September 18, 2015
September 25, 2015
Thoughts on the South Carolina Supreme Court Hearing
by Dr. Ronald J. Caldwell
Read excellent comments and analysis by another observer
September 23, 2015
State Supreme Court Rips Goodstein Ruling, Questions Lawrence's Actions, Authority as Bishop (rev. 9/24/15)
Chief Justice: "There's a big difference between this and the All Saints' case"
COLUMBIA – It was a big day for the Episcopal Church and its continuing Diocese in South Carolina as the state's Supreme Court finally plunged into the myriad of legal issues raised by the nearly three-year-old lawsuit brought by ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence and 36 parishes trying to leave the Church with an estimated $500-$800 million of its property and financial assets.
While oral arguments are poor predictors of outcomes, it was apparent today that the key issues on the minds of the five justices are exactly the ones the Church's legal team wants them to be thinking about when they consider their appeal of a lower court ruling, in which the breakaways were awarded the entire shooting match, including the Diocese itself.
The hour-long hearing was unquestionably the best day the Church and its continuing Diocese, known as the Episcopal Church in South Carolina, have had in any court since Lawrence filed his mega-lawsuit in early 2013. The session also provided a hefty serving of crow for the trial judge whose questionable management of the trial and pro-Lawrence bias did not escape the notice of the High Court.
While neither side left the Court seeing victory, today's hearing offered the most balanced opportunity yet for the Church and the continuing Diocese to lay out its case.
Watch the Court hearing right now
Momentum was with the Church and its continuing Diocese
Columbia Attorney Blake Hewitt was the first at bat this morning and used his time to carefully lay out the essence of the Church's appeal of the controversial ruling by S.C. Circuit Judge Diane Goodstein in Dorchester County last January.
The justices interrupted his presentation nearly two dozen times (unsettling some of the clergy in the room who could only imagine giving a sermon in such an environment). However, Hewitt kept his presentation on track and the judges' attention on his case.
Hewitt is one of the best appellate lawyers in South Carolina and his mastery of the history of the governance of the Episcopal Church and relevant legal precedents seemed effective in pointing the Court to a path that would keep the property and financial assets the Lawrencians want in the Church.
Lawrence's lead attorney Alan Runyan followed Hewitt at the podium but was never able to get off the defensive. He was knocked off his game only minutes into his defense by the same barrage of questioning that Hewitt had used so skillfully to advance the Church's position.
Runyan, who has made no secret of his personal contempt for the Episcopal Church, is the architect of an imaginative, but untested, legal theory Lawrencians and breakaways in other states hope the courts will legitimize so that ultraconservative congregations can exit their "liberal" hierarchical denominations with their property and financial assets in tact.
But today's hearing seemed to suggest this will not be the case in which it will happen.
The justices pounded Runyan with questions about the actions of then-Diocesan Bishop Lawrence, including his apparent rejection of his oath of conformity to the "doctrine, discipline, and worship" of the Episcopal Church less than six months after his 2008 consecration.
They repeatedly asked him about the source of Lawrence's authority to independently issue quitclaim deeds to his parishes without the consent of the Episcopal Church.
Of great interest to the justices was Lawrence's 2007 promise to the Church's bishops and standing committees that he intended to remain faithful to the Episcopal Church if they consented to his election.
Lawrence had initially failed to get a majority of standing committee consents to be consecrated as a bishop in the Church. However. after making this promise, his second election was consented to, and he was consecrated Bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina in January 2008.
Goodstein ruling ripped
From the get-go, it was clear that the justices were baffled over last January's ruling by Circuit Court Judge Diane Goodstein in which she "found" that, contrary to two centuries of established judicial precedence, the governing structure of the Episcopal Church was not "hierarchical" as defined by the U.S. Constitution. "Hierarchical" means that there are levels of increasing authority in its governing structure, to which secular courts can defer when matters of authority, governance, and doctrine are factors in legal cases.
Chief Justice Jean Toal said she was perplexed at how Goodstein came to the conclusion that the Episcopal Church is instead "congregational" in its structure, especially since she had refused to allow the testimony of the Church's expert witnesses on the subject while allowing those of the breakaways.
"It disturbs me," said Toal. She said that in her opinion that part of the trial had been "unbalanced" and "one-sided".
Even Jesus' disciples got dragged into the case when Toal, a Roman Catholic, noted that one of Runyan's expert witnesses at trial went to great lengths to explain Lawrence's place in the Apostolic succession which, she said, seemed to be evidence of the Church's hierarchical nature.
All Saints', Waccamaw case may be out
By far, the most stunning development today was a series of comments by the Chief Justice dismissing the relevance of the 2009 All Saints', Waccamaw decision to Lawrence's lawsuit.
Until today Lawrencians were confident Toal would be their champion among the justices based on her influential role in writing the opinion in that case. Under Runyan's direction during his five-year tenure as a bishop, Lawrence seemed to do everything he could to replicate the actions taken by the breakaways at All Saints in preparation for this lawsuit.
Today, it was clear that was a miscalculation.
In the All Saints' case, the Court found that the parish's property belonged to the congregation and neither the Episcopal Church nor the Diocese of South Carolina. However, as the Church's attorneys have argued for years, the deciding factors in that case were very different. Toal actually wrote the opinion in that case, and Runyon's legal strategy is premised on his lawsuit being a simple extension of that ruling.
Hearts sank among Lawrence supporters when Toal actually lectured Runyan on his argument that Lawrence's lawsuit is a kind of Son of All Saints. According to Toal, "There's a big difference between this and the All Saints' case."
While Toal peppered both lawyers with questions about legal holdings in other cases, Associate Justice Kaye Hearn was equally aggressive in challenging them on the facts of the case.
At one point Runyan was forced to explain that the governance in the Diocese was dispersed among the Diocesan convention, the Standing Committee, and the Trustees, and that the Bishop was more of a benign corporate officer.
Of course, this is exactly the opposite of Lawrence's view, first espoused in 2009, that the bishop of a diocese is the sole authority in his or her own "sovereign" diocese.
Goodstein's management of the trial raised eyebrows
The justices' shredding of the trial court record was a bit of quiet satisfaction for Church lawyers who during the trial were bullied by Goodstein, who in turn appeared to be bullied by Runyan and his associates.
In addition to substantive issues like "hierarchy" versus "congregational," the justices could not seem to make sense of Goodstein's conduct at certain points in the trial.
They mentioned one instance in which Goodstein abruptly threatened to banish one of the Church's attorneys from practicing law in South Carolina for no apparent reason. Justice Hearn expressed dismay that Goodstein had allowed Runyan to interrupt the questioning of an expert witness with 28 objections, making it nearly impossible for the Church's attorney to even question him.
September 22, 2015
Contrarian Judge Again Refuses to Hear vonRosenberg Lawsuit
Last year Houck issued the same ruling that was overturned on appeal
CHARLESTON - United States District Judge Weston Houck announced Monday that he will wait to rule on a "false advertising" lawsuit brought by The Episcopal Church in South Carolina against ex-bishop Mark Lawrence until the state's Supreme Court rules on the "property" lawsuit brought by Lawrence against the Church and its continuing Diocese in South Carolina.
The Federal lawsuit claims that Lawrence is falsely advertising himself as an "episcopal bishop" in an attempt to thwart the work of the Church's legitimate Bishop, the Right Rev. Charles vonRosenberg.
Lawrence left the Episcopal Church in the fall of 2012, but continues to claim to be an Episcopal bishop and has encouraged the parishes aligned with him to continue to advertise themselves as "Episcopal" congregations, even though they say they have left the Church. They also claim to be "Anglican," even though vonRosenberg and the Rt. Rev. Andrew Waldo are the only two bishops with jurisdiction in South Carolina, recognized by the Anglican Communion and the Archbishop of Canterbury.
VonRosenberg's suit simply asks that the Court enjoin Lawrence from misleading the public about his status as a bishop.
Somehow, Houck thinks vonRosenberg's lawsuit on "false adverting" raises the same issues as Lawrence's mega-lawsuit in state court which is solely about who owns the Church's property.
Since Lawrence's consecration as Bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina in early 2008, it has consistently lost membership and revenue almost every year. Billing themselves as "Episcopal" seems to help pro-Lawrence parishes attract new members, who are often unaware that they are not joining an Episcopal Church.
The case was brought in Federal Court in the spring of 2013, and - thanks to Houck - has never even had a hearing on its claims. The octogenarian jurist issued the same ruling in 2014, which was overturned by the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in January of this year on the grounds that it had no legal basis.
In today's ruling, Houck used the standard suggested by the Appeals Court and says he came to the same conclusion.
Read the response of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina
September 21, 2015
South Carolina Case Could Be a Last Hurrah for U.S. Breakaways
Episcopal Church almost certain to appeal unfavorable ruling, but Lawrencians are not so sure what they'd do
Watch live streaming video of the Court hearing on Wednesday
Regardless of the outcome, Wednesday's hearing before the South Carolina Supreme Court will be a turning point in the decades-old "war" by ultra-conservatives against the Episcopal Church and other similar "hierarchical" denominations in the United States.
In many ways, the case of the breakaway "Diocese of South Carolina Inc." could well be the rebels' last hope. In the past decade courts from Connecticut to Georgia and Virginia, to California and Oregon have snuffed out the hopes of breakaways in their states, many of whom made the same arguments as those currently being advanced by their brethren in our state.
The Episcopal Church alone has faced nearly 90 legal challenges over the past twenty years, and won nearly every one of them. Denominations like the Presbyterians, Methodists, & Lutherans have faced similar protracted attacks, and so far have turned back these threats to their polity as well.
Yes, the breakaways still have a case cooking in Texas and have battled to a kind of draw in Illinois, but in South Carolina they've manipulated the legal dynamics as to give them their best shot at the issues they need to keep their cause alive.
They will all be argued this week to the state's high court, as breakaways attempt to hold onto a lower court ruling that has given them the corporate entity known as "The Diocese of South Carolina Inc", 36 secessionist parishes, and their property and financial assets worth an estimated $500-$800 million dollars.
Oddly, this summer the second-in-command among the rebel followers of ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence let slip a curious insight into what might happen after the state's Supreme Court rules on their mega-lawsuit against the Episcopal Church and its continuing Diocese in the eastern half of the state.
When the Church offered the 36 pro-Lawrence plaintiff parishes a generous deal to separately settle their unique issues in the case, Lewis pleaded with them not to abandon ship when they were looking at their "final" hearing just weeks away in Columbia.
The Lawrence crowd and their supporters around the country know that if they win in the South Carolina Supreme Court, the Church will appeal to the United States Supreme Court ... and the justices on that Court have been almost unanimous in their generous view of the protections afforded hierarchical denominations in the U.S. Constitution.
The Lawrencians face the same challenge if they lose. Would they really want to appeal to the U.S. Supremes, who will almost certainly use it to strengthen the legal hand of the Church, and possibly doom all future legal efforts to poach the assets and properties of hierarchical denominations?
Breakaways in Virginia faced the same question a few years ago when they got clobbered by their state's Supreme Court. They decided not to appeal. However, one of the more feisty of their plaintiff congregations did appeal on a not-so-irrelevant point about whether the Episcopal Church's Dennis Canon applies to historic parishes that pre-existed the formation of the Church.
In that instance, the U.S. Supreme Court did not take the case and let stand the decision of the Virginia court that the Dennis Cannon did apply. A slippery slope for sure.
Watch live streaming of the state Supreme Court through SCETV at 10:30 Wednesday morning
Blogger Ron Caldwell has published a series of three postings that are well worth reading to prepare for the hearing. In them, he outlines the relevant issues and the challenges the lawyers on both sides will be facing.
September 18, 2015 [UPDATE]
Anonymous GAFCON Leaders Reject Unity Conference with Archbishop of Canterbury if American and Canadian Provinces are Included
No one cares
In an anonymous press release today, the leaders of the ultraconservative Global Anglican Futures Conference (GAFCON) seemed to tell Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby that they would not participate in his proposed conference on the restructuring of the Anglican Communion if the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada are included or the so-called "Anglican Church of North America" (ACNA) excluded.
Earlier this week Welby invited the Communion's 37 Primates to join him in such a conference in January 2015 to discuss "face to face" theological issues dividing the Communion and explore a possible restructuring of the worldwide organization to allow ultraconservatives to continue to belong in spite of their belief that the American and Canadian Province are "heretics" and otherwise evil.
Welby said that Foley Beach (no relation to Folly Beach), the leader of the ACNA, would be invited as well.
The GAFCON is comprised mostly of Asian and African provincial leaders, who oppose the inclusion of gays, lesbians and divorced people in Christian community, along with women in positions of spiritual authority. They also oppose Christians whose interpretation of the Bible and experience of God in Christ are different from their own.
Over the past twenty years, they have vehemently rejected criticism of their support of laws to criminalize homosexuality even including capital punishment, and their silence on those allowing the stoning of women, believed to have engaged in sexual relations outside of marriage. Westerners have also criticized them for encouraging genocide, violence against Muslims, and taking bribes from authoritarian regimes in exchange for overlooking human rights abuses.
Incredibly, GAFCON is the group that the breakaway "Diocese of South Carolina" under Mark Lawrence has chosen to align itself.
The GAFCON is an unauthorized affiliation of rebel leaders of Anglican provinces with a narrow, often fundamentalist view of society that more Western provinces have moved beyond. Welby and his predecessor have repeatedly allowed themselves to be humiliated in their pandering to this group, and lost a great of support for whatever vision they have for worldwide Anglicanism.
The GAFCON has no intention of staying in the Anglican Communion, and Welby needs to recognize this so that true Anglicans living in the 21st century can get on with the work they believe Jesus Christ has given them to do.
Read an analysis of this matter by Pennsylvania blogger Lionel Deimel
Archbishop of Canterbury Exploring Ways to Keep Breakaways & Ultraconservatives in the Anglican Communion
Welby wants to "discuss key issues face to face" at a Primate's meeting in January
Frustrated by years of placating rebellious Anglican Primates, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby now appears to be considering new ways in which one of the longest surviving symbols of British imperialism can remain relevant and unified in the modern world.
Welby is proposing a Primates' conference at the beginning of next year to include "a review of the structures of the Anglican Communion." The conference would include the leader of the so-called "Anglican Church of North America," which Welby described last year as "a separate Church" outside the Communion.
Among the ideas likely to be on the table is a restructured, two-tiered Communion, whose membership would be defined by the extent to which Provinces treat gay and lesbian people like heterosexual people, allow women to hold positions of spiritual authority, welcome people who are divorced, and include others whose understanding of the Bible and experience of Christ are different from their own.
Read the New York Times coverage of this issue.
September 12, 2015
The Supreme Court Welcomes You
South Carolina's high court will decide if breakaways are heroes or thieves
COLUMBIA - The lawsuit brought by ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence against the Episcopal Church and its continuing Diocese in eastern South Carolina will come to a head in less than two weeks, when the state's Supreme Court once again wades into the murky waters of a property dispute in the Episcopal Church.
Lawrence and his breakaway followers are praying that the Court will uphold a recent lower court decision and open the floodgates for like-minded Christians in South Carolina to leave "liberal" mainline denominations with as many Church properties and financial assets as they can grab on the way out. Those denominations - considered by the U.S. Constitution as "hierarchical" - include Presbyterians, Greek Orthodox, Lutherans, Episcopalians, and Methodists.
Once they get their "freedom," Lawrence's breakaways are likely to realign themselves with one of several loosely-defined religious organizations, united mostly by their opposition to gay and lesbians, women in spiritual authority, and those whose interpretation of the Bible and experience of God in Jesus Christ is different from their own.
Lawrencians are encouraged in their lawsuit by the controversial case of All Saints' Episcopal Church on Pawleys Island in 2009. In that case, the state's Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the unique history of the parish's property entitled All Saints' - not the Episcopal Church - to ownership of its land and buildings. The Episcopal Church did not appeal that decision.
Read more about the All Saints' case by the former President of the SC Episcopal Forum
Since Lawrence became Bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina in 2008, it appears that he and his lieutenants have quietly attempted to recreate the historical circumstances of the All Saints' case in the Diocese in anticipation of their current lawsuit. Issuing quitclaim deeds to the parishes and convincing to make "inconsequential" amendments to their governing documents seem to have been part of that effort.
National interest in the case
Interest in this case is not only running high in our state, but also among breakaway groups across the country that are anxious for a judicial precedent that might help them go after the property and financial assets of their denominations.
Over the past few years, there have been as many as twenty similar cases in other states, almost all of which have been decided in favor of the hierarchical Church.
Here in our state Lawrence's crowd is claiming in their lawsuit that the corporate entity known as the "Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina" along with its property and financial assets belong to them even though they are no longer in the Episcopal Church. There are also thirty-six parishes aligned with Lawrence who want the Supreme Court to give them their walking papers and parish properties.
The estimated monetary value of the booty at stake is between $500-$800 million, a startling sum that appears to exceed the combined total value of disputed properties in all the other breakaway lawsuits over the past twenty years combined.
The Lawrencians secured a favorable ruling last January, when Circuit Judge Diane Goodstein in Dorchester County gave Lawrence and his 50-member legal team everything they were asking for, including the corporate entity known as the "Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina".
It's the Church's appeal of the Goodstein decision that will be heard by the state Supreme Court in Columbia on September 23rd beginning at 10:30 a.m. (The Court building is directly across the street from the State Capitol, and diagonally across from Trinity Episcopal Cathedral. Take many quarters for parking meters if you don't want to use a parking garage.)
The hour-long hearing is open to the public, and it is likely to be rather dull compared to the circus-like atmosphere in Goodstein's courtroom last summer. Appeals to the high court are mostly slugged out in written briefs provided to the justices by each side prior to the hearing. Each side normally gets twenty minutes to summarize its position, and it looks like the justices may be planning to ask follow up questions during the remaining twenty minutes.
Tapes of the hearing will be available by request through the Office of the Clerk of Court.
Meet Mr. Watson, Mr. Jones, Mr. Wolf... and Bishop Dennis
The outcome will not be an easy call, as the five justices will have to wrestle with two decisions by the United States Supreme Court governing Church property disputes that appear to be in conflict, and likely to continue to be so until the U.S. Supreme Court takes on a state case to more clearly define the way states are to apply them.
The cases established two ways states could resolve Church disputes known as “deference" and “neutral principles of law”. Both are legitimate ways state courts can resolve property disputes.
Learn more about the two cases that lie at the heart of this case
The deference approach emerged in 1871 in the High Court’s ruling in a Pennsylvania matter known as Watson v. Jones, which concluded that civil courts must defer to the highest governing entity in an hierarchical Church in resolving legal disputes arising within a denomination.
Hierarchical denominations are those with layers of governance and increasing upward authority like in the Episcopal Church. In the Episcopal Church, our highest level of governance is the General Convention.
In 1979 the U.S. Supreme Court introduced the concept of "neutral principles" in a Georgia case known as Jones v. Wolf. The Jones ruling declared that states could use their own laws in adjudicating Church property disputes as long as the issues in the case were not the product of theological or doctrinal divisions. This meant that states did not necessarily have to use the century-old "deference" approach if they did not want to.
However, the Court added an important statement in its Jones ruling that got the attention of the leaders of the hierarchical Churches:
"Under the neutral principles approach, the outcome of a church property dispute is not foreordained. At any time before the dispute erupts, the parties can ensure, if they so desire, that the faction loyal to the hierarchical church will retain the church property. They can modify the deeds or the corporate charter to include a right of reversion or trust in favor of the general church. Alternatively, the constitution of the general church can be made to recite an express trust in favor of the denominational church. The burden involved in taking such steps will be minimal. And the civil courts will be bound to give effect to the result indicated by the parties, provided it is embodied in some legally cognizable form." (emphasis added)
The Dennis Canon
That same year in 1979, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church took the hint and amended its canons to include a provision declaring that all Episcopal congregations hold their property in trust for their Diocese and the broader Church. The provision became known as the Dennis Canon, which was proposed by a suffragan bishop by that name.
Here's how the Dennis Canon reads:
"All real and personal property held by or for the benefit of any Parish, Mission, or Congregation is held in trust for this Church [i.e., TEC] and the Diocese thereof in which such Parish, Mission or Congregation is located. The existence of this trust, however, shall in no way limit the power and authority of the Parish, Mission or Congregation otherwise existing over such property so long as the particular Parish, Mission or Congregation remains a part of, and subject to, this Church and its Constitution and Canons."
For the past couple of decades, clever lawyers for dissidents have attempted to exploit ambiguities in the two Supreme Court rulings and the Dennis Canon. Not surprisingly, they have met with success in a few state courts. These courts have seen the Jones case an opportunity to seize some legal territory from the Federal courts, and taken it.
The breakaways in the Episcopal Church argue that their parishes are not affected by the Dennis Canon because their congregations never actually voted on whether to be covered by it.
How can the ownership of our property be decided without our explicit consent, they ask.
The Episcopal Church argues in response that individual votes by its congregations were not necessary, since they have continued to publicly hold themselves out as belonging to the Episcopal Church, used the Episcopal Church's prayer and hymn books, participated fully in the governance of their dioceses and of the wider Church, employed only Episcopal priests, and in every other way suggested that they are subject to the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church.
In the case of the Diocese of South Carolina, they point out that none of the 36 parishes aligned with Lawrence took any steps to declare themselves to be anything other than part of the Episcopal Church after the enactment of the Dennis Canon. In fact, the South Carolina delegation to the 1979 convention was very enthusiastic in supporting its approval.
Recent cases have mostly affirmed the authority of hierarchical Churches
Around the country state cases challenging the authority of hierarchical denominations have not gone well for the breakaways. In most instances the "deference" approach has largely determined favorable outcomes for the denominations. In a few instances, like Oregon, courts have relied on "neutral principles" to come to the same conclusions.
Federal Courts, including the U.S Supreme Court, have fairly consistently affirmed this authority as well.
In Georgia, Connecticut, and Virginia, for example, those state’s supreme courts ruled overwhelmingly in favor of hierarchical Churches in cases nearly identical to Lawrence's. When the breakaways appealed to the United States Supreme Court, the justices refused to hear the cases and allowed the states' decisions to stand.
However, the state courts in Texas and Illinois seem to be marching to a different drummer, though the final outcomes in their cases are still to be determined. Pennsylvania's courts have also made it difficult for Episcopalians in the Diocese of Pittsburgh to reconstitute their diocese, after the devastation caused by their rebel bishop, Bob Duncan.
At this point, favorable outcomes for the breakaways are more the exception than the rule. However, the sympathy demonstrated by those courts toward the rebels - as in South Carolina - are giving breakaway groups across the country some hope of a breakthrough.
All Saints', Waccamaw is the key for the Lawrencians
The key for Lawrence's lawsuit in the South Carolina Supreme Court is the ruling in All Saints’ Waccamaw. A circuit judge first decided the case in favor of the Church, but the state Supreme Court, under the sway of Chief Justice Jean Toal, unanimously overturned the ruling and awarded the property to the parish.
Of course, Lawrencian lawyers are trying to make their case solely about All Saints', and fervently hope that Toal will take the lead in writing an unambiguous ruling that will give any South Carolina congregation in any hierarchical church the opportunity to leave. The Chief Justice wrote the opinion in the All Saints' decision, declaring that under the neutral principles approach the state's trust laws preempt the Dennis Canon.
This time around, the composition of the Court will be different, and many of the issues and circumstances will have changed. Only two justices on the current court today were among the five judges who heard the All Saints' case.
August 20, 2015
Judicial Short Circuit
Justice denied in Federal Court as vonRosenberg lawsuit languishes
If loyal Episcopalians have lost faith in the judicial system, no one would blame them.
Last January, after a circus-like experience in state court last summer, Circuit Judge Diane Goodstein finally produced a ruling in the case of Mark Lawrence’s monster lawsuit which appeared to be little more than a brief provided her by Lawrence’s attorneys.
yal Episcopalians have lost faith in the judicial system, no one would blame themLast January, after a circus-like experience in state court last summer, Circuit Judge Diane Goodstein finally produced a ruling in the case of Mark Lawrence’s monster lawsuit which appeared to be little more than a brief provided her by Lawrence’s attorneys.
Yes, it took her six months to get around to issuing the ruling that she appeared ready to issue even before the trial got underway.
Her ruling did not even respond to some of the key legal issues raised in the case, and was based on the judge’s perception that the Episcopal Church is not “hierarchical”, a Constitutionally-protected status that has been repeatedly upheld by the courts over two centuries of American jurisprudence.
Now, more than two years after asking the Federal Courts to stop Lawrence from continuing to claim that he is an Episcopal Bishop, Charles vonRosenberg - the real Episcopal Bishop of South Carolina - is still waiting for a hearing in U.S. District Court in Charleston.
Much of the problem, if not all of it, is that the case landed in the lap of 82-year-old Federal Judge Weston Houck, who has made no secret of his desire that the case just go away.
When the case was filed in 2013, Houck rejected it, saying that the issues raised would be addressed by Goodstein. VonRosenberg appealed that decision to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, which blasted it back to Houck, saying that he didn’t have any legal basis for not hearing the case.
Finally in June, Houck asked both sides in the case to submit written arguments to him on a motion by Lawrence’s legal team, to reject the case… this time, on legal grounds.
Now as the end of the summer approaches, he still hasn’t ruled on whether he will even hear the case. There is surely no more current case before the Federal Judicial District of South Carolina that attests to the legal maxim that “Justice delayed is justice denied.”
August 15, 2015
House of Shards
Breakaways' rejection of Church's offer to settle lawsuit shattered the facade that its high command has any interest in the Diocese of South Carolina beyond its political value in the wider breakaway universe
Easily our most interesting story over the summer has been the offer of the Episcopal Church to settle the monster lawsuit brought by ex-bishop Mark Lawrence and 36 rebel parishes that say they want to leave the Episcopal Church with him. The story generated significant and numerous questions from our readers, almost all of whom focused on the bizarre public response of the top command surrounding Bishop Lawrence.
Given the summer lull in all things South Carolina, we thought we'd offer some insights on the justifications the Lawrencians used to explain why they were so opposed to a deal letting their 36 affiliated parishes leave the Episcopal Church like they want to.
Outline of settlement floated in late spring
As SC Episcopalians understands it, sometime in the late spring, Charleston Attorney Thomas Tisdale, who represents the continuing Episcopal Church in South Carolina, suggested to a fellow Charleston attorney and member of St. Michael’s that the Church and its continuing diocese in eastern South Carolina would be interested in settling the case.
The key elements of such a settlement would include the Church’s releasing any claim of ownership to the 36 parishes and their properties, in exchange for the parishes' releasing their claims on the Diocesan corporate structure.
Lawrence's political needs trump parishes' reasons for joining lawsuit
Everyone would get exactly what they want... except the Lawrencian high command., which immediately rejected the deal.
However, it was the messy, spasmotic public defense of that rejection from the gang over on Coming Street that revealed much about the difficulty it is having in keeping its story straight.
Here are some of the key points offered up by Jim Lewis, a former priest and Lawrence's second in command, when he rejected the settlement offer and claimed that all 36 parishes supported that decision:
Lewis: “The parishes of the Diocese of South Carolina in the lawsuit against the Episcopal Church have unanimously rejected what the Episcopal Church called a “settlement offer” that would have required them to voluntarily give up the historical identity and property that a South Carolina Circuit Court judge has ruled is owned by the Diocese."
This came as news to lay people in at least 36 congregations who apparently were never allowed to vote on the proposed settlement offer, nor even told about it. Since they are putting up an estimated zillion dollars to support Lawrence’s legal attacks against the Church and the Church was offering them everything they wanted, you’d think someone would have at least asked them how they felt about shouldering on.
However, that is part of the highly secretive culture in the Land of Lawrence.
And, yes, thank you SC Episcopalians for being the only source of accurate news about the offer and the decision of the High Command to sandbag its own parishes.
Historical Identity? With respect to the idea that the deal would require the 36 departed parishes to give up their “historical identity'... well, we couldn't we figure that one out either.
The single most significant part of the heritage of the 36 departed parishes is their 225-year-old proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the Episcopal Church and in the Anglican tradition. However, as part of this lawsuit, they have been forced to renounce that heritage to the point of even lying about it.
Last summer Lewis must not have been in the courtroom of Judge Diane Goodstein during the testimony of carefully-practiced leaders from departed parishes who claimed that neither they nor their congregations were ever part of the Episcopal Church.
Even though most of them had been born and raised in the Episcopal Church, confirmed and married in the Episcopal Church, baptized their children in the Episcopal Church, and attended traditional Episcopal Church services presided over by an Episcopal priest using the Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer... it apparently never occurred to them that they were actually Episcopalians.
Of course, all 36 parishes have been part of the Episcopal Church since they were founded, except for the ones that pre-existed the formation of the Episcopal Church (and they joined almost as soon as they could.)
Unfortunately, these congregations – on orders from central command – have obliterated any reference to their “heritage” in the Episcopal Church in their parish histories, journals, signage, and in the interiors and exteriors of parish buildings.
In one bizarre episode years ago when Lawrencians lawyers were secretly cooking up their case against the Church, they “borrowed” valuable notes and historical documents associated with the Bishops of the Diocese of South Carolina from a local historical society … and then refused to give them back... Evidence in a trial, they said. Stealing, said the preservationists.
Lewis: "The offer was made by a local attorney who represents the 20 percent of members who remained with TEC when most of the Diocese disaffiliated in 2012."
The 20% figure was made up by Lawrence's propaganda machine... one more shard of a discredited defense from three years ago.
There has never been any attempt to count the membership of the Diocese of South Carolina wanting to leave the Episcopal Church and those wanting to stay. Most parishes never voted on it directly.
In the fall of 2012, all parishes in the Diocese of South Carolina were informed that they were no longer in the Episcopal Church, based solely on a secret vote – illegal, of course – taken by an illegally constituted standing committee. Not one parish got to vote on whether they agreed with the secession resolution before it was secretly enacted. How could they? They didn't even know about it.
Today, it is difficult to determine how many people attend Lawrencian parishes as the “diocese” no longer maintains publicly available records of membership, financial transactions, or special funds like its legal fund through which millions of dollars are supposedly flowing to law firms throughout South Carolina.
When Lawrence became bishop in 2008, there were slightly less than 32,000 people in the Diocese of South Carolina. Today, approximately 7,000 remain loyal to the Church in the 30 parishes and missions of the continuing Diocese, while an estimated 16,000 remain in the departed “diocese” under Lawrence.
Even these numbers are misleading as many loyal Episcopalians have chosen to stay with their breakaway congregations because of generational ties, friends, children’s programs, and a fear that they may not be able to be buried with their ancestors in the church yard.
Lewis: "It (the proposed settlement) promised that TEC would end its multimillion dollar legal campaign to seize local church properties if the parishes agree to hand over the Diocese’s identity, its other assets including the Diocese’s offices on Coming Street in Charleston and the St. Christopher Camp and Conference Center, which is prime real estate that could be sold off by the cash-strapped denomination."
The most effective propaganda put out by the Lawrencians was that the Episcopal Church was coming after the parish properties of conservative Episcopalians so they could be sold off to gays and lesbians, Muslims, or gay and lesbian Muslims. It was a complete lie, but many in the Diocese were so unaccustomed to questioning the truthfulness of words from a bishop that they fell for it.
The Episcopal Church has never conducted a “multimillion dollar legal campaign” to seize any parish assets anywhere. Never.
The Episcopal Church has responded to congregations that have taken legal steps to grab church property as they have tried the leave the Episcopal Church. However, the actions by the Church were taken in response to a spirit of thievery that had darkened the hearts of these congregations.
Over the past couple of decades, there have been more than 80 such cases – sadly, that's about average for the Presbyterians, Methodists, and other hierarchical denominations like the Episcopal Church.
PS ... Mr. Lewis neglects to mention that the Church won almost all of these cases, which is why it did not settle them out of court.
Biggest lawsuit-happy bishop in the history of the Church. Ironically, if you add up the value of the property in dispute in those 80-plus cases, the total falls far short of the staggering amount claimed by the Lawrencians in their current “multimillion dollar legal campaign to seize local church properties.”
The suggestion that the Church and its continuing Diocese want to sell off any Diocesan property is an example of how intellectually bankrupt the case of the breakaway group is.
There no evidence to support this, although there is evidence that the Lawrencians have sold off parish properties at significant profits, in some cases to real estate developers.
Among the items of interest you will not see in the Lawrencian version of the history of the Camp St. Christopher is references to its founding in the Edisto Island home of SC Episcopalians’ grandparents – along with a valiant effort by other family members and those of the Archdeacon and Chancellor of the continuing Diocese – to keep the rustic oceanside center open during the lean financial years brought on by the Civil Rights era.
The idea that their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren are eager to sell off a place of such spiritual connectedness that so many previous generations have held sacred is ridiculous.
Lewis: “This is not a legitimate offer of good faith negotiation and never was intended to be… It was a spurious offer chiefly made to disrupt submission of our brief and make them look good in the press. As a matter of fact, the Presiding Bishop's chancellor is on record as saying they would never settle. In that, they have been utterly consistent up until now."
Lewis is whining about the timing of a settlement offer that would have saved Lawrencian congregations millions of dollars in legal fees and given them their freedom from the Episcopal Church. It is hard to believe that Lawrence’s nearly 50-member legal dream team was so absorbed in writing a legal brief (that was probably actually written years ago) that one of its members couldn’t handle a conversation about a settlement. that would have been of such benefit to their congregations.
One more shard of reflecting of the real priorities of the Lawrencian leaders in placing their own political agenda ahead of the pastoral needs of the parishes that have blindly followed them into their ex-bishop's make-believe "war" on invisible enemies.
“Looking good in the press"? The Rt. Rev. Charles vonRosenberg, the legitimate Episcopal Bishop in eastern South Carolina (as in recognized by the Anglican Communion) has consistently refused to engage the news media in his defense against Lawrence's attacks on the Church.
In fact, he has never publicly criticized his predecessor or any of the clergy or parishes that are trying to leave the Church with him. His media team consists of one part-time public information officer, as compared to three members of ex-Bishop Lawrence’s staff, along with Lewis, who are preoccupied with putting out propaganda.
Settlement? Regarding the willingness of the Church to consider a settlement, Lewis is well aware that during pretrial hearings on the Lawrence lawsuit the Church stated repeatedly that it was willing to engage in out-of-court settlement conversations. It is in the court record. It was the Lawrencian lawyers, who said that was impossible.
The allegation that the Episcopal Church is cash-strapped is Lewis' way of dodging the reality that diocesan income has fallen every year since Lawrence became a bishop. The decline has led to the Lawrencian "diocese" becoming little more than a honey pot for lawyers, after it shed or cut back on ministry.
Those who paid attention to the latest General Convention know that the denomination is hardly cash-strapped. In fact, it just voted to spend an additional $2.8 million on expanding evangelism in support of the priorities of the new Presiding Bishop.
Lewis: “If TEC were confident of its case, they would be eager for justice to be served and would not attempt to derail the next step in the legal process. Their so-called proposal has been unanimously rejected by all parties.”
SC Episcopalians has been right about this all along. Anti-gay breakaway groups in mainline churches have seen South Carolina as their sacrificial lamb in trying to secure legitimacy for themselves in the courts.
In 2008, Mark Lawrence appeared interested in fulfilling his consecration vows only as long as it took him to wreck the Diocese and generate a legal precedent that breakaway groups around the country could use in their states. The ring leaders of the movement – with ties to rebel groups in Pittsburgh and other places in the Midwest - had imbedded them in this Diocese in order to create a battering ram against the Episcopal Church. Yes, they figured, the parishes of the diocese would suffer, but it would be righteous suffering as it would bring down the evil Body of Christ known as the Episcopal Church.
The settlement offer by the Church put the ministries of the parishes on both sides first. Everyone could be relieved of the burden of the lawsuit and get on with the work Jesus Christ has given us to do.
Everyone would get what they are asking for – except the handful of legal architects of this lawsuit who have been blinded by their hate of the Church and their fear of gays and lesbians, women in positions of authority, and those whose experience of Jesus Christ is different from their own. Lewis says that the settlement offer was rejected by all parties, but there is only evidence that it was rejected by the cabal of lawyers that surround Lawrence.
Lewis: “First, if (the settlement offer) had been legitimate, it would have come from someone with authority to bind all the parties on the Episcopal Church side. Attorneys for the Diocese contacted the Episcopal Church 10 days ago requesting proof of authority, including the signature of the legal counsel for The Episcopal Church, but it has not been provided."
Lewis is complaining that he and his lawyers didn’t know whether Tisdale's offer came from the Presiding Bishop. This red-herring was intended only for Lawrencians with half a brain.
Charleston super-lawyer Tom Tisdale has been the Chancellor of the departed Diocese as well as the continuing Diocese. Since 2012 he has been the main go-to lawyer for the lawyers for the departed diocese. They never questioned his authority then.
While he is a clever attorney, he has been a reliable and credible source of communication to and from the Presiding Bishop and her lawyer since 2012. Why the Lawrencians would now question his credibility as a spokesman for the Church in this case is a mystery.
At one point in 2008, when Lawrence was secretly issuing quit-claim deeds to parishes loyal to him, the Presiding Bishop retained Tisdale to monitor whatever it was Lawrence and his scheme team were up to. When they found out, the Lawrencians went berserk, claiming that the Presiding Bishop had used Tisdale to “invade their sovereign territory” and a lot of other Civil War rhetorical crap.
Obviously, they had no trouble believing that Tisdale was acting at her behest back then when it suited their rhetorical purposes.
Lewis: “Equally important … a valid settlement offer would have come to the Diocese’s lead counsel for this litigation as well, not just to individual parish representatives. After nearly two weeks from the time of the original ‘offer’ that contact had still not been made."
One of the problems with the Lawrence lawsuit from the beginning is that the former bishop and his inner circle have operated with complete secrecy even from the parishes’ legal representatives. Many of them say openly that they are not privy to the strategies of the lead counsel to the fanatically-secretive Lawrence. Some have said they are largely messengers and window dressing.
Tisdale has never said why he chose to approach a lawyer for the parishes directly, but it is a good guess that it is because they would never have known about the offer if he had relied on the hierarchy on Canon Street.
Lewis: "(A settlement offer) was what we were trying to pursue when they attempted to remove Bishop Lawrence. This is not an attempt to end the litigation but rather to disrupt it - and to do so when we are only one hearing away from its final conclusion."
In this comment Lewis is taking a very creative approach to the history of his boss' schism.
Lawrence was not in any kind of negotiation with the Presiding Bishop or anyone else in the fall of 2012. Lawrence was conducting a charade that was meant to make it look like he was being reasonable by trying to reach some resolution of his complaints against the Church. In fact, he was making demands that were beyond the leadership of the Church to deliver. Lewis' account conveniently omits this minor point. He also fails to add that during these alleged "negotiations", Lawrence was secretly conspiring with his Standing Committee to pass a resolution of secession.
Remove Lawrence? The Church did not try to remove Bishop Lawrence. Communicants of the Diocese of South Carolina filed a complaint about Lawrence's anti-Church behavior in 2011, and the Church's Disciplinary Board for Bishops found that they did not rise to the level of "abandoning the Church" as the complainants suggested.
Even so, as is Lawrence's predictable response to anyone questioning his actions, he continued to engage in even more outrageous behavior, daring the Church to hold him accountable.
In 2012, communicants of the Diocese again asked the Disciplinary Board to review Lawrence continuing misconduct. This time the Board found three specific actions taken by Lawrence that were in violation of the sacred vows he had taken at his consecration.
Lawrence admitted that all three of these allegations were true. Even though the Presiding Bishop implored him to make his case to the full House of Bishops, Lawrence took the easy way out and left the Church... and then filed a lawsuit claiming that he and his follows owned between parish and diocesan property and financial assets valued at between $500 and $800 million.
There was no campaign to remove Bishop Lawrence, and Mr. Lewis knows that, even though he shamelessly twists the facts to suit his own imaginative account of the sorry saga of Mark Lawrence.
July 18, 2015
South Carolina Courtrooms Bracing for Historic Legal Clash
Twin cases in state and Federal Courts will test Lawrence's claims to own the Church's "Diocese of South Carolina" and to be an "Episcopal bishop"
After two-and-a-half years of wrangling, ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence and his army of lawyers are lining up for the first real test of their novel legal theory that they say entitles them to leave the Episcopal Church with an estimated $800 million in Church properties and financial assets, as well as the Church’s corporate entity known as “the Diocese of South Carolina.”
Most of the focus will be on the state's Supreme Court, which is scheduled to hear the Church’s appeal of a decision by a lower court judge, who awarded everything, including the Church's historic camp and conference center, to the renegade ex-bishop and the 36 breakaway congregations that say they've left the Episcopal Church with him.
Oral arguments will be held in Columbia on September 23rd. Both sides have submitted briefs in the case, providing a glimpse into their strategies.
The breakaways are especially under the gun because the high courts in many states like Virginia and Georgia have overwhelmingly sided with the Church, and given breakaway congregations in those states the boot. In one instance the breakaways in the Virginia case appealed to the United States Supreme Court on a single critical Constitutional issue that is central to the Lawrencians case, but the High Court allowed the pro-Church position to stand.
In their filings this summer, Lawrencian lawyers point to a pro-breakaway decision in a lower court in Illinois which the state’s Supreme Court has failed to consider when the Church appealed.
Trial of Lawrence lawsuit last summer was a circus
They have also taken the highly dubious position that the Episcopal Church is not "hierarchical" but more of a non-profit organization whose members can join and leave at will.
For the state's Supreme Court to agree with that premise would require it to overlook nearly 200 years of Federal precedence to the contrary.
The breakaways brought the case against the Church and its continuing diocese in January 2013, and in July 2014 it was finally heard before S.C. Circuit Court Judge Diane Goodstein.
The trial could only be described as a circus, owing largely to the judge’s bizarre behavior and inability to understand exactly who the plaintiffs and defendant were. Throughout the trial the attorneys for all sides were forbidden by the judge to use the term, “The Episcopal Church”, after she complained that there were “too many churches” involved in the case. (There was only one Church involved.) At one point she became so enraged at the lawyers that she actually stormed out of the courtroom.
It took Goodstein six months to rule in the case, and when she did, she simply signed off on ruling submitted to her by Lawrence's lead attorney. That she chose to ignore many of the critical legal issues in the case in her ruling was further proof that the case was over her head.
Church offer to settle case inexplicably rejected by parishes
This summer, the Church, with the approval of its Presiding Bishop, offered to settle the case by giving the 36 parishes everything they were asking for in exchange for allowing the corporate entity, known as the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, to be returned to the Church. Governance of the camp and conference center would have been shared between the two groups.
However, the parishes inexplicably rejected the offer, which many legal experts believe was their last chance to leave the Church with their properties.
In the considered opinion of SC Episcopalians, the Lawrencian parishes don’t get that they and this case is part of a wider grudge match by an embittered minority of former Episcopalians and some wealthy non-Episcopalians that extends far beyond the borders of South Carolina.
The interests of the parishes in South Carolina are largely window dressing. Not only are the vestries of these parishes largely in the dark, they seem content to receive reports from their attorney that offer little more than the party line from the Lawrence website.
Federal lawsuit like to move forward this fall as well
There is a second case is a Federal lawsuit alleging “false advertising” by Lawrence who claims that he is the Episcopal Bishop of South Carolina, even though he quit the Church in the fall of 2012. Since that time, Lawrence has encouraged his clergy and their congregations to claim to be “Episcopal” priests and parishes.
That lawsuit was brought by the Rt. Rev. Charles vonRosenberg, who is recognized both by the Church and the worldwide Anglican Communion as the real Episcopal Bishop of South Carolina. VonRosenberg wants the Federal courts to issue an injunction against Lawrence, who could legally be forced to pay back any financial or other kinds of income he received while misrepresenting himself.
VonRosenberg for some reason has not included in his lawsuit the breakaway parishes and clergy who have continued to mislead people by using the word "Episcopal" in describing themselves. All of the Lawrencian clergy have chosen to leave the Episcopal Church and have been in effect deposed as priests.
July 10, 2015
Understanding the Relocation of the Confederate Flag
Exuberance more than a celebration of a political win
It is often difficult for South Carolinians who are white, male, affluent, and heterosexual to truly comprehend how deeply a lifetime of oppression and alienation can become ingrained in the hearts and souls of those who do not share these advantages.
Today, it would be a mistake to minimize the significance of the tears, cheers, and sheer exuberance of the thousands of our fellow citizens who gathered on the State House grounds, and the hundreds of thousands who watched the removal of the Confederate flag by other means.
This was not the celebration of a political victory or a single legislative vote, but a very real affirmation that every citizen of our state is valued equally, and that his or her contribution to our common life matters.
No one loses. Everyone wins. That is a message in which we can all rejoice.
July 8, 2015
Presiding Bishop-Elect Begins to Define Himself
Curry says he will be the Church's CEO ... Chief Evangelism Officer
The 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church ended on Friday and the biggest story was the election of a new Presiding Bishop, who will take over a surprisingly united Church this fall.
The Right Rev. Michael Curry, the Bishop of North Carolina since 2000, was overwhelmingly elected by the Church's General Convention in a stunning first ballot victory in the House of Bishops. Curry, who is African American, received 121 votes out of 174 cast. About an hour later, the House of Deputies resoundingly voiced its approval by a vote of 800-12.
It is the first time in the history of the modern Church (since 1925) that a Presiding Bishop was elected on the first ballot.
Muffin the Cat
Bishop Curry’s appeal lies in an extraordinary capacity to communicate a complex idea in terms that can be easily understood by multiple audiences.
Those who attended the diocesan convention in Hilton Head two years ago, will remember Curry’s describing God’s movement in our lives with the story of Muffin the Cat, reputedly the best mouser in Winston-Salem, whom he borrowed from a parishioner to clean up a persistent rodent problem in the rectory.
The new Presiding Bishop wasted little time introducing himself to the wider Church. When he spoke to the Convention delegates after his election, he told them that he planned to be the C.E.O. – Chief Evangelical Officer – of the Episcopal Church.
Evangelism & The Jesus Movement
Many Episcopalians in the South have experienced the work of those who call themselves “evangelicals” in very negative ways. They seem to see Jesus as the end point in their faith journey, and their God-given mission as saving the souls of the righteous while pronouncing judgment on the rest of us.
Bishop Curry’s understanding of evangelism - which is more reflective of mainstream Anglicanism – is that the Gospel calls upon the People of God to transform a broken world.
In this sense, the work of evangelism is what might best be considered faith in action.
The Jesus movement, to which he often refers, is taking seriously the New Testament’s Great Commission, and trusting that when two or three are gathered together in this work, God will be in the midst of them.
According to Bishop Curry, “I am looking forward to serving and working for the cause of the Jesus movement in world … to help this become a transformed world that looks more like God’s dream and less like our nightmare. That’s what energizes me and what I believe in and we can really continue and build on the good work that’s been done in Bishop Katharine’s years.”
“Everybody knows I really do take evangelism seriously, and discipleship and witness, and service and social advocacy … the Gospel principles that we hold. Those three things are critical and needed in this time. I think The Episcopal Church has something to offer in the public square. We have a way of looking at the Gospel that makes known the love of God in Jesus.”
Christians who trust in this understanding of the Faith believe that it is for God – not men and women – to judge the world, and that Jesus’ death and resurrection has already saved us.
Asked if he is an evangelical, he said, “It’s fair to say that I am a follower of Jesus.”
The Beloved Community
“I believe profoundly that Dr. King was right. We were put here to create the beloved community; God is the same God and creator of all of us… The hard work is to figure out how we live as the beloved community, as the human family of God and do that in practical and tangible ways.”
Referring to the aftermath of the murder of nine members of Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church, “It was the voice of the Christian community that really did change the narrative from one that could have degenerated into a negative and hurtful to one that was a narrative of forgiveness. That’s one of the roles religious communities and in particular the Christian community can offer, is a positive way forward.”
See the Presiding Bishop-elect speak on the heart of the Church (7 minutes)
June 27, 2015
Michael Curry Elected Presiding Bishop on First Ballot
North Carolina's Bishop knows our Diocese well
The Right Rev. Michael Curry, the 62-year-old Bishop of North Carolina, was overwhelmingly elected by the Church's General Convention today in a stunning first ballot victory in the House of Bishops. Curry, who is African American, received 121 votes out of 174 cast. About an hour later, the House of Deputies resoundingly voiced its approval by a vote of 800-12.
Read Episcopal News Service account of the election.
Election for Presiding Bishop Underway
Momentum favors a New PB from the South or Southeast
The good news is that Jesus Christ is coming again. The bad news is he wants us all to meet him in Salt Lake City.
Okay, that's an old joke that is getting new life this week as Episcopalians from across the world gather in that Mormon enclave to celebrate years of 232 years of the ministry of the Episcopal Church, and articulate a fresh vision for the proclamation of the Gospel in the coming nine years.
Get daily updates from the South Carolina delegation
The 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church is underway and will run through July 3rd. The most likely big story to come out of it is the election of a new Presiding Bishop, who will take over from a surprisingly united Church under the leadership of the widely admired incumbent, Katharine Jefferts Schori.
Word from Salt Lake City is that the election is that the got underway this morning.
What is the General Convention?
The General Convention is governing body of the Episcopal Church. It meets every three years and transacts whatever Church business needs tending to.
The Convention is comprised of two bodies, the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops. The leader of the House of Deputies, comprised of lay and clergy delegates, is called the President of the House of Deputies, and the leader of the House of Bishops is called, The Presiding Bishop of the House of Bishops.
If this sounds familiar, it is because the Constitution of the Episcopal Church was created at nearly the same time as the Constitution of the United States, in the same city, by a number of the same people.
However, there is no president, or even an Archbishop of the Episcopal Church. At the time the Church was created, Americans were still chafing from the rule of the King of England, the head of the Church of England, and his Archbishop of Canterbury, who was widely seen as his political puppet.
Today some people want to attribute spiritual authority to the Presiding Bishop as if he or she is a kind of pope or ruler of a Church. However, that is not the nature of the Episcopal Church. While the governing authority of the Episcopal Church is "hierarchical", the Church invests the work of spiritual leadership in its diocesan bishops and clergy.
It is important to note that the Presiding Bishop automatically becomes an Anglican "Primate" who is as recognized by the Anglican Communion as its sole representative in the United States and in its dioceses outside the United States.
Election of a New Presiding Bishop
Election of new Presiding Bishop will get most of the headlines over the weekend.
The remarkable nine-year term of The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori will likely be remembered as a time of tremendous change and transition. Jefferts Schori is so popular that she would likely be elected to second term, if she wanted to run. However, she decided against that.
The new Presiding Bishop will be elected in a non-public session of the House of Bishops, which appears to be going on today. When one of the candidates gains a majority, the name of the person will be announced to the House of Deputies, which will then be asked to give its consent.
Until 1925, the senior member of the House of Bishops became the Presiding Bishop automatically. However, as the public profile of the office began to grow, there was a restlessness in the Church that it would always be represented by an old white guy who had no real claim to leadership except by virtue of his longevity.
The election of the Presiding Bishop is highly unpredictable. The multiple influences on the election of a new Presiding Bishop make the outcome largely anyone's guess. The election takes place at General Convention in the House of Bishops, mostly out of the view of the public.
There is a Nominating Committee that put forward the names of current bishops who have consented to be considered. This year there are four who've been nominated in this way.
However, others can be put forward when the bishops meet, though it is unlikely that they will be elected.
Early betting is that the Rt. Rev. Dabney Smith from Southwest Florida, and The Rt. Rev. Michael Curry from North Carolina will have an edge.
How is a Presiding Bishop determined?
The key to most Presiding Bishop elections is largely invisible to the public. The best word for it is collegiality. Most members of the House of Bishops generally want a leader who is a consensus builder, who also will appeal to the mainstream of their dioceses. They want someone who can be relied on to support them, and seek their counsel.
Because the Office of Presiding Bishop is more akin to that of a chief executive than a spiritual leader, there are significant expectations that the person who fills the job have the administrative skills to manage the workings of a sprawling enterprise like the Episcopal Church, as well as articulating a broader vision of ministry.
Some bishops do use these elections to make political statements, as was the case in the election of Jefferts Schori nine years ago. In that case as many as two and many as nine ultraconservative bishops voted for the more progressive Jefferts Schori to demonstrate to the Anglican Communion how far they felt the Episcopal Church had strayed from traditional Anglicanism, which they refer to as "orthodox."
She attained a one-vote majority on the fifth ballot.
It has been very unusual for anyone to be elected one the first ballot.
Generally the first one or two ballots might be described as the friends-and-family test. They establish the core strength of a candidate, as defined by the personal relationships and esteem in which they are held by their colleagues. After that, those whose support does not appear to be growing, will either lose support on subsequent ballots or drop out to free their supporters to get behind more viable choices.
By the end of the third ballot the serious contenders will have emerged, and the balloting will most likely narrow down to the two strongest candidates. For a long while, the job seemed to rotate based on geography, and there emerged a kind of informal agreement to rotate the position among the Church's larger provinces. This also led to a kind of unwritten agreement to rotating the job between liberals and conservatives.
Mission and inclusion shaped Church's response to the Gospel in the 20th century
Something known as the "social gospel" movement in the early part of the 20th century began to push the Episcopal Church out of a comfort zone it acquired as the Church of the country's wealthiest and powerful. Those who were part of this movement saw the Gospel as having more of an imperative for the Church to be more engaged in matters of social and economic injustice.
This vision of Christ's Gospel seemed to take hold to take root by the late-1950s as the civil rights movement increasingly forced the Church to become more active on behalf of people who had traditionally been marginalized within the Church's polity and in the broader society.
In the mid-1960s, the election of John Elbridge Hines, the Bishop of Texas, sought to shake up the image (and reality) of the Episcopal Church as a staid, conservative guardian of the status quo.
Hines was actually from Seneca, South Carolina, and grew up working summers at Kanuga, a retreat center in North Carolina owned by the southeastern dioceses. Hines was a physically imposing man, with a keen intellect, good sense of humor, who pointed the Church in the direction of greater inclusion of women, people of color, and young people.
He led the Church at a time when it was struggling with its role in the social currents of the time, particularly the civil rights movement. After a key misstep that enraged both conservatives and moderates, Hines found himself too far ahead of many fellow bishops and dioceses, and lost a great deal of the goodwill and confidence that had surrounded his election.
However, his tenure in office did what hoped it would do, and placed the Church squarely in the national debate in emerging issues like civil rights and gender equality.
The election of John Maury Allin in 1974 in many ways was a reaction to the turbulent years of Hines' leadership. While Allin, a native of Arkansas, was a conservative churchman, as Bishop of Mississippi he was known for his support of civil rights and his efforts to rebuild 100 African American churches in that state that had been burned by white supremacists.
However, as Presiding Bishop, Allin found himself out of step with a growing consensus favoring the ordination of women, and in 1977 went so far as to tell his fellow bishops that he would resign if they felt his opposition to women’s ordination would harm the work of the Church.
Ironically, Allin’s niece was Blanche Lincoln, a two-term Member of the United States House of Representatives and a two-term United States Senator from Arkansas.
The transitions brought about by the newly revised hymn book and prayer book, as well as the emergence of female clergy, overshadowed Allin's rather extensive new focus on mission work. He raised millions of dollars for its support, and established the infrastructure that is the foundation of the Church's mission work today.
Edmund Browning, the Bishop of Hawaii at the time, was elected at a convention that sought to strengthen the Episcopal Church's visibility as a growing worldwide Church.
In his early ministry, Browning had learned Japanese and served missions in Japan and in the Pacific. He also served Episcopal congregations in Europe. He worked for a brief while at the Church's New York headquarters, so there was a high level of confidence in his taking the reins of leadership.
At the time there was some concern in the House of Bishops that the Church bureaucracy was getting unmanageable, and that Browning would be able to harness it. He was elected over the Bishop of Washington DC, the Rt. Rev. John Walker, who would have ben the first African American PB, had he won.
Unfortunately, much of Browning's good work, especially in the mission field, was overshadowed by the actions of the Church's chief financial officer, in whom Browning placed too much trust. She was so skilled and had so much authority that she managed to hide the fact that she was skimming money from the Church treasury that turned out to be in excess of $2 million. She ended up in jail, but the scandal was enough to undermine confidence in Browning's management and the staff in New York.
The Rt. Rev. Frank T. Griswold, the Bishop of Chicago, succeeded Browning, and quickly set about to heal the remaining wounds from the scandal and to steer the Church's robust polity that increasingly was increasingly impatient for more concrete signs of inclusive of traditionally marginalized gays and lesbians.
An excellent theologian and preacher, Griswold was very popular in the House of Bishops and a steady hand at the helm. He managed to restore trust in the national office, and nurture the integration of female priests into the full life of the Church.
Griswold angered the right-wing even more in 2003 by his support of the Bishop-elect of New Hampshire who was gay. He was the lead consecrator at his consecration and consequently was pummeled with angry attacks and threats.
June 18, 2015
Growing Beyond Tragedy in Charleston
For Clem Pinckney, the opposite of faith was fear Amid the tragic news from here in Charleston this week were inspiring glimpses into life in community at Emanuel AME.
One of the ordinary things about the now-infamous first floor hall at Emanuel is that it is filled with metal chairs and folding tables that are routinely reconfigured during the day to accommodate how ever many people may walk through the door for whatever kind of gathering is about to take place next.
It can be noisy, but no matter how bustling the activities in that room, a friendly face always pops up, reminding visitors they are welcome and in a right place.
If the Reverend Clementa Pinckney was in the building, you could always count on a big hug. Sometimes it was really awkward, since he was a big man and his embrace was more of monster squeeze not especially dependent on the participation of the person on the receiving end. I always thought the hug was Clem's way of helping people see him as less intimidating and more open than they might have anticipated.
When visitors would depart from the happy world at Emanuel, we'd find ourselves a little bit changed and more aware that we are part of a larger world in which our participation matters.
Clem was a quiet giant at Emanuel. Even when the place was crowded on a Sunday morning or settling in for a weeknight Bible study, he knew who was there, and paid particular attention to those who might appear uncomfortable and needing encouragement to feel at home.
Apparently, he died doing exactly that... but he would not have imagined it any other way.
While Emanuel is a church, in some ways it could just as easily have been a workplace, a school room, a bridge club, or even a neighborhood bar. All are communities that in unique ways enable us to make sense of life in a chaotic and confusing world. They connect us to one another, encourage relationship, nurture identity, and inspire love.
Clem valued community. He would never have wanted us to move on from these last days more fearful, more suspicious, or less caring of those among us who are different.
The idea that his death could inspire a dialogue on more guns in public places, or make young men with Confederate flags seem more menacing, would have made him crazy. He would have wanted us to hug more, not less.
There are always risks in making ourselves vulnerable, but that's a small price compared to life in a more dangerous world of insularity and indifference.
To Clem, faith was a way of living every day. To him, the opposite of faith was fear.
I think he would want us to remember that who we are to each other and how we participate in community is important.
Perhaps going forward, the events of this sad week might inspire us to pay closer attention to those who inhabit our communities each day, linger a bit longer in personal conversation, and work to keep our hearts more open to those around us who may be struggling.
Most likely this will not protect us from random evil, but it most certainly will allow us and those we love to live more abundantly in community and in communion with one another.
-- Steve Skardon
June 15, 2015
Lawrence "Diocese" Rejects Settlement on behalf of Silent Parishes
Lewis: Unanimous parishes want to continue lawsuit in spite of offer of independence
Mark Lawrence’s breakaway “diocese” this afternoon rejected an unprecedented settlement offer by the Episcopal Church and its continuing South Carolina Diocese that would have allowed its 35 parishes and missions to become independent with their property and financial assets intact.
A Lawrence spokesman described the proposal as "spurious" and "not legitimate".
Under the proposed agreement, the Episcopal Church would release any property interest in the 35 parishes in exchange for the parishes dropping their claims to own the “Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina” and its property and financial assets. It appears the value of the settlement to the parishes would be nearly $400 million. The continuing Diocese would end up with about $16 million, plus the value of the properties of its 30 parishes and missions, and St. Christopher Camp and Conference Center on Seabrook Island.
Read more about the proposed deal in the Post and Courier
Former Episcopal priest Jim Lewis, Lawrence’s second-in-command and enforcer of discipline among his followers, issued a shrill public statement claiming that all of the 35 parishes had considered and rejected the settlement offer.
However, SC Episcopalians has been unable to confirm that any vestry or parish meetings were actually held to discuss the offer.
The settlement offer was made by the Chancellor of the continuing Diocese led by South Carolina Bishop Charles vonRosenberg, who is the real bishop in South Carolina recognized by the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.
According to vonRosenberg, “From the beginning of this dispute, we have hoped for reconciliation with people in the churches affected by this sad division. We see this offer as the strongest possible way we can demonstrate that.”
Lawrence abandoned his ministry in the Episcopal Church in the fall of 2012, after communicants of the Diocese complained to Church leaders that Lawrence had abandoned his consecration oath as a Bishop. Lawrence admitted to all of the allegations against him, but quit rather than have to defend his actions.
However, Lawrence refused to leave the Diocese and instead filed a monster lawsuit against the Church laying claim to 35 parishes that want to leave with him, all of the property of the Diocese of South Carolina, and the diocesan corporate entity.
A state court judge in Dorchester County tried Lawrence’s case last July and awarded him everything he was asking for. An appeal of that decision will be heard by the South Carolina Supreme Court on September 23rd.
Read the statement of Lawrence's Chief Lieutenant
What's good for the goose is good for the propaganda
Lewis’ statement in many ways illustrates the way artfully crafted propaganda has kept Lawrencian parishes misinformed and in line. SC Episcopalians has chosen just a few to comment on:
"If the offer had been legitimate, it would have come from someone with authority to bind all the parties on the Episcopal Church side. Attorneys for the Diocese (sic) contacted the Episcopal Church 10 days ago requesting proof of authority, including the signature of the legal counsel for The Episcopal Church, but it has not been provided.”
Lewis' standard approach to an issue in which he has no logical response has been to demean the person who is talking about it. In the above quote, he is doing just that. Lewis is trying to say that the offer is not legitimate because it came from Charleston attorney Thomas Tisdale, the current Chancellor for the Episcopal Church in South Carolina, and former Chancellor of the Diocese of South Carolina.
Lewis is suggesting that if the settlement offer was bona fide, it would have come from a representative of the Episcopal Church or its Presiding Bishop.
Ironically, this is probably the first time in years the Lawrencians have not regarded Tisdale as a legitimate spokesman and representative of the Presiding Bishop and the Church.
- In 2011, when Lawrence was secretly issuing quitclaim deeds giving away Church property, he went postal when the Presiding Bishop initiated an “incursion into the sovereign Diocese of South Carolina” by hiring Tisdale as her legal counsel to report on what he was doing. Lawrence still considers this to have been a direct "attack" on the Diocese directed by the Presiding Bishop through her representative, Mr. Tisdale.
- In November 2012, after Lawrence announced that he was quitting as a bishop, the Lawrencians again went beserk when Tisdale was part of reorganization efforts of the Diocese by lay people loyal to the Church. They claimed that Tisdale’s involvement was absolute proof that the Presiding Bishop was involved in trying to undermine Lawrence by using him as her surrogate
- Since January 2013 when Lawrence filed his unprecedented Christian-against–Christian lawsuit, Tisdale has been the leader of the defense team and the point of contact for the Church in all exchanges of communications and agreements between the various parties and their legal representatives up to and including last July’s trial in Dorchester County.
Now, somehow, Mr. Lewis has issued a ruling that - after three years of tangling with Mr. Tisdale in court -- he is no longer a sufficiently legitimate representative of the other side.
“Equally important, a valid settlement offer would have come to the Diocese’s lead counsel for this litigation as well, not just to individual parish representatives. After nearly two weeks from the time of the original ‘offer’ that contact had still not been made.”
When you have nothing else to say, whining helps.
In a lawsuit with nearly forty plaintiffs with equally as many reasons for their involvement, there is no requirement that every lawyer be served with every document that is exchanged between every other lawyer.
Tisdale presented the offer to fellow Charleston Attorney Henry Grimball, a member of St. Michael’s, about a half-minute walk from Tisdale's office. Grimball has been doing legal business for his parish for years, just as Tisdale has been doing legal work for the Church.
Both are lifelong Episcopalians, South Carolinians, and men of their word. Neither Lewis, Lawrence, nor most of their breakaway cohorts are lifelong Episcopalians or native South Carolinians, so they can probably be excused for not knowing that Charleston lawyers have been conducting business this way for years.
One of the problems with the legal mess Lawrence has created is that the 35 plaintiff parishes are treated like cans tied to the bumper of some newly-weds' car. They are largely irrelevant except for making noise. (They also are paying the bills, but SC Episcopalians couldn’t come up with a metaphor that might be stretched that far.)
Lawrence's attorney Alan Runyan is in charge of the litigation for the Diocesan corporation, but has not always been as forthcoming as the parishes would like. Many of them are routinely in the dark when it comes to knowing what is going on, and that has been a problem, in our view, since the legal interests of the parishes in the lawsuit do not coincide with those of the breakaway "diocese".
Most lay people in breakaway congregations found out about the settlement offer by reading this website last week. Unlike Lawrence, Bishop vonRosenberg actually thought it was important to tell his parishes about a legal development that would affect them. Based on our experience, if the Church had made the offer through the Lawrence "diocese", the breakaway parishes would still be unaware that they had a shot at leaving the Church with their property ... and didn't take it.
"The Episcopal Church gave the Diocese until June 15, the day the Diocese had to submit a brief to the South Carolina Supreme Court, in response to TEC’s appeal of a lower court ruling asserting the Diocese’s ownership of its properties and identity… The timing here is not coincidental. The time and energy our attorneys had to devote to this non-offer was significant. That cannot be overstated.”
More whining. There is no evidence the attorneys for Lawrence did anything more about vonRosenberg's settlement offer but read an email, fill out a timesheet, and send a bill to Lewis and/or the parishes that have retained them.
No one really knows, but Lawrence's army of attorneys may well have cost his followers up to $5 million already. Trust us, shooting down a settlement offer that might kill off this golden goose was worth every bit of this crowd's "time and energy' ... and that cannot be overstated.
Please continue reading more in the earlier report below...
June 15, 2015
Renegade 'Diocese' Mum on Property Settlement Offer
Episcopal Church would allow parishes to quit-while-ahead, and save a few millions bucks
CHARLESTON - A remarkable offer by the Episcopal Church and its continuing South Carolina Diocese to settle a multimillion dollar lawsuit is apparently still on the table this afternoon, even though leaders of Mark Lawrence's breakaway "diocese" appear to be giving it the silent treatment.
Last week SC Episcopal Bishop Charles vonRosenberg said that he'd withdraw any legal claim to the properties, buildings, and financial assets of 35 breakaway congregations in exchange for their giving up their claims to the "Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina Inc." and its assets and properties.
SC Episcopalians estimates that the rebel parishes would walk away with a settlement estimated to be worth up to $400 million. The Church's continuing Diocese would end up with something valued at close to $25 million, in addition to the Diocesan name, corporate marks, and properties and financial assets belonging to its 30 parishes and missions.
Retiring Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori agreed to vonRosenberg's plan before it was offered.
Read the Charleston Post & Courier's story on the deal here
Does deal make reconciliation more likely?
Since he became Bishop of the continuing Diocese in January 2013, vonRosenberg has insisted that his goal is "reconciliation" between the two sides. He has never publicly criticized Lawrence who left the Episcopal Church, then turned around and filed a mega-lawsuit claiming that all of the assets and parish properties in the Diocese of South Carolina, including the Diocese itself, belonged to him.
VonRosenberg, who has been a longtime friend of Lawrence, reluctantly released nearly 100 of his priests from the Episcopal ministry in late 2013, but left a door open by which they might eventually return. Several have taken him up on it.
VonRosenberg apparently believes that long-term reconciliation is more likely if the loyalists and the breakaways are not in court fighting each other.
In recent months there has been a thawing out of many parish to parish relationships, as children are baptized and confirmed in parishes on opposing sides, funerals occur, and friends worship with friends. While it is unlikely everyone will be in the same ecclesiastical roof, vonRosenberg apparently does not see that reconciliation would not still be possible.
Read vonRosenberg's comments here
A key element of the deal would be the ownership of St. Christopher Camp & Conference Center on Seabrook Island. It was founded in the late 1930s, and been an influential part of the Christian witness of the Diocese since then.
While there are few details about how the deal would work, vonRosenberg is privately reported to want to insure that breakaways and loyalists have equal access to the oceanfront resort. Since seizing control of St. Christopher in 2012, the breakaway group has been openly hostile to the enrollment of children from loyalist parishes in its summer camps. "They are getting what they deserve," according to one staff person.
Breakaways face difficult legal challenges in court this fall
Both sides are facing a grueling few months as they head to both Federal and state courts to battle each other.
At the state level, they will be facing off in the South Carolina Supreme Court on September 23rd over an appeal of a ruling by Circuit Judge Diane Goodstein awarding Lawrence all the breakaways parish properties and the "Diocese of South Carolina Inc." In Federal court they will be arguing over whether an injunction should be issued against Lawrence has been falsely advertising himself as an Episcopal Bishop, and should be held financially liable for the damage he has done.
Lawyers familiar with the cases say that the Episcopal Church probably has an edge in both judicial venues, and that the best the breakaways can expect is something along the lines of what vonRosenberg proposed last week.
Lawrence crowd staying quiet as deadline on the offer nears
VonRosenberg's offer carries a deadline of today for a response. However, that deadline appear to be somewhat flexible if the affected parishes want more time to consider it.
June 12, 2015
Settlement Offer Reportedly Extended to Pro-Lawrence Parishes
VonRosenberg proposal apparently cleared with Presiding Bishop
CHARLESTON - Facing years of costly courtroom battles, breakaway parishes aligned with ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence seem to have gotten a remarkable gift from the Episcopal Church. Since earlier this week they have been mulling an offer to allow them to leave the Church with their parish properties intact.
SC Episcopalians has learned from leaders in loyalist parishes that their Bishop, Charles vonRosenberg, wrote them yesterday to disclose that he'd made the offer to settle the legal claims of 36 breakaway parishes and missions, conditioned on their relinquishing claims to the corporate entity known as “The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina” and its property and financial assets.
He also told them Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, who is leaving office this summer, has agreed to the offer.
Both sides could avoid years of costly legal challenges
If the breakaway parishes accept vonRosenberg's proposed “global” settlement of the case, both sides will be spared millions of dollars in litigation costs. Many lawyers think the plan may be the likely outcome of the legal process anyway.
Ex-bishop Lawrence instigated his monster lawsuit against the Church in January 2013 to take the Diocese of South Carolina out of the Episcopal Church along with an estimated $800 million in financial assets and parish properties.
Some in the breakaway parishes have admitted privately they felt stampeded into joining the lawsuit back then because Lawrence’s lieutenants told them Jefferts Schori was planning sue them and throw them out of their churches.
Since then they have been paying enormous legal fees to their own lawyers, as well as to those hired by the Lawrence “diocese”. At the same time they have also been coping with losses of income and membership.
During the three-week trial of Lawrence’s lawsuit last July, his attorneys failed to offer any evidence that anyone associated with the Episcopal Church was in any way planning to sue anyone in South Carolina.
Ironically, the only legal threat to the ownership of the breakaways' parish property materialized when they signed onto Lawrence's lawsuit, and put the question of ownership in the hands of the courts.
SC Episcopalians has always been concerned that the breakaway parishes were hoodwinked into joining Lawrence’s monster lawsuit and paying for it under the false assumption that the legal issues affecting the breakaway parishes can’t be separated from those affecting Lawrence’s non-profit corporation that calls itself as a “diocese.”
Lawrence and his huge legal team brought their lawsuit just days before vonRosenberg was elected as Lawrence’s successor. Its timing appeared to be a ploy to prevent pro-Lawrence parishes from approaching vonRosenberg directly about leaving the Episcopal Church without having to go to court.
Under vonRosenberg's plan, breakaway parishes would be free to remain independent, affiliate with other groups, or even return to the Episcopal Church.
Neither vonRosenberg nor Lawrence, their respective organizations, or the parishes have made any public comment on the proposed deal.
June 11, 2015
Breakaways on the Defensive as Cases Head to State Supreme Court and Federal District Court
Episcopal Church, Continuing Diocese will finally get to make their case in serious courtrooms this summer
CWith HARLESTON - The Episcopal Church and its continuing Diocese in eastern South Carolina will finally be in a position to make their case against the breakaway group led by ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence in two serious courtrooms over the next few months.
U.S. District Judge Weston Houck met with lawyers for the Church and the breakaways today in Charleston to consider whether he should dismiss the case of vonRosenberg vs Lawrence, in which the wily Lawrence is accused of falsely representing himself as an Episcopal bishop in South Carolina. Lawrence left the Church in the fall of 2012, but continues to insist that he is the rightful Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina.
VonRosenberg maintains that Lawrence's behavior is confusing the public and making it difficult for him to carry out his duties as the duly elected Episcopal Bishop of South Carolina, who is recognized by both the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. If vonRosenberg prevails, Lawrence could, not only get socked with an injunction against any further impersonation, but incur substantial financial penalties for his misconduct.
Houck told the Lawrencians to prepare briefs on their motion for dismissal within 30 days, after which vonRosenberg will have 15 days to respond. The question is whether there are "special circumstances" in the case that require Houck to dismiss the case.
Houck dismissed the case nearly two years ago, but vonRosenberg appealed that decision to the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, which easily overturned it this spring.
Crazy decision by lower court judge goes to state's Supreme Court
If Houck does not dismiss the case a second time, it could go to trial in late August or September, when the state's Supreme Court plans to hear the Church's appeal of a lower court ruling in state court allowing Lawrence to take the Diocese out of the Episcopal Church along with 36 parishes that joined with him as plaintiffs.
That ruling, by Circuit Judge Diane Goodstein in Dorchester County, was issued in January of this year pursuant to last summer's trial of a monster lawsuit brought against the Church by Lawrence, claiming that the corporate entity, known as the "Diocese of South Carolina," belonged to him. The decision also allowed the pro-Lawrence breakaway parishes to sever their ties with the Episcopal Church.
The ruling by Goodstein was largely written by an attorney for Lawrence after the trial, raising questions about what the heck Goodstein was doing during the six months it took her to issue an opinion. The ruling's open hostility toward the Episcopal Church, misstatement of facts, and failure to respond to key points of law or consider two centuries of Constitutional precedent will make it difficult for any attorney to defend... even the one who pretty much wrote it.
Lawrencians still getting bum legal advice
Comments today by Jim Lewis, a former Episcopal priest and Lawrence's chief lieutenant, seemed to reflect the Lawrencians' increasingly defensive tone.
According to Lewis, "Judge Goodstein has ruled definitively that Bishop Lawrence is the bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina. TEC’s whole complaint in this case rests on this unproven presumption that vonRosenburg is the bishop of the Diocese. If the state Supreme Court affirms that decision, that question can no longer be considered in doubt.”
Actually, decisions by state supreme courts can and often are appealed to the United States Supreme Court, as both sides in this case say they are prepared to do. In our justice system, state courts are not necessarily the final word in matters of this significance, especially when long-standing Constitutional protections are in play.
Only three years ago, the breakaway group in Virginia got a whipping in their state's supreme court, which they then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case, and let Virginia's pro-Church ruling stand.
Around that same time, a similar, pro-breakaway decision in a lower state court in Lawrence's home diocese in California went south on appeal. The renegade bishop there got the boot posthumously, and rebellious parishes -- including the one once led by Lawrence - were returned to the Church.
Mr. Lewis doesn't appreciate that the case of vonRosenberg vs. Lawrence is a Federal case, alleging that Lawrence has intentionally violated Federal laws, which take precedence over state court ruling when they are in conflict.
VonRosenberg has actually been criticized for not being more aggressive in pursuing individuals like Mr. Lewis, whom many believe were actively engaged in a conspiracy to defraud the Episcopal Church of its property.
Getting a break like that, you'd think Mr. Louis would at least learn how to spell "vonRosenberg."
The Supreme Court will hear the appeal of the "definitive" ruling by Judge Goodstein on September 23 in Columbia.
May 25, 2015
Lambeth Palace: We are not Amused
Bishops Zavala and Lawrence apparently lied about Archbishop of Canterbury's support of the oversight plan they concocted with the Global South
LONDON - A spokesman for Lambeth Palace this afternoon rejected the claim of the breakaway "Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina Incorporated (PECDSCI)" that the Archbishop of Canterbury has endorsed a plan for some kind of oversight of the renegade group by the primates of the Anglican Communion's Global South provinces.
According to the spokesman, the Archbishop was "informed" about the plan only after Global South primates approved it in February 2014 at a meeting in Cairo. He never approved it or gave consent to it. In fact, he wasn't even there when the scheme was concocted.
In the Anglican Communion, primates have no authority on their own to lay claim to territory in the jurisdiction of another province or its primate.
The rebuke was the result of a PECDSCI propaganda offensive last week to convince its followers that they are still in the Communion by virtue of being under "primatial oversight" of the ultraconservative Global South provinces.
Actually, the Communion only recognizes the Episcopal Church as its province in the United States, and the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori as its primate. The continuing diocese in South Carolina, The Episcopal Church in South Carolina, is led by the Rt. Rev. Charles vonRosenberg.
The renegade 'diocese', under the leadership of ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence, says it has left the Episcopal Church and the authority of Jefferts Schori and vonRosenberg. That question is currently being litigated in Federal and state courts.
Carefully-scripted get acquainted tour goes haywire
To deliver the bogus message on oversight, Lawrence recruited Hector "Tito" Zavala, the Presiding Bishop of the tiny Anglican Province of South America, who stopped by South Carolina last week to meet the new constituents after picking up an online graduate degree from Trinity School for Ministry.
On Wednesday Zavala spoke at small gatherings of PECDSCI clergy and laity in Charleston and Summerton, repeatedly assuring them that Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, had "agreed with" and "supported" a plan by which he and the other Global South leaders would assume the role of primate for the breakaway PECDSCI.
Zavala even went so far as to say that they would be conducting future elections and consecrations for PECDSCI bishops.
"He (Welby) was there in Cairo with us," Zavala said.
However, SC Episcopalians was there in Charleston with Zavala and Lawrence and noticed that Bishop Tito became noticeably ill at ease when he got to the part of his remarks about primatial oversight. (see previous story below) Other than the bit about future bishops, Zavala seemed to fumble his way through a non-explanation of exactly what is was he and the Global South primates would be actually be doing in South Carolina.
Soon it became clear that Zavala's presence in South Carolina was just another public relations stunt, exploiting bishops and clergy from distant parts of the Communion.
Zavala, a long-time friend and political supporter of Lawrence, is the current leader of the Global South primates who are among the most rigidly conservative evangelicals in the Communion. Not surprisingly, they bitterly oppose the more western leanings of the Communion on social and theological matters.
Palace repudiates attempted deception by Lawrence and Zavala
Over the weekend, word of the PECDSCI's latest shenanigans reached the headquarters of the Anglican Communion at London's Lambeth Palace, and almost immediately Edward Thornton, an official spokesman for Archbishop Welby, repudiated Zavala's claim.
"The Global South Primates Steering Committee announced in 2014 the establishment of Primatial Oversight for the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina, which had seceded from the Episcopal Church, in order to keep the diocese within the Anglican Communion. The steering committee informed Archbishop Justin of their decision when he joined them for the final day of their meeting in Cairo.
"Archbishop Justin has since had discussions about how the arrangements will work, exploring the exercising of pastoral, not episcopal, oversight by Bishop Zavala. Archbishop Justin has discussed these developments with the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Katharine Jefferts Schori."
The Lawrence crowd has had no comment on the statement.
Thornton's comments were made in response to an inquiry from American blogger Ronald Caldwell, a professional educator and historian who has been documenting Lawrence's efforts to leave the Episcopal Church with an estimated $800 million in parish properties and diocesan assets.
Read Dr. Caldwell's excellent commentary on this latest attempted scam.
May 22, 2015
Breakaway “Diocese” Shimmies Away from Oversight Claim
No evidence Welby "agreed" to primatial oversight for the Lawrence crowd
As it turns out, the Archbishop of Canterbury may not have given the Global South primates consent to oversee the breakaway Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina Incorporated (PECDSCI) after all.
On Wednesday, the leader of those primates made that startling claim to a handful of PECDSCI clergy and supporters -- and SC Episcopalians -- during a visit to South Carolina intended to "encourage" the faithful... or unfaithful depending on how you look at it.
However, since then, there has been no evidence found or produced to support such a claim and, by this afternoon, even the PECDSCI itself was gingerly backing away from it.
If it was true, such consent by the leader of the Anglican Communion would constitute an extraordinary rebuke of the Episcopal Church, its Presiding Bishop, and the Bishop of the Diocese of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina.
The worldwide Anglican Communion is comprised of 38 provinces, whose religious traditions and theology are descended from the Church of England going back to Henry VIII. The current leader of the Communion is Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.
Each Anglican province is led by a senior bishop, known as a "primate," who maintains exclusive jurisdiction over his or her province. There are no overlapping boundaries among the primates' jurisdictions. For example, the Episcopal Church is the sole Anglican province in the United States, and its Presiding Bishop is recognized by the Anglican Communion as the primate in that jurisdiction.
The Global South is an association of primates from parts of South America, Asia, and Africa whose provinces are rigidly conservative and mostly evangelical. Not surprisingly, they bitterly oppose the more western leanings of the Communion on social and theological matters.
Lawrencians looking for a way back into Anglicanism
In late 2012, the PECDSCI, under the leadership of Bishop Mark Lawrence, voted to leave the Episcopal Church because of its inclusion of gays and lesbians, women in positions of spiritual authority, and those whose experience of Jesus Christ is inconsistent with their own.
In doing so, it severed its formal ties to the Communion, along with those of its 16,000 members.
Since then the PECDSCI has been scrambling to get back in, mostly through an erratic public relations offensive utilizing earnest, but misinformed Anglican clerics who are periodically paraded through South Carolina.
Its biggest success came in February 2014 when the steering committee of the Global South primates "granted" its request for something called "primatial oversight" at a high-profile gathering in Cairo. The idea was that the renegades would have a temporary status as Anglicans, while they sought out a new affiliation with a province other than the Episcopal Church, and its much-despised primate, The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori.
However, the move was basically a sham, since individual or even groups of primates have no authority on their own to establish primatial oversight with anyone, much less recognize breakaway groups as part of the Communion. Those decisions rest exclusively with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the three other Anglican Communion Instruments of Unity.
Archbishop "Tito" to the rescue, sort of
This week's much-heralded visit from Archbishop Hector "Tito" Zavala, the Primate of the Anglican Province of South America and the leader of the Global South, was intended to showcase support for the PECDSCI even at the highest levels of the Communion.
Zavala is a long-time personal friend of Lawrence, and bitter critic of Jefferts Schori and what he calls the "homosexual agenda." He refuses to participate in meetings or events with "arrogant" Episcopalians or members of the Anglican Church of Canada, and wants to see them kicked out of the Communion. He and Lawrence are both graduates of the non-denominational and evangelical Trinity School for Ministry.
During his presentation Wednesday, Zavala announced that at that Cairo meeting Welby had fully consented to the Global South primates' plan to offer primatial oversight to the Lawrence crowd in South Carolina.
However, according to news reports (and a rather sneaky fix-up article on the PECDSCI website today), it appears that Welby simply attended the meeting of the steering committee. There is no evidence he was present when the Committee decided to establish a "Primatial Oversight Council,” much less that he consented to its creation or its mission.
It is not even clear there were any discussions with the ABC about Lawrence's schism.
PECDSCI to the rescue
Today, on its website, the PECDSCI seemed to back away from Zavala’s assertion that Welby had agreed to the bogus offer of oversight. In a cleverly composed account of Bishop Tito's remarks, it quoted him as saying:
“I'm here with you with the consent of the Archbishop of Canterbury," said Bishop Zavala. He told those gathered that Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, was with the Global South Primates "Steering Committee" in a meeting in Cairo, Egypt in 2014 when "we decided to establish a Primatial Oversight Council to provide pastoral and primatial oversight to some dioceses in order to keep them within the Communion.”
While noting that Zavala's remarks were delivered in "clear English", the PECDSCI does not mention his "clear" and repeated insistence that Welby "agreed with" and "supported" primatial oversight for the PECDSCI, nor does it include his pronouncement that he and his Global South colleagues are now in charge of primatial duties in South Carolina, like overseeing the election and consecration of future PECDSCI bishops.
The Anglican Province of South America includes Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Uruguay, Peru, and Paraguay. With less than 25,000 communicants, it is one of the smallest provinces in the Anglican Communion and only 9,000 members larger than the PECDSCI.
May 20, 2015
Visiting Primate: Archbishop of Canterbury has Agreed to Primatial Oversight for Lawrence's Breakaway 'Diocese'
South American Archbishop says Lawrence's renegades are now part of the Anglican Communion and under Global South primates' authority
He says new role includes election and consecration of future bishops
CHARLESTON - The leader of the tiny Anglican Province of South America announced today that Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has agreed to allow him and his fellow Global South primates to exercise "primatial oversight" over the breakaway Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina Incorporated (PECDSCI).
Archbishop Hector “Tito” Zavala told PECDSCI followers in Summerton and Charleston that they are very much a part of the Anglican Communion because of this new role which includes the election and consecration of future PECDSCI bishops. It was not clear if Zavala alone is providing oversight or if the Global South primates are doing it as a group.
“You're not alone. We are with you,” he told the two small gatherings of PECDSCI clergy and lay people today. Last night he apparently met with the PECDSCI Diocesan Council. The Global South primates hail from largely evangelical, conservative Anglican provinces in developing countries.
Zavala said that Welby had agreed to the oversight deal in a meeting with Global South primates, but did not specify when and where the meeting took place. Unfortunately, he was ushered away before SC Episcopalians could ask him about that, or what primatial oversight would look like and exactly how it would work.
No documentation or evidence that Welby has done what Zavala claims was provided, nor has it been reported elsewhere.
Zavala is a very engaging man, who is somewhat self-conscious about his broken English. He was elected to lead his province in 2010, and is in the United States currently to receive a degree from Lawrence’s alma mater, Trinity School for Ministry. His brief visit to South Carolina this week appears to be his first.
Welby's permission would set a new precedent
Zavala’s news of primatial oversight is startling since the Anglican Communion only recognizes the authority of one primate within the unique geography of each province.
There are 38 member provinces of the Anglican Communion, each led by a senior bishop, known as a primate. The only Anglican province in the United States is the Episcopal Church, led by its Presiding Bishop and Primate, Katharine Jefferts Schori.
Until now, Welby has consistently rejected the claims of schismatic groups to be a part of the Communion after they had broken with their provinces. His predecessor, Rowan Williams, repeatedly frustrated dissident groups when he refused to grant them oversight under primates with rightwing views more to their liking.
Zavala’s assertion of primatial oversight could not be confirmed since, at least as of tonight, the Anglican Communion still lists only Andrew Waldo and Charles vonRosenberg as bishops with official jurisdiction in South Carolina, and Jefferts Schori as the only Anglican primate with jurisdiction.
Zavala defends Global South primates as unifiers
Apparently smarting from recent criticism that he has become a polarizing figure in the Anglican Communion, Archbishop Zavala strongly protested that he, the Global South primates, and the Global Anglican Futures Conference (GAFCON), which he also leads, have been wrongly criticized for creating disruption in the Communion.
“We are working for Anglican unity,” he told SC Episcopalians, but added that he will never attend a meeting or event if members of the "arrogant" Episcopal Church or the Anglican Church of Canada are present.
In 2010 the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion unceremoniously booted Zavala off its Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Unity, Faith, and Order when he refused to respond to allegations that he had violated Communion rules on crossing jurisdictional lines.
Zavala's profile was first raised in the United States in 2010 when, in an interview with Episcopal New Service, he grandly thanked members of his worldwide Anglican "family" for their support of the people of Chile after a devastating earthquake which killed over 500 people and left a million homeless.
However, in 2013 he seemed to reverse himself in an interview with Trinity School for Ministry in which he claimed that, on behalf of his suffering people, he had repeatedly rejected disaster relief from the Episcopal Church after the 2010 earthquake.
Last month Zavala was one of six uber-conservative GAFCON primates to reject the historic premise of Anglicanism as a “middle way” instead, saying that followers of Christ must follow the “narrow way.” The primates also announced that the teachings of the Church of England were “non-Biblical” and that they would be raising money and funding missionary staff people to establish new GAFCON churches in England.
The Anglican Province of South America includes Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Uruguay, Peru, and Paraguay. With less than 25,000 members, it is one of the smallest provinces in the Anglican Communion and only nine thousand members larger than the PECDSCI.
It was formerly known as the “The Province of the Southern Cone,” and has often provided refuge to dissidents in the other three renegade dioceses that tried to leave the Episcopal Church.
May 15, 2015
Thou Shalt Not Steal
Episcopal Church and its continuing South Carolina Diocese rip Goodstein ruling in appeal to the state Supreme Court
COLUMBIA - Attorneys for the Episcopal Church and its continuing Diocese in South Carolina today ripped into a lower court ruling that awarded an estimated $800 million in parish properties and Diocesan assets to a breakaway group led by ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence.
In filing its appeal to the state's Supreme Court, the Church's legal team argued that Circuit Judge Diane Goodstein failed to address key issues raised in the case, wrongfully interpreted centuries of established legal precedents, and relied on illegal corporate acts by Lawrence's breakaways to justify her decision to award two centuries of accumulated Church property and Diocesan assets belonging to the Church to dissidents who have left the Church.
Goodstein handed down her ruling in January in response to a lawsuit filed by Lawrence and 36 parishes loyal to him in January 2013. She also gave the breakaways ownership of the entire diocesan corporation and the name and corporate marks of "Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina."
Read the brief and accompanying news release
“Civil law does not permit people to create confusion with federally-protected brands and trademarks, to alter trusts created by statutes, or to retroactively validate unlawful corporate actions ... People can leave The Episcopal Church at will, but they cannot take the church’s identity and property when they go,” according to an initial brief filed by the Church and its diocese known as The Episcopal Church in South Carolina.
An essential premise of Goodstein's ruling was her finding that the Episcopal Church is not an "hierarchical church" and consequently not afforded the protections afforded it under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. That is a fairly novel perspective in that the Federal Courts have consistently upheld exactly the opposite view for nearly two centuries.
During last July's trial of Lawrence's lawsuit, Goodstein appeared to many to be out of her depth. At one point she became so frustrated that she insisted that attorneys not use the name, "The Episcopal Church," during the trial because it was confusing her.
The Lawrence crowd has thirty days to answer the Church's arguments in anticipation of a September hearing before the Supreme Court.
Lawsuit is part of a broader legal attack on the Episcopal Church
The original lawsuit appears to have been part of a much broader, coordinated effort by dissidents to test their breakaway legal theories in courts across the country. In most places they have failed and actually ended up strengthening the Church's claim on its property.
However, in a handful of places, like South Carolina, Illinois, and Texas, judges like Goodstein have caused years of delay and confusion in dragging out the cases.
Some breakaway groups in other states have said that even if they fail to win in court, they at least would have weakened the Episcopal Church by forcing it to spend millions of dollars in legal fees.
That appears to be what is happening here.
The Episcopal Church in South Carolina includes more than 7,000 members in thirty parishes and missions, and since January 2013 has been led by the Rt. Rev. Charles G. vonRosenberg.
The breakaway diocese, which calls itself "The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina" or the "Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina Incorporated," includes about forty parishes and missions with an estimated 16,000 members. It is led by former Bishop Mark J. Lawrence.
When Lawrence was consecrated as the legitimate bishop of the legitimate Diocese of South Carolina in 2008, there were more than 30,000 communicants in the unified Diocese. Lawrence quit the Church in the fall of 2012.
May 17, 2015
Some Questions for Archbishop Zavala by Dr. Ron Caldwell
Upcoming visit by the leader of The GAFCON raises questions about arrogance of power, GAFCON's war against the Anglican Communion, and last year's still secret agreement with ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence
This coming week the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina Incorporated (PECDSCI) will be squiring around Archbishop Tito Zavala of South America. He is the controversial leader of the Global Anglican Futures Conference (GAFCON), an unsanctioned coalition of dissident Anglican clerics who have recently declared war on the Church of England.
He will be speaking at St. Mathias in Summerton and St. Luke & St. Paul in Charleston on May 20th. Both sessions are open to the public, but the PECDSCI asks that reservations be made in that space is limited.
Last year ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence cut a deal with GAFCON that gives this group some kind of oversight role with the Diocese of South Carolina. Details of the arrangement have never been made public.
Dr. Ron Caldwell is an insightful commentator on the schism in the Diocese of South Carolina, and regularly posts his excellent observations on his own website. He currently has an excellent piece on issues raised by Archbishop Zavala's presence.
SC Episcopalians encourages those among its readers who support ex-Bishop Lawrence to learn more about the kinds of relationships the PECDSCI is cultivating and deciding for yourselves whether they represent a viable path forward for Christianity in 21st century South Carolina.
Read Dr. Caldwell's comments here
May 9, 2015
Lawrencians Commence Formal Courtship with Other Dissidents
Visits are important for who's there ... and who isn't
SEABROOK ISAND -- The breakaway "Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina Incorporated (PECDSCI)" is finally moving forward with realignment efforts that could lead to greater stability and a reversal of ongoing declines in membership, ministry, and finances.
For years ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence has preferred the security of a small fiefdom over which he has total control and resisted alliances with larger dissident groups in which he might have to surrender some or all of his authority.
However, he apparently now sees them as a key to long-term sustainability of the PECDSCI. The group, which is a non-profit organization, does even have a procedure in place by which it can replace Lawrence or elect his successor, much less bishops who would be available to consecrate him.
Reaching out to ACNA
One of Lawrence's obvious options lies with the so-called Anglican Church of North America (ACNA)," a odd conglomeration of ultraconservative dissidents a diverse collection of mostly of dissident former Episcopalians, whose unity at the moment is rooted in their hostility toward gays and lesbians, and a shared antipathy toward their former Church.
At the end of April, Lawrence hosted a get-reacquainted meeting with leaders of the ACNA on Seabrook Island that included high ranking clergy and lay people on both sides. Their mission was to set the stage for a summer courtship during which Lawrence's parishes would get to mix it up with people from the ACNA.
The PECDSCI described the ACNA pow-wow as an opportunity to "engage in prayer, fellowship, and conversation... on the possible compatibility of the ecclesiologies of the Anglican Church of North America and the Diocese of South Carolina."
In other words, they were talking about the issues that might lead to the Lawrence crowd joining the ACNA.
The gathering was attended by ACNA's leader, Foley Beach, along with his breakaway Bishops Ray Sutton, John Guernsey, Bill Atwood, Terrell Glenn, and others. The Diocese of South Carolina was represented by Lawrence, Wade Logan, Alan Runyan, Craige Borrett, Kendall Harmon, Jeffrey Miller, Boo Pennewill, and Jim Lewis.
Yes, but who was not in attendanceread more here
Significantly absent from the meeting was Steve Wood, ACNA’s Bishop for the Carolinas, who was defeated by Lawrence in 2006 when both were candidates for Bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina. Wood, also rector of St. Andrew’s in Mount Pleasant, subsequently left the Episcopal Church and joined up with ACNA, where he assumed his current position.
Wood’s selection as an ACNA bishop with a jurisdiction that includes South Carolina was widely seen as a rebuff to Lawrence. Lawrence was reported to have been interested in jumping to the ACNA, if a suitable role could be found for him, but he did not seem to be in a particular hurry to give up his position in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.
There were also private concerns that Lawrence had too robust an ego to be a good fit for a leadership structure that depended on cooperation.
The ANCA hierarchy and their allies in the Diocese became impatient, and finally reached out to Wood, who is charismatic, considerably younger than the 65-year-old Lawrence, and enjoys a wide following among younger church-goers.
In the vague language of the Lawrencians, the situation with Wood is referred to as the “problem of multiple jurisdictions.”
GAFCON Leader Visits next week
At the same time PECDSCI leaders were meeting at Seabrook, they were also preparing for this months arrival of South American Bishop Tito Zavala, the leader of the group of dissident Anglican Primates with whom the PECDSCI has hitched its wagon.
Lawrence announced Zavala's visit in March and stressed that it represented the importance attached to the PECDSCI by The Global Anglican Futures Conference (GAFCON).
Last month leaders of the GAFCON declared war on the Anglican Communion, and rejected the centuries-old premise of its identity.
The GAFCON relationship is important to the Lawrencians in that they have some kind of deal they say provides them an official connection to the Anglican Communion. No one seems to know what the deal is, but Lawrence has been talking about the visit from Zavala for a couple of months.
Anglican Shmanglican II
The PECDSCI continues to refer to both The ACNA and The GAFCON as "Anglican" and part of the Anglican Communion.
They are not, of course.
Last fall the Archbishop of Canterbury said in no uncertain terms that the ANCA was a "separate Church" and not part of the Communion. The GAFCON is a reactionary group of clerics from developing nations whose organization is not recognized by the Communion nor does it have any authority to act in any way for the Communion.
The only province recognized by the Anglican Communion in the United States is called The Episcopal Church, and the only recognized Primate with jurisdiction in this country is its Presiding Bishop.
May 3, 2015
Opinion: "Jesus Doesn't Tweet" by Rachel Held Evans
Want millennials back in the pews? Stop trying to make church "cool"
read it here
May 1, 2015
Four Bishops Nominated to Succeed Katharine Jefferts Schori
Michael Curry of North Carolina, a favorite in S.C., may be the early favorite
A special nominating committee of the upcoming General Convention has proposed the names of four men to succeed Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and lead the Episcopal Church for the next nine years.
There will likely be additional names proposed at the Convention in Salt Lake City this summer, but it does appear that an early favorite is the Rt. Rev. Michael Curry, Bishop of the Diocese of North Carolina for past 15 years. Curry is a widely sought after preacher in many dioceses and has a exceptional network of friends and colleagues across the Church.
He is a favorite among Episcopalians in South Carolina, largely due to his friendship with Bishop Charles vonRosenberg and occasional visits to the Diocese including a stint as the keynote speaker at a Diocesan Convention.
Another southern nominee is the Rt. Rev. Dabney Smith, the Bishop of Southwest Florida, and occasional visitor to the Episcopal Church in South Carolina as well.
There is significant speculation that the next Presiding Bishop will come from the South. South Carolina native Henry Parsley, the Bishop of Alabama, was nearly elected nine years ago, but was abandoned in the balloting by a number of archconservative bishops, some of whom actually voted for Jefferts Schori. Her predecessor was Frank Griswold of Chicago, and his predecessor was Edmund Browning of Hawaii.
Many believe the popular Jefferts Schori could have been re-elected. She briefly considered seeking another term, but decided that she was not willing to commit to another full nine years at the helm.
Read the candidate profiles here
April 29, 2015
Federal Appeals Court Deals Major Blow to Breakaways
Judges reject delaying tactic as Lawrencians now face a two-front legal challenge
RICHMOND - The U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals wasted little time today slamming the door on former Bishop Mark Lawrence and his legal team in their efforts to forestall a lawsuit brought against him by South Carolina Episcopal Bishop Charles vonRosenberg.
In that lawsuit, vonRosenberg contends that Lawrence's ongoing claims to be an Episcopal bishop constitute "false advertising" that is creating confusion and interfering in his work as the legitimate Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina.
Today's decision by the Appeals Court means that the case has been sent back to the Federal District Court in Charleston, where a trial in the next few months is almost certain.
Lawrence: I am still an Episcopal bishop
VonRosenberg initiated his lawsuit in early 2013, when Lawrence publicly insisted that he had left the Episcopal Church but was continuing as an Episcopal Bishop. He was going so far as to tell congregations and clergy loyal to him that they were still "Anglican" and "Episcopal," even though they were not recognized as such by the Anglican Communion nor by the Episcopal Church.
August 2013 the case suffered a critical setback when Federal District Judge Weston Houck in Charleston refused to hear it. Houck claimed that an upcoming case in state court on Lawrence's lawsuit against the Church would address all the issues vonRosenberg wanted to raise.
However, VonRosenberg disagreed and appealed Houck's decision to the Richmond-based Fourth Circuit.
A three-judge panel of that Court finally heard the appeal on January 28th of this year and, on March 31st, announced its unanimous decision to overturn Houck's ruling.
However, the Lawrence team immediately filed a motion with the full court asking that the appeal of the ruling be re-heard by all the judges on the Court. That request, mostly likely intended to delay the case, led to today's announcement.
Lawrencians are now facing the troubling prospect of defending an appeal of their own lawsuit against the Episcopal Church before the South Carolina Supreme Court this fall, at the same time as they could be in Federal Court defending Lawerence against vonRosenberg's lawsuit in Federal Court.
April 21, 2015
Right-wing GAFCON Denounces Anglicanism's Middle Way, as War against the Anglican Communion Kicks into High Gear
Lawrence's renegade allies reject 600-year-old premise of Anglican tradition
Disgruntled African leaders with whom Mark Lawrence has aligned his breakaway Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina Inc (PECDSCI) announced in London over the weekend that they now flatly reject Thomas Cramner's historic understanding of Anglicanism as a 'middle way", or Via Media, between Protestantism and Catholicism.
In a formal statement to international news media, four African primates, along with the Presiding Bishop of South America and the leader of the breakaway Anglican Church of North America (ACNA), declared "there can never be a middle way... It is the narrow way that leads to life."
Via Media has defined Anglicanism since the times of King Henry VIII and his daughter, Elizabeth I.
In 2008 the Anglican provinces represented by these primates formed the Global Anglican Futures Conference (GAFCON) which is a loose-knit network of angry uber-conservative clerics bound together by a shared fear of homosexuals, women in positions of spiritual authority, and those whose experience of Christ and understandings of the Bible are different from their own.
They apparently intend to start recruiting churches, raising money, and deploying staff in England, Ireland, and Australia to support a right-wing assault on the Anglican Communion and its alleged "drift" away from the Bible.
They say they don't plan to leave the Anglican Communion, but haven't explained why. The provinces represented at last week's gathering were Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, and Uganda.
Read news coverage of The GAFCON in the British press.
And this is the "orthodox" Gospel?
One of the odd things about GAFCON's attacks on the Anglican Communion is that its founding provinces are no angels when it comes to modeling the Gospel message. In recent years, the Anglican Church in GAFCON provinces have had more of their share of bad actors, political entanglements, and open acts of aggression against their perceived enemies.
-- For example, the Church in Uganda is very much under the thumb of its country's political strongman, Yoweri Museveni, who is also one of its key funders. Museveni was the keynote speaker at the installation of its current Primate and gave him money from the public treasury and a new luxury car, which has been his custom with prior primates.
In turn the Church in Uganda is a key supporter of Museveni's oppressive agenda, including proposed legislation allowing him to execute gay Ugandans for being gay. At the last minute, the Church changed its position on capital punishment, suggesting instead sentences of life imprisonment.
A Church spokesman said that life in prison would be more effective because the government could periodically parade beaten and half-starved gay prisoners around in public to remind its citizen what happens when Ugandans even think of going gay.
"If you kill the (gay) people, to whom will the message go? We need to have imprisonment for life if the person is still alive," said Rev. Canon Aaron Mwesigye, the provincial secretary of the Anglican Church of Uganda. (SC Episcopalians is still researching the Biblical underpinning for this theological gem.)
-- One of the key advisors to The GAFCON is Peter Akinola, the former leader of the Nigerian Church who was instrumental in forming the group. Akinola once declared that homosexuals are "lower than beasts" and was a strong supporter of Nigerian legislation that authorized the imprisonment of gays and lesbians.
Akinola was also accused of inciting deadly violence against Muslims in his country when he was quoted as saying, "(We) remind our Muslim brothers that they do not have the monopoly of violence in this nation." Akinola was responding to a Muslim attack on Christians that resulted in 43 deaths. After Akinola's remarks, his followers launched a revenge attack on Muslims resulting in 80 deaths. The Nigerian Church subsequently insisted that there was no direct connection between the two.
Akinola was actually denied entry into Jordan to attend a subsequent GAFCON meeting, when officials there demanded to know the details of Akinola's role in a massacre of 660 Muslims in Nigeria.
-- Of course, there is still challenge of understanding the extent of the Rwandan Church in that country's massive genocide in 1994. One of the Province's senior bishops was awaiting trial for his role in the killings when he died. Consequently, the full story of the involvement of the Anglican Province of Rwanda has never been fully explained, nor is it likely to be.
Secret deal with PECDSCI
Last year Mark Lawrence claims that his renegade diocese somehow joined The GAFCON, and is under the oversight of these same leaders. Like so much of Lawrence's activities, the details of the deal is not public and it is not clear what role they are to play in the life of the PECDSCI.
Also among GAFCON's advisors is retired bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, who appears to have held or maybe continues to hold a paid position with the PECDSCI as its some sort of liaison with the Anglican Communion. That seems to be secret as well.
Read Dr. Ron Caldwell's excellent take on this here
March 17, 2015
Lawrencians Want Appeals Court to Reconsider pro-Church Ruling
Breakaways claim they have "good arguments" to keep Federal Court out of their schism
RICHMOND - Lawyers for the breakaway Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina Inc (PECDSCI) have asked the full Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider a recent ruling by one of its three-judge panels, overturning a decision by U.S District Court Judge Weston Houck not to hear the case of "false advertising" brought by South Carolina Bishop Charles vonRosenberg against his predecessor, Mark J. Lawrence.
In his lawsuit Bishop VonRosenberg claims that Lawrence is falsely representing himself as an Episcopal bishop and intentionally creating confusion that is interfering in his ability to lead the Diocese Lawrence left behind.
Lawrence quit the Church in late 2012, but continues to insist that he is the Episcopal Bishop of the Church's diocese in eastern South Carolina.
PECDSCI request is just a delaying tactic
Generally, a request for reconsideration is a delaying tactic. In this case it is aimed at preventing the Federal Court in Charleston from considering vonRosenberg's lawsuit before the state's Supreme Court hears the Church's appeal of a ruling by S.C. Circuit Judge Diane Goodstein giving Lawrence and his PECDSCI an estimated $800 million in Church property and financial assets.
In its request for reconsideration by the 17 judges on the Court, the PECDSCI is saying that the three highly regarded judges who heard the case and ruled unanimously that Houck had erred in the case, were wrong. (You can listen to the hearing yourself by clicking the link in this sentence then clicking on VonRosenberg v. Lawrence on January 28, 2015.)
However, the problem for the PECDSCI's legal team was not bad judges but no precedents that could justify Judge Houck's refusal to hear vonRosenberg's lawsuit. In the opinion of SC Episcopalians, lawyers for vonRosenberg could have just stayed home as the hearing turned into a kind of kangaroo fight club in which Lawrence's normally well-prepared legal team was pummeled.
According to a spokesperson for Lawrence this week, "Our counsel believes there are good arguments to support Judge Houck's original ruling that should be heard by the entire 4th Circuit Court of Appeals (not just a three judge panel of that court)"
In courtrooms, "good arguments" mean nothing without good legal precedents to back them up. The PECDSCI brief filed with the full Court recycles those same "good arguments" that apparently were not "good" enough the first time around.
April 15, 2015
State Supreme Court to Hear Appeal of Goodstein Ruling in September
High Court agrees to the Church's request to bypass state's Court of Appeals
The South Carolina Supreme Court today agreed to a request by the Episcopal Church and its continuing diocese in eastern South Carolina to assume jurisdiction over their appeal of a decision by a lower court judge to allow the breakaway Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina (PECDSC) to leave the Episcopal Church with an estimated $800 million in parish properties and financial assets.
The Court will hear the case September 23rd, making a final decision before the end of the year highly unlikely. The breakaway group wanted to the Supreme Court to hear the case even sooner, but the Court denied its request. Lawrence's lawyers reportedly believe that the Chief Justice is already in their corner. However, she is retiring at the end of this year.
Ironically, this summer a Federal Court in Charleston will likely be hearing a related lawsuit charging that the PECDSC's leader, ex-bishop Mark Lawrence, has engaged in "false advertising" by claiming to be an Episcopal Bishop.
The real bishop, who is recognized by the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion, is The Rt. Rev. Charles vonRosenberg, Lawrence's successor. VonRosenberg initiated the Federal case against Lawrence arguing that his predecessor's false claims were creating confusion and interfering with his abilities to carry out the duties of his job.
Lawrence admits he left the Church but insists he is still an Episcopal Bishop with jurisdiction over the Church's Diocese in eastern South Carolina. If he loses the case in Federal Court, Lawrence could be held personally liable for any funds he spent or raised while posing as the Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina. Read more here
April 14, 2015
Lawrencian Allies Now Planning War on the Church of England?
Followers of the PECDSC are clueless about where The GAFCON crowd is taking them
Before the era of Mark Lawrence, most Episcopalians in the Diocese of South Carolina had never heard of The GAFCON.
Today, they find themselves in a shadowy ecclesiastical arrangement with these quarrelsome Anglican primates, who make no secret of their contempt for the Anglican Communion and their desire to go mano a mano with the Church of England on its own turf.
This week GAFCON leaders are meeting in London to map out a strategy to restore "the Anglican Communion’s commitment to biblical truth" -- the same war cry they used to rally their troops against the Episcopal Church in recent years. More accurately, they want the Communion to embrace their own, very narrow understanding of Scripture. Read the full story here
This is a lot more craziness than PECDSC parishes bargained for last year when, at Lawrence's insistence, they naively signed on as junior cadets in the GAFCON army.
Last month ex-Bishop Lawrence announced that the leader of GAFCON's steering committee would shortly be making a trip to South Carolina to get acquainted with his new affiliates. Lawrence also made it clear that he wants PECDSC parishes to step up their financial support for GAFCON provinces ... after, of course, ponying up another $300,000 to finance his current legal adventures against the Episcopal Church.
The anti-gay GAFCON was formed to supplant the Anglican Communion
The Global Anglican Futures Conference (GAFCON) is led mostly by the Anglican primates (provincial leaders) from provinces in Africa, Asia and, Latin America, where Christianity is relatively young and biblical theology tends to be more of the fundamentalist type.
These primates are largely held together by a shared fear of homosexuals. For example, in many GAFCON provinces, the Anglican Church has taken the lead in ginning up public support for barbaric laws against gays and lesbians, including places like Nigeria and Uganda where the government has criminalized homosexuality and even arrested people whose only crime was that they seemed to be homosexuals.
In many cases, these countries have condemned homosexuals to life imprisonment, work camps, or even death... with the support and encouragement of the GAFCON/Anglican Church leadership. Read more here
Leaders of The GAFCON have been particularly vicious toward fellow Anglican clerics - like Nobel Peace Prize recipient Desmond Tutu and more recently, Archbishop Bernard Ntahoturi of Burundi - for even attempting to engage in conversations about reconciliation with those in the Communion with whom they disagree. Read more here
Like Lawrence, they also do not value the participation of women in positions of authority in the Church nor are they tolerant of those whose experience of Christ and understanding of the Bible is inconsistent with their own. For example, they are perfectly happy with the theology of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer as "a true and authoritative standard of worship and prayer" for Anglicans.
Many GAFCON leaders are politically powerful in their countries through political alliances and financial arrangements with repressive regimes and military strongmen. Some treated like princes. However, the Church in those places has paid a price in lost moral authority by turning is eyes to ruthless laws and persecution of the poor and those without power.
PECDSC "diocesan" convention has signed away its authority it has to change course
For whatever reason, last year's PECDSC annual convention decided to cast its lot with The GAFCON without a great deal of clarity about what it would mean. Lawrence claims he has some sort of oversight arrangement with leaders of The GAFCON, but no one seems to know what it is or what kind of authority The GAFCON Primates think they now have in South Carolina.
According to Lawrence, the arrangement legitimizes his claim to be an Anglican bishop and his non-profit corporation, known as the "Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina Inc," to be part of the Communion.
The GAFCON is not recognized by the Anglican Communion and its leaders have no authority to do what Lawrence claims
The problem for Lawrence and his PECDSC is that The GAFCON is not recognized as an official entity of the Communion, nor does it have any authority to recognize anything as "Anglican". The Archbishop of Canterbury, who does have some authority along those lines, has stated publicly that The GAFCON's American cousin, the breakaway Anglican Church of North America, is not part of the Communion.
A second problem for Lawrence is that his followers value being Anglican, and were assured by him and his lieutenants that they would not be leaving the Anglican Communion if they were to follow him out of the Episcopal Church.
Clearly, there was never a plan to keep PECDSC in the Communion as they thought. Now the leadership of the PECDSC has actually aligned itself with the enemies of the Communion.
Obviously, it's too late for PECDSC parishes to turn back. Successive PECDSC conventions have gradually transferred authority for the operation, governance, and policy-making of the PECDSC to Lawrence to the point that he has complete control of every aspect of PECDSC life and accountable to no one.
If he were to drop dead tomorrow, there is not even a procedure in place to elect his successor.
April 1, 2015
Breakaway 'Diocese of South Carolina' Sues Roman Catholic Church
SC Bishop: “The Pope has stolen my identity”
Ordinary Canon: “We haven’t left Christendom. Christendom has left us!”
South Carolina Circuit Judge Diane Goodstein issued a ruling this morning in which she declared the Roman Catholic Church “non-hierarchical” and awarded $500 trillion in parish properties and Church assets - including the Vatican - to former Bishop Mark J. Lawrence and his followers.
Goodstein held a ten-minute hearing with Beaufort attorney Alan Runyan just after midnight during which, she said, they'd fully reviewed all relevant Constitutional and theological issues in transferring the 2000-year-old Church to Lawrence's breakaway group.
The two met at an all-night McDonalds' on Interstate 26 after she'd received complaints of an unfamiliar aroma in her courtroom. Read more...
“I was pleased there was no ‘nanny-nanny-boo-boo’ at my hearing with the attorney last night. It was really, really, one of the greatest joys of my life... plus I had a great burger,” she said.
Runyan: "The Catholic Church was ripe for the picking"
In a news conference this morning, Runyan explained, "The Diocese of South Carolina has never been part of this Italy-based, non-profit association, so the judge saw no grounds on which our claim to its property and assets could be denied."
"I'm sure the remnant group, its so-called Pope, and its remaining 1.3 billion members will want to appeal, and that will be very sad and expensive for all parties,” he added. He said he's convinced litigation-happy Catholic leaders were not ready to "leave the Diocese alone," even to the point of ignoring Biblical admonitions against involving secular courts in disputes among fellow Christians.
The Vatican's legal office issued a statement this afternoon saying that it had submitted a lengthy list of potential expert witnesses to the judge, but Goodstein rejected it as irrelevant to the case. The list included renowned theologians, dozens of cardinals, two living popes, and the Risen Christ.
"They could tell me a story, if they'd like, but it wouldn't have any effect on the outcome," she said.
Lawrence to followers: "Arrivederci!"
A spokesperson for Lawrence said he'd been boning up on his Latin over the weekend, and shortly plans to fly to Rome with a copy of Goodstein’s Order in hand. "It would be good if the Bishop could speak with the Pope in his native language," she added.
If he likes them, she said, the Trustees of the Diocese plan to rent the Papal Apartments to Lawrence for a dollar a year, or whatever he can afford. Read more...
March 31, 2015
Federal Appeals Court Reverses Judge Houck
Three judge panel says Charleston jurist was wrong in refusing to hear vonRosenberg's request for an injunction against Mark Lawrence
RICHMOND - A three-judge panel of the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals today reversed a 2013 decision by U.S. District Judge Weston Houck in which he refused to hear a lawsuit by South Carolina Bishop Charles vonRosenberg, claiming ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence is engaged in "false advertising" by posing as the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina.
VonRosenberg maintains that only he and the Rt. Rev. Andrew Waldo in the Diocese of Upper South Carolina are recognized by the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion as bishops with jurisdiction in the state. As such, he argues, he alone is entitled to exercise the authority of the Bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina, including the use of corporate "marks" like its official seal.
VonRosenberg is asking the Federal courts to issue an injunction against Lawrence based on the confusion and damage his actions are causing.
Going after Lawrence in Federal Court was a gamble
The reversal is a huge win for the continuing Diocese, known for the moment as The Episcopal Church in South Carolina.
The Federal Courts, including the current U.S. Supreme Court, have generally been strongly supportive of Constitutional safeguards protecting hierarchical churches like the Episcopal Church from attacks against its governing structure and polity.
VonRosenberg's legal team knows that and is making every effort to engage the help of Federal courts rather than less reliable state courts. However, parallel cases in state and Federal courts addressing similar issues can create unintended side effects for each other that may not easily rectified.
That seems to have happened in this case.
Lawrence filed a monster lawsuit in 2013 in state court in which he and parishes aligned with him laid claim to an estimated $800 million in Church property and Diocesan assets. When vonRosenberg asked Houck to hear his case about "false advertising," the judge refused on the grounds that the case in state court would likely address the Constitutional issues vonRosenberg was raising.
However, far from addressing the Federal issues, the state court judge actually barred any discussion of them during the trial of Lawrence's lawsuit last July and, after months of needlessly wasted time and effort, vonRosenberg is now back in Federal court where he was in 2013.
Lanham Act could be a game-changer
The gamble for vonRosenberg's lawyers was that they chose to go after Lawrence on the basis of the Federal Lanham Act, a 1947 Federal law that deals with trademark infringement, not established Church law.
It is a less complicated case to argue in court since Lawrence does not dispute that the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion recognize vonRosenberg as their legitimate bishop in eastern South Carolina, and there are copious incidents in which Lawrence's actions have created confusion and hindered vonRosenberg's ability to carry out his duties.
These are two key elements that have to be demonstrated in a successful Lanham Act case.
Lawrence's legal team seems to have been blindsided by the Lanham Act strategy. Their approach is based exclusively on state and local property laws, and the willingness of state courts to ignore legal protections afforded hierarchical churches by the U.S. Constitution.
VonRosenberg appealed Houck's ruling to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, where the three-judge panel heard the case January 28th. Lawrence's attorney, Alan Runyan of Beaufort, who is always thinking three steps ahead, seemed to have been caught flat-footed. The judges repeatedly pressed him for legal precedents they could use to support Houck's decision not to hear the case ... but he had none to offer.
Shortly after the hearing, SC Circuit Judge Diane Goodstein issued her ruling in Lawrence's lawsuit and gave him and his supporters everything they were asking for. Goodstein's decision had no apparent effect on the Appeals Court judges. In fact, at one point in their earlier hearing, the judges seemed to have been dismayed with the length of time she was taking in deciding the case.
The next step most likely will be a hearing to determine if "special circumstances" exist that would allow the Federal Courts to stay out of the case. Assuming that none can been established by the Lawrencian attorneys, the case will go to trial.
Normally, Houck would be the judge most likely to try the case. However, he is in 80's and is reported to be in poor health.
Read the full story here
March 24, 2015
Episcopal Church, Continuing SC Diocese File Appeal of Goodstein's Ruling
Lawyers ask state Supreme Court to expedite challenge to breakaway 'Diocese of Diane'
COLUMBIA - Attorneys for the Episcopal Church and its continuing diocese in eastern South Carolina today asked the South Carolina Supreme Court to expedite their appeal of a ruling by Circuit Judge Diane Goodstein in January, allowing its Diocese of South Carolina and 36 allied parishes to secede from the Church with an estimated $800 million in parish property and diocesan financial assets.
Normally an appeal of this nature would be taken up by the state's Court of Appeals, but both sides are prepared to take the case to the Supreme Court, such that Church attorneys say the justices would be helping "to avoid expense and delay for all parties" by taking up the case.
Church attorneys formally filed their appeal today with the Appeals Court, along with a "Motion to Certify" with the state Supreme Court.
Judge's conduct governed three-week trial last summer
Goodstein, who bears a resemblance to Reba McEntire (SC Episcopalians' favorite country singer), originally heard the case last July during a three-week trial in which her moody, sometimes erratic, behavior raised eyebrows on both sides.
The judge at times was giddy and flirtatious, while on other occasions she'd explode in anger over seemingly insignificant incidences. At one point, she stalked out of the courtroom in a pique when a mild-mannered attorney for the Episcopal Church questioned a ruling.
Goodstein never seemed to fully grasp the issues raised during the trial and her final order appeared to have been lifted directly from submissions provided by the breakaways. In it, she blithely overturned nearly two centuries of Constitutional law and legal precedence by claiming that the Episcopal Church is not "hierarchical" and merely a "New York-based corporation."
Throughout the trial, Goodstein even prohibited the mention of the name of the Episcopal Church because, she claimed, there were already "too many churches" involved in the case.
Oddly, Goodstein resisted attempts by Church attorneys to offer evidence of the hierarchical nature of the Exxxxxxxl Church, or clarify that there was only one "church" involved in the proceedings.
72-year-old Chief Justice will likely dominate Supreme Court's hearing of the case
The breakaways' attorneys very likely were pleased with today's move to invite the Supreme Court to take up the case. Some seem to believe that Chief Justice Jean Toal, reportedly a longtime friend of one of their lawyers, is already in their corner.
In 2009 Toal is rumored to have commandeered the writing of the Court's controversial ruling in the related case of All Saints' in Pawley's Island, which laid the groundwork for the breakaways' current lawsuit against the Church. She is slated to retire at the end of this year, so their hoped for advantage may be lost if the case drags on too long.
Similar cases brought by breakaways in other states like Georgia and Virginia have all been shot down by their state's supreme courts. However... this is South Carolina.
Ominous Federal case looming in the distance
Lost in all the attention on the Goodstein decision is a Federal case pending in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond. Attorneys for the continuing Diocese have asked the Federal Courts to declare that its bishop, Charles vonRosenberg, is the legitimate Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina, and that Mark J. Lawrence, the ex-Bishop who leads the renegade "diocese" is fraudulently using this title.
Last year U.S. District Judge Weston Houck refused to hear the case when it was brought in Charleston, but a three-judge panel of the Appeals Court appeared to believe that Houck's ruling was not justified at a hearing earlier this year. Houck is elderly and reported to be in poor health.
The three-judge panel will decide whether to overturn Houck's decision and order a trial in the coming weeks.
VonRosenberg and The Rt. Rev. Andrew Waldo of the Diocese of Upper South Carolina are the only two Episcopal bishops with jurisdiction in the state who are recognized by the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.
March 14, 2015
PECDSC Convention Coverage II
After Promising Start, PECDSC Convention Backslides into Familiar Ways
Lawrence team misses opportunity to offer a vision for the future of his "diocese"
CHARLESTON - As its supporters gathered for their Annual Convention this past weekend, the "Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina Inc." was experiencing a rare opportunity to shape its own destiny. With a court victory in hand and near unanimous approval among its parishes, ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence and his lieutenants looked like a football team marching effortlessly toward the end zone for a game-winning touchdown.
At a preconvention workshop Friday afternoon, Lawrence and his Canon Theologian seemed to be positioning themselves to seize the moment in which they would finally set forth a bold vision of the PECDSC's future in evangelical Anglicanism.
There were no rancorous attacks on the Episcopal Church or other perceived enemies, no gloating over the recent lower court ruling allowing them to take the PECDSC out of the Church, nor even the ubiquitous half-baked attacks on the evils of secular culture. Those in attendance included numerous retired bishops, and longtime Lawrence loyalists, all of whom appeared prepared to follow him wherever he wanted to take them. (Scroll down for report on this workshop)
The leaders of the PECDSC had finally come into their own. And then, they fumbled.
Bishop's address was a disappointment
Saturday morning should have been Lawrence's moment in the sun, a kind of victory lap ten years and millions of dollars in the making. In winning an important opening round in his longshot lawsuit, the 64-year-old bishop finally could begin work in earnest on his vision for his new "diocese." He was at last liberated from what he felt was the oppressive and meddlesome Episcopal Church, and free to do the work he believed God had called him to do.
That opportunity came and went.
The planned high point of Saturday morning’s agenda was Lawrence’s keynote address, historically a rallying point for his followers and a blueprint for the future. However, this year Lawrence’s rambling remarks were largely a rehash of earlier themes and old news, amounting to what might best be described as housekeeping and routine.
Absent from his address was the visionary quality of his remarks from the previous afternoon. He seemed oddly detached from his earlier urgency to legitimize the PECDSC through alliances with other quasi-Anglican bodies and domestic breakaway groups. The biggest news coming out of his address seemed to be that he was tired and going on sabbatical at some point.
Read commentary by Dr. Ron Caldwell
It's not about God or gays, but Fear
Perhaps the most disappointing part of Saturday’s convention was the return of the fear factor.
If Lawrence had any interest in transforming the PECDSC's anti-gay, anti-women, and its generally intolerant image, it was not evident. The afternoon session became a replay of earlier conventions with the same homophobic and undertones that proved so critical in sustaining support for him during his make-believe "war" with the Church (2008-present).
At one point delegates were shown a sketchy slide presentation, presented by Lawrence's chief lieutenant, Jim Lewis, which vaguely purported to highlight a handful of local news events (none from anywhere near South Carolina) in which devout Christians were somehow being oppressed by the local secular culture in the gay-friendly communities in which they lived.
One of the slides Lewis chose highlighted the plight of a congregation that meets in a coffee bar in Lake Worth, Florida. Lewis claimed the municipal government was requiring churches to have business licenses or face closure, and seemed to suggest that such encroachment of secular laws on a religious body represented an ominous threat to Constitutional guarantees of religious freedom.
There was something about Lewis' hasty use of the slides that seemed off.
As it turns out, this story was based on a highly-exaggerated report on FOX News that had been mangled further by the right-wing news media from which Lewis apparently got it.
The story had nothing to do with business licenses, but a long-standing municipal ordinance requiring all community organizations, including churches and non-profit organizations, to obtain a use and occupancy certificate to ensure the safety of public gatherings and compliance with occupancy standards in the buildings in which they met. Every parish in the PECDSC has a similar license to insure the safety of its building for events and activities.
There were no gays involved (as suggested by some of the bloggers), no one's religious freedom was threatened, nor did there appear to be any threat to marriage. It is true that the city manager has a Jewish-sounding last name, which raised the suspicions of conservative religious bloggers, especially after he refused to tell them where he worshipped. Read the story yourself
It was never clear what this story had to do with the Task Force on Marriage, except to remind the delegates that the evils of the secular world are just around the corner, or at least in Florida.
[Mr. Lewis' use of this example was a bit ironic in that the PECDSC just won its monster lawsuit against the Episcopal Church by convincing a local judge that the Constitution's protection of religious freedom does not exempt the Episcopal Church from having to comply with the secular laws of local and state governments.]
What would the PECDSC be without the LGBT?
It would not have been a PECDSC convention without a debate on who is to be excluded from the Kingdom of God, based on sexual preference, behavior, or - as in Saturday's session - genitalia.
Right on cue, thanks to the Task Force on Marriage, the Lawrencians successfully conjured up once again the specter of sneaky transgendered people trying to get on God's good side, even though they may be living with altered man or woman parts.
It happened during the discussion of a resolution defining marriage as between a "biological man and a biological woman, that is, between two persons whose birth gender identities were respectively male and female."
At first the proposed language in the resolution seemed to please everyone. Then, an especially alert delegate from a small rural parish raised the possibility that, under that language, a transgendered man could marry a transgendered woman in a PECDSC parish ... and in a strange technical way, they'd still meet the one man, one woman standard.
Yikes! How this huge loophole was missed by the Task Force on Marriage remained a mystery and, for a few awkward moments, the PECDSC leadership on stage appeared to be without a response. Could it be that in their eagerness to exclude the non-existent transgendered members of the PECDSC, they had in fact left the door wide open to marriage?
Other delegates soon came to the rescue and seized their own moment to send a message to all the transgendered people beating down their doors. Without a great deal of suspense, the language was clarified and the resolution sailed through.
[There were nuances to the convention's discussions on the resolutions on marriage that Dr. Caldwell observed in a different way than SC Episcopalians. His enlightening interpretation is worth the read here.]
March 13, 2015
PECDSC Convention Coverage II
The Anglican Province of South Carolina?
Is the ex-Bishop laying the groundwork for an astonishing vision for his "Diocese"?
CHARLESTON - If you can be your own Anglican-ish diocese, why not be your own province, or even your own Church?
Delegates to this weekend’s Annual Convention of the breakaway “Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina” heard a lot more than they anticipated when they signed up for a preliminary workshop on Anglicanism and the status of efforts by ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence to find them a new spiritual home.
In two well-executed presentations, Lawrence and his Canon Theologian, Kendall Harmon, appeared to lay the groundwork for an astonishing - or possibly, preposterous - vision for the future of their momentarily-independent “Diocese of South Carolina.”
In essence, they appeared to be advancing the idea that the PECDSC should become a kind of national, evangelical Anglican Church with South Carolina as its anchor.
Lawrence never actually used the word “Church”, but instead referred to such a new entity as a “Province,” as in one of the 38 provinces of the Anglican Communion. Obviously, there is no realistic way that a self-generating province, crossing multiple provincial boundaries, would ever be recognized by the Communion. However, Lawrence seemed to be talking about something more.
Lawrence claimed that, since his recent courtroom victory over the Episcopal Church, he has been contacted by numerous parishes outside of South Carolina expressing an interest in “joining" the Diocese. He seemed to believe that his "Diocese of South Carolina" has attracted sufficient attention and admiration among disaffected evangelicals around the country that it could become a potent vehicle for "shaping emerging Anglicanism in the 21st Century."
"So where are our boundaries now?" he asked.
Oops! What about the Diocese in Upper South Carolina?
The only hiccup in an otherwise seamless presentation was an inadvertent suggestion that parishes in the Episcopal Diocese of Upper South Carolina were interested in affiliating with Lawrence’s PECDSC.
Andrew Waldo, the Bishop of that Diocese, was generally been accommodating of Lawrence’s misconduct while he was in the Episcopal Church and, at least publicly, appeared to be unthreatened by Lawrence’s efforts to establish a legal precedent in the state allowing parishes and even an entire diocese to walk away from the Church with their property. Waldo does not believe that any parishes in his diocese want to leave the Episcopal Church.
Lawrence quickly moved to clarify the gaffe, suggesting there were no parishes in that diocese that had expressed a desire to join him, just individuals. However, it is widely believed that some Lawrence loyalists with or without the bishops' knowledge are working with like-minded Episcopalians there.
Lawrence disses friends and potential allies
Among the many startling statements by Lawrence were those dismissing friends and potential allies whose support he had once sought.
He seemed to equate the unwieldy structure of Anglican Church of North America (ACNA), founded by his friend and mentor Robert Duncan, with that of the Episcopal Church. He attacked the Archbishop of Canterbury as weak and ineffectual, and the four Instruments of Anglican Unity as “not adequate” to address recent "crises" in the Communion.
Lawrence even expressed disappointment in his less-than-a-year-old affiliation with a committee of conservative Anglican Primates known as the Global South, complaining that it had not “matured” in a timely way that would likely be helpful to the PECDSC.
Among those attending the workshops were retired bishops like Alden Hathaway of Pittsburgh, Fitz Allison of South Carolina, and Alex Dickson of Tennessee - all longstanding critics of the Episcopal Church.
The final event of the day was a Eucharist at 5 p.m. Registration for tomorrow's business meeting at St. Luke and St. Paul opens at 7:30 a.m. The business meeting begins at 9 a.m.
March 13, 2015 (noon EDT)
Jubilant Lawrencians Seek to Redefine Themselves at Weekend Convention
PECDSC Inc. searches for a theology and religious tradition after breaking with the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion
CHARLESTON - The momentarily independent "Diocese of South Carolina" opens its Annual Convention in Charleston today in a triumphant mood following a lower court ruling, declaring 36 rebellious parishes and the Diocese itself free of its historic ties to the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.
Over the course of the next two days, members of the “Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina Inc. (PECDSC)” are gathering to begin the arduous task of redefining themselves as something more than an angry protest against the Episcopal Church and its inclusion of gays and lesbians, women in positions of spiritual authority, and interpretations of Scripture at odds with their own literalistic views.
In January, Circuit Judge Diane Goodstein in Dorchester County ruled that the breakaway parishes and the Diocesan corporation were free to leave the Church and take with them an estimated $800 million in parish properties and Diocesan financial assets accumulated by the Church over 225 years of its history in the eastern part of South Carolina.
The ruling was the result of a lawsuit brought against the Church and its continuing Diocese in South Carolina in January 2013 by ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence and his followers. Only five years earlier, Lawrence had publicly proclaimed his loyalty to the Church to gain the consent of its bishops and dioceses to become Bishop of South Carolina.
Bogus claims of theological differences and legal threats mean the PECDSC Inc. must figure out what it really stands for
In siding with the breakaways, Goodstein overturned nearly two centuries of U.S. Constitutional law in a leap of logic, daunting even to the Flying Walendas. Her ruling is currently is being appealed by the Church with its key issues unlikely to be resolved for years.
Meanwhile, Lawrence and his PECDSC now face a significant challenge in defining exactly who they are and what their purpose is beyond their well-publicized resistance to social change.
The PECDSC has never been clear about whether it is even a real "Church" or simply a non-profit corporation with religious purposes. It continues to mimic the Episcopal Church in its style of worship, sacraments, and even its use of the Church's Book of Common Prayer. It is also fuzzy on how it considers its bishop in the line of Apostolic succession, given his renunciation of ministry in the only Church that recognized him as such.
Many PECDSC parishes have been losing members, laying off staff, and running up deficits since announcing their attempt to leave the Church in December 2012. In response, they have continued to refer to themselves as "Episcopal" in their public advertising, attempting to lure new members and compete with a rising number of new missions and parishes established by loyal Episcopalians in their communities.
During the three-week trial of the lawsuit last summer, Lawrence and his legal team distanced themselves under oath from earlier assertions that they were leaving the Church over differences in theology. After years of scaring parishes into thinking liberal Church leaders were planning to take away their property, Team Lawrence also failed to produce any evidence that such threats were anything more than propaganda to panic conservative congregations into supporting its lawsuit.
They never tried to prove their claim that their "spiritual freedom" was under attack.
Lawrence clings to the Anglican Communion, though he is no longer one of its bishops
A particular challenge for Lawrence and his lieutenants is the credibility of promises to their followers that leaving the Episcopal Church would not take them out of the Anglican Communion. The Communion only recognizes the Episcopal Church as its sole legitimate presence in the United States. They were embarrassed last fall when the Archbishop of Canterbury publicly stated that the breakaway movement in North America was a "separate Church” that was not part of the Communion.
Lawrence and his long-time theologian-in-residence, Kendall Harmon, will tackle these issues this afternoon with back-to-back workshops “to explore the distinctiveness of Anglicanism and look at possible options for affiliation.”
Lawrence was criticized by some out-of-state participants at last month’s Mere Anglicanism conference for inaccurate and self-serving characterizations of Anglicanism. The Lawrencians apparently plan to continue the charade of Communion affiliation by asking delegates on Saturday to budget funds for Lawrence’s participation in the next Lambeth Conference of recognized Anglican Bishops in London.
The Communion only recognizes two functioning Anglican bishops in South Carolina, Andrew Waldo and Charles vonRosenberg, Lawrence’s successor.
February 23, 2015
Goodstein Rejects Motion to Reconsider "Diocese of Diane" Ruling
Episcopal Church and its continuing Diocese in South Carolina can move forward with an appeal of her controversial ruling
SAINT GEORGE -- S.C. Circuit Judge Diane Goodstein today rejected motion by attorneys for the Episcopal Church and its continuing Diocese in South Carolina to reconsider her decision to award property and assets of the Episcopal Church valued at nearly $800 million to a breakaway group led by ex-bishop Mark Lawrence. The ruling was no suprise and allows the Church and its loyal members in South Carolina to appeal her decision to the state's Supreme Court.
February 13, 2015
Church Attorneys Launch Blistering Attack on Goodstein Ruling
180-page motion for reconsideration cites dozens of factual and legal errors, setting the stage for a monster appeal to state's Supreme Court
ST. GEORGE - The Episcopal Church and its continuing Diocese in eastern South Carolina filed a motion in state court today asking Circuit Judge Diane Goodstein to reconsider her recent decision to dismember the Church's 220-year-old Diocese of South Carolina. There is practically no chance that will happen, but the motion is essential in moving the case to the South Carolina Supreme Court on appeal.
Earlier this month Goodstein ruled that deposed Bishop Mark Lawrence and his supporters could leave the Episcopal Church with their parish properties and the financial assets of the Diocese itself. The Lawrencians are angry with the Church over its inclusions of gays and lesbians, women in positions of spiritual authority, and interpretations of the Bible inconsistent with their own.
The estimated value of the booty they received from the ruling comes to about $800 million.
In today's filings Church attorneys pointed out "dozens of instances in which the ruling doesn’t fully address evidence, makes incorrect statements, or fails to consider relevant points of law," according to a spokesman.
Church attorneys zinged Goodstein's repeatedly for basing her ruling on the faulty assumption that the governance of the Episcopal Church is not "hierarchical," and therefore not protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
In her ruling, Goodstein effectively overturned nearly two centuries of legal precedence, including decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court, in finding that the Episcopal Church had no claim on its Diocese of South Carolina or the 36 pro-Lawrence parishes who have held themselves out as part of the Episcopal Church, in some cases, since 1795.
Church attorneys, led by Charleston barrister Thomas Tisdale, cited nearly twenty instances in which Federal and state courts have concluded that the Episcopal Church is "hierarchical", including most recently Federal Judge Weston Houck, who may yet hear the case.
Goodstein was not up to the challenges of the case
The lawsuit landed in Goodstein's court two years ago, shortly after Lawrence was found to have abandoned the Episcopal Church and the vows he took when he was consecrated a bishop in 2008.
However, Goodstein never really seemed much interested in the issues of the case and certainly was never in control of the trial last July. That role was filled by Lawrence's lawyer, Alan Runyan of Beaufort, who apparently chose Goodstein believing she would be more sympathetic to his cause than more aggressive judges in other jurisdictions, like Charleston.
Runyan assembled a massive legal team that included lawyers with past ties to Goodstein, and one who had reportedly left her employ for his. At times the ferociousness of their courtroom tactics looked like schoolyard bullying, and Goodstein was either unwilling or unable to restrain them.
There was little question that Goodstein struggling with the significance of the issues before her, and consequently appeared to rely on Runyan and his team in navigating the trial.
Her discomfort became increasingly obvious as the trial began and, in a moment of great frustration, she instructed the attorneys on both sides that they were not to use the name of the Episcopal Church in the proceedings-- because there were too many "churches" in the case for her to keep straight. (corrected 2/16)
She also rarely displayed intellectual confidence with the complex Constitutional questions the case raised. Once, when she did try to ask a witness a question about the hierarchical nature of the Episcopal Church, Runyan leaped to his feet and vigorously objected. Incredibly, she backed down.
On another occasion, not even halfway through the trial, Goodstein blithely volunteered to a bewildered courtroom that she had already decided to let the parishes that had joined Lawrence's suit as co-plaintiffs leave the Episcopal Church and take their property with them. Some of them had been with the Church since its founding after the Revolutionary War.
When Goodstein finally did rule in the case - seven months after the trial - the extent of Runyan's control was obvious. Goodstein's order looked a lot like she had simply cut and pasted key parts of his filings, including the draft of the order he'd proposed she issue. She appeared to have added nothing new to it, leaving the only remaining mystery about the ruling as to why it took her seven months.
Goodstein's courtroom behavior stunned even veteran lawyers
During the trial Goodstein's temperment became an issue as her behavior on the bench seemed to run the gamut from serious to goofy, and enraged to coquettish.
At one point, she became so angry that she stormed out of the courtroom after bitterly lashing out at one of the Church attorneys over a relatively trivial matter. Shortly thereafter, when she returned, her demeanor was lighthearted and even flirtatious with some of the older male attorneys.
Some in the audience were annoyed that she seemed to make faces when she didn't agree with the testimony of witnesses, and sometimes would put on a crude Gullah accent to explain her rulings in simple ways. On a few occasions, she actually offered coffee to witnesses as they were testifying and, on one occasion, used the term "nanny-nanny-boo-boo."
Goodstein will almost certainly deny the Motion for Reconsideration, which will then clear the way for an appeal.
Read news release from the continuing Episcopal Church in South Carolina
Read the entire Motion for Reconsideration
February 8, 2015
Independent 'Diocese of Diane' Celebrates Lower Court Win
Goodstein’s ruling dissolves SC Diocese’s historic ties to the Episcopal Church and worldwide Anglican Communion
CHARLESTON – Followers of ex-bishop Mark Lawrence went to church today celebrating a state court ruling last week that legally severed their historic ties to the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, while giving their leader control over parish properties and Diocesan financial assets with an estimated value of nearly $800 million.
Worship services around the breakaway "diocese" were conducted this morning just as they have been for years, with many clergy suggesting that something good and important had happened ... though few seemed to be exactly clear what it is, what it means, or if it even means anything.
For now though, it was sufficient that in the eyes of a Dorchester County judge their religious corporation, known as "The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina Inc," is somehow independent and governed by a man who says he didn't even know anyone in the state ten years ago.
However, all of today's church-goers, in secessionist as well as loyal Episcopal parishes, were very much aware that the controversial ruling by S.C. Circuit Judge Diane Goodstein was only the first of series of rulings and appeals that will likely stretch out for years.
No longer Anglican
While many of the Lawrencian parishes use the word “Anglican” to describe themselves, Goodstein's decision means they are out of the worldwide Anglican Communion, currently led by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.
The Communion represents centuries of western religious tradition going back to England's King Henry VIII, but only includes parishes and dioceses that belong to one of its 37 provinces around the world. In the United States, the Communion’s only province is the Episcopal Church.
Lawrence has tried to maintain the fantasy that he and his "diocese" are in the Communion by suggesting his friendship with dissident Anglican bishops, mostly in Africa, constitutes formal recognition by the Communion.
However, that isn't how it works. Just last fall, Welby said that renegade former Episcopalians now claiming to be Anglican were some sort of “separate Church” outside the Communion Lambeth Palace, Welby’s home and the center of the Communion, recognizes only Charles vonRosenberg as its bishop with jurisdiction in eastern South Carolina.
VonRosenberg succeeded Lawrence two years ago when he quit the Church.
Secession was a combination of clever lawyering and old fashioned fear-mongering
Since Lawrence was consecrated in 2008, he has been engaged in an imaginary “war” with the Episcopal Church over its acceptance of gays and lesbians, women in positions of ecclesiastical authority, and understandings of the Bible inconsistent with his own.
During the trial of his lawsuit last July, it was clear that for almost all of his episcopate the highly-secretive Lawrence was publicly trying to appear conciliatory toward the Church, while privately organizing a move to secede.
In 2012 he and his team convinced leaders in nearly two-thirds of the parishes in the Diocese that liberal Church leaders wanted to take over their properties to either fill up with gay, lesbian, and transgendered people, or sell to Muslims. To protect themselves, they needed to amend the governing documents of their parishes, substitute all references to the Episcopal Church with references to his religious corporation (the PECDSC Inc).
Even though the takeover threat existed only in Lawrence's imagination, many normal intelligent people went along with it, and joined in a very expensive preemptive lawsuit to prevent such a thing from happening.
For example, a well-respected Charleston businessman and good friend of SC Episcopalians, told a local newspaper this week that he welcomed Goodstein's ruling because it would allow him to be buried in St. Philip's churchyard with his relatives going back to the 1600s.
To manage the lawsuit, Lawrence and his supporters engaged a legal dream team of nearly fifty lawyers, many with close personal and professional ties to Judge Goodstein in whose jurisdiction they shrewdly decided to file the suit.
After delays of a year and a half, Goodstein finally held a trial of the case last July.
Their careful judge-shopping obviously paid off Wednesday, as Goodstein declared that the Lawrencian parishes are sole owners of their property and the Episcopal Church has no claims on them. She also ruled that they also own the very wealthy "Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina Inc" - the religious corporation established by the Episcopal Church for its work in eastern South Carolina.
There was nothing in Goodstein's ruling that did not appear to have come directly from Lawrence's attorneys. The only surprise was that it took Goodstein six months to issue the ruling. She gave nothing to the 27 parishes and missions, who have remained loyal to the Church and whose leaders were instrumental in building up the Diocese.
Oddly, there were no reports of disappointed gays, lesbians, transgendered people, or Muslims showing up at the Lawrence parishes this morning.
Fresh from victory, Lawrencians renew discredited attacks to raise money
To celebrate their legal victory, ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence and his chief lieutenants immediately returned to their rhetorical comfort zone by dredging up discredited attacks on the Episcopal Church to stoke their followers into providing more funds for a planned appeal of Goodstein's ruling.
The PECDSC Inc. and many of its parishes have been sucking wind financially and otherwise as loyal Episcopalians in their congregations have either left or have stopped giving.
This week Lawrence's public relations team revived their old claim that the Episcopal Church is a dying Church because lawsuits against theologically conservative parishes are driving members away.
It is true that the Church did lose members over the past decade and a half, but not nearly at the rate as other mainstream, hierarchical Churches. The Lawrencians' rhetoric is ironic since the Diocese of South Carolina appeared to be one of the fastest growing in the Church during that time ... until 2008 when Lawrence took over and it became the fastest shrinking.
Lawrence's team always seems to omit the fact that the Episcopal Church has never initiated legal action against any of its parishes or dioceses. It has only become involved in litigation when those entities and those like Lawrence - who have abandoned their vows -- have legal steps to leave the Church with Church property and financial assets.
February 3, 2015
Goodstein Rules Breakaways Can Secede
Says anti-Church group can have the name, property, and financial assets of the Diocese of South Carolina
State judge puts South Carolina at odds with Federal Courts & other states over whether the Episcopal Church is "hierarchical"
Read 54-page ruling here
Read summary and initial response of Bishop vonRosenberg here
ST. GEORGE - A South Carolina state court ruled late today that ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence and his followers own nearly $800 million in property and financial assets of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, as well as the Diocesan corporation itself.
The decision is a huge victory for beleaguered former Episcopalians here and around the country, who have needed a solid court victory to pump up their claims to own Church assets. Their remaining legal efforts are ongoing in the Diocese of Fort Worth and the tiny former Diocese of Quincy, Illinois.
The ruling by S.C. Circuit Judge Diane Goodstein was surprising only in that she took nearly seven months to render a decision that was mostly an exact recitation of filings provided her by Lawrence's lead attorney, Alan Runyan. She announced during the trial that she would allow the pro-Lawrence parishes to leave the Church, so the only key unresolved issue was whether the Diocese's corporate structure could leave as well.
The decision now pits Goodstein and a favorable ruling in the state courts of Illinois against the high courts in nearly two dozen states which have lined up with the Episcopal Church. The Texas Supreme Court has been favorable to the breakaway group in Fort Worth, but that case has gone back to the lower state courts for retrial.
It also puts her on the opposite side of the U.S. Federal courts that have affirmed that the Episcopal Church is an "hierarchical" Church comprised of dioceses whose leadership is determined by its governing bodies. Such ecclesiastical structures are protected under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The United States Supreme Court recently let stand a ruling by the Virginia Supreme Court, which found in favor of the Episcopal Church in its version of the Lawrence case.
While he refused to hear a related case brought by the Church last year, Federal District Judge Weston Houck in Charleston, who could actually hear the case at some point, did stated last year that there is no question the Episcopal Church is hierarchical.
If Goodstein's reasoning is allowed to stand on appeal at the state level, secessionist congregations in the Episcopal Diocese of Upper South Carolina, and other similarly structured denominations like the Lutherans and Methodists, will also be able to lay claim to their parish properties and leave.
January 30, 2015
Lawyers Battle over Houck's Ruling in Federal Appeals Court
VonRosenberg wants the Federal courts to order Mark Lawrence to stop saying he's an Episcopal Bishop... but a ruling by a local judge is standing in the way
Lawrencians may be facing an expensive two-front battle to secede from the Church
RICHMOND - Lawyers for South Carolina Bishop Charles vonRosenberg took to the United States Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals today seeking to overturn a lower court ruling denying them the right to challenge ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence's claim to be an Episcopal Bishop.
Charleston attorney Tom Tisdale, Chancellor for the Church's continuing Diocese in eastern South Carolina, butted heads with a pesky, though not unsympathetic, three-judge panel trying to determine if the lower court was wrong.
Wednesday's arguments addressed only a single procedural issue, and not the substance of the case. However, if Tisdale's appeal is successful, he will have forced the Lawrencians to open a second legal front in unfriendly territory in their increasingly expensive and quixotic battle for secession from the Episcopal Church.
Lawrence left the Church in 2012
Lawrence announced in October 2012 that he had left the Episcopal Church after a disciplinary board found he'd abandoned the Church and the vows he took at his consecration only five years earlier. In compliance with Church law, its leaders formally gave him the boot shortly thereafter. He admitted that he had done everything with which he was charged by the disciplinary board.
Since then, Lawrence has repeatedly asserted that he is still the Bishop of the Church's Diocese of South Carolina.
In January 2013, he even filed a monster lawsuit in state court demanding that the diocese be allowed to secede from the Church under his leadership, and that he and his followers be awarded an estimated $800 million in Diocesan property and financial assets accumulated over 225 years.
Nearly two-thirds of the Diocese's missions and parishes said they wanted to leave the Church with Lawrence, and most joined his lawsuit as plaintiffs.
Only in the peculiar world of Lawrence does this make any sense.
Tisdale: Ex-Bishop is a poseur engaged in illegal false advertising
Wednesday's oral arguments in Richmond were solely about a ruling by U.S. District Judge Weston Houck last year in which he refused to hear vonRosenberg's case. Houck said that the issues Tisdale raised in that case did not necessarily need to be tried in Federal court since the trial of Lawrence's lawsuit in state court would likely address them.
Tisdale disagreed and appealed.
Tisdale wants the Appeals Court to order Houck to hear the case, and argued that the issues raised by vonRosenberg's lawsuit are violations of Federal law that were not addressed in Lawrence's lawsuit or its ensuing trial last July before S.C. Circuit Judge Diane Goodstein from Dorchester County.
Tisdale's arguments suggested that Lawrence is a clever poseur, whose antics are "false advertising" intended to make it difficult for vonRosenberg to carry out his responsibilities as the duly elected Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina. He claimed that the damage being caused by Lawrence is ongoing, and that a timely resolution by the courts is critical.
The state court under Goodstein took some indirect towel-snaps when the judges expressed consternation on learning that she'd not yet ruled in Lawrence's lawsuit.
Not the genteel courtrooms of South Carolina
Neither Tisdale nor Lawrence attorney, Alan Runyan from Beaufort, was particularly forceful during his allotted twenty minutes before the panel. The judges had obviously read briefs submitted by both sides and repeatedly interrupted the attorneys with technical questions about other cases and precedents that might have a bearing on this one.
The sharp questioning by the judges seemed to rattle both attorneys who were struggling to get their positions on the complex issues in the case on the record. On several occasions, a seemingly frustrated Judge Diana Gribbon Motz tried to explain to the lawyers what they were trying to say.
Judges got Tisdale's arguments; not-so-much Runyan's
Runyan appeared to get the worst of it, as the panel was clearly not buying his defense of Houck's ruling, or his explanation of why a violation of Federal law should not be tried in a Federal court.
Runyan's technique of charming a more cooperative Goodstein away from issues unhelpful to him last summer only seemed to annoy the Federal judges Wednesday. He seemed flummoxed when Motz continually pressed him for precedents justifying Houck's action.
In fairness, Houck's decision did not give Runyan much to work with.
Runyan has spent years plotting Lawrence's case against the Episcopal Church based on a trial in state courts. Consequently, he has sought to avoid the Federal courts, which have been strongest against breakaway groups around the country.
The prospects of having to pursue Lawrence's lawsuit in state court and simultaneously defend him in Federal court is also not going sit well with pro-Lawrence parishes who are already grumbling about the costs of backing their litigation-happy ex-bishop.
Listen to the oral arguments before the three-judge panel
Dr. Ron Caldwell's excellent analysis of the Federal case
January 29, 2015
Longtime Rector at Historic St. Philip's in Charleston is Out
Haden McCormick has been a Lawrence loyalist and supporter of his leaving the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion
CHARLESTON - Ex-bishop Mark Lawrence and the leaders of St. Philip's Episcopal Church announced today that Haden McCormick, its rector for the past fifteen years, will vacate that position in April.
The announcement came after a private meeting between Lawrence and McCormick last week. According to Lawrence, quiet discussions about McCormick's future have been ongoing with the parish vestry since last summer.
Neither Lawrence, parish leaders, nor McCormick were specific about the reasons for his departure.
Former glory, pre-Lawrence
Saint Philip's was once considered the "mother parish" of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina, and its rectors were instantly among the most influential clergy in the Diocese. Its congregation has included former leaders of colonial South Carolina and the doomed Confederate States of America. Vice-President John C. Calhoun was buried there., along with many other prominent South Carolinians who shaped the state's destiny.
However, whatever was left of that influence in more modern times has long since evaporated.
Under McCormick in 2012, the congregation voted to try to leave the Episcopal Church, and joined Lawrence's quixotic lawsuit to grab an estimated $800 million in Church property and financial assets in addition to becoming independent from it ... and the parish has not had an easy time since.
Several longtime parishioners left. Some were loyal Episcopalians while others simply grew tired of McCormick's negative tone toward the Church. Others wanted to remain a part of the worldwide Anglican Communion, which only recognizes the Episcopal Church as its province in the United States.
Gradually parish leaders began realizing that Lawrence's justifications for bringing the lawsuit are largely fantasy, generated by his imaginary culture "war" with Church leaders. In fact, there was never any threat to St. Philip's from the Church or any interest by any of its leadership in taking over the parish's property, as people like Lawrence and McCormick suggested.
Ironically, the decision to join the lawsuit has actually put ownership of parish property up for grabs, which would not have happened if the parish had simply done nothing except the work Jesus Christ gave them to do.
The parish has incurred deficits in its operating budgets in the past two years, and racked up significant legal bills (nearly $130,000 in 2013 alone) which it paid out of investment funds set aside for future ministry. Lawrence has given no indication of abandoning his commitment to his lawsuit, which attorneys predict will drag on for years.
However, St. Philip's is still a vibrant congregation with strong lay leadership.
Humiliating stunt tarnishes departing rector's legacy
Sadly, McCormick will always be remembered for an adolescent stunt he and other Lawrencians engineered in 2008.
That year Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori accepted their invitation to participate in a service of evensong at Saint Philip's during her three-day "listening tour" in the Diocese.
However, she was told by the Lawrencians that she would not be allowed to speak during the service, except to say a closing prayer. She was also informed that she would process into the church along side Lawrence rather than following him at the end of the procession as is protocol.
Apparently, they wanted to send Jefferts Shori a you're-not-the-boss-of-us message, and let her know they did not regard her as anything more than one of many bishops in the Church.
The readings for the service were carefully chosen for their condemnation of sexual immorality, and the lay readers -- members of St. Philip's -- even turned around to glare at her when they read.
While nearly 300 people attended the service, the parish further embarrassed itself by arranging a reception for the Presiding Bishop immediately following at which it served only served store-bought cookies. (Remember this is downtown Charleston). The leader of the Episcopal Church and Primate in the Anglican Communion was also told to vacate the premises after 45 minutes because a youth group needed the space.
Almost every insult planned by the Lawrencians backfired. At the end of the service, the disgusted congregation erupted in a joyous ten-minute ovation for the leader of their Church. Afterwards, she and her husband were mobbed by admirers, who generally ignored Lawrence and McCormick.
In her remarks at the reception, she graciously thanked the people of the parish for their warmth and generous hospitality. Unfortunately for the parish, the incident was reported throughout the Anglican world.
Who will succeed McCormick?
McCormick's successor has yet to be announced, though it is not clear that the decision has even been made. Current speculation centers on one Lawrence favorite, but it is all based on rumors and SC Episcopalians is not close enough to the powers-that-be to mention the name with any confidence. He will almost certainly be male.
In the autocratic Lawrencian "diocese", it is not clear how much say parishes have in the selection of their rectors. Recent shake-ups in rectorships in other parishes have generally involved promotions from within the ranks of loyal Lawrencian clergy.
Lawrence will be the dominant factor in the selection process, and he seems to be okay with promoting existing staff clergy to the top job in a parish without an extensive search or parish discernment. That is not the practice in most Episcopal churches.
January 20, 2015
Oral Arguments in Appeal of Houck's Decision Scheduled for Jan. 28
No word yet on a ruling from Circuit Court Judge Goodstein
RICHMOND - Lawyers for the continuing Episcopal Church in South Carolina will head to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Virginia next week to argue that a local Federal judge was wrong not to claim jurisdiction in a case they brought in 2013 asking that the Rt. Rev. Charles vonRosenberg be recognized as the Church's duly elected bishop in eastern South Carolina.
VonRosenberg's predecessor, ex-Bishop Mark J. Lawrence, claims that he is the Episcopal Bishop of South Carolina, even though he abandoned the Church more than two years ago. For years Lawrence has been engaged in an imaginary "war" with the Church that includes a massive lawsuit claiming that he and his followers own an estimated $800 million in Church property and financial assets.
Federal Judge Weston Houck from Charleston previously rejected the Church's argument that issues raised by Lawrence's conduct necessarily warrant the intervention of the Federal Courts.
Church lawyers and those representing Lawrence will be given a total of twenty minutes each to present their oral arguments in the case on January 28th.
Meanwhile, there has been no word on when a ruling in the case of Lawrence's mega-lawsuit might be handed down by State Judge Diane Goodstein in Dorchester County. The trial was held last July, and the judge herself seemed to suggest that an opinion would be forthcoming in the fall. However, she is under no timetable and many legal observers at the trial thought she was not aware of the potentially far-reaching effects of her decision when set the schedule was announced.
Read full story from the Episcopal Church in South Carolina website.
January 1,, 2015
New Year Finds Current and Former Episcopalians in South Carolina Stalled, Entering a Third Year of Breakaways' Attack on the Church
After two turbulent years of legal maneuvering by their embittered former Bishop and his nearly 50-member legal team, current and former Episcopalians, in what was once a large, thriving diocese in the Episcopal Church, are spiritually exhausted and financially depleted.
Any hope of a quick resolution to the complicated legal issues raised by ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence and his followers in their lawsuit against the Episcopal Church and loyal Episcopalians in South Carolina have long since evaporated.
Lawrence and his followers are part of a national effort by ultraconservatives to create a legal precedent that will allow them and their allies in other dioceses to leave the Episcopal Church and take their parishes and even their entire dioceses with them. The strategy has failed in most places, including Georgia, California, Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia, but legal cases in Fort Worth and Quincy (Ill), along with Lawrence's in South Carolina, are still active, but moving at a snail's pace.
Episcopal Church in South Carolina thrives under Lawrence's successor
Much to the surprise of many on both sides, the continuing Episcopal Church in South Carolina has proven to be a viable entity with sufficient resources to fight Lawrence's attempt to make off with the Diocese of South Carolina's parish properties and financial assets, conservatively valued at $800 million. The continuing diocese has also gotten good news in the form of insurance coverage for its legal expenses incurred while defending itself from Lawrence's legal assault.
Lawrence's successor, the Rt. Rev. Charles vonRosenberg, has led a reorganization of the Diocese that has seen significant grown and rebirth. New mission parishes have formed in parts of the Diocese where pro-Lawrence congregations have not yet relinquished control of their buildings, and a number of its larger, established parishes have continued to attract loyal Episcopalians who have grown weary of Lawrence's erratic leadership, hostility toward homosexuals and lesbians in the Church, and his intolerance of those whose experience of God is different from his own.
Parishes loyal to the Episcopal Church in Charleston experienced record turnouts this Christmas. Grace Church, the largest of them, had five Christmas services with nearly 3,000 participants.
Lawsuit slogging along, likely to take years and millions of dollars
Lawrence's lawsuit went to trial last summer in Dorchester County, where some of his attorneys have ties to a judge they felt would rule in their favor. The judge's performance at trial drew occasional gasps and guffaws, as she appeared determined to limit the admission of evidence that might be helpful to the Church and its continuing Diocese on appeal.
Now, nearly six months after the trial, the judge has not yet ruled in the case, nor has a Federal appeals court in Richmond made a decision on vonRosenberg's request that he be recognized as the legitimately elected and officially-recognized Bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina.
Lawrence, living very well in Charleston, says no chance of reconciliation
Meanwhile, Lawrence has firmly ensconced himself in Charleston in the official residence established by loyal Episcopalians for the rightful Bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina. The Diocesan Board of Trustees, which the ex-bishop chairs, has awarded him a $1-per-year lease for the home, located in a very posh and historic part of downtown. Funds contributed by his breakaway "diocese" cover maintenance and upkeep on the property. He also has a very nice agreement with the "diocese" that makes him its salaried CEO until he decides to give that up.
Believe it or not, in addition to his salary, he gets a pension from the Episcopal Church's Pension Fund, one of the most lucrative retirement plans in the country and one which his priests were forced to give up when they abandoned the Church with him.
Last year Lawrence launched an aggressive appeal for $2 million in funds to pay his lawyers, and this year he is pressuring them for the same amount to fight the "spiritual forces of evil.". Details of the legal fund's income and expenses do not appear to be available to the public.
December 22, 2014
Ex-Bishop's exotic metaphors, vivid dreams, and rhetorical flourishes have defined a leadership style that has guided his schism
Episcopalians in South Carolina have long become accustomed to Mark Lawrence’s accounts of divine revelation through dreams, visions, angelic messengers, and even ordinary humans through whom heavenly voices speak in ways that only he can understand. His recounting of these imaginings often echo the writings of C.S. Lewis, T.S. Eliot, and authors of other literary classics he studied in college.
Many of these narratives are charming, as is the one in which his surprise proposal of marriage was spoiled by angels, who had tipped off his future wife in a dream the night before. Then there are bigger picture revelations, almost always cast with Lawrence as God's reluctant hero. All have contributed to his mystique among his followers but many also have been useful to him in inspiring (or some would say, manipulating) them in his recent schism with the Episcopal Church.
Readers of this weblog will remember, for example, Lawrence's 2012 summer vacation that somehow transformed itself into a Biblical epic when he ascended the mountains of North Carolina in anticipation of a new vision to guide next steps in his imaginary “war” with the Church.
On his return, a jubilant Standing Committee eagerly spread the word that indeed the bishop had received an exciting vision through which the Diocese would at last be "drawn into a place of alignment with God alongside Mark."
Few - except the cynical, shameless, and SC Episcopalians - noticed that Lawrence's new vision bore a striking resemblance to his attorneys' secret legal scheme to sue the Episcopal Church and its continuing Diocese of South Carolina, and make off with hundreds of millions of dollars in property and financial assets accumulated over 225 years of its proclamation of the Gospel...
Read full posting by clicking here