The Dennis Canon
Canon I.7.4 of the Episcopal Church (USA) is referred to commonly as "the Dennis Canon", after the name of its draftsman, the Rt. Rev. Walter D. Dennis, former Suffragan Bishop of New York, who proposed its adoption as a canon at General Convention 1979. Together with its companion section (Canon I.7.5), it reads as follows:
Sec. 4. All real and personal property held by or for the benefit of any Parish, Mission or Congregation is held in trust for this Church 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.
Sec. 5. The several Dioceses may, at their election, further confirm the trust declared under the foregoing Section 4 by appropriate action, but no such action shall be necessary for the existence and validity of the trust.
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Results of the ACNA Election
Edgar 46 15
Sturdy 40 17
Warner 14 8.5
Spilt delegation 2
Edgar 49 19.5
Sturdy 42 17
Warner 9 4
Spilt delegation 2
Edgar 55 23.5
Sturdy 44 18
Spilt delegation 1
The ACNA uses the same procedures as the Episcopal Church in the election of its bishops. Each clergyman gets one vote, then separately lay delegates cast one vote per parish and one-half vote per mission.
An election occurs when one candidate receives concurrent majorities in both clergy and lay orders.
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South Carolina Episcopalians
October 16, 2021
NEW ! ACNA-South Carolina Elects Evangelical Columbia Clergyman as Lawrence's Successor
Surprisingly close election for Bishop Coadjutor demonstrates divisions in Lawrence's breakaway organization as it faces the end of its nine-year-old legal struggle for ownership of $500 million in Church property and assets
Chip Edgar, the 55-year-old dean of the ACNA-Carolinas' cathedral in Columbia, is best known as a church-planter and was once part of the anti-gay Rwanda-based Mission to America; Edgar's election still must be approved by ACNA's conservative, all-male House of Bishops
The vote was widely seen as a referendum on a potential merger with one-time rival ACNA Diocese, led by Bishop Steve Wood of Mount Pleasant
The Very Rev. Chip Edgar, a leader in the ACNA Diocese of the Carolinas, was elected as the eventual successor to former Episcopal Bishop Mark Lawrence in his ACNA "Diocese of South Carolina." Edgar's election now will have to pass the scrutiny of the conservative, all-male ACNA House of Bishops before he can be consecrated next spring.
Edgar will take over from Lawrence's late next year when he retires at age 72.
The election was closer than expected with Citadel chaplain Rob Sturdy consistently pulling 40% or more among clergy and lay delegates over three closely-contested ballots.
Chris Warner, rector of Holy Cross on Sullivan's Island, ran a distant third in the first two ballots and then withdrew his name, enabling Edgar to claim the required majority in both Clergy and Lay Orders on the third round. Warner was hurt by the decision of diocesan leadership to conduct the voting by clergy ahead of the vote by lay people, and announce the result before any ballots from lay people were even cast.
Edgar's election probably has deeper implications than might be apparent.
ACNA's hierarchy is quietly reported to favor a merger of Lawrence's "Diocese of South Carolina" with its own larger Diocese of the Carolinas. ACNA-Carolinas is led by one-time Lawrence rival, Bishop Steve Wood, who has a long-time working relationship with Edgar, the leader of his cathedral in Columbia. Once Lawrence has retired, there would be little reason for the two dioceses to operate separately especially since they overlap geographically.
The closeness of the election could have reflected mixed feelings by delegates on whether the merger should happen. Sturdy seemed to benefit the most from the votes of those who want to remain a separate diocese. Sturdy was drafted by the late Bishop Edward Salmon to go to seminary just after he graduated from The Citadel, and has always considered the diocese his home.
However, that may all be a pipe dream.
In August 2017 the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that only seven congregations loyal to Lawrence's ACNA diocese could leave the Episcopal Church without its consent. Contrary to Lawrence's legal claims, the corporate structure of the Diocese, including its property and financial assets, also belongs to the Episcopal Church, according to the Court.
Lawrence's politically-connected legal team has managed to disrupt implementation of the ruling, but that will very likely go away after a December 8th hearing on the matter before the high court.
Both Edgar and Ruth Woodliff-Stanley, the new bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, have shown little interest in allowing the legal battle spilling over into their respective episcopates. This may be a good sign that the case could be concluded more expeditiously and with less acrimony than under Larwence.
October 12, 2021
Lawrence's "Anglican Diocese" Prepares for Transition to New Leader this Saturday
Breakaway organization set to elect a Bishop-Coadjutor at a Special Election this Saturday; Columbia clergyman with links to Rwanda's anti-gay Anglican leadership seems to be the early 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 group 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 nearly-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. Ironically, they joined another larger breakaway "Church" in which the very same issues are now creating divisions.
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 left to join breakaway groups.
While each man is engaging and has had an interesting career, none has been a consequential A-listers in the Lawrence regime, nor does his resume demonstrate any particular administrative expertise or executive skills badly needed by a diocesan infrastructure in decline. In fact, it is hard to imagine any of the nominees exercising the kind of oppressive, autocratic control over his lay and clergy leaders that Lawrence found necessary to use.
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 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. (We avoid using words "cathedral" to describe his home parish as it would imply that it is part of worldwide Anglicanism, which it is definitely not.)
Edgar also appears to be the leading candidate in spite of his association with autocratic Anglican leaders in Africa who have aligned themselves with repressive regimes that have persecuted gays and women forced women to bear unwanted children as the result of rape and incest.
September 22, 2021
NEW! State Supreme Court to Hear Church's Appeal of Rogue Lower Court Ruling Dec. 8th
Known for ties to Lawrence's legal team, Orangeburg Circuit Judge Ed Dickson effectively "overturned" the 2017 pro-Church ruling by the state's high court last year
Dickson's ruling, if allowed to stand, represents one of the most egregious invasions of the Constitution's separation of Church and State protections by allowing a secular court to intervene in a doctrinal dispute
The state Supreme Court will hear an appeal by the Episcopal Church and its Diocese of South Carolina in their quest for implementation of its August 2017 ruling in which the high court ruled that 29 of 36 parishes loyal to ex-Episcopal Bishop Mark Lawrence could not leave the Church with their properties and assets without the agreement of Church leaders.
The basis of the ruling was the Court's recognition of the Church's "Dennis Canon" as the guiding legal principle in deciding cases stemming from theological disputes in hierarchical denominations like the Episcopal Church. The Court also ruled that the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina as a corporate entity belonged to the Church along with all its property including St. Christopher Camp & Conference Center on Seabrook Island.
Shortly after handing down its decision, Chief Justice Don Beatty assigned Dickson the task of overseeing implementation of the decision and the transition of the parish assets to the rightful owners.
Unfortunately, Dickson had his own ideas about how the case should have been decided, threw out the high court's ruling, and reinstated a much earlier ruling by another lower court judge in Orangeburg who handed everything over to the breakaway group.
The hearing, to be held December 8th, will not be a retrial of the 2017 decision, but rather the question of whether Dickson improperly exceeded his authority as implementer.
The return of this case to the Supreme Court will likely rekindle bitter feelings by the justices toward Lawrence attorneys who repeatedly blasted the justice personally and encouraged legislators to pressure them to rehear the case. Even Dickson used his time in the limelight to allow Lawrence's attorney, Alan Runyan, to rail against the justices that voted with the Church side, especially Chief Justice Don Beatty.
Dickson has extensive ties to Lawrence's 40-member legal team and - according a local source - not above helping out his friends. South Carolina is one of only two states that allow direct election of judges by the Legislature, a practice that often appears to compromise the integrity of the judicial system.
August 19, 2021
Lawrencians Invited to 'Join the Army' at Weekend Workshop in Summerville
Lawrencian "diocese" returns to fear tactics it once used to alienate its congregations from the Episcopal Church and get them to give money to its legal misadventures.
Followers of ex-bishop Mark Lawrence are sharpening swords and polishing suits of armor this weekend as they head to Summerville to prepare for "battle" against a godless world, full of perceived enemies of Jesus Christ.
A promotional flyer we received invited us to “Join the Army” by attending a two-day workshop that promises to “equip Christians for today’s spiritual warfare,” while “exploring the underpinning of Critical Theory and its many offshoots – social justice, sexual identity, and racism.”
Organizers of the Ignite Conference also promise that we will learn all about "the critical inroads that the ideology of expressive individualism or the autonomous self, in its theological form, has made on the Church.” (SC Episcopalians will likely be napping during this part of the festivities.)
Apparently, this call to arms is the brainchild of St. Michael’s ACNA in Charleston and St. Paul’s ACNA in Summerville, "in cooperation with" the nefarious American Anglican Council, an Atlanta-based group of right-wingers who believe God has called them to make war on Christians and fellow Americans they deem to be His enemies.
ACNA is the self-described "Anglican Church of North America", which is not a part of the worldwide Anglican Community in spite of its name.
The only listed presenter for the conference is the rector of St. Michael’s ACNA, who plans to tell attendees how to “become informed, inspired, and equipped [as they] help reignite the church and society’s belief in our country’s founding principles… and stand united for Biblical Truth – no matter what the cost.”
Since the arrival of Mark Lawrence in South Carolina 16 years ago, his clergy supporters have utilized fear tactics to alienate their congregations from the Episcopal Church and inspire donations to underwrite his half-baked legal adventures.
Fortunately, most Christians and actual Anglicans (Episcopalians) in South Carolina reject that kind of divisive hysteria, embracing instead Jesus as the Prince of Peace and faith in him over imagined fears of others.
This approach to Christian life has been devastating for the Lawrencians. Since St. Michael's ACNA followed Lawrence out of the Church in 2011, its membership has dropped by an astonishing 50%. St. Paul’s ACNA has lost 30% of its congregation.
March 5, 2021
NEW! Archbishop of Canterbury Repudiates Attack by Nigerian Archbishop on Homosexuals as "Dehumanizing" and "Unacceptable"
ACNA leadership stumbles into global crisis over Pastoral Letter offering compassion to gays who want to convert or be celibate
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby today ripped into recent comments by the leader of the Anglican Church of Nigeria to his American allies that homosexuality is a “deadly virus” that should be “radically expunged and excised lest it affects the whole dough.”
"Welby was joined in his unusually blunt criticism by senior members of the Church of England in characterizing a February 25 letter from Archbishop Henry Ndukuba to the so-called “Anglican Church of North America” (ACNA) as “dehumanizing” of gays and “unacceptable” to the Church.
According to Ndukula “A Gay is a Gay, they cannot be rightly described otherwise. In the same vein, we cannot describe people as 'Christian Murderer', 'Christian Adulterer' and 'Christian terrorist'; neither should we even have 'Gay Christian' or 'Gay Anglican'.”
In his response to Ndukula, Welby said, “The mission of the church is the same in every culture and country: to demonstrate, through its actions and words, that God’s offer of unconditional love to every human being through Jesus Christ calls us to holiness and hope.”
Read Welby's full response
The row over homosexuality in the Anglican Communion has been going on for decades but it blew up with the election of an openly gay bishop by the Diocese of New Hampshire in 2003.
Hardline conservatives - primarily from Africa, South America, and Asia -- organized a global fellowship, known as GAFCON to fight the growing acceptance of homosexuals and female clergy, especially in the western Provinces of the Anglican Communion. To pursue their political agenda, ultraconservative GAFCON Primates secretly joined forces with dissident groups in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada to peel away Church property, money, and worshippers to create the ACNA.
Archbishop Ndukuba’s predecessor was among the staunchest anti-gay leaders in the Anglican Communion and a founder of GAFCON and ACNA. He and others like him were responsible for promoting so-called Kill-the-Gays laws in their countries, which legitimized the torture, imprisonment, and murders of gays and lesbians.
The goal of the GAFCON leadership was the eventual replacement of the Episcopalians and Canadians in the Anglican Communion with the ACNA crowd.
Contrary their self-serving publicity, GAFCON is not a part of the Anglican Communion, nor is ACNA, its North American branch, recognized as an Anglican "Church." The plot to replace the Episcopal Church in the Communion with ACNA largely collapsed in the face of the global popularity of Michael Curry, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church.
March 4, 2021
NEW! GAFCON Leader, ACNA Ally Exposed in Messy Sex Scandal
Retired Archbishop Ntagali of Uganda promoted persecution of gays and lesbians that resulted in the deaths and imprisonment
The firebrand leader of the Anglican Church of Uganda, who led a bitter eight-year campaign against what he claimed was the immorality of Episcopal Church, has been suspended from the priesthood over a tawdry affair he had with the wife of one of his clergy.
The Most Rev. Stanley Ntagali, Primate of the Anglican Church of Uganda from 2014 until his retirement last March, has admitted to an affair with the woman whom he met when he was providing marriage counselling to her and her husband, an Anglican priest.
Some news reports in Uganda say that the woman gave birth to a child who could have been fathered by the Archbishop. They also say that she has alleged that the Archbishop refused to provide support for the child, and that she broke her silence when she did not get a car and money she was promised.
The woman apparently reported the whole business to leaders of GAFCON, an unauthorized international group of ultraconservative Anglican leaders who were instrumental in creating the self-described “Anglican Church of North America”.
Our readers will remember that Ntagali, a longstanding supporter of marriage as “one man, one woman”, was a leader of a failed effort to have the Episcopal Church booted from the Anglican Communion and replaced by the ACNA because if its inclusion of gays and lesbians in its congregations.
February 26, 2021
NEW! Nigerian Church Leaders Denounces ACNA Bishops for Going Soft on Gays in Pastoral Letter
Outraged Primate wants 19 signers of "Dear Gay Anglicans" letter "urgently and radically expunged and excised"
Nigeria’s Fire breathing Anglican Primate today lashed out at the self-proclaimed “Anglican Church of North America” and its House of Bishops, alleging that its January Pastoral Statement on what to call gay Christians was “tantamount to a subtle capitulation to recognize and promote same-sex relations among its members, exactly the same route of argument adopted by The Episcopal Church (TEC).”
"Manipulating languages to cover up sin and sinners are incompatible with the example of Scripture which condemned sin. Gay is a Gay, they cannot be rightly described otherwise. In the same vein, we cannot describe people as 'Christian Murderer', 'Christian Adulterer' and 'Christian terrorist'; neither should we even have 'Gay Christian' or 'Gay Anglican'." -- Nigerian Archbishop Henry Ndukuba
In their Pastoral Statement, the bishops repeated ACNA’s condemnation of homosexuals, but also acknowledged that many of them are in ACNA congregations and deserve to be loved and provided pastoral care.
In a statement issued Feb. 26, Archbishop Henry Ndukuba rejected their compassion said the Bishops’ Statement” is a clarion call to recruit Gays into ACNA member parishes. The deadly ‘virus’ of homosexuality has infiltrated ACNA.”
Ndukuba was particularly enraged over the bishops’ failure to discipline the 19 signers of a “Dear Gay Anglicans” letter posted on social media Feb. 22. The signers - ACNA clergy and laity - said the open letter was intended to complement the Pastoral Letter, even though it did include a more inclusive and compassionate message.
In his statement the Archbishop likened the signers to “a Yeast that should be urgently and radically expunged and excised." He denounced the ACNA leadership as "palliative, weak and unwilling to discipline the erring bishops and priests and taking a clear stand to totally reject their actions and underlying motives."
Ndukuba demanded that ACNA immediately issue a statement unequivocally denouncing the Letter and homosexuality to assure its rightwing allies of their commitment to keep gays out of the congregations.
Among the signers of the "Dear Gay Anglicans" letter was the Dean of the ACNA Cathedral of St. Luke and St. Paul in Charleston SC.
February 24, 2021
NEW! ACNA Goes Wobbly Trying to Love Gay Christians While Condemning Them
Archbishop Beach turns on younger clergy and lay loyalists trying to nudge anti-gay breakaway organization into the 21st Century
Last month the dissident “Anglican Church of North America” (ACNA) inflicted yet another existential crisis on itself, reminding its followers that, eleven years after its founding, it has still failed to establish its own identity as something beyond intolerance of gays and lesbians, women in positions of authority, and understandings of scripture at odds with its own narrow and literal interpretations.
In this instance, ACNA’s House of Bishops needlessly decided to issue a Pastoral Statement on the burning question of whether terms “gay” and “same-sex attracted” are appropriate adjectives to use with “Christian.” Click here to read it
According to the Statement, “To insist on the adjective gay, with all of its cultural attachments, is problematic to the point that we cannot affirm its usage in relation to the word Christian... Designations such as “gay Christian,” or “same-sex attracted Christian” are simply not what the spirit of the New Testament offers as a way of defining a Christian or his/her community.
In what the bishops treat as a kind of concession to gays, they go on to say that homosexual activities unfairly receive disproportionate condemnation as compared to other, more popular sins: “While same-sex attraction is one manifest type of disordered affection, there are many other types of disordered affections. Indeed, we recognize that same-sex sexual relationships have been an oft-targeted sin while other sinful manifestations of our common fallen nature, such as pornography, adultery, divorce, greed, and disregard for the poor have sometimes been tragically discounted or even ignored.”
The problem with ACNA’s bishops and this particular pontification is that they can’t accept that God might have knowingly created gays and lesbians and put them in the world. ACNA’s understanding of homosexuals is that they are, in essence, heterosexual people afflicted with a mental or emotional "disorder" that occasionally compels them to want to jump in bed with people of their same gender for momentary gratification.
In many ways the bishops view on human sexuality is reflective of the world in which the Bible was written... but not much beyond that. Apparently, the letter was based on supposed interviews with large numbers of gay people, two unnamed "evangelical" psychologists, and a one-time "afflicted" gay man widely promoted by Pat Robertson and James Dobson.
"Dear Gay Anglicans..."
To the credit of ACNA’s younger generation, a delicately-phrased letter to “Gay Anglicans,” signed by 19 lay and clergy, surfaced on social media Feb. 22, reflecting a less judgmental, and more welcoming tone toward homosexuals in ACNA. Read it here
In a key passage of the letter, the 19 signers said, “We commit to take practical steps to become churches where gay Anglicans can share all of their story, find community, and seek support. We affirm the Provincial Statement’s call to lead conversation about God’s love and wisdom for same-sex attracted people...”
The letter was not directed at the ACNA bishops and seemed to go to some effort to reflect the signers view that its contents were compatible with the Pastoral Letter. However, it did not embrace the view that gays were "disordered", and even went so far as to vigorously repudiate dangerous pray-the-gay-away conversion therapies that many in ACNA embrace.
ACNA's African puppeteers weigh in, and Foley jumps
The signers' initial optimism at what they perceived as an invitation to thoughtful public conversation on the Bishops' Pastoral Statement was quickly squashed.
According to ACNA Archbishop Foley Beach, his initial reaction to the letter was that it was benign and no threat to ACNA's teachings. However, after highly animated conversations with leaders of two of the ACNA's African allies, he took a very different view.
Peevish and imperious, Beach cranked out a response in which he pounced on the “Gay Anglicans” letter as an “in your face” insult, while whining that the upstarts had infuriated hardline homophobic supporters, and apparently forced him to stay up after his bedtime to deal with them. Read it here
Foley’s message, circulated to the ACNA's 100,000 members the next day, seemed to alternate between conciliatory and threatening: “... as Christians, we need to learn again how to discuss issues with those we disagree with — and then be able to continue to love and care for them. However, if you are one of the clergy who signed on to this, I expect you to send me an email explaining why you signed a letter and beginning a private, non-punitive, conversation with me about your concerns.” (emphasis added)
In spite of his stated openness to listening to “those we disagree with”, Foley made it clear that whatever he heard from non-bishops in ACNA would not make any difference: “The bishops are not going to back down on our conclusions which we worked on, received input from all over the province, edited, reviewed, edited, reviewed, and edited.”
One brave South Carolinian among 19 signers
Among the signers of the Gay Anglican's letter was only one South Carolinian: The Very Rev. Peet Dickinson, Dean of the former Episcopal Cathedral of St. Luke and St. Paul that currently serves a similar function for the Mark Lawrence's ACNA Diocese.
He is a great example of talented younger clergy trying to adapt ACNA's ways to the modern world. Today his congregation sits in the heart of a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood in downtown Charleston, struggling to attract new members from among the many new young families there.
Unfortunately, ACNA's retro-theology and archaic views on social issues drives them away in spite of Dean Dickinson's outreach and appeal. Within walking distance of Dickinson's congregation are three bustling Episcopal parishes -- including Grace Church Cathedral with over 3,000 members.
As long as leaders like Beach feel they have to pander to oppressive Anglican leaders in Africa, they have no hope of creating a viable presence in the U.S. and Canada.
They also should listen to clergy like Dickinson. A recent profile of ACNA communicants in South Carolina suggests that 72% favor welcoming non-celibate gays into their parishes, with 70% favor allowing women to serve as rectors.
February 22, 2021
U.S. Supreme Court Deals Stunning Blow to the Church in Fort Worth Secession Case
Episcopalians will have to leave their parish buildings as ACNA group takes over
High court's failure to overturn Texas ruling allows unprecedented meddling by secular courts in governance of hierarchical denominations protected by separation of Church and State doctrine
For the second time in three years, the United States Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge to a state supreme court ruling on the questions of naming rights and property ownership.
Readers will recall that the first time this happened was in 2018 when the challenge came from South Carolina. In that case, the state's Supreme Court had found that 29 of 36 parishes loyal to ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence could not leave the Church without the consent of the Church. It also found that the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina belonged to the Episcopal Church. The Lawrence crowd appealed to the high court, but the justices refused to hear the case and the decision of the state's Supreme Court was effectively affirmed.
This time the challenge came from the Episcopal Church and Diocese of Fort Worth in Texas. Unlike South Carolina, the Texas Supreme Court sided with the breakaway group.
The ruling in Texas awarded the Episcopal Church’s entire Diocese of Fort Worth and its 70 parishes and missions to disaffected Episcopalians who left the Church in 2008 and joined with the self-described “Anglican Church of North America” (which ironically is neither part of the Episcopal Church nor the Anglican Communion.)
Approximately 15 parishes in the Diocese chose to stay with the Episcopal Church but, according to the Texas Supreme Court, their buildings must be surrendered to the ACNA group and their congregations dispersed.
The case is a significant victory for a group of right-wing billionaires who have been financing years-long efforts to break up hierarchical denominations like the Episcopal, Methodist, and Presbyterian Churches which, until now, have been protected by the separation of church and state provision of the U.S. Constitution.
November 12, 2020
Church Takes Aim at Irregular Ruling by Rogue Judge; Files Appeal with State's High Court
Attorneys: Lower court judge essentially overrode August 2017 Supreme Court decision in favor of the Church and its Diocese of South Carolina
The Episcopal Church and its Diocese of South Carolina today asked the state’s Supreme Court to throw out a recent ruling by a lower court judge that effectively reversed the high court’s August 2017 decision that the assets of 28 of 36 parishes aligned with ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence belong the Church.
The ruling grew out of a lawsuit brought by Lawrence in January 2013 in which he argued that the Episcopal Church had no legal claim to the property and assets of the parishes of the Diocese, or even the Diocese itself and its property and corporate identity.
After a two-week trial in 2015, Circuit Judge Diane Goodstein agreed with Lawrence and gave him the whole shooting match. The Church appealed to the state Supreme Court which overturned Goodstein’s ruling two years later.
In November 2017, the justices handed off their ruling to Orangeburg Circuit Judge Edgar Dickson for the purpose of overseeing its implementation. After more than two years of cat-and-mouse, Dickson in effect decided that Goodstein had been right in the first place about the ownership of the parish properties and reversed the result of the higher court.
In today’s appeal, Church attorneys are asking the justices to rule on whether Dickson exceeded his authority by essentially reinstating Goodstein’s ruling, and failing to follow the explicit result of the high court’s August 2017 ruling. Church lawyers also questioned whether Dickson denied the Church due process of law by using his implementation assignment to retry the original Lawrence lawsuit.
October 27, 2020
Federal Court Finds Lawrence "Diocese" in Contempt Over False Advertising and Deceit Allegation
Gergel: Renegade State Court Judge Edgar Dickson has no authority to overturn a Federal ruling
The followers of ex-Episcopal Bishop Mark Lawrence once again are in hot water with U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel.
Today Gergel agreed that the Lawrence crowd had violated his September 2019 injunction that prohibited it from intentionally and falsely advertising themselves as the legitimate historic Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina. As part of today's ruling, he found that the organization had wrongly used the name of the "Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina" in applying for a Federal loan earlier this year.
In September, the Episcopal Church and its Diocese of South Carolina complained to Gergel that the Lawrence group was up to its old tricks, brashly ignoring his earlier injunction and masquerading as the historic Episcopal Diocese that was created after the Revolutionary War.
They alleged 27 violations of the injunction. At issue were references to things like the "Episcopal Shield" and the "Diocese of South Carolina" and Lawrence's own claim of currently being the 14th bishop of the Diocese (that ended in 2012).
Fortunately, for the Lawrence organization, someone convinced its leadership to fix 25 of the 27 violations before Gergel got them in Court. Today, Gergel said they had been rectified to the point of being legally "moot".
However, Gergel did find the Lawrence crowd in “civil contempt” for its use of the Diocese's historic name when it applied for and obtained a Federal loan from the Small Business Administration earlier this year. Gergel had specifically denied them the use of that name (aka "corporate mark") in his ruling last year.
The second issue that Gergel said was not moot was the Lawrence organization's claim that Lawrence was consecrated as the bishop of the "Anglican Diocese of South Carolina" in 2008. Church attorneys had complained about that, as well as its' use of the terms "2009 Convention" and "2008 Consecration."
Gergel disagreed, and allowed the Lawrence group to continue with their usage. However, the "Anglican Diocese of South Carolina" did not really exist until more than ten years after the putative consecration of Lawrence as its leader.
Curiously, if Lawrence is claiming that he was not consecrated as a bishop in the Episcopal Church in 208, then he cannot legitimately claim credit for 2008 - 2012 in calculating his retirement income from the Episcopal Church's Pension Fund.
Very importantly, Gergel punched a hole in the dissidents’ insistence that a ruling last June by a rogue lower court judge in Orangeburg effectively negated a landmark decision by the state Supreme Court in 2017. That decision found that the Federal courts had jurisdiction over the status of the diocese's corporate identity and corporate marks.
Gergel, a Federal judge, subsequently ruled in favor of the Church on those issues and today pounced on the idea that a state circuit court judge had any authority to overrule any part of a Federal ruling.
Gergel's rulings in this case have highlighted the Lawrence organization's struggle to create an identity that credibly explains its existence and appeal to potential converts.
Plagued by budget deficits, empty pews, and a string of costly legal defeats, the Lawrence organization has yet to find a viable path forward. Visitors and newcomers looking for an Episcopal Church long ago stopped showing up at Lawrence parishes on Sundays as lifelong Episcopalians, displeased with the high-handed manner in which they were yanked out of their denomination and the Anglican Communion, found other spiritual homes.
The Lawrence crowd responded to these challenges by promoting a widespread illusion that they are still part of the Church, just not subject to its Constitution and Canons. Lawrence even encouraged parishes to use the word 'Episcopal' in describing themselves since "it just means that you have a bishop."
Making their work even more challenging was the Lawrencians' continued embrace of homophobia, thinly-veiled misogyny, and intolerance of those whose understanding of Scripture is at odds of their own narrow literalism. Once it was on its own, the organization voted to embrace an ancient version of Anglican theology, darker and more relevant to the times of Henry VIII than 21st Century America.
Even worse, they voted to surrender much of their authority to control their leadership to a perpetually all-male House of Bishops with very limited transparency and little tolerance for dissent.
For now, the Lawrence organization calls itself the "Anglican Diocese of South Carolina" and claims affiliation with the self-styled "Anglican Church of North America," an association of dissident groups unhappy with the Anglican Church of Canada and the Episcopal Church.
However, one of the challenges facing the "Anglican Diocese of South Carolina" is that it is not really a "diocese" or "Anglican".
"Diocese" is a term going back to the Roman Empire. Originally it described an administrative unit of government with jurisdiction over a clearly-defined geographic area and whose leadership was subservient to the hierarchy of a larger governmental structure.
As the Empire crumbled, Church leaders assumed the reins of "diocesan" leadership and consequently the term "diocese" became part of the structure of hierarchical denominations like the Catholic Church, the Anglican Church, the Episcopal Church, the Lutheran Church... well, you get the idea.
In South Carolina, it appears the ACNA has four separate jurisdictions whose lines of authority and geography are blurred. Contrary to Anglican ethos, the Lawrencians' governing structure is concentrated in the hands of an autocratic bishop with unprecedented control over clergy and parish self-governance, with no real oversight from anyone.
"Anglican" means being part of a worldwide Christian tradition, rooted in the worship and theology of the Church of England. Its structure and leadership is dispersed among 39 provinces, each led by a Primate. The Primate of the Episcopal Church is the Most Rev. Michael Curry, who is recognized by the other Primates and the Archbishop of Canterbury as the leader of the American branch of Anglicanism.
Rather than being a hierarchical "Church," ACNA is more of an association of independent diverse religious denominations and organizations, essentially bound together by a shared fear of modern society.
Not surprisingly the leadership of the Communion has repeatedly rejected any association with ACNA or its various subdivisions. The Archbishop of Canterbury has been very clear that he views the group as "a separate church."