October 12, 2021
Lawrence's "Anglican Diocese" to Elect His Successor on Saturday
Breakaway organization set to elect a Bishop-Coadjutor at a Special Election on Saturday; Columbia clergyman with long-time links to Rwanda's anti-gay Anglican leadership seems to be the choice of Lawrence insiders
Potential merger with ACNA Diocese of the Carolinas looms in the background once Lawrence is gone and 2017 court ruling is implemented
This Saturday will be a pivotal moment for the breakaway “Anglican Diocese of South Carolina” (ACNA-SC) as still-loyal followers of former Episcopal Bishop Mark Lawrence convene in Mount Pleasant to select a new leader to succeed him when he retires next year.
The new man - known as a bishop coadjutor - will likely determine how and if the religious organization survives as an independent Christian witness, merges itself into another more substantial entity, or simply continues on its present course with a weakening grasp on membership, property, finances, and identity.
The election will mark a near-decade old wilderness journey by Lawrence and his evangelical followers who left the Episcopal Church in 2012 over its inclusion of homosexuals, women in positions of authority over men, and understandings of the Bible inconsistent with Lawrence’s narrow literalism.
Only three (male) nominees allowed
Despite earlier promises to cast a wide net, the ACNA-SC Search Committee stayed close to home with two nominees from Charleston and one from Columbia. All three are approximately the same age, white, and married with children. Each was ordained in the Episcopal Church but subsequently renounced his vows and left to join breakaway groups.
While each man is engaging and has had an interesting career, none has been a consequential A-lister in the Lawrence regime, nor does his resume demonstrate any particular administrative expertise or executive skills badly needed by an organizational infrastructure in decline. In fact, it is hard to imagine any of the nominees have the capacity to exercise the kind of autocratic control over lay and clergy leaders that Lawrence found necessary to hold his organization together.
The two nominees currently resident in ACNA-SC are the Revs. Rob Sturdy and Chris Warner. Sturdy is the former rector of Trinity Church in Myrtle Beach and currently ACNA chaplain at The Citadel. He teaches part time at a seminary that is a hotbed for breakaway groups in the Episcopal Church. Warner is the rector of Holy Cross on Sullivan’s Island, and once served as rector/director of the Church’s Camp & Conference Center on Seabrook Island.
The one candidate not currently in ACNA-SC is Chip Edgar, the dean of the “cathedral” for ACNA's Diocese of the Carolinas (ACNA-Carolinas) in Columbia. Edgar appears to have the broadest ministry experience of the three candidates, including church-planting which might be useful in ACNA-SC which has consistently lost members under Lawrence. (We mean no disrespect but we are unsure how to describe Edgar's cathedral, as it would imply that it is part of worldwide Anglicanism, which it is not.)
Edgar appears to be the leading candidate among Lawrence insiders in spite of his association with autocratic Anglican leaders in Africa who have aligned themselves with repressive regimes that have persecuted gays and lesbians, and forced women to bear and raise unwanted children as a result of rape and incest.
Of course, we may be entirely off course.
Lawrence insiders once again are insisting that God has already chosen the man to be elected. After that, God’s choice will need to be approved by the closed-door, all-male House of Bishops of the “Anglican Church of North America” (ACNA-NA).
It is not clear what happens if the Bishops reject God’s choice, or if God's choice is a woman.
In search of identity
All three men disappointed SC Episcopalians because of their perpetuating The Big Lie that they and their congregations have some sort of official connection to the Anglican Communion.
In fact, ACNA has been repeatedly rejected by the governing structures of the Communion which recognizes the Episcopal Church as the sole representation of Anglicanism in the United States. The Archbishop of Canterbury even refers to ACNA as "another Church. It is not part of the Anglican Communion."
ACNA has an entirely different Book of Common Prayer, theology, governing structure, ethos of inclusion, and understanding of the nature of the Bible. Its embrace of homophobia and misogeny is repugnant to mainstream Anglicans.
In our view, it is going to be difficult for any of the three nominees to be a credible leader without being forthcoming about what ACNA actually is. Yet that is exactly the challenge he will face as one of its bishops.
It is important to remember that the Lawrence crowd plotted its departure from the Church for years with little thought as to what would happen after they left. The only thing that was certain is that they would file a lawsuit against the Church claiming ownership of an estimated $500 million in Diocesan property and financial assets. There was no unifying theme or theology to the rebellion except that Episcopal Church leaders were land-hungry non-Christian monsters who didn't like Mark Lawrence (even though a majority of them consented to his election).
Until 2019, Lawrence and his high command claimed that they were the historic "Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina" when a Federal Court blasted them, labeling Lawrence an episcopal imposter and his organization's professed identity a sham. (Even now Lawrence continues to live in the official residence of the Bishop of the real Diocese of South Carolina, and has refused to leave. The same is true for the Diocesan headquarters on Coming Street in Charleston.)
The Lawrencians didn't go quietly and got themselves hauled into court again a few months later for failing to comply with the earlier ruling.
At that point there was little choice but to go all in with the so-called "Anglican Church of North America" (ACNA-NA), and re-christen themselves the "Anglican Diocese of South Carolina." Just as they had impersonated the Episcopal Church, they decided to proclaim themselves "Anglicans" even though there was very little about them that was actually Anglican.
The ACNA-NA is a shadowy association of dissidents from the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada, created by six renegade African Church leaders to fight homosexuality in North America. According to one of ACNA's founders, homosexuals are "lower than beasts."
Since its founding in 2010, ACNA-NA has been repeatedly rejected by the governing structures of the Anglican Communion while its claims of having 100,000 members worldwide has proven illusive since no one in its hierarchy seems to be able to document it.
For years, Lawrence himself was critical of ACNA's leadership as lacking clear lines of authority, which appeared to include the outsized control its Africans found retain over the "Church." Lawrence was also troubled by geographic boundaries for ACNA dioceses that seem to overlap each other as in South Carolina.
The public phase of the election process got underway this summer when the search committee nominated Sturdy, Warner, and Edgar to stand for election at the special convention this Saturday. (ACNA only allows men to be bishops.)
Last month the process picked up steam with a series of walkabout events in which delegates could meet and question the three contenders. The events have been livestreamed for the benefit of non-delegates and are posted on the Lawrence website here.
The walkabouts were disappointing for anyone looking a substantive discussion of the precarious future of strife-ridden ACNA-NA and the impact of those controversies on the future of Lawrence's breakaway "diocese". The candidates offered very little insight into how they would lead the as a bishop, and the direction they hoped to take it.
Instead listeners did get a glimpse into their personal, almost conversational, relationships with God and Jesus and Biblical passages to which they were directed in their decisions to allow themselves to be nominated.
Edgar appears to be the favorite
An informal and early reading of the election is that Edgar is the frontrunner heading into Saturday's convention. The structure of the election is oddly similar to the 2006 election that produced a first-ballot win for Lawrence. The Search Committee back then had stacked the deck in Lawrence's favor by nominating two others whose positions were too far out of the mainstream to attract a majority of delegate votes.
A problem with Edgar is that he has been aligned with the the Anglican leadership of Rwanda that has a long and continuing history of collaboration with corrupt government leaders.
These Anglican leaders have also publicly encouraged the incarceration - and even capital punishment - of gays and lesbians, and criminalizing the termination of pregnancies that result from rape or incest, or even in cases in which the mother's life is in peril. There have also been numerous allegations that these Church leaders have encouraged violence against Muslims and other minorities. ACNA-NA leaders have been repeatedly criticized for their refusal to challenge their African allies for these actions. Edgar seems to be an apologist for some these morally corrupt leaders.
Significantly, each nominee seems to have a good working relationship with Steve Wood, the charismatic bishop of ACNA’s Diocese of the Carolinas (ACNA-Carolinas). This diocese is a rival to ACNA-SC with which it awkwardly shares overlapping territory.
Relations between the two have sometimes been testy, reportedly over Lawrence’s displeasure at being overshadowed by Wood’s pre-eminence in ACNA-NA. In the past ACNA's House of Bishops seemed to prefer the open, congenial company of Wood to Lawrence's more secretive and mercurial ways.
However, without Lawrence on the scene, a merger with Woods’ ACNA Diocese of the Carolinas is probably in the not too distant future.
ACNA-SC Could be Out of Business Next Year
The new bishop will certainly need God’s help leading ACNA-SC if it does not materially exist by the time he takes over. Most of what it claims as its parish properties, camp and conference center, and corporate structure has been found by state and Federal courts to belong to the Episcopal Church.
In a landmark ruling in August 2017, the state Supreme Court determined that the only seven pro-Lawrence parishes in the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina could leave the Church with their buildings without the Church's permission. Two Federal courts in separate cases found that the corporate entity known as the "Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina" is the historic diocese that rightfully belongs to the Episcopal Church. That incluldes its property and assets.
Final resolution of the case has been held up for nearly four years by a lower court judge in Orangeburg, assigned by the state Supreme Court to implement its landmark 2017 decision. However, instead of following that directive, he issued his own "decision" in the case and effectively "overruled" the high court, claiming that the breakaway group was the owner of the whole shooting match.
Church lawyers have appealed the judge's actions to the high court, which has agreed to hear the appeal on December 8th. There is no reason to believe the justices will uphold the ruling of a renegade lower court judge cancelling out a precedent they only recently established.
Insiders with the Lawrence regime are very much aware that the lower court judge is close to attorneys who are driving Lawrence's lawsuit and that his ruling is likely more a political payback than serious law-making. He is scheduled to retire next summer.
This is probably the real reason that the merger scenario is a viable one.
The Convention by-the-Minute
9:40 a.m. - Morning Prayer concludes after a short sermon by the Right Rev. Henry Parsley, retired Bishop of Alabama and a native of the Diocese of South Carolina.
9:45 a.m. - The Rev. Canon Caleb Lee, President of teh Standing Committee and Presiding Officer of the Convention, calls the delegates to order via Zoom. Credentials Committee reports 34 clergy and 27 of 30 congregations are in attendance and eligible to vote.
9:48 a.m. - Break as delegates conduct online test vote
10:20 a.m. - Convention resumes as Canon Lee announces voting period for first ballot.
10:26 a.m. - First ballot voting gets underway
11:10 a.m. - Mr. Lee reports that Ruth Woodliff-Stanley has taken a substantial lead in Lay Order on the first ballot, and secured the required majority among the Clergy by one vote.
11:25 a.m. - Second Ballot gets underway
11:37 p.m. - Mr. Lee announces that all second ballot votes are in and counting is underway. Convention is on break until noon.
12:15 p.m. - Canon Lee announces that Ruth Woodliff-Stanley has received a majority in both Orders and is elected XV Bishop of South Carolina
12:25 p.m. - Bishop-Elect speaks to the Convention via internet; Accepts election
By way of background, Lawrence was consecrated as the legitimate Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina in 2008, but in 2012 he announced that he was leaving the Church rather than answer allegations by members of the Diocese that he had violated his consecration oath. Nearly two-thirds of the parishes and missions in the Diocese also announced that they were leaving t because of the Church’s tolerance of homosexuals, women in positions of authority over men, and understandings of the Bible at odds with Lawrence’s own narrow literalism.
On the way out the door, they filed a lawsuit against the Church, laying claim to an estimated $500 million in Episcopal Church property and financial assets that was mostly rejected by the state’s Supreme Court in 2017. The court ruling has yet to be implemented.
Lawrence’s organization finally found a home in the self-styled “Anglican Church of North America,” an association of disaffected, former members of the Episcopal Church and Anglican Church of Canada, founded and funded by six ultraconservative Anglican Primates who see it as a vehicle to fight homosexuality in North America.
Candidates for ACNA Bishop in South Carolina
fr left, The Rev. Chris Warner, The Very Rev. Chip Edgar,
and The Rev. Rob Sturdy
Pro-Lawrence congregations that tried to leave the Church with their property lost 56% of their membership between 2008 when he was consecrated through 2017. Most have never recovered.
Bishop Lawrence has relied on the pray-the-gay-therapy for clergy and seminarians who have had sexual feelings for someone of the same gender.
Professional psychologists consider this form of therapy dangerous, cruel, and mentally harmful .
As far as we can tell, none of candidates for bishop have said if they would continue this practice, or consider apologizing to those who were subjected to it in the name of Jesus.
Ironically, the Anglican Church of North America" is being torn apart by the same issues that caused the Lawrencians to leave the Episcopal Church.
The new ACNA bishop in South Carolina will have to contend with very strongly held and opposing views on female clergy, gay and lesbian Christians, the Book of Common Prayer, divorced people, and differing understandings of the Bible.
Bishop Steve Wood
ACNA Diocese of the Carolinas
"From my present vantage point, working with many dioceses, I see a hopeful future for the gospel of Jesus Christ as we learn to engage effectively the needs of the world, to live the gospel with conviction, and to communicate it with vigor".
Bishop-elect Ruth Woodliff-Stanley
Early in his episcopate, Lawrence masterfully exploited his followers’ fears of homosexuals, convincing them that radical leaders of a gay-friendly national Church were out to take over their congregations and throw them out. It was the glue he needed to keep his flock together.
In many ways, Lawrence’s “war” against the Church was a one-sided rebellion by a very gifted leader who' struggled with issues of authority and conformity his entire life.
Faced with a staggering loss of membership after his departure from the Church, Lawrence insisted that his organization was the historic Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, and even encouraged congregations loyal to him to use the word “Episcopal” in describing themselves.
After a costly and confusing legal battle, two Federal courts and the state's Supreme Court put an end to that specious claim.
South Carolina Episcopalians
An Independent Journal of News & Commentary for Anglicans
not affiliated with ACNA, the Episcopal Church or any of their dioceses