membership, relevance, and the illusion of having recruited a prominent, well-endowed “diocese” of the Episcopal Church to its cause.

The vote will be held at the Lawrencians’ annual meeting in Summerville next Saturday. (Of course, the whole business could blow up if the state’s Supreme Court decides Mark Lawrence and his followers don’t even have the legal authority to vote themselves out of the Episcopal Church, much less join another religious organization.)


The GAFCON Road Show

The founding group of Anglican Primates that serves as the ACNA's godparents is known as GAFCON, an ad hoc group of ultraconservative elements of the Communion created to challenge its more progressive members on matters of sexuality, gender, a Biblical interpretation.  GAFCON recognizes the ACNA and the Lawrence group as part of the Anglican Communion, even though the Anglican Communion does not recognize any of the three of them as an official or even unofficial part of worldwide Anglicanism.

In what they have dubbed “The GAFCON Road Show,” supporters of the ACNA are putting on display perfect examples of what seems to be keeping the denomination from growing. To help rally the troops in South Carolina this weekend, two of GAFCON's most conservative and controversial superstars will be rolling into Mount Pleasant tonight to help seal the deal. 
 
Retired archbishops Peter Akinola of Nigeria and Peter Jensen of Australia will be holding forth tonight on the wonders of GAFCON and ACNA at St. Andrew’s Church in Mount Pleasant.  Akinola has decreed that gays are ”lower than beasts” and even supported legislation to impose criminal penalties, not just for being gay, but for saying anything positive about gays.  Jensen has likened homosexuality to alcoholism, and suggested that same-gender unions will lead to greater acceptance of polygamy and incest.



February 21, 2017
Federal Appeals Court:  Judge Houck Must Proceed in False Advertising Lawsuit Against Lawrence
Elderly District Judge has consistently refused to even hold a hearing in the case against ex-bishop

A three-judge panel today again unanimously ordered a lower court in Charleston to move forward with the case of false advertising against ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence, who says he has left the Episcopal Church even though he insists on calling himself an "Episcopal Bishop." 

The decision represents another win in Federal Court for the Episcopal Church.

The case against Lawrence was filed in March 2013 by Charles vonRosenberg, the rightful and recognized Episcopal bishop, who claimed Lawrence was creating confusion by advertising himself as a real bishop of a real diocese in the Episcopal Church. 

VonRosenberg's successor, The Right Reverend Skip Adams, has continued the legal action against Lawrence.

In the fall of 2012, Lawrence and his followers claim they left the Episcopal Church, but in January 2013 they filed a lawsuit in a state circuit court, claiming that they owned the "Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina" and an estimated $500 million in financial assets and property.  The resolution of that lawsuit is still pending before the South Carolina Supreme Court.

The Federal impersonation case has been stalemated largely because it landed in the courtroom of part-time senior judge, C. Weston Houck, who insists the Federal and state lawsuits are the same and decided he would not hear the Federal case until the state case was resolved.

In 2015, the judges of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond disagreed and ordered Houck to proceed with the case, but he has stubbornly refused.  The Church again appealed to the Fourth Circuit, and it heard oral arguments on the matter last December.  Today's ruling is a result of that second appeal.

Read the full opinion here


January 30, 2017
Pro-Lawrence Judge Drops Out of Supreme Court Contest
Sumter jurist is the sole candidate for Associate Justice seat, as legislative supporters hope to curb Court's perceived activist tendencies

S.C. Circuit Judge Diane Shafer Goodstein of Dorchester County has dropped out of the race for a highly coveted seat on South Carolina's Supreme Court.  Her decision insures the election of her only rival, Circuit Judge George "Buck" James of Sumter. 

James' shoo-in election means that Republican conservatives will complete creation of a three-man bloc on the Court to restrain newly-elected Chief Justice Don Beatty and Associate Justice Kaye Hearn, whom they fear might continue the Court's activist style under former Chief Justices Jean Toal and Costa Pleicones.

"They want someone who won't rock the boat, and Buck seems like that guy," according to one senior legislator.

Toal retired in December 2015, followed by Pleicones who retired in December 2016.  Both were key figures in leading the Court to challenge the Legislature in its failure to provide minimally adequate standards in the state's schools and to green light an ongoing ethics investigation of members of the legislature.

Balloting for judicial vacancies is scheduled to begin in the General Assembly Wednesday.

In July 2015, Goodstein presided over a two-week trial of the lawsuit brought by ex-bishop Mark Lawrence in which he laid claim to nearly $500 million in property and financial assets belonging to the Episcopal Church. 

Many in the courtroom, including SC Episcopalians, described the scene as a "circus."  Her eventual ruling in Lawrence's favor was widely mocked as an extraordinary and unsupportable invasion by a secular court into the governance of churches protected by the United States Constitution. 


Goodstein has powerful friends

Goodstein's strength among legislators was coming mainly from a long-time political alliance anchored in the legal community in Calhoun, Orangeburg, and Dorchester counties.  Lawyers associated with that alliance are among those serving on Mark Lawrence's 40-plus member legal team.

However, neither Goodstein's role in that trial nor the lameness of its outcome appeared to have had much influence on her candidacy for the high court.

None of the changes on the Court will change the make-up of the panel that heard the appeal of Goodstein's decision in September 2015.


Second wind

Meanwhile, the apparent shift in James' fortunes may be a blessing for attorney Blake Hewitt, who is in a tight three-way race for a seat on the state's Court of Appeals. 

Hewitt, who is regarded as one of the best appellate lawyers in the state, famously argued the Church's appeal to the state Supreme Court.  His argument was widely viewed as a near-fatal skewering Goodstein's judicial overreach in the matter.

Prior to today's development, James' supporters were trying to broker a deal with the Legislative Black Caucus to support their candidate in exchange for Republican support for Hewitt's principal opponent, who is African American.

With James now as the sole contender in the high court race, it appears the deal is no longer operative and may be giving Hewitt a significant boost among Republicans who no longer feel pressure to support his opponent.


January 26, 2017
Four-Year Legal Saga an Embarrassment to State and Federal Judiciary
Key issue is the extent to which government can intervene in the governing structure of churches protected by the U.S. Constitution


It took years just to have the case heard in a lower court, and now another 19 months and counting for a ruling by the State Supreme Court.  Another lawsuit in Federal Court has not even had a hearing in four years.

Ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence left the Episcopal Church with his followers in the fall of 2012, then turned around in late January 2013 and filed a lawsuit against the Church laying claim to an estimated $500 million in Church property and financial assets accumulated over the past 250+ years. 

For good measure, Lawrence then announced that he was still an Episcopal Bishop, just not one in the Episcopal Church.

The lawsuit made its way to the state's highest court in the summer of 2015, and has been stuck there ever since.  A hearing in September of that year gave Episcopalians a number of good reasons to believe that the state's five justices would make quick work of the inventive legal theories, concocted by Lawrence's team of over 40 high-paid lawyers.

However, that hasn't happened. 

The key issue before the Court is the extent to which the State of South Carolina can inject itself into the governance of a Church whose autonomy is protected by the Constitution. 

A lower court judge - Diane Goodstein - ruled in Lawrence's favor almost exactly two years ago, and not only gave him all the property and financial assets, but gave him the Church's "Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina" in its entirety.  Goodstein rejected two centuries of American jurisprudence, and determined that she was empowered to break up the Episcopal Church in South Carolina and give it to a group that was no longer a part of the Church.


Federal case even more puzzling

The continuing Diocese, known as the Episcopal Church, filed suit in Federal court alleging that Mark Lawrence was falsely advertising that he was an Episcopal Bishop, and asked for an injunction to prohibit him from the continuing ruse. 

The case as assigned to an elderly, part-time judge who refused to hear the case on the grounds that its substance was the same as the one in state court. The Church appealed his ruling, and the appeals court, ordered him to move forward.  He refused, and now, the case is once again in limbo.

Fortunately, the continuing Diocese has been able to re-establish itself somewhat, even though the Lawrencians continue to hold onto its assents and spend its funds. 


January 15, 2017
Key Actors in Lawrence's Legal Drama Seeking New Jobs

Erratic circuit judge eyes election to state's Supreme Court

On February 1st, the General Assembly will elect a new Supreme Court justice and a new member of the state's Court of Appeals, and loyal Episcopalians will easily recognize two of the semi-finalists as separately being responsible for the highest and lowest points in the legal struggle over Mark Lawrence's still unresolved four-year-old lawsuit laying claim to an estimated $500 million in Church assets and property.

Dorchester County Judge Diane Shafer Goodstein, who oversaw what was surely one of the most bizarre and biased trials in the history of the state's judiciary, is running for a vacant seat on the Supreme Court against two others. Two years ago, Goodstein ruled that Lawrence and his followers owned the entire Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, including its name, even though they no longer considered themselves members of the Episcopal Church. 

While most members of the Republican General Assembly view her as a Democrat, Goodstein has been on the bench a long time and has strong ties to old political networks that still wield a great deal of behind-the-scenes influence.

Horry County attorney Blake Hewitt is once again seeking a seat on the state's Court of Appeals. The 39-year-old Hewitt was unknown to most Episcopalians until September 2015, when he dazzled the Supreme Court (and its online audience) with a riveting attack on Goodstein's ruling. 

In his 20-minute presentation, Hewitt managed to elicit from the justices a general consensus that Goodstein's decision ran counter to over two centuries of established American jurisprudence and that the cornerstone of Lawrence's novel legal theory - the 2009 ruling in case of All Saints', Pawleys Island - was irrelevant to the issues raised in the lawsuit.

Hewitt only joined the Church's legal team months before his presentation to the high court. Following Goodstein's ruling, Diocesan Chancellor Thomas Tisdale hired Hewitt after polling attorneys throughout the state on the identity of "the best appellate attorney in South Carolina."
 

Tisdale said there was little disagreement that Hewitt was the best person for the job.


Oddly, SC Episcopalians ended up in a meeting with both candidates and lawmakers last week at the State House.  We left with the impression that the involvement of the candidates in the Church's schism case could affect the way some of the legislators vote.

The election of a new justice will not change the composition of the panel of five justices who originally heard the appeal of the Lawrence matter.
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