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South Carolina Episcopalians
July 20, 2018
Lawrence Allies Lash Out at Bishop Adams' Reconciliation Initiative
Letter from Peter Moore is one of the milder attacks we plan to feature
The Very Rev. Dr. Peter Moore is a native of New York City and one of several clergy who moved to South Carolina around 2008 to engage the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina in a culture "war" against the wider Church. He is a distinguished scholar, preacher, teacher, seminary dean, and founder of the Anglican Leadership Institute in Charleston.
He published a letter this week attacking South Carolina Bishop Skip Adams for trying to bring reconciliation to the Body of Christ following the recently schism orchestrated by ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence. We thought he raised some interesting points so we are republishing it in its entirety in italics, with our comments following in standard font.
1. Good Shepherd
Moore: The one thing I can agree about in Bishop Skip Adams' article in the Sunday (7/15/18) edition of the Post and Courieris that the divisions within Christendom grieve the heart of God, and that reconciliation between believers should always be a priority.
As I read it, however, I couldn't help but reflect on the context of his offer. As a clergyman, and former seminary Dean, I have been engaged in the struggle for the soul of the Episcopal Church for almost a half-century and have written and spoken on the subject extensively.
I cannot forget that this same Bishop Adams broke trust with the Church of the Good Shepherd in Binghamton, New York while he was bishop there. After having agreed to sell it to the departing congregation for $150,000 he then sold it to the Muslims for 1/3 of that price.
SC Episcopalians: Critics of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina are seizing on anything that might undermine its efforts to undo damage done by the Lawrence schism and reestablish a robust proclamation of the Gospel. This week they are going after Bishop Adams by discrediting his work as Bishop of the Diocese of Central New York with a not-subtle appeal to anti-Muslim bigotry.
Dr. Moore takes a cheap shot at Bishop Adams in his reference to the sale of the property of the Church of the Good Shepherd. He takes two mostly true statements about a complex transaction ten years ago, and juxtaposes them such that they create a misleading impression of what actually happened.
As nearly as we can tell, Dr. Moore has not personally raised his accusation of 'broken trust' with Bishop Adams, even though Adams held three public meetings in the Diocese just this week at which he explained the Binghamton situation in detail numerous times to anyone who was interested. Of course, we are not even sure what Dr. Moore means by "broken trust".
Here's are a few of the missing facts of the story:
In 2007, when the rector and the congregation at the Church of the Good Shepherd decided they were going to leave the Episcopal Church, they were frustrated when they discovered New York law would not allow them to take their property with them.
However, when they spoke with Bishop Adams, he suggested there might be a way the Diocese could sell the property to them.
After considerable discussions among diocesan officials and leaders of neighboring parishes, the Diocese decided that it would allow the small congregation to make an offer to buy the property. The congregation then did exactly that.
However, the offer they submitted included a sale price substantially below market value and required that Diocese finance the deal with a payment plan favorable to the congregation. The proposal became even more tenuous when the departing group refused to agree to conditions the Diocese needed to make the deal work, including a promise not to work against or cause harm to the Episcopal Church or the Diocese.
The proposed deal fell apart, and the matter ended up in state court.
In 2009, the courts found to no one's surprise the parish property belonged with the Church. The rector and his wife lived in the rectory and the congregation continued to use the parish buildings during the whole ordeal, and all were provided a grace period afterwards to make arrangements to move on to new situations. They were not immediately booted, as a recent GAFCON video suggests.
The rector and about half the congregation left and found a home in a vacant Catholic church nearby, while the Diocese followed its canonical procedures for listing the property on the open market and soliciting bids. These procedures are the same in nearly every diocese including South Carolina.
None of us would ever have heard about this except that the successful bidder was a Muslim community organization. Of course, even if the Diocese did not want to sell the building to a non-Christian buyer, anti-discrimination laws would not have allowed it to arbitrarily reject bidders because of their religious beliefs.
But this story had too much juice to it, and anti-Church groups like GAFCON have feasted on it, or at least their version of it, for the past nine years.
In the end, the deal went through and proceeds from the sale were used to augment Christian outreach ministries in the Binghamton area. The rector himself proved to be a highly effective self-promoter and online blogger, and admits today the parish is in a much letter place.
One thing we did not realize until recently is that the breakaway rector and the Imam with the organization that ended up with the property appear to have been friends throughout the whole melodrama.
We also noticed that throughout the entire 15 minute GAFCON interview with the rector and his wife, they never mention Bishop Adams. That service was provided by Lawrence's political team.
2. Many Jesuses
Moore: I cannot forget that there are many "Jesuses" out there, and despite the Bishop's claim that the Episcopal Church is part of the Jesus movement, the leaders of many provinces throughout the Anglican Communion don't recognize its Jesus as the same as theirs. Nor will a vast number of them even have Communion with the Episcopal Church because there is serious doubt in their minds that the Jesus they claim to follow is the same as theirs.
SC Episcopalians: There is only one Jesus. The challenge for Dr. Moore is that Anglicanism allows that others, whose experience of Christ may be different from our own, can still be loved by God and part of the Kingdom Jesus proclaimed. In many ways, this my-Jesus-or-the-highway ecclesiology is one reason Lawrence parishes have been struggling with membership and revenue every year since he became bishop in 2008.
The 39 provinces of the Anglican Communion have never taken a vote on whose “Jesus” is the right one, nor do they appear to even think in such primitive ways. However, they have taken a vote - in fact, several votes - on whether the breakaway group with which Dr. Moore is affiliated is part of the Anglican Communion. In each instance, the answer was no.
3. The greatest sin
Moore: For example, one Episcopal bishop who claimed that Jesus had to forgive himself and that the Church can re-write the Bible was never disciplined for these statements, but later for "action unbecoming a member of the clergy."
SC Episcopalians: It's probably human nature to define entire groups we don't like or understand by the actions of a single, unnamed member.
Dr. Moore is a distinguished churchman whose career has included service as the Dean of Trinity School of Theology, and currently the leader of something he founded in Charleston called Anglican Leadership Institute.
One of the criticisms of these two organizations is that they rely heavily on Dr. Moore's friendships with autocratic leaders of Anglican Provinces like Uganda and Nigeria. These Primates (provincial leaders) have been in the forefront of government persecution and societal oppression of gays and lesbians in Africa. They have been instrumental in the enactment of harsh laws requiring life imprisonment and even death for homosexuals or people who seem like they might be. One of the key supporters of the seminary Dr. Moore once led has declared that gays are "lower than beasts."
Several of these homophobic Church leaders are a part of Dr. Moore's Anglican Leadership Institute, and continue to be involved in the work of the seminary he once led. He calls them “Brilliant Partners in Ministry." To our great disappointment we can find no evidence of any public rebuke, admonition, repentance, groan, or even wincing by Dr. Moore at the horror these African primates have urged on innocent children of God.
So, whose sin is greatest? "Brilliant" Christian leaders' who use the Bible to persecute and oppress innocents, their institutional allies who remain silent in the face of such a perversion of the Gospel ... or a Church with an unidentified bishop somewhere who once got an itch to rewrite the Bible.
4. Egregious actions
Moore: I cannot forget that Bishop Adams has consented to the most egregious actions against our highly respected Bishop Mark Lawrence and is suing him for "abandonment of the Communion" and for a great amount of money in secular courts, all the while speaking of "reconciliation".
Are you kidding us?
On the one hand, Dr. Moore "cannot forget" that Bishop Adams is asking the courts for an injunction to prevent Mark Lawrence from continuing to falsely advertise himself as an Episcopal Bishop of an Episcopal Diocese, which we all know he isn't.
On the other, he appears to have easily forgotten Mark Lawrence's 2013 lawsuit that cost Episcopalians who elected him in 2008, and those who tried to follow him out of the Church in 2012, (a) millions of dollars in legal fees, (b) 5,000 communicants who no longer appear to attend church (c) millions in lost revenues for Christian ministry, (d) pensions of naive young clergy that once trusted him, and (e) one of the most robust witnesses to the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the Episcopal Church.
On the question of reconciliation, Bishop Adams has repeatedly tried to negotiate a settlement of the false advertising matter – including three months of court-ordered mediation last winter – but Bishop Lawrence has refused to engage as have the parishes that once were aligned with him. Now after five years and with the case so close to trial, the opportunity for Bishop Lawrence to settle the matter without financial penalties has likely evaporated.
Bishop Adams' is not suing Bishop Lawrence over "abandonment". That was the Church’s Disciplinary Board for Bishops in 2012 when it identified three instances Lawrence had violated his consecration vow to “conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church.” Lawrence has admitted to having done all three.
Moore: Meanwhile Bishop Lawrence was recently honored by 2,000 Anglican delegates at a conference in Jerusalem where bishops and clergy gathered representing the great majority of confessing Anglicans worldwide.
SC Episcopalians: The gathering Dr. Moore speaks of is called GAFCON, and functions as a rallying point for ultra-conservatives in the Anglican Communion. There can be no doubt that it is a joyous experience for all.
However, GAFCON is not recognized by the leadership of the Anglican Communion as being part of worldwide Anglicanism. That this group would honor Lawrence for his efforts to destroy a diocese that once trusted him to to be its shepherd says a great deal about GAFCON's future in an increasingly united Anglican Communion.
While we are on the subject, Dr. Moore attended the group's meeting in Jerusalem along with Bishop Lawrence and a substantial entourage of spouses and staff people. Bishop Lawrence's office has refused our request to say who paid for their trip.
6. Church growth
Moore: The growth of nearly all mainline Protestant churches in the past couple of decades has been disappointing. A good portion of this is due to internal struggles over doctrine and ethics. Therefore, it is hard to believe Bishop Adams when he speaks of the Episcopal Church growing in "numbers, joy, and sense of mission" when the statistics show an almost precipitous decline in the Episcopal Church in at least two of those factors: numbers and mission.
SC Episcopalians: The Episcopal Church in South Carolina, led by Bishop Adams, appears to be the fastest growing diocese in the Church. Its cathedral in Charleston boasts nearly 3,000 members, about 1,000 of whom arrived after Lawrence left the Church in 2012. Thanks to a recent royal wedding, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church is one of the most recognized and admired clergymen in the world.
By contrast, the 'diocese' Lawrence claims to lead has lost nearly half its membership since he was consecrated in 2008 and racked up an operating deficit of more than a quarter-million dollars last year alone. During that same period, membership at St. Michael's in Charleston, where Dr. Moore has been in residence since 2008, has lost 41% of its members, according to its own records.
7. Lawrence's authority and Origins of the Schism
Moore: Jesus' prayer that "we all may be one" that Bishop Adams quotes is found in John 17 where it is clear that in Jesus' mind the oneness is in the Truth, not a fuzzy bonhomie that disregards serious differences in the message we teach. "They have kept thy word," Jesus says of those for whom he prays. (17:6)
Bishop Adams writes to those who "wish to be part of the Episcopal Church". It is right that he does so. Bishop Lawrence, the elected bishop of South Carolina, has said many times that those individuals and parishes wishing to stay in the Episcopal Church may retain their buildings.
SC Episcopalians: Very gracious, for sure. However, according to the South Carolina and United States supreme courts, Lawrence has never had any authority to say who is in or out of the Episcopal Church... without or without their buildings.
Moore: But when the Diocese and its parishes voted to leave, it did so with overwhelming support by the people and clergy who had the greatest investment in the ongoing life of the church in this area.
SC Episcopalians: There was never a straight up vote in the Diocese or in most parishes on whether they wanted to stay or leave the Episcopal Church.
In 2011 and 2012, many of congregations were duped into voting to change their governing documents from a legal alignment with the "Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church" to an illegal one with the "Constitution and Canons of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina." In dozens of instances, Lawrence lieutenants flatly stated in congregational meetings that the changes were just "housekeeping" and did not mean they were leaving the Episcopal Church.
In December 2012 Lawrence pulled together a "convention" of his supporters in Charleston even though he had no canonical authority to do so. Approximately two-thirds of the parishes and missions of the Diocese (plus SC Episcopalians) were represented, but most of them had never taken a congregational vote on whether they wanted to leave the Church.
It is hard to understand how Dr. Moore assesses who had the "greatest investment in the ongoing life of the church."
Thousands of loyal, dedicated Episcopalians did not follow Lawrence out of the Church, but stayed to continue the important ministry of the real historic Diocese of South Carolina. They thrived and continued to grow. It was surely a sign of the Holy Spirit when those who were ejected from their pro-Lawrence congregations in 2012 immediately formed ten new congregations that met faithfully for years in funeral homes, college auditoriums and even a BBQ restaurant.
By far, it would be our inclination to give the Best Investment in the Life of the Church to these people.... not those who forced them out of their congregations.
Moore: Plus, they did so with an enduring love of Anglicanism both locally and in its worldwide expression.
SC Episcopalians: To be a part of the Anglican Communion, parishes, dioceses, and individual members must be a part of a recognized Anglican province. In the United States, there is only one such province and it is called the Episcopal Church. There is only one Anglican Primate (Provincial leaders) representing Anglicans in the United States and his name is The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry.
When the followers of Bishop Lawrence decided to leave the Episcopal Church, they unwittingly voted to leave the Anglican Communion. In fairness, they and their clergy had been intentionally misled by promises that they would become part of the Church of England. Thankfully now, they have a chance to return.
8. Forced out?
Moore: The question is not about those wishing to stay, it is about those who have decided to leave. Should they be deprived of the resources they have built and paid for and be forced to find worship space elsewhere?
SC Episcopalians: There is a pervasive undercurrent among breakaway congregations that 'what's mine is mine' and 'what's yours is mine.'
For over 350 years Episcopalians and their colonial antecedents in our state created one of the most magnificent witnesses to the Gospel of Jesus Christ in North America. It was called the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina.
Now, somehow a new generation of church-goers thinks all they have to do is show up two or three Sundays a year, pay some money, and instantly have equity ownership in millions of dollars in historic properties and Church assets for which they have never had to sacrifice a thing.
Equally as astonishing is that intelligent, normal-seeming people like Bishop Lawrence and Dr. Moore tell them this is God plan for them.
The congregations that tried to leave the Episcopal Church and take their property with them did not build and pay for these buildings they claim are theirs. They were built by generations of colonial Anglicans and later Episcopalians, for Episcopalians, and others in the future who would be attracted to the Episcopal Church and worldwide Anglicanism as faithful expressions of the Gospel in their own times. (The only exceptions to this are parishes like St, Michael's that were build by slaves who bought and paid for them with their sweat, tears, and even their lives.)
For the most part, those who led this recent schism just showed up from other places with very little appreciation of what the Episcopal Church in South Carolina was all about.
Mark Lawrence had never even been to South Carolina before he was nominated by a cabal associated with Dr. Moore's seminary to be our bishop in 2006. And, almost as soon as he was consecrated in 2008, he decided that the property and assets of the Diocese were all his to keep or give away ... about $500 million in Church assets and property, to be exact.
Thank goodness there were a handful of local lay people who stood up to him. Despite public humiliation heaped on them by Lawrence lieutenant Jim Lewis, they convinced a skeptical Discip0linary Board for Bishops House that he was up to no good.
Bishop Adams has graciously and repeatedly invited those who want to continue in the Episcopal Church and utilize these buildings for the divine purpose for which they were created to join him and their fellow brothers and sisters in faith in the Episcopal Church in South Carolina.
No one is being "forced out." The laws of the State of South Carolina are the same laws that were on the books when you came to the Episcopal Church. Nothing has changed, and you are welcome as the day you walked in the door to stay and worship as Episcopalians.
In 2012 it was the parishes loyal to Bishop Lawrence who filed a lawsuit against to the Episcopal Church asking the courts in South Carolina to determine if they had a right to leave the Church with their property. In August 2017, they got the answer.
To those who feel put upon to "find worship space elsewhere," we say good luck and godspeed. But PS, you're not martyrs and you have no right to say you are being "forced out" of anything.
9. Reconciliation amnesia
Moore: In closing I cannot forget that despite Bishop Adams' words there have been no credible offers of reconciliation between Episcopalians and those of us who now call ourselves Anglicans, and who continue to love and worship according to the Book of Common Prayer. For Bishop Adams to speak now at this late hour of "reconciliation" strains credulity.
SC Episcopalians: It is hard to know what Dr. Moore thinks "reconciliation" looks like when one side starts off by offering the other everything everything it wants.
In 2015 Bishop Adams' predecessor, with the approval of the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, offered to settle the Lawrence lawsuit by giving the 36 plaintiff parishes everything they wanted in exchange for releasing their claims on the Episcopal Church's Diocese of South Carolina. That's right, everything. The property. The financial assets. The works. All the lawyers knew the courts would never give them the Diocese itself so, in essence, the 36 parishes would be getting it all.
Lawrence and the 36 parishes -- including St. Michael's - responded to this offer by telling the Church to go to hell.
We'd be curious to know what else the Church could have done to end this conflict so that everyone could get on with the work Christ has given us to do