South Carolina Episcopalians
An Independent Journal of News & Commentary for Anglicans
not affiliated with ACNA, the Episcopal Church or its dioceses
March 28, 2018
U.S. Supreme Court Won't decide on Hearing Breakaways' Appeal until May or June
Attorneys for the Episcopal Church and its local diocese, The Episcopal Church in South Carolina, have until the end of this month to file their response to the appeal of the state Supreme Court's August 2017 decision that only seven of the 36 plaintiff parishes aligned with ex-bishop Mark Lawrence could leave the Church with their parish property. This means that the nine justices on the Court will not even consider whether they will hear the case in their fall term until May or June.
March 15, 2018
Frequently Asked Questions: So Glad You Asked...
The following are questions that have been submitted to SC Episcopalians by members of former breakaway congregations. These answers are the best we can provide right now. SC Episcopalians does not speak for the Episcopal Church or its continuing Diocese in eastern South Carolina. We are also not lawyers and none of what appears here is legal advice.
Q. When is our parish property going to be taken away?
No congregation will have its property taken away. You are able to continue to worship in your parish the same way as you did before Lawrence.
Q. So do we own our parish property?
Yes... but you are not the sole 'owner'. In January 2013, Mark Lawrence and 36 parishes loyal to him asked the South Carolina state courts to clarify the circumstances under which those parishes and the corporate “Diocese of South Carolina” could leave the Episcopal Church with their financial assets and properties intact.
In August 2017, the South Carolina Supreme Court responded by saying that 29 of the 36 parishes were subject to the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church, as they always have been. As such, congregations can not leave the Church with their financial assets and property without the agreement of the Church.
In the Episcopal Church, parish properties are owned by the congregations that occupy them... but they are not owned outright. They must operate them for the benefit of the Episcopal Church and its local diocese. The congregations are not free to do just anything they want with their parish property.
Q. So what happens to the corporate Diocese of South Carolina? According the state Supreme Court, the Diocese of South Carolina belongs to the Episcopal Church, just like it always has.
Lawrence's lawyers never realistically thought they had a chance of holding onto the Diocese, and did not even contest the issue in their appeal to the United States Supreme Court. This question has always been more of a political diversion and potential bargaining chip, than a real expectation.
Mark Lawrence has surely known for years he would not end up with the Diocese. He was part of the breakaway Diocese of San Joaquin that tried the same scam, and the courts in California came to the same exact conclusion as the South Carolina Supreme Court did.
Q. What will be different in our parish now it is clear it is part of the Episcopal Church?
That is really up to Bishop Adams and those who choose to continue to worship there. Some things are known based on what has happened in other attempted breakaway dioceses. For example, the Canons of the Church require that clergy serving congregations in the Episcopal Church be in good standing with the Church, while the wardens and their vestries must be clear in t heir commitment to operate under the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church.
In other dioceses where there have been attempted schisms, members of some of the breakaway congregations chose to leave their parishes rather than continue to worship in an Episcopal church.
This left many parish buildings without a substantial congregation to sustain a viable ministry. These challenges were resolved on a case-by-case basis. Some parishes merged, others entered into space-sharing or leasing arrangements. When none of these arrangements worked out, some of the properties were sold.
Q. Some of our angriest members are planning to leave the parish and start a new organization. How should we respond to this?
God’s message at Pentecost was that the followers of Jesus be united as one Body, as we set out to transform the world through the work His Son has given us to do. Neither the Episcopal Church nor its bishops in South Carolina have ever indicated a desire that Lawrence sympathizers leave the Church.
However, if a contingent of Lawrence followers has made it clear they have no desire to remain with your parish, pray for them and wish them well.
Q. What if they want to take things from the parish with them?
Continue praying for them ... and make a note of any questionable activities for review by a representative of the Court. All physical property, intellectual property, financial assets, financial records, membership lists and any copies of these things cannot be removed. This would constitute theft of Church property.
Earlier this month, attorneys for the Episcopal Church asked a Federal Court to oversee the transition of every parish and the Lawrence “diocese” itself back into the Church. In similar cases in other places, the Courts have agreed to this. Normally it meant that a kind of overseer would be appointed and charged with reporting on the transition to the judge.
Q. Who owns Camp St. Christopher?
The Church and its continuing Diocese in eastern South Carolina. The state Supreme Court found that the “Diocese of South Carolina” and its property belong to the Episcopal Church just as they always have. The Court deferred to Federal Judge Richard Gergel to make a final ruling on this question and oversee the transition back to Church control.
In its appeal to the United States Supreme Court, Lawrence’s legal team did not contest this part of the decision of the state’s high court, effectively conceding ownership to the Church.
Q. Will parishes that were loyal to ex-Bishop Lawrence be able to use St. Christopher in the same way as parishes that remained with the Church? Yes.
When Lawrence left the Episcopal Church in 2012, parents of children in parishes that remained loyal to the Church were told they and their children were not welcome at Camp St. Christopher. "You are getting what you deserve," one parent was told. There appears to be a unanimous consensus among loyal Episcopalians that this should never happen again, and that all people should be welcome at St. Christopher regardless of their politics.
Q. Is it true Bishop Adams said he wants to sell Camp St. Christopher?
Q. How does the state Supreme Court ruling affect our membership the Anglican Communion?
It affirms that all parishes of the Diocese, including the 29 whose request to leave the Church was denied, are part of worldwide Anglicanism and the Anglican Communion.
The Episcopal Church is the only Anglican province in the United States, which means that only Episcopalians are recognized as Anglicans in our country. Our Diocese in South Carolina (currently known as The Episcopal Church in South Carolina) is in good standing with the Episcopal Church which, in turn, is in good standing with the Communion. The Lawrence group nor the Anglican Church in North America has ever been recognized by the Anglican Communion.
Q. How do we start the reunification process? Jesus promises where two or three are gathered together in His name, he will be in the midst of them. That's probably the best place to start.
As long as legal proceedings are still winding down, the Church is somewhat constrained in its ability to get the reunification of the Diocese underway. However, anyone in a former breakaway congregation is free to contact the bishop or his staff and talk to them about his or her situation.
Reflection in a time of confusion:
I had a brilliant dream last night to the point I became sufficiently conscious to scribble a six-word reminder about it on an index card on the night stand. Predictably, this morning, I wasn't even out of bed, and I was already puzzling over those barely-legible words I'd written during the night. Of course, could recall neither their meaning nor the dream that inspired them.
Later on at my computer, I pulled up the draft of a posting for this blog I'd worked on yesterday. I'd been re-reading the 1000+ emails SC Episcopalians has received over the years, hoping to discover among them a common theme or hidden insight to share about our Diocese's recent schism. Click here to read on...
March 1, 2018
Continuing Diocese Moves to Consolidate Issues in Breakaways' "War" with the Church, Adds New Defendants in False Advertising Case
Amended Complaint in Federal lawsuit would set the stage for the return of the "Diocese of South Carolina," Trustees, and its parishes to the Church
The Episcopal Church’s continuing Diocese in eastern South Carolina took giant steps in Federal Court in Charleston today to implement a nightmare scenario attorneys for ex-bishop Mark Lawrence have tried for five years to avoid.
Charleston Attorney Thomas Tisdale, Chancellor for the Episcopal Church in South Carolina, formally asked U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel in Charleston to expand his bishop's 2013 false advertising lawsuit against Lawrence to include all unresolved issues in Lawrence’s 2013 mega-lawsuit against the Church.
In an amended Complaint filed this afternoon, Tisdale also asked that political lieutenants of Lawrence’s “Diocese of South Carolina,” Diocesan Trustees, and 28 parishes aligned with Lawrence in his lawsuit be brought into the Federal case as defendants “to ensure that all of the appropriate and necessary parties and claims are before the Court, so this dispute can be fully resolved.”
Tisdale represents the Rt. Rev. Skip Adams III, the legitimate Episcopal bishop, who is recognized by the Church and the Anglican Communion. His amended Complaint also asks that Gergel resolve the legal status of 18 parishes, who did not join Lawrence's lawsuit but whose clergy were aligned with him. A complete summary of today's amended Complaint can be viewed here
Tisdale also requested that Gergel oversee the identification of one-time Lawrence loyalists among Diocesan Trustees and parish vestry members who can not be faithful to the Church, and remove them from office.
The bottom line is the Church's legal team is setting the stage for an eventual Court ruling to turn back the legal status of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina and its parishes to the early years of Lawrence’s legitimate tenure as Bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina.
The amended Complaint continues to ask for court costs to be reimbursed and raises the prospect of eventually recovering damages from those responsible for misspending millions of dollars in Church funds.
It does not include anything suggesting that the Church wants any congregation or individuals to be thrown out of parish buildings where they and their families worship. Lawrence's agents have been on a propaganda rampage since last summer's Supreme Court decision, bearing false witness suggesting Church leaders want to eject Lawrence loyalists from their places of worship.
Should Gergel allow Tisdale’s amended Complaint, all the issues in the case would move to the one place the breakaways' 40-plus legal team has fought to avoid: Federal courts. This is where legal precedents overwhelmingly favor the interests of the Church, as opposed to state courts where overly friendly judges, well-connected law firms, and unsettled case law could and were exploited to the breakaways advantage.
Confused? Here's a little background ...
In 2012 Lawrence had been the legitimate Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina for four years, during which he waged a sneaky, and largely imaginary, culture "war" against the Episcopal Church.
In the fall of 2012, over-reacting to allegations that his rebellious behavior constituted "abandonment of Communion" with the Church, Lawrence refused to respond and instead announced that he had left the Church. A month later he filed a lawsuit claiming that he was taking the properties and financial assets of 36 parishes and the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina with him.
However, in the face of an immediate decline in parish income and attendance, Lawrence oddly insisted that he had not actually left the Church, but was somehow the bishop of an "Episcopal diocese" that just didn't happen to be formally associated with it.
Parishes loyal to him him picked up the drumbeat, and even restored the word "Episcopal" to their signage and websites. Lawrence continued to insist that he and his followers were still part of the Anglican Communion, even though its leadership did not recognize them.
Lawrence's successor, the Rt. Rev. Charles vonRosenberg (and later the Rt. Rev. Skip Adams) filed a lawsuit in Federal court against Lawrence claiming he was falsely advertising himself as an "Episcopal bishop" and creating confusion that was preventing them from carrying out the work of the Church.
However, Lawrence's legal team successfully kept the Federal lawsuit bottled up while their property lawsuit made its way through the state courts over the past five years.
In August 2017, the state Supreme Court finally ruled 3-2 that Lawrence's schism from the Church was legally untenable and that 28 of 36 parishes that tried to join him and leave with their parish properties could not do so without the consent of the Church.
The justices also ruled 4-1 that the corporate entity, "The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina," belonged to the Church as well, but left it up to Gergel to make the final determination.
Lawrence and his supporters have appealed their loss of the 28 parishes to the United States Supreme Court. They have largely abandoned their claims to owning the "Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina" and its property and assets.
A decision from the nation's high court on whether it will even hear the appeal is likely in late April or May.
Okay, history lesson over ...
With the demise of the breakaway lawsuit in state court last fall, the Federal false advertising case got cranked up and began moving full steam ahead.
The case is now on track to be heard by Judge Gergel in September.
Tisdale today argued in his Complaint that Lawrence’s lieutenants, the Trustees and the 28 parishes were and continue to be part of the alleged masquerade. Many of the parishes, even today, refer to themselves as “Episcopal” and "Anglican" in their public outreach and promotion.
Dennis Canon: I'm Baaaaack!
Very importantly, Tisdale's amended Complaint also asked Gergel to expand the legal basis of the false advertising lawsuit to include issues related to the failure of the expanded group of defendants to live up to their legal obligations as trustees of diocesan and parish property and assets.
This is a new legal wrinkle made credible by last August's state Supreme Court decision that determined the 28 breakaway parishes were subject to the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church.
That includes the famous Dennis Canon (church law) that establishes that the Constitutionally-protected principle that allows congregations to own their parish property, while serving in the capacity of "trustees" who have a duty to operate their parishes for the benefit of the Episcopal Church and its local diocese.
According to Tisdale, the Diocesan Trustees and the “28 Trustee Parishes have committed serious breaches of trust they owe to The Episcopal Church and the Associated Diocese [The Episcopal Church in South Carolina] and have demonstrated their unfitness, unwillingness, and persistent failure to administer the trusts effectively."
The Complaint goes on to request that Gergel "order the Trustee Corporation to remove from their board any persons who cannot demonstrate to this Court's satisfaction that they are capable of and willing to carry out their fiduciary obligations” to the continuing diocese.
Tactics of Lawrence 'diocese" making it worse for parishes?
Tisdale’s move comes at the end of more than four months of court-sponsored mediation in which breakaway leaders and parishes associated with them inexplicably refused to engage in negotiations with the Church that could have settled their culpability in the case on favorable terms.
That apparently has not happened, and not puts their futures in the hands of the Court.
In the non-legal opinion of SC Episcopalians, the political requirements of the Lawrence ‘diocese’ have consistently trumped the legal concerns of individual parishes largely because lawyers representing the diocese are doubling as lawyers for individual parishes.
In 2015, for example, with the consent of the Church’s Presiding Bishop, Tisdale proposed the parishes drop their support of Lawrence’s ownership claims to the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina in exchange for the Church allowing them to leave with their properties intact. Most Lawrence congregations were unaware of the offer until after it was rejected by the Lawrencian high command.
During mediation in the False advertising suit, Bishop Adams reportedly pleaded with Lawrencian attorneys and clergy to allow him to meet with laypeople in their congregations to personally assure them they are welcome to continue to worship in their parish buildings.
Apparently, that request was blocked.
February 25, 2018
U.S. Supreme Court may Decide Whether to Hear Lawrence Appeal on March 15th ... along with 155 others
Four justices would have to vote to hear to the appeal in its October 2018 term
The nine justices of the United States Supreme Court have scheduled “cert conference” on March 15th that will include the appeal of the August 2017 decision of the South Carolina Supreme Court in favor of the Episcopal Church. The appeal was filed a few weeks ago by breakaway ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence and his followers.
The justices are currently deciding which cases among nearly 300 they will hear in their October term. Granting “cert” or certiorari means that they have agreed to hear the case. The Court already had one cert conference last week, and plans another on March 2nd.
The third and final cert conference in this series will be the one in mid-March. A grandiose announcement from Lawrence’s group today made it sound like the entire conference on the 15th was about its appeal but, in fact, there are 155 others scheduled for review that day alone.
Rather than going through each request for cert one-by-one, the judges’ conference allows justices to identify cases in which there may be either a compelling national interest for resolution or a dispute in which at least four of the justices feel existing precedence is inadequate guidance for lower courts, in Lawrence's case, state courts.
It is the latter his lawyers are arguing.
The justices do not have to make a decision on any of the petitions for cert if they don’t want to. They can and do wait until later, especially if they want to hear more from the parties in a particular case before making up their collective mind.
Results of the conferences are announced the Monday following the conference so it is possible we will know if Lawrence’s appeal will be heard or not on March 19th. A similar cert request from breakaways in Virginia, appealing the ruling of their Supreme Court, was denied several years ago.
Here's our 10-cent non-lawyer explanation of the appeal...
The Lawrence crowd is asking the Court to clarify two previous U.S. Supreme Court decisions they claim are in conflict creating "confusion" among the states.
The question addressed in both cases was the extent to which secular courts must defer to the governing structures of hierarchical denominations like the Episcopal Church when matters of doctrine are at the heart of a property dispute. Hierarchical means that a Church has a tiered structure of democratic governance that is overseen by a highest authority. In the Episcopal Church, the highest authority is its triennial General Convention, which promulgates its Constitution and Canons.
Without seeming overly legal, here’s the rub of Lawrence's case:
In 1872, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a case called Watson that the Constitution protected the governing structures of hierarchical denominations from intrusion by civil courts including disputes involving property. (Property laws are usually the province of the states, so there is always a little hint of a state versus Federal tug-of-war when these things come along.)
In Watson, the Court determined that the Constitution required that state courts defer to the highest authority in these denominations when state and Church law conflicted.
In 1979 the U.S. Supreme Court conceded the Watson ruling could be overly restrictive of the authority of state courts, and ruled in a case called Jones that they could decide property disputes involving hierarchical denominations using their own state’s laws – known as ‘neutral principles’ -- as long as the dispute was not rooted in theology or doctrine.
Since the Jones case, state courts have been wrestling with how to implement the neutral principles approach while at the same time respecting Constitutional protections afforded hierarchical Churches.
In 1997 the South Carolina Supreme Court tried the navigate this, by applying neutral principles of law in decided the case of All Saints' Episcopal Church on Pawleys Island. Its' congregation was trying to leave the Church with its property because of its theology and doctrines.
In that case, the Diocese of South Carolina claimed that the parish could not leave the Episcopal Church because the dispute was doctrinal, and thus the South Carolina courts were obligated to follow the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church ... which held that All Saints’ was part of the Church.
However, the state’s high court found unanimously in favor of All Saints', saying the possible doctrinal nature of the dispute was not relevant because in 1902 the Church had given All Saints’ a quitclaim deed relinquishing any interest it may have had in the parish’s property.
The deed was properly issued by the Bishop of the Diocese and therefore deemed legitimate under South Carolina law and enforceable against the ownership claims of the Church.
For years Lawrence and his lawyers have unconvincingly tried to twist the circumstances of the Diocese of South Carolina to fit the All Saints model.
(HISTORICAL NOTE: Following the All Saints decision in 2009, the justices spoke with lawyers aligned with the Diocese of South Carolina and told them flatly the use of neutral principles was unique to the All Saints' case, and they should not assume there would be anything automatic or universal in its application in future property cases. SC Episcopalians was also privately told the same thing. However, that did not discourage Lawrence and his attorneys from going ahead and spending millions of dollars bringing a lawsuit based on exactly what they had been told they should not do.)
Twisting All Saints'
In Lawrence's lawsuit, his attorneys argued that the 36 parishes who joined him as plaintiffs have never been a part of the Episcopal Church (in spite of mountains of evidence to the contrary). They also argued that Lawrence issued them quit claim deeds when he was still a real bishop in the Church. Just for good measure, they claimed the Episcopal Church isn't even a hierarchical Church, in spite of two centuries of Supreme Court rulings to the contrary.
Most importantly, they argued that the nature of their dispute with the Church is not doctrinal, and don't understand why the state Supreme Court deferred to the denomination's Constitution and Canons to resolve the matter using neutral principles.
The central premise and weakest part of their appeal is that some states strictly enforce the neutral principles of law approach, while others use a "hybrid" form -- which looks to SC Episcopalians oddly like the Court's proscription in the Jones case. In their typical black-or-white view of the world, Lawrence's attorneys are arguing that the nation's high court needs to force states to choose between the neutral principles or the hierarchical deference to avoid confusion.
Last summer, a 3-2 majority on the state's high court smelled a rat and determined that Lawrence's dispute with the Church was doctrinal and then deferred to the the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church in determining that parishes could not leave with their properties without the prior consent of the Church.
Lawrencians are taking a huge gamble
Appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court is a very daring move on the Lawrencians' part. Some among their anti-Church colleagues around the country are not convinced it isn't inviting disaster for their cause.
If the high court refuses to grant certiorari next month, the secession game is over, not only in South Carolina, but in other states as well. Failure to grant cert is harsh because the justices do not explain why they didn't want to hear the case, which is a huge disincentive to other breakaway groups to pursue legal remedies to their unhappiness with their hierarchical denominations.
If the justices take the case, it provides the Court an opportunity to clarify the restrictions on the states imposed by Watson and Jones, giving them the opportunity to tug the rope back in the direction of Federal protections for hierarchical denominations.
Interestingly, the Episcopal Church did not file a response to the Lawrencians' request for certiorari.
It could be that they just want a quick resolution of the matter, but they also have reason to believe that they will win the case outright. A majority of the current Court has already ruled in cases involving the Constitutional protections for hierarchical denominations and have come down in favor of the hierarchical churches. According to legal commentators, it's a position that even Kagan (the most liberal justice) and Thomas (the most conservative justice) seem to be full agreement.
February 22, 2018
Annual Meeting of Former Breakaway Parishes Promises Headaches and Delusion
With budget cuts & loss of income, Lawrence crowd struggles with realities of legal defeat
Even though last year's Supreme Court decision says it does not exist, Mark Lawrence's “Diocese of South Carolina” is pushing forward with its planned “227th Annual Convention” at Christ Episcopal Church in Mount Pleasant March 9-10 .
The gathering promises to be both unhappy and surreal at the same time.
From a political standpoint, the group is facing the painful reality that its once high-rolling bandwagon to secede from the Episcopal Church is over.
Of course, delegates will be treated to lots of happy talk from lawyers about prospects for legal challenges and new church plants. However, after twenty years and millions of dollars, they are realizing the only thing they have accomplished is the pointless destruction of one of the most effective Anglican witnesses for the Gospel in North America.
From a legal perspective, the annual meeting will be awkward since nearly all the delegates come from congregations that are legally part of the Episcopal Church, an entity to which neither Lawrence nor his clergy belong.
None of the work the delegates plan to do, including resolutions they want to pass, will have any effect on anything. Courts will decide the future of most of these parishes and Lawrence and his lieutenants.
Apparently, the plan for the annual meeting is to maintain the illusion that Lawrence's "diocese" still exists and is a part of a group of Anglican dissidents, known as the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). He is even bringing in an ACNA bishop as keynoter to make it seem more real.
The reality is that, while Lawrence's group including many parishes have taken steps to align themselves with ACNA, the state's high court said those actions were invalid since the parishes have no authority to leave the Episcopal Church without its consent.
Making things even more murky, Lawrence and his ACNA cohorts will continue to confuse his followers by claiming that ACNA is part of the Anglican Communion, even though the Communion itself has said repeatedly that it isn't.
Financial disaster looms
However, the greatest challenge for the delegates is the financial mess in which the Lawrence organization finds itself. Budget writers have probably done the best they can with their proposed 2018 annual budget, which will be largely irrelevant the moment it is approved.
Delegates to March's annual meeting will be asked to grapple with a painful $250,000 decline in revenue from last year. The projected reduction stems largely from a decision to stop using money from trust accounts, intended to support the work the legitimate Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, to underwrite the operations of the Lawrence 'diocese.'
That decision appears to have been made right after the Court decision came down last August. In that decision, the Court ruled that 29 of the 36 parishes that filed suit against the Church in 2013, along with the Diocese of South Carolina itself and its Trustees, are and have always been part of the Episcopal Church.
Up until then the Lawrence diocese was utilizing about a quarter-million dollars annually from these sources, over which the Diocesan Trustees have a fiduciary responsibly.
Some lawyer or auditor (in addition to SC Episcopalians) must have finally gotten through to the Trustees to cut it out since they could be held personally liable for repayment should the Courts find that the Lawrence crowd did not legally constitute the real Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina.
Do 2018 parish pledges mean anything?
Lawrence's proposed budget also makes a highly questionable assumption that income to his 'diocese' from its parishes will grow by $30,000 to $1,840,000 this year. In previous years, this would have made sense. However now, since all but six of his parishes belong to the Episcopal Church, it is doubtful that their current leadership will remain intact long enough to deliver on those pledges to Lawrence.
Budget losers: Struggling parishes, ministry, and St. Christopher
The bulk of the budget cuts will be felt in mission and programming, where Lawrence and his lieutenants propose slashing $350,249 in programs like congregational development, youth, faith formation, social ministries, and evangelism. Their proposed 2018 budget for struggling parishes and missions would take a whacking of more than $169,000 to nearly half its 2017 level.
Finally, Lawrencian budget-cutters are also proposing to zero out their annual contribution of about $115,000 to Camp St. Christopher, tacit recognition that their legal claim to own the Diocese of South Carolina and its properties has vaporized.
Astonishingly, salaries and very generous benefits for Lawrence and his top lieutenant – the two men most responsible for destroying the Diocese of South Carolina -- will continue at their generous same levels.
Lawrence continues to receive a compensation package of approximately $175,000. He and his wife occupy the official Charleston residence of the legitimate Episcopal Bishop of South Carolina for which he may be paying $1 a year, according to court documents in 2015.
Lawrence spent more than $44,000 on globetrotting last year, so this year his travel budget will be reduced to a mere $35,000. Lawrence also has a pension from the Episcopal Church, based on his 30 years of service.
Budget winners: Lawyers and ACNA
However, the biggest winners in this year’s budget are Lawrence’s lawyers and the so-called “Anglican Church of North America.” Unbelievably, they will actually be getting raises, if the proposed budget is adopted.
Legal fees are consistently the most unpredictable line item in the Diocesan budget since Lawrence was consecrated in 2008. Last year delegates put $50,000 in their budget for diocesan lawyers, but ended up paying out nearly $300,000. This has been the pattern for the past seven years.
This year delegates are being asked to approve $200,000 that apparently will underwrite more legal barriers to implementation of the 2017 Supreme Court ruling. The amount does not reflect the five-year cost of attorneys hired by parishes, nor does it appear to reflect money raised separately from the parishes for Lawrence's Legal Defense Fund.
Easily the most suspicious item in the Lawrencian budget is $196,484 for the ACNA. This is an increase from $185,640 in 2017, and $174,230 in 2016.
The determination of Lawrence's lieutenants to insure that ACNA gets it money every year amid such uncertainty and budget-cutting raises questions about what its is being used for and whether Lawrence's lieutenants may be feathering a post-schism nest for themselves.
February 21, 2018
Smoking Gun Shows Lawrence Still Putting Private War Against the Church Ahead of Parishes & Lay Leaders
Mysterious, unsigned "Parish Contingency Plan Template" seems to encourage illegal actions among lay people in former breakaway parishes
A smoking gun, revealing why ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence and his lieutenants have been stalling state and Federal courts, was provided this week to Historian Ron Caldwell, who published it today on his excellent blog.
The explosive evidence is an unsigned memorandum, labeled “Parish Contingency Plan Template,” that appears to have caught leaders of the super-secret Lawrence crowd in a continuing scheme to alienate their followers in 29 former pro-Lawrence parishes from the Episcopal Church and undermine implementation of the August 2017 ruling by the state Supreme Court.
The Template is dated December 1, 2017, which was in the midst of court-ordered mediation to which all parties pledged to engage in good faith. Our suspicion is that the entire closed-door process was disrupted for months by the Lawrencian attorneys to buy time for their political team to manipulate their followers with misinformation and bogus legal advice.
How-to schism guide now available
The Template is a how-to guide for Lawrence disciples who are plotting to leave their parishes now that the state Supreme Court has confirmed they're part of the Episcopal Church.
But, the advice its gives can get parish leaders into trouble. For example, it suggests parish leaders can "determine what should be relocated, taken home, or left to successors."
In the eyes of the courts, this is clearly not their role makes them vulnerable to allegations that include criminal liability.
According to the Supreme Court, all parish properties are held by the parish for the benefit of the Episcopal Church and its dioceses in South Carolina. This applies to its buildings and land, but also other kinds of material, intellectual, and organizational property like membership lists, "ministry resources," bank accounts, contracts for services, and insurance among others. This also includes the "wiping of computers as appropriate." No can do.
Many of the actions suggested in the Template could constitute theft or even a conspiracy to defraud the Church of its rightful property.
Meet Bishop Adams
The Template continues the shameless false witness (scare tactic) that the Church plans to eject Lawrence’s followers from their parish properties, even though there has never been any suggestion that such an action has ever been contemplated by the Church.
The most obvious piece of guidance missing from the Template is that the 29 congregations that were not allowed to leave the Church should be talking to Bishop Skip Adams, the legally recognized bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina.
Adams has made it clear that he has no plans to throw anyone of the Church or their parish buildings. In recent months he has been thwarted in his efforts to have conversations with all the former breakaway congregations by their attorneys.
Any parish attorney, who has failed to advise his clients to at least be in touch with Bishop Adams, even if they plan to leave the Church, is not acting his client's best interest.
Unsigned + Unidentified = Untrustworthy
The Template is unsigned, but sources in the one-time breakaway parishes apparently are confident it was prepared at 16 Coming Street where Lawrence's team continues its encampment in a Diocesan House that actually belongs to the Episcopal Church.
That the Template's author is unknown and that it is printed on stationery without any indication of its origin is a very good reason parish leaders should treat it with caution. Clearly the author(s) do not want to be held accountable for any illegal actions parish leaders might take after reading it.
Speculation is that it was prepared under the direction of Lawrence’s chief lieutenant, who has consistently been a fountain of wrong-headed legal advice since 2010. However, we do not know for sure who wrote or approved it... nor were we meant to.
Lawrencian attorneys have done a lousy job of explaining the legal situation in which leaders of former breakaway congregations find themselves, and could face in the future if they decide to abandon their parish buildings and take stuff with them.
The state Supreme Court last August affirmed that parish properties in the Episcopal Church operate under the Constitution and Canons of the Church. This means that they are owned by their congregations, but are operated for the exclusive benefit of the Church and the diocese in which they are located. In legal terms, this is called a trust interest.
In that sense, the parish’s relationship to its buildings is that of a trustee and is subject to strict legal obligations that, under South Carolina law, are quite substantial. Failure to faithfully carry out trustee responsibilities can result criminal penalties.
Curiously, the Template does not provide any mention of the role of Lawrence clergy as participants in any of these questionable activities.
Wardens & Vestries
The Template does not mention that wardens and vestries who've placed encumbrances on parish property without the consent of the Episcopal Church remain liable for them. This includes any second mortgages or lines of credit.
Many pro-Lawrence parishes are caught in bind since they have hired lawyers who also work for Lawrence and are tied into his and his lieutenants' political interests. It is not clear that all of them have apprised these lay leaders of their potential liability.
Parish attorneys have made a huge mistake not negotiating with Church attorneys when they had the chance in mediation. With this fall's upcoming trial, leaders of breakaway parishes could well be charged with court costs incurred by the Church and other penalties, even if they are no longer members of their parishes.
February 14, 2018
Federal Judge Gives Green Light to Trial in False Advertising Case against ex-Bishop
Federal District Judge Richard Gergel today gave a green light to the trial of the five-year-old false advertising lawsuit brought by the legitimate Bishop of South Carolina against ex-bishop Mark Lawrence, who says he's the leader of the “Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina.”
Lawrence was the duly recognized Bishop of the Diocese from 2008 through late 2012, when he announced that he'd left the Episcopal Church was then released from his vows by the Church. On the way out the door, Lawrence convinced nearly two-thirds of parishes and missions in the Diocese to try to leave with him.
However, in August 2017, the state Supreme Court stepped in and ruled that only seven of 36 congregations that wanted to leave with Lawrence with their parish properties could do so without the Church’s consent.
A majority of the justices also voted 4-1 that the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina belonged to the Episcopal Church, but left the matter to Gergel for final resolution.
According to the two Court orders Gergel issued today, the trial could begin as early as September.
In those orders, Gergel lifted a court-imposed “stay” on the parties which has held up pretrial procedures and preparations since last fall. Such a stay is routinely imposed in cases in which the Court has ordered mediation and has been responsible for a lack of outside-the-courtroom communications between the two sides.
Gergel apparently has realized the Lawrence legal team is stalling while attempting to erect as many barriers as possible to the implementation of the 2017 S.C. Supreme Court decision.
The Lawrence side appeared to have made no effort to resolve outstanding issues during mediation, during which time it filed a bogus lawsuit under the state's obscure "Betterments Act", demanding money from the Church for losing its case, and a not-serious appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Gergel’s orders announced a schedule for pretrial discovery, amendment of motions, disclosure of expert witnesses, and jury selection. Gergel hopes to start the trial on or shortly after September 1st.
February 9, 2018
Breakaways Gamble, Ask U.S. Supremes to Hear Appeal of State Court's Pro-Church Ruling on Parishes
The breakaway “Diocese of South Carolina” took a fateful step on Friday asking the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court to hear an appeal of the 2017 ruling by the South Carolina Supreme Court, preventing 29 dissident congregations from leaving the Episcopal Church with their properties. In that ruling, the justices determined that the Episcopal Church had a "trust interest" in the parish properties of its congregations such that they could not leave the Church with those properties without its consent.
In their petition to the Court today, breakaway attorneys are objecting to the state Court's reliance on the Church's 1979 Dennis Canon, which defined its "trust interest" in parish property.
The Dennis Canon mandates that parish properties be held in trust by its congregations for the benefit of the Church and its local dioceses. The Canon was fully supported by the Diocese of South Carolina when it was adopted by the Church's General Convention, and incorporated into its Constitution.
Breakaway attorneys argue that state laws governing trusts should take priority over the governing structures of the Episcopal Church which have historically been protected by the U.S. Constitution's doctrine of separation of Church and State.
Federal law currently allows state courts to consider cases involving denominations with hierarchical governing structures -- like that of the Episcopal Church -- provided the dispute in question does not stem from doctrinal or theological differences. Oddly, in the brief they submitted today, the breakaways' legal team describes their current war with the Church as a "schism," which is general considered a doctrinal or theological dispute.
Under the leadership of ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence, ultra-conservative parishes in eastern South Carolina have been in rebellion against the Episcopal Church since 2008 for its willingness to treat homosexuals the same way it treats heterosexuals.
The justices of the U.S. Supreme Court are likely to determine which cases they will consider in their fall 2018 term by mid-to-late summer. That's when the Lawrencians' appeal will get a thumbs up or down.
A big roll of the dice
The decision to take the case to the nation's highest court is in itself a gamble, not only for the Lawrence crowd, but breakaway movements with which they have been conspiring for the last two decades.
If the high court agrees to hear it – by granting a writ of certiorari – it will set the stage for a potential overturning of settled precedents on this issue both at the Federal and state levels.
If the Court fails to grant certiorari, it will end the breakaway movement, not only in the Episcopal Church, but in other hierarchical Churches like those of the Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans, Church of Christ, and others with tiered-governing structures.
Currently, the High Court agrees to hear less than one percent of requests for certiorari. In recent decades, when the justices have heard cases challenging Constitutional protections extended to hierarchical Churches, it has consistently found their favor.
Breakaway "Diocese of South Carolina" on the ropes
The state Supreme Court ruling was brutal on the Lawrencians' claim to own the corporate structure of the "Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina." Clearly, it would not have survived the state's high court were it not for the justices' expectation that the Federal judge in a related case would do it.
That Federal Judge is U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel who currently has before him a case brought by South Carolina Bishop Skip Adams against Lawrence, whom he claims is illegal posing as "an Episcopal Bishop".
Prognosis: More delays
While SC Episcopalians is not a legal expert, it does not appear that the brief filed by the breakaways' today contains anything more than a rehashing of old issues in the case. They even resurrect their pathetic attack on state Justice Kaye Hearn, and raise their discredited arguments about pre-Revolutionary parishes ... which the US Supreme Court refused to hear when the Virginia case was appealed several years ago.
The bottom line is this request for certiorari will allow more time for delay while a lot of attorneys continue to milk the case for everything they can get.
February 2, 2018
No Progress in Mediation, Church Tells Judge; Lawrencians Still Stalling; Lawrence parishes mull protocol for repatriation in the Episcopal Church
In a joint report filed with Federal Judge Richard Gergel on January 25, lawyers for the Episcopal Church and what is left of the secessionist Lawrence “diocese” announced that mediation between them on implementing the August 2017 state Supreme Court decision and the pending Federal false advertising case against former bishop Mark Lawrence has gone nowhere.
It may have been the worst-kept secret since Stormy Daniels. The parties are so far apart they couldn’t even agree on how to tell the judge, so each submitted its own interpretation.
Church proposed protocol for talks with congregations
The Church side made it clear that no progress has been achieved in settling any of the issues in either case.
However, it did make reference a proposed protocol for moving forward with individual discussions with the 29 parishes that have spent the last five years trying unsuccessfully to leave the Episcopal Church. That protocol was provided to the parishes on January 23.
The Lawrence lawyers made no statement about whether they feel the negotiations have achieved anything, but indicate they planned to respond to the proposed protocol by February 2. SC Episcopalians has no information whether that deadline was met.
Both sides did agree that mediation “has not been terminated.” As long as mediation continues, Gergel will not schedule the trial of the false advertising lawsuit against Lawrence.
In legal terms, the trial is “stayed.”
However, there was one important sentence in Church’s comments that appears to say volumes: “Plaintiffs in the federal litigation pending before this Court are not opposed to lifting the stay at this time and proceeding with the litigation.”
Perhaps there are other interpretations of this statement, but it does appear that Church attorneys are signaling the judge that they have little hope of progress being made with other side and are ready to move on to trial.
There are many signs that the Lawrencian side has been using the mediation to stall for time.
For months, its clergy and their supporters have been plotting ways to undermine the repatriation of their parishes in the Episcopal Church. Their lawyers have repeatedly employed delay tactics to give them time to convince their congregations to leave the Episcopal and form new non-profit organizations that could become new parishes of some sort.
They have also filed a frivolous lawsuit to gum up the legal system's ability to implement the Supreme Court ruling, and continue to claim that they plan to appeal to the United States Supreme Court to overturn that ruling on some unspecified grounds.
Un-Christian attacks on Episcopalians continue
They have also stepped up their ridiculous lies about the Episcopal Church including most recently the claim that the Episcopal Church bans the use of crosses and does not believe the Resurrection happened.
That’s probably better than the one about the Episcopal Church sacrificing cats. These reports come from newcomers to Episcopal Churches who were tricked by former breakaway congregations into thinking they were part of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.
January 29, 2018
Pro-Lawrence Clergy, Lawyers Stalling
Former Lawrence parishes appear to be making decisions without knowing their options
The seemingly endless saga of schism created by the breakaway "Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina" moved behind closed doors over the past few months due to a court-ordered mediation over a false advertising lawsuit brought by the legitimate bishop of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina against secessionist former bishop Mark Lawrence.
However, that appears to be ending.
SC Episcopalians can report to you that mediation has gone nowhere, which removes a major hurdle for a trial on the lawsuit, and opens the prospect for implementation of last August's state Supreme Court decision to move forward.
This also opens up the possibility for conversations between and former breakaway parishes and Episcopal Church leaders to discuss how they might get on with their work and Christian witness. The parties in the case have not been able to communicate with each other independently while the mediation sessions were going on.
To Lawrence's political strategists, the mediation appears to have been a time to stall and organize themselves to resist court orders that are likely to come down requiring compliance with the Court’s decision. A number of these congregations are trying to reinvent themselves as religious and non-profit entities outside of these parishes.
Many pro-Lawrence lawyers and clergy are pushing their congregations to make decisions and take votes on their futures without knowing all their options.
One reason for this is that many of these clergy walked away from their ordination vows in the Episcopal Church five years ago. Now they find themselves employed in parishes belonging to the Episcopal Church, and that requires them to be in good standing with their bishop.
South Carolina Bishop Skip Adams appears to have been ready to reach out to those parishes but has been thwarted by the rules of engagement during mediation and pro-Lawrence lawyers and clergy who seem determined to keep that from happening. Adams has said in the past that he welcomes reconciliation with former breakaway parishes and has no desire to force them out of their buildings.
January 26, 2018
Presiding Bishop Electrifies Grace Cathedral Again
MichaelCurry returns to Charleston for Christian formation conference
Nearly 500 eager Episcopalians filled Charleston's Grace Church Cathedral today to celebrate their shared ministries and hear words of encouragement from Presiding Bishop Michael Bruce Curry, widely considered one of the most gifted preachers in the United States.
Curry was speaking to a national conference of spiritual formation directors and parish leaders, known as Forma. Curry had personally asked that Charleston be the home of this year's gathering, mindful of the role of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina after the fatal shootings of nine members of Emanuel AME Church.
Curry visited the Diocese in 2016 shortly after his election. He had also been the preacher at its 2014 Diocesan Convention when he was still the Bishop of North Carolina.
Curry showed special appreciation for South Carolina Bishop Skip Adams during the service. Curry has worked closely with Adams and his predecessor, Charles vonRosenberg, as the Episcopal Church in South Carolina has revived itself after its bishop abandoned the Church and tried to take a majority of its congregations with him. Watch the service from Grace Cathedral
January 17, 2018
AMiA Bishop Chuck Murphy has Died
Controversial and charismatic churchman laid the foundation for Lawrence's schism as the rector of All Saints', Waccammaw
The passing of the Rt. Rev. Charles H. Murphy III is a sad reminder of the extent to which the Christian witness of Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina has been diminished over the past 38 years. During that time, homophobia, challenges to authority, and a rampant spirit of divisiveness robbed the Episcopal Church in eastern South Carolina of talented men and women like Murphy whose potential as agents of the Gospel was never realized.
Murphy, 69, a native of Decatur, Alabama, died Jan. 9 at Litchfield Plantation of a brain tumor. He was surrounded by his wife and children.
He was a graduate of the University of Alabama and subsequently attended at Trinity College in Bristol, England where he studied under the well-known conservative theologian, J.I. Packer. In 1982 he became rector of All Saints', where he remained for 20 years.
The charismatic Murphy was a giant among evangelicals who had become disenchanted with the Episcopal Church.
During his tenure at All Saints', Murphy engaged in a bitter dispute with Edward L. Salmon, then-Bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina, over the growing tolerance in the Church for gays and lesbians. Murphy thought Salmon was not sufficiently engaged in the battle to keep them out of the Church, and never hesitated to remind him.
At one point in a Diocesan convention, Murphy shouted down the Bishop and called him a "liar." Salmon became so enraged that he turned his gavel over to the suffragan bishop and stormed out of the gathering.
During Murphy's tenure at All Saints', the parish went to war against the Diocese of South Carolina and eventually sued the Church in an attempt to leave with its property. In a now-infamous state Supreme Court decision, the parish was allowed to depart, leaving a court opinion that Salmon's successor, Mark Lawrence, unsuccessfully used to create a wider legal precedent for other parishes to leave the Church.
The Knucklehead Episode
In 2011 Murphy and seminary dean, John Rodgers, were consecrated bishops by former SC Bishop Fitz Allison and a handful of other rightwing bishops in the Anglican Communion. The consecrations were never recognized by the Church as they violated Church law.
Murphy found his way the the Anglican Church of Rwanda, where he became a missionary bishop to the United States with a group known as the Anglican Mission in America AMiA).
After a few years, Murphy's welcome among his new African allies had worn thin.
The Rwandan House of Bishops had increasingly grown less tolerant of what they saw as Murphy's arrogance and lack of respect for them. The bishops then formally accused Murphy of violating their canons, mismanaging AMiA funds, and publicly accusing one of them of being a "knucklehead."
Murphy denounced the charges and blasted the Rwandans. However, the handwriting was on the wall and Murphy bailed, eventually ending up in the Anglican Church of North America.
January 12, 2018
Mediation fails, but lawyers say they will keep trying in false advertising case against Lawrence
When a complex news story unravels over a couple of decades, certain words and phrases have a way of appearing and fading at crucial junctures.
Today, lawyers for both sides of the Federal false advertising case against former Bishop Mark Lawrence wrapped up a third session of attempted mediation without apparent agreement on key issues. This means the case could go to trial before U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel in Charleston perhaps as early as this spring.
However, it was the wording of an official comment by the office of the Right Rev. Skip Adams this afternoon that got our attention: "Although not resolved, the parties agreed to move forward with good faith mediation efforts to amicably resolve the case."
Hmm, good faith.
This is the third time, in this seemingly endless soap opera, the term "good faith" has been deployed at an important moment in an oddly nuanced, not altogether clear manner.
1. In 2007, Church leaders believed Lawrence was acting "with good faith" when they consented to his election as Bishop of South Carolina
Those with long memories will recall that in 2006, after Lawrence was initially elected by a Special Convention of the Diocese, a majority of the Church's 109 dioceses and a substantial number of bishops refused to ratify his election because of troubling anti-Church diatribes he'd written as a priest.
For six months Lawrence defend himself, minimalizing the significance of things he'd said and written. However, contrived explanations about his loyalty led to questions about his commitment to the Episcopal Church. Concerns also arose over whether he had a secret plan to get elected bishop then lead the Diocese of South Carolina out of the Church.
To both issues Lawrence responded with carefully-worded ambiguity... and the NO votes began to pile up.
With less than ten days remaining, Lawrence saw the handwriting on the wall and croaked out a strangely-worded statement declaring that it was his "intention" to stay in the Episcopal Church.
However, it was too late, and Lawrence's election failed to get the necessary consents. He was re-elected a second time, and this time, on the strength of his stated "intention," his election easily received consent from the Church.
Even years later, a number of skeptical bishops continue to tell SC Episcopalians they consented to Lawrence's election because he told them personally of his intention to stay in the Church... "and we had no reason to doubt he wasn't acting with good faith."
2. In 2012 Lawrence claimed he was in "good faith" negotiations with the Presiding Bishop to stay in the Church, when in fact he'd already implemented an elaborate plot to have the Diocese secede.
Among the crocodile tears surrounding Lawrence's exit from the Church in late 2012 was the ridiculous claim by Lawrence that he was in "good faith" negotiations with Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Shori to stay in the Church.
The truth was that his participation in any perceived negotiations with Jefferts Schori was a sham. He and his Standing Committee had secretly approved a self-igniting resolution declaring the Diocese of South Carolina was no longer in the Episcopal Church, should the Church's Disciplinary Board for Bishops agree with complaints made by communicants of the Diocese that he had violated his consecration oath.
Lawrence was simply biding time for his lieutenants to get their ducks in order to bring as many parishes on board his secession bandwagon.
3. In the fall of 2017, Lawrence and his legal team have done everything except mediate remaining issues in his lawsuit "with good faith"
Last August Lawrence's five-year attempt to lead his followers out of the Episcopal Church along with their parish properties and the Diocese of South Carolina itself came to a stunning demise at the hands of the S.C. Supreme Court.
Since that time Lawrence and his attorneys have challenged the legitimacy of the Court and the integrity of its members, while engaging in an absurd national public relations campaign that included a completely bogus amicus curia brief on behalf of people who told us they'd never heard of it.
Lawrence's lieutenants have continued to scare his followers with suggestions that the Episcopal Church wants to throw them out of their parish buildings, while filing a silly second lawsuit demanding payment from the Episcopal Church for all improvements made to parishes properties since before the Revolutionary War.
During this time, they also appear to be encouraging smaller congregations to leave their debt encumbered parish buildings and create new parish as has been done -- with wardens and all - at the Church of the Resurrection in Surfside Beach.
So, as the parties at today's third unsuccessful mediation part ways with a promise of future "good faith," perhaps those of us who've followed this thing for years can be forgiven if we are not doing a happy dance just yet.
December 31, 2017
Anger and Denial Crippling Former Lawrence Parishes' Future
Ex-Bishop, lieutenants not dealing misleading their followers about their legal status
For much of his episcopacy, Mark Lawrence and his chief lieutenants were huddled with lawyers, plotting the most brazen land grab in the history of mainline churches in the United States.
In early 2013 Lawrence's 40-plus member legal team unveiled a lawsuit, laying claim to an estimated $500 million in Church properties and financial assets. By the end of 2017, all of it was in shambles. Their costly, now pointless, battle to lead congregations loyal to Lawrence out of the Church with parish properties intact is lost.
In response, Lawrence and his lieutenants have fallen back on their familiar tactics of fear-mongering, confusion, and attacks on fellow Christians.
Consider Lawrence’s pastoral message following the state Supreme Court’s stinging rejection last fall of his public campaign insisting that the Court rehear his case:
“The [new diocese of the] Episcopal Church in South Carolina has frequently stated that they… [have] always been seeking reconciliation in this present legal conflict. However, one should be aware of what their words suggest. I would paraphrase it thusly — ‘Of course, you may remain worshiping in your Church buildings. All you have to do is surrender to the national Episcopal Church and we will receive you back.
Frankly, I believe a more honorable goal would be a charitable parting of the ways enabling each diocese to get on with its mission to a needy world. In the absence of this, we are compelled to move forward with a petition for the higher court’s review.”
That statement alone demonstrates just how out of touch Lawrence is as his so-called ‘Diocese’ plunges down the same slippery slope taken by his former Diocese of San Joaquin only a few years ago.
1. Lawrence appears to believe there is a new Episcopal diocese in South Carolina that is a rival to his. Not reality.
According to the state Supreme Court and Federal Judge Mike Duffy, the diocese known temporarily as The Episcopal Church in South Carolina is the rightful ‘Diocese of South Carolina.”
The “Diocese of South Carolina’ Lawrence imagines himself to lead is and always has belonged to the Episcopal Church. He has not been its leader since the fall of 2012.
The justices of the state Supreme Court said last August that they found the Diocese’s corporate structure belongs to the Church, but left the final ruling up to Federal Judge Richard Gergel, who is set to preside over a lawsuit filed by the legitimate Episcopal Bishop of South Carolina to enjoin Lawrence from claiming to be an “Episcopal bishop”.
The case before Gergel will be heard in March, assuming pretrial mediation between the parties does not produce a mutually agreeable resolution of the case. What appears to be a final attempt at reaching such an agreement is scheduled with retired Federal Judge Joe Anderson in mid-January.
2. Lawrence continues to insist that the Episcopal Church is somehow a threat to his followers. Not true, never has been.
Throughout his ministry, Mark Lawrence seems to have had an ongoing war with Church authority. When there wasn’t a real one to fight, he imagined it. Such was the case when Lawrence became the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina in 2008.
In truth, there was never any legal threat to the Diocese of South Carolina from the broader Episcopal Church at any time. The Church had no plans to bring any actions against anyone or any parish in South Carolina. It was all a hoax intended to gin up support among parishes under Lawrence’s care for his private culture “war” against the Church and quest to be seen as the leader of an imaginary second Reformation.
Delegates to a special convention, convened by Lawrence in December 2012 to ratify his long-standing plan to secede from the Episcopal Church, would have known this if Lawrence had allowed them to read letters from Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Shori and Bishop Dan Martins, Lawrence’s political and ideological twin in the Church’s House of Bishops.
Both implored Lawrence and the delegates to remain in the Episcopal Church family and assured them that there was a place for evangelicals in the Church.
Lawrence and his lieutenants feared the letters would undermine their claims that the Presiding Bishop was trying to take over the Diocese of South Carolina for their own liberal followers.
In fact, just the opposite was true. Jefferts Shori had repeatedly used her influence to help Lawrence stay in the Church. Former Bishop Edward Salmon told members of the House of Bishops that she had "bent over backwards" to help Lawrence's election be ratified and give him whatever space he needed to implement his ministry.
Somewhat ominously, the only line in the sand she drew was that Lawrence could not violate his oath as a bishop to protect the property of the Church. When he heard that, he found a mission.
3. Lawrence doesn't understand the Supreme Court ruling said 29 of the 36 parishes that tried to follow him out of the Church never actually left the Church.
The decision about which parishes will remain with the Church has already been made by the Court. It is not up to individual congregations to make that decision. There is no quid pro quo about anyone surrendering or being taken back. The rightful Episcopal Bishop has said that every communicant of parishes under his authority is welcome to remain in their current congregations and use the buildings in which they currently worship.
Ironically, five years ago, the message from pro-Lawrence congregations to loyal Episcopalians was that you can remain in your parishes as long as you surrender to our way of thinking. Memories are short.
4. Lawrence’s plea for a “charitable parting of the ways” was exactly what the Church and its continuing Diocese proposed in 2015. Lawrence killed the idea without even allowing his parishes to consider it.
The Church, with the approval of Jefferts Shori, floated a proposal in 2015 that pro-Lawrence parishes be allowed to leave the Church with their properties in exchange for releasing their claims on the corporate entity known as the “Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina.”
Before any parish could actually consider the proposal, Lawrence's legal team rejected the idea.
The business about ministering to a needy world seems very peculiar because Lawrence’s “diocese” is now hardly more than a legal entity. It has jettisoned almost all of its programming and ministries in favor of funding to pay lawyers.
5. Lawrence doesn't seem to understand that it was he who brought the lawsuit against the Church, specifically asking the state courts of South Carolina for a ruling on whether his parishes and the diocese could leave with their properties.
Now that Lawrence has his answer, he is engaged in mediation talks apparently pressing the Church to ignore the verdict of the state's high court that was handed down in August and give him everything he wants anyway.
That willful and distorted view of the legal status of what he calls his "diocese" is jeopardizing the future of those congregations.
The court-ordered mediation by Judge Anderson is a gift to Lawrence, his lieutenants, and the 29 parishes that the state Supreme Court refused to allow to leave the Church. They are facing tremendous legal consequences for their actions, including millions in court costs. Their rectors, wardens, and vestries could well be on the hook personally for any financial encumbrances they attached to their parish properties or Church assets they expended without the consent of the Church.
Yet, Lawrence and his lawyers seem content to let this opportunity pass. Lawrence's lawyers have repeatedly miscalculated their moves at nearly every critical juncture in the past five years. This is the time to explore a settlement of these issues before the question passes into the hands of a Federal Judge.