July 1, 2018(reposted on August 4, 2018)
Setting the Record Straight: SC Episcopalians Responds to Lawrencian Spin Doctors
Answers to Frequently Asked Questions even leave Lawrence followers confounded
The one-time breakaway group of congregations, headed by ex-Bishop Mark Lawrence, has been masterful in generating political spin over the ten years of its unsuccessful attempt to spirit away $500 million in property and assets of the Episcopal Church.
Recently on its website. the group published a set of FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) along with, what we would cynically call, RAAs (Rarely Accurate Answers).
We won't speculate on motivations behind this kind of messaging, but we suspect it has to do with this confusing comment from Lawrence after learning the U.S. Supreme Court had rejected his organization's appeal last month: "To correct this injustice, we should never be quick to surrender. And our greatest hope of success comes if we resist this injustice together. There are sound reasons to believe the rule of law will yet prevail in our case. That is worth the effort."
Some RAAs are accurate but omit critical facts in ways that mislead readers, and those trying to find a path forward after a painful defeat in the court system. Others are pure fabrication. Confused lay people and clergy are using this misinformation in parish conversations, letters to the editors, and planning their futures.
Enough of them have asked for help that we thought it easier to provide a more objective perspective on the FAQs than to attempt responses to each reader. Please be aware these responses do NOT represent those that might be provided by the Episcopal Church or either of its dioceses in South Carolina.
The questions below in bold green lettering are from the Lawrence website, along with an answer in gray italics from Bishop Lawrence or one of his lieutenants. Our responses are below that in black...
1. What does the US Supreme Court denial mean?
Lawrencians "While it’s disappointing our appeal to the US Supreme Court was denied, we knew the likelihood of any case being taken is very low. Denial of our petitions is not a judgement on the merits of either case or their outcomes. The Court simply chose not to review this issue at this time. And as is always the case with the denial of a petition, there is no explanation given."
SC Episcopalians Last month's refusal by the U.S. Supreme Court to consider the breakaways' appeal means that the 2017 state Supreme Court ruling stands as current law and precedence in future Church property disputes in South Carolina.
That ruling said that only seven of the 36 dissident congregations that had joined Lawrence in a 2013 lawsuit against the Episcopal Church could leave the Church with their parish properties. According to the justices, the remaining 29 parishes had at some point acceded in writing to the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church. They also said that the Church's camp and conference center on Seabrook Island has been, and will continue to be, owned by Church.
It's misleading to say that the justices of the nation's highest court "simply chose not to review this issue at this time." They will not be revisiting it when they get back from vacation, or run into each other in the Court's cafeteria.
It's done. It is now the law in South Carolina ... at this time and in the future.
Merits of the Case. To imply that the justices somehow did not consider the merits of the appeal is an insult to the Court. They and their clerks read the briefs of both sides in every appeal. They read the decisions of the lower courts, and studies cases from the past that constitute precedence to guide them in present day deliberations. There is absolutely no reason for Bishop Lawrence to suggest that the justices were not fully aware of the issues at stake in his appeal when they rejected it.
Even after all that, there were still not four justices among the nine who thought the case had been decided in a manner inconsistent with Constitutional precedents, particularly the mostly relevant one in Jones v. Wolf (1979). It is important to know the South Carolina Supreme Court decided this case along the very same lines as high courts in nearly twenty states.
2. Is the litigation over?
Lawrence website 2.a "No. As the Episcopal Church stated in their own brief to the U.S. Supreme Court, the five South Carolina State Supreme Court opinions are “fractured,” to the degree of being virtually unenforceable as written. Executing them, as TEC has now asked the Dorchester Court to do, will require interpreting what they mean both individually and collectively. It will also require the answer to a number of very complicated questions created by those conflicting opinions and the legal rationale (or lack thereof) for each opinion. As just one example, the deciding vote (Justice Beatty) said only parishes that “acceded in writing to the Dennis Canon” created a trust. No parish acceded in writing to the Dennis Canon. On that basis, what the ruling actually says is that no congregation should lose their property."
SC Episcopalians 2.a Yes. In our nation's judicial system, a case brought in state court is over when either the litigants agree to accept a lower court ruling, an appeal to a state's highest court has been resolved, or - as in this case - the United States Supreme Court has disposed of an appeal.
Lawrence v. The Episcopal Church is over. The law is settled. There are no lower courts that have any authority to change it.
Bishop Lawrence's views on the justices' opinions and whether their ruling is enforceable, or even makes sense are irrelevant at this point. He made, not one, but two attempts to convince the state Supreme Court to rehear the case, and was turned down. The only thing that matters is that the case was decided by a majority and, upon review by the U.S. Supreme Court, was allowed to stand.
Losing a big case like this is very difficult and those of us who've been in that place can understand being frustrated and refusing to give up. Fortunately the justices were clear which parishes could leave and which would be staying. They were also clear about Camp St. Christopher.
As part of its current dissembling campaign, the breakaways' propaganda machine is saying the case is not over. That is only half true. The law has been settled. The implementation part is just beginning.
Months ago the Court "remitted" its August 2017 ruling to the First Judicial Circuit (Dorchester, Orangeburg, & Calhoun counties) for implementation, not retrial or "interpretation." That task has gone to Judge Edgar Dickson from Orangeburg. His role is to oversee the transition of the 29 parishes and Camp St. Christopher to Episcopal Church governance, as required by the state Supreme Court.
Attorneys for the Church have filed a motion asking Judge Dickson to appoint a "special master" to take on the day-to-day administration of the Court's ruling. Normally, a position like this is filled by a retired judge or senior attorney. Its purpose is to expedite implementation so that all the parties in a case can get on with their lives.
Lawrencians 2.b "As just one example, the deciding vote (Justice Beatty) said only parishes that “acceded in writing to the Dennis Canon” created a trust. No parish acceded in writing to the Dennis Canon. On that basis, what the ruling actually says is that no congregation should lose their property. "
SC Episcopalians 2.b Lawrence's insistence that Chief Justice Don Beatty lied in his opinion is a combination of naivete and foolishness if he is expecting to do business before the Court in the future.
It does not matter that Chief Justice Beatty did not elaborate in his opinion about acceding to the Dennis Canon "in writing," or describe what it meant to Bishop Lawrence's satisfaction. He and the other justices obviously developed a "neutral principles" criteria for determining accession, applied it to the circumstances of the 36 plaintiff parishes, and found that 29 had acceded to the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church and seven (including a land trust) had not. All were listed in Court documents. This means that those 29 parishes are now, and always have been, part of the Episcopal Church.
Lawrence's lashing out at Beatty is misplaced. Because of Beatty, it looks like the seven parishes deemed not to have acceded to the Canons of the Church were able to leave precisely because of his insistence on the "in writing" business.
In similar cases in other states, "in writing" can mean almost anything. Words handwritten or printed in any form indicating that a parish had at some time acceded to the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church could qualify. It could be something as simple as the parish treasurer endorsing a check on behalf of "St. John's Episcopal Church" or a publicly-displayed sign saying, "The Episcopal Church Welcomes You".
"In writing" could also be these words in the parish bylaws or other official documents: "St. Luke's is a parish of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America and accedes to its Constitution and Canons" or simply, "St. Luke's is a parish of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America."
Prior to his departure from the Church in 2012, Lawrence and his top lieutenants secretly engaged in a frantic effort to convene parish meetings to replace the words "Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States" in parish governing documents with "The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina."
Lawrence knows perfectly well that these words were in the governing documents of nearly every parish that tried to follow him out of the Church.
For Lawrence to suggest that "no parish acceded in writing" to the Constitution and Canons of the Church -- when he knows better -- is morally inexcusable for a bishop, real or falsely advertised. He is making a public accusation against a distinguished public servant based on a deception he and his crew apparently engineered.
SC Episcopalians has received reports that some rectors and wardens have been tearing up minutes of parish meetings and other written evidence that proves their congregations willingly agreed to agreed to become part of the Church and acceded to its Constitution and Canons at some point. This is a criminal offense known as obstruction of justice.
Lawrence website 2.c "It also should be understood that there are two other legal matters pending. The Diocese has filed a claim under the state Betterments Statute for the 29 parishes claimed to be subject to the adverse ruling of the State Supreme Court. The statute says that if a property owner, in good faith, believing they own their property, makes improvements, only to later have a court determine it belongs to another, they must be reimbursed for the value of those improvements. While this statute only takes effect in the case of a final judgement (which we don’t believe has been reached), the settlement of such a claim will not be speedy."
SC Episcopalians 2.c As part of an apparent scheme to obstruct the implementation of the state Supreme Court's ruling, the Lawrence legal team filed a nuisance lawsuit in Dorchester County demanding their clients be paid for "improvements" on parish properties in question during the time they thought they owned them.
Their claim relies on a law referred to as the Betterments Statute, (Section 27-27-10 of the S.C. Code of Laws). Here's how it reads...
"After final judgment in favor of the plaintiff in an action to recover lands and tenements, if the defendant has purchased or acquired the lands and tenements recovered in such action or taken a lease thereof or those under whom he holds have purchased or acquired a title to such lands and tenements or taken a lease thereof, supposing at the time of such purchase or acquisition such title to be good in fee or such lease to convey and secure the title and interest therein expressed, such defendant shall be entitled to recover of the plaintiff in such action the full value of all improvements made upon such land by such defendant or those under whom he claims, in the manner provided in this chapter."
Here are a few reasons why Lawrence's Betterments lawsuit is a waste of time and money:
In the very first line of the statute, it says its provisions only apply in cases in which the plaintiffs have won the case. In this case, Lawrence and his supporters were the plaintiffs and they lost. Therefore, he and his people do not have legal standing to even bring an action under this statute. (Curiously though, in the matter of the seven parishes that were allowed to leave, the Church would have a Betterments case against them if it wanted compensation from them since they were plaintiffs in this lawsuit and prevailed against the Church.)
Also in the first line, "final judgement" means that such an action cannot be brought unless the case in question is over. Even in this most recent version of FAQs, Lawrence maintains that the case is not over and won't be for years.
Paraphrasing Professor Ron Caldwell, whose analysis was echoed by online legal advisors to SC Episcopalians, those seeking compensation under Betterments statutes assume that the property in question has been occupied by people who are not its rightful owners. Therefore plaintiffs seeking monetary compensation under these laws are, in fact, conceding that the property is owned by someone else.
It's hard to believe lawyers were actually paid to come up with this stuff.
Lawrencians 2.d "Finally, TEC has been pursuing a false advertising claim in the Federal Courts since 2013, asserting first that the Bishop, and more recently the congregations have held themselves out as being “Episcopal” when they are not. While laughable on the face of it, the assertion of trademark violations continues and the judge will move that case forward in the coming months."
SC Episcopalians 2.d Lawrence should probably stop laughing for just a moment and consider the implications of this lawsuit. So should those parish leaders who are now part of the lawsuit.
Over the past five years, Lawrence has variously described himself as the Bishop of the "Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina" or "The Diocese of South Carolina," even though he announced he had left the Episcopal Church in October 2012. (Some would say that legally he ceased to be a bishop in the Church in 2008 when he first engaged in bad acts contrary to his consecration oath to conform to the doctrine, discipline, worship of the Episcopal Church.)
However, the false advertising lawsuit is more than just Lawrence pretending to be an "Episcopal bishop." It is about the improper use of a name or corporate service marks in committing fraudulent acts. This includes anything like presiding over the Diocese's Board of Trustees of the Diocese that oversees trust funds worth millions intended for the work of the Episcopal Church, living in the official residence of the Episcopal Church's resident bishop in eastern South Carolina, or even occupying the Diocesan House.
Last spring Lawrence convened what he called "The 227th Annual Meeting of the Convention of the Diocese of South Carolina." The Convention Journals list Lawrence as the 14th Bishop of the Diocese along with thirteen others who were actually Episcopalians, conveying the not-so-subtle message that he is their legitimate successor.
Bishop Lawrence's idea that the Diocese of South Carolina is an independent operation separate and apart from the Episcopal Church had currency only at the trial court level of his lawsuit. The issue has been in litigation since 2013, meaning that a final judgement on the status of the "Diocese of South Carolina" was not settled.
Unfortunately, overconfidence led him and those associated with him to spend the resources of the Diocese, live and work in its buildings, and preside over the administrative functions of the organization in ways that assumed they were going to win their case and there would be no legal consequences for their actions.
Approximately fifty parishes participated in this charade, approved unlawful expenditures of Episcopal Church funds, and perpetuated the myth that Lawrence was the bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina, even though they knew he had left the Church in 2012.
"False advertising" sounds like a benign misdemeanor of some sort, and not to be taken too seriously. However, in the Federal Lanham Act , under which this lawsuit has been brought, the term can be seen as a metaphor for a conspiracy to interfere in the work of the Episcopal Church and defraud it of its rightful property and ability to do its work.
There are very real penalties for those found guilty, including the elected wardens and vestries of the 50 congregations.
3. Why continue the litigation?
Lawrencians 3.a The current ruling is unjust. It’s unjust both in terms of how it was achieved and what it suggests. Left standing, it creates a precedent in South Carolina that not only violates the rights of our parishes but may do so for countless others in the future. That property can be taken, solely on the force of a denominational claim, with no agreement by the local congregation is wrong. To correct this injustice, we should never be quick to surrender. And our greatest hope of success comes if we resist this injustice together. There are sound reasons to believe the rule of law will yet prevail in our case. That is worth the effort.
SC Episcopalians 3.a It's probably a waste of space here to quote St. Paul's admonition against inviting secular courts to settle disputes within the Body of Christ. That's a bridge the Lawrencians crossed years ago ... and never looked back. It's one thing to righteously proclaim yourself as operating under the "full authority of Scripture" but another to pass up $500 million in free real estate and financial assets.
To justify his desire to continue the fight, Lawrence argues that the state Supreme Court created a new legal precedent in its ruling against him and his followers that violates some ill-defined "rights of our parishes."
That is not true, but here is why he says it:
The All Saints' case. In 2009, the state Supreme Court ruled unanimously that All Saints Episcopal Church in Pawleys Island could leave the Episcopal Church. However, the justices were very clear that the ruling was based on singularly unique circumstances surrounding the ownership of that parish's property. It was not a precedent that could be relied on in other Church property cases.
In fact, some of the justices even met with Church attorneys afterwards and reinforced that message.
However, Beaufort Attorney Alan Runyon, a recent convert to the Episcopal Church, was not convinced. He was a recent convert to the Episcopal Church who was developing an innovative legal theory he thought could permanently wound the Church by allowing right-wing parishes to gain sole ownership of their properties without requiring the agreement of the Church.
The problem with Runyon's scheme was that it was premised on the state Supreme Court being willing to broaden the All Saints' decision. This is what Lawrence is talking about when he refers to rights of parishes. Unfortunately for him and his followers, this did not happen.
In 2012 Runyon's timing was apparently thrown into disarray when Lawrence bolted the Church ahead of schedule, and he was forced to file his lawsuit in January 2013 with what would eventually reveal itself to be a time bomb, by the name of All Saints.
This would explain why Chief Justice Jean Toal was so angry at the beginning of oral arguments before the court in 2015. Out of the blue she bluntly chastised Lawrence and Runyan insisting the Lawrence case was not about All Saints. Only a few years earlier, she had been the author of the All Saints ruling, and prevailed upon the other justices to go along with her because it was limited to just that one unique situation.
Dennis Canon. Since 1979 there was a presumption in South Carolina that the Church's Dennis Canon governed the relationship between the Episcopal Church and its parishes. This meant that, while the local congregations owned their parish properties, that ownership was contingent on their being operated for the benefit of the Episcopal Church and its local diocese.
It's the same thing as your great aunt dying and leaving all her money to you in a trust fund. A trustee or some entity like a bank or trust company manages the funds in the trust on your behalf. If they fail to do that, they are in violation of very strict laws that govern trust relationships.
The Diocese of South Carolina supported the adoption of the Dennis Canon at the Church's 1979 General Convention, and adopted it outright a few years later. That the parishes continued to operate under the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church after that is considered by courts evidence of accession to them, even the ones adopted later.
So, the legal status of S.C. parishes that was in place before, during, and after Lawrence brought his lawsuit in 2013 is still the same. Those loyal to Lawrence have been part of the Episcopal Church since their founding. They never left, and have no more or less "rights" now than they did when Lawrence started this nonsense.
The ruling reflects the same understanding of Church property ownership that existed when Lawrence and all the clergy loyal to him took an oath to conform to the "doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church."
No one's rights have been violated. The Episcopal Church did not "force" anything on anybody. There was no injustice unless you consider the wasteful and sinful expenditure of millions of dollars in legal fees for someone's political agenda somehow "unjust."
Lawrence website 3.b "Gospel Proclamation is central. Secondly, the parishes of the Diocese of South Carolina have been faithfully proclaiming the Gospel for over 300 years. Many places of worship in which we gather and serve have been beacons of good news since before the founding of this nation. That witness will, by God’s grace, continue, with or without these properties. It is a certainty that we will not return to the denomination that rejected our adherence to the faith once received even if we are forced from our spiritual homes and required to rebuild. And Gospel proclamation is the central issue. The Episcopal Church has demonstrated repeatedly, by words and actions of its leaders, to be a church “over scripture.” Its operating philosophy, as one bishop wrote, is that, “The church wrote the bible. It can rewrite the bible.” A Diocese such as ours, that understands itself to be “under” the authority of scripture will be increasingly and irreconcilably in conflict with such a denomination. The value for ministry and the long heritage of our places of worship is immeasurable. Good stewardship recognizes the richness of this heritage and seeks to pass it on to future generations and that is still worth defending."
SC Episcopalians 3.b Let's be clear that the parishes to which Lawrence points were "faithfully proclaiming the Gospel" for three centuries, they were part of the Episcopal Church as they are today.
Even today, no one is impeding their work. No one is throwing them out of their parish buildings. Their only hindrance is Lawrence's imaginary "war" against the Episcopal Church that has cost them millions of dollars that could and should have gone to proclaiming the Gospel and doing the work Christ gave his followers to do.
Bishop Adams has repeatedly extended a hand to former followers of Lawrence to assure them of their welcome in the Episcopal Church and the worship spaces they love. Bishop Lawrence continues to imagine war and enemies who do not exist.
When Lawrence became a bishop 2008, a majority of bishops and dioceses in the Episcopal Church consented to his election. They knew his theology and his fundamentalism, agreeing that they were not outside the parameters of the Church and Anglicanism. Lawrence must have been okay with that because he took a sacred oath at his consecration to "conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church."
Lawrence website 3.c "Maintaining Biblical Anglicanism is a Global Issue. Finally, as Bishop Lawrence has reminded us repeatedly, the issue of maintaining faithfulness to Biblical Anglicanism is not just a South Carolina issue, or even a United States issue, but a global issue. As the third largest church body in Christendom, Anglicanism as a faithful expression of the Gospel is vitally important. A positive outcome in our case is a precedent that will bless Anglicans across North America and through them, the larger Communion.
SC Episcopalians 3.c In 2012 Lawrence left the Episcopal Church, and consequently the Anglican Communion. He eventually joined something that calls itself "The Anglican Church of North America." However, it is not part of the Communion, and has been repeatedly rejected by the Instruments of Anglican Unity that govern the affairs of the Communion and shapes worldwide Anglicanism. According to the official listing of bishops at Anglican Communion headquarters, there are two official representatives of the Communion in South Carolina - The Rt. Revs. Andrew Waldo and Skip Adams. No Lawrence.
Lawrence website 3.d "As faith-filled Anglicans in North America, we are excited for its future and our place within it. The Diocese of South Carolina can be an engine for Gospel ministry that holds the promise of even greater things for the Kingdom of God and worldwide Anglicanism. This is a struggle not just for the future of a single diocese, but for the future of a vital branch of the larger Body of Christ. It is our capacity to continue effectively in that ministry that is also at stake in this litigation, and why we continue."
SC Episcopalians 3.d Lawrence's theology has more to do with Biblical fundamentalism than traditional Anglicanism. It is judgemental and exclusive ... the exact opposite of the Anglican tradition. It's view of God is dark, defined by a theology plucked from 1600's, and finding little to celebrate in lives in our 21st century world. A recent meeting of what remains of the Lawrence 'diocese' committed itself to the prevailing theology in England in 1571, somehow implying that, for the 550 years, God has stopped revealing himself in his own Creation.
The gloomy and angry heart of the Lawrence political movement (or lack of movement) has become evident in the massive exodus of people from the pews of the parishes that tried to follow him out of the Church. Stalwart Charleston parishes like St. Michael's, St. Phillip's, and St. Luke & St. Paul have lost more than half their membership under Lawrence, while their buildings are deprived of the maintenance they need because of a lack of operating funds.
4. How did we get here?
Lawrence website 4.a "Conflict between The Episcopal Church (TEC) and the Diocese goes back long before our disassociation in 2012. By actions of its Diocesan Convention (the people of the parishes gathered together) we voted collectively, and repeatedly, over the years to differentiate ourselves from actions taken by TEC. The proof that our theological differences (and resulting practice) would no longer be tolerated in TEC, came when the attempt was made in 2012 to remove our Bishop. Only then did the Diocese, by action of its elected Standing Committee, affirmed by the chosen delegates at Diocesan Convention, act to end our voluntary association with TEC."
SC Episcopalians 4.a This is tired old rhetoric that is no more true today than it was when it was concocted six years ago. It's all part of the Big Lie.
Bishop Lawrence was not forced out of the Church. There was no attempt to remove him. His departure was a carefully self-scripted event that was in motion even before he was consecrated in 2008. The Church did not vote to remove Lawrence as the Bishop of South Carolina. He removed himself.
In 2011 and again in 2012, communicants of the Diocese complained to the Church's Disciplinary Board for Bishops that action Lawrence had taken in his official capacity were violations of his consecration oath. There were no complaints about his theology or his sense of superiority over other devout Christians in his belief in the Bible.
The complaint was dismissed in 2011, but in 2012 it included the question of his secretly issuing quitclaim deeds to parishes, legally relinquishing the Church's interest in their properties. This time, the Board found three instances of actions taken by Lawrence it considered a betrayal of his oath as a bishop. In addition to the quitclaim deeds, it found that Lawrence had indeed guided the decision of the annual Diocesan Convention when it voted to sever its legal ties with the Church. In Church parlance, these actions separately and together constituted "abandonment of Communion."
Under the Church's disciplinary canons, Lawrence's ministry was "restricted" until he could meet with his colleagues in the House of Bishops to dispute the findings of the Disciplinary Board to explain his side of the story. His problem was that he could not dispute the factual basis on which the finding of abandonment was based.
Prior to the meeting, there appeared to be a consensus among the bishops that kicking Lawrence out of the Church would be the least desirable option. However, Lawrence fled and shortly thereafter announced that he was no longer in the Church.
Lawrence website 4.b "Every congregation of the Diocese was then free to choose whether it would remain with the Diocese or return to TEC. About 80% of the parishes and missions, by votes of their people, chose to depart with the Diocese (a process NEVER used by the congregations which remained in TEC.)"
SC Episcopalians 4.b Actually there were no parish votes to leave the Church, until after an hastily-convened convention in Charleston had already voted at Lawrence's behest to sever the Diocese's ties with the Church. By that time parishes were allowed to vote on leaving, loyal Episcopalians had been forced out, continuing financial assistance to wavering congregations threatened, and clergy informed that their "careers would be affected" by their failure to back Lawrence along with their parishes.
The 80% figure is largely bogus.
Lawrence website 4.c "The near immediate response to our corporate decision was the use of the Diocesan name, seal and other identifying marks by a ‘rump’ group, long prepared, presuming to act in the name of this Diocese. The legal tactics employed, not surprisingly, were the same ones previously used by TEC against other faithful congregations and dioceses across the country seeking to leave the denomination.
SC Episcopalians 4.c Lawrence always has trouble admitting that he is the one who went to Court and filed a lawsuit against the Church. At the time Lawrence filed that lawsuit, the continuing official Diocese of South Carolina did not even have a bishop, much less a legal team and tactics.
The corporate identity the Lawrencians refer to here is "The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina". The state Supreme Court justices ruling said in 2017 that the Diocese belonged to the Episcopal Church, echoing the same opinion provided by Federal District Judge Michael Duffy in a related insurance case.
Lawrencians 4. d "Our response in January 2013 was to ask the South Carolina courts for a “declaratory judgement.” The law at that time, and up until the 2017 South Carolina Supreme Court ruling, was clear. As incorporated religious non-profits we had followed all appropriate steps to change our governing documents to disassociate from TEC, and our names and properties continued to belong to us."
SC Episcopalians 4.d Actually, their response was to ask for a declaratory judgement ... AND Episcopal Church property and financial assets estimated to be worth more than $500 million. They followed all the laws they wanted to follow, but not the ones they had to follow. Congregations in the Episcopal Church own their own property, but hold them in trust for the Church and its local dioceses. In other words, the parishes are trustees and have certain legal obligations including not changing the terms of the trust without the consent of the beneficiary of the trust.
Lawrence website 4.e "We asked nothing from those returning to TEC except the freedom to go in peace. The original trial court ruling in 2015 affirmed that understanding of existing state law. It also granted a permanent injunction protecting our right to our names and trademarks."
SC Episcopalians 4.e It is true they asked nothing of the Church. They went directly to the courts to demand $500 million in property and assets. When the Church offered to settle in 2015 so everyone could go in peace, it was resoundingly rejected. When Lawrence first brought his lawsuit, his top people made it very clear that their goal was to "destroy the Episcopal Church in South Carolina."
5. Why had we appealed to the US Supreme Court?
Lawrencians. On August 2, 2017, in a divided (3/2) opinion, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that The Episcopal Church has a trust interest in some parish properties. That decision, if applied, would transfer the ownership of 28 church properties and the beneficial use of Camp St. Christopher to The Episcopal Church. This split decision overturned a lower court’s ruling, based on existing court precedent, that most of the churches in the Diocese, after successfully withdrawing from The Episcopal Church, keep their properties.
SC Episcopalians We have wasted too much effort explaining why the Lawrencians' tortured interpretation of the outcome of their lawsuit is manipulative and self-serving. Click here to read a solid explanation of why Lawrence's decision to appeal to the U.S, Supreme Court was doomed from the start.
6. Why did we disassociate from The Episcopal Church in the first place?
Lawrencians 6.a "The Diocese of South Carolina disassociated from the Episcopal Church (TEC) when TEC attempted to remove the Rt. Rev. Mark Lawrence as the Bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina. This was intended as the first step in the removal of the Bishop and taking control of both the Diocese and our parishes.
SC Episcopalians 6.a As noted above, no one tried to remove Lawrence as Bishop of South Carolina. He left on his own. He quit. No one tried to take control of the Diocese of South Carolina.
Lawrence website 6.b “The denomination has been redefining itself since the 1970s effectively evolving into two churches under one roof – a traditional one that embraced historic Anglican doctrines and a modernist one. In the 1990s, for example, TEC’s then-Presiding Bishop, the Most Rev. Frank Griswold, proclaimed that “truth,” is “pluriform.” This meant the church recognized no single truth, no single theology, no single pathway to salvation. He effectively said that one person’s truth is as good as another’s. And many of us found that to contradict everything we believe as Anglicans.”
SC Episcopalians 6.b Unable to engage in a credible and respectful dialogue with those they imagine to be enemies, the leadership of the breakaway crowd routinely takes to character assassination and outright lying to fan flames of hate against the Church. This is particularly true when they feel threatened by people with keen intellects and formidable command of Christian theology.
For example, Jim Lewis, one of Lawrence's top propagandists, often resorts to name-calling and demonizing to fan fear among the Lawrence faithful. Among his favorite targets are the faith and character of former Presiding Bishops Frank Griswold and Katharine Jefferts Shori.
During his tenure as Presiding Bishop, right-wing Church-haters had a field day degrading Griswold. Somewhere they came up with the idea that somewhere Griswold had said something along the lines of "Truth is pluriform".
No one seemed to know what that meant or why it was bad, so Lewis provided his own definition as "recognizing no single truth, no single theology, no single pathway to salvation ... and many of us found that to contradict everything we believe as Anglicans."
Spoiler alert: Bishop Griswold never said "truth is pluriform," much less proclaimed it, as Mr. Lewis suggests. However, it fit Mr. Lewis' political narrative, so he happily cites it in his talks and writings in the Charleston Mercury as a prime justification for the Lawrence schism.
Most likely, Mr. Lewis got the idea to make such an accusation from Lawrence ally David Anderson, a vicious and bitter critic of the Church, in a news story in 2004. In that article Mr. Anderson accuses the Presiding Bishop of believing that truth is "pluriform."
However, it is Mr. Anderson who says it, not the Presiding Bishop. Click here to read the article for yourself and see how Mr. Lewis took Mr. Anderson's words and made it look like they came from Bishop Griswold.
Most of ex-bishop Lawrence's followers have no idea who Bishop Griswold was, much less that he was a devout Christian and humble leader, who made the mistake of adhering to the Biblical admonition of "turning the other cheek" when it came rabid right-wing critics who used him as a punching bag.
If Mr. Lewis had wanted to be fair and straightforward with those who look to him for truth, he at least would have included this statement by Bishop Griswold in his diatribes: "Because Christ is the Word of God, it is Christ who addresses us through the word of Holy Scripture. Indeed the Bible broadly conceived is a sacrament: it is alive and active, sharper than a two edged sword because Christ is alive and active and truly present in the scriptural word."
Lawrencians 6.c “It’s true that we live in a nuanced, multicultural world, but traditional Anglicans believe in the authority of Scripture. For us, a belief in Christ is fundamental to the faith, not one of several optional paths to salvation. It is why we are Anglicans, rather than Unitarians or Buddhists or Hindus or something else.”
"In a 2006 interview with Time magazine, the [then] Presiding Bishop, the Most. Rev. Katharine Jefferts-Schori, a strong pluriform proponent claimed that to believe, as Jesus said, that He is “the way the truth and the life no one comes to the Father but through Him,” was to put God in an “awfully small box.” That denial of Jesus’ essential role clearly displayed the difference between traditional and modernist or pluriform Anglicans/Episcopalians.”
SC Episcopalians 6.c Nothing has provided more grist for Lawrencian propaganda than Jefferts Schori's suggestion that God might act in the world in ways that might be inconsistent with their own fundamentalist understanding of the Bible. They really hated her for not ruling out the possibility that God would let a few non-Christians into Heaven.
She did chastise fundamentalists for using John 14:6 as a means of polarizing the creation, and judging those whose experience of God might be different from their own. Essentially she said, that as a Christian, it was not for her to "put God in that awfully small box" by saying how he could and could not act.
Instead, she encouraged them to see that same passage as an "invitation to a new life in Christ." She even came to South Carolina a delivered that message in person.
She apparently was surprised that critics, like the Lawrencians, found fault with the statement since it's been said in various ways by many others including all the Archbishops of Canterbury going back to Michael Ramsay. Pope Francis said very much the same thing a few months ago when he suggested that salvation was likely not limited to Christians. Even atheists, he said, could find themselves in Heaven.
Jefferts Schori is a scientist who finds herself in awe and wonder at the Creation and the Mind of the Creator. She is clearly offended at the idea that she as a religious leader and a Christian is somehow empowered to pass judgment on those whose experience of God is different from our own. In her view, salvation is in the hands of God - not mankind, the Church or pious religious leaders.
According to Bishop Jefferts Schori, "My understanding of idolatry includes the assumption that I can know and comprehend the way in which God saves people who are not overtly Christian. I understand that Jesus is my savior, I understand that Jesus is the savior of the whole world. But I am unwilling to do more than speculate about how God saves those who don't profess to be Christians."
In the Episcopal Church we believe, as did St. Paul, that as in Adam all died, even so in Christ are all made alive. The idea is that Adam & Eve sinned and created a separateness between God and mankind. Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, and was resurrected to restore all Creation into new life with itsCreator.
In the Episcopal Church we believe that the Resurrection happened for all people, not just Christians. The whole world means everyone, the righteous and unrighteous alike... and that is not an easy road, especially for those of us who are convinced we are among the righteous!
7. Is it true that some parishes were able to keep their property? Which churches are they?
Lawrencians. The court ruled that eight [sic] churches had not acceded to the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church. The latter document contains the so-called “Denis Canon” which asserts that all parish properties are held in trust for The Episcopal Church. The congregations ruled to be free from that trust claim are: Christ the King Grace Church, Waccamaw; St. Matthew’s Church, Darlington; St. Andrew’s Church, Mount Pleasant; St. Paul’s Anglican Church, Conway; Prince George Winyah Episcopal Church, Georgetown, St. John’s Church, Florence, Old St. Andrew’s, Charleston and St. Matthias Church, Summerton.
SC Episcopalians Old St. Andrew's in Charleston was not allowed to leave.Nice try, though!
8. Why didn’t we accept the “settlement offer” made to our parishes in 2015?
Lawrencians : "This question is answered in detail here, but, in essence, the offer lacked proof of authority from TEC. The offer did not come with authority to bind all parties on the other side. TEC is the only party that claims a property interest in the parish properties via the Dennis Canon, yet counsel for TEC did not sign the offer. Counsel for TEC was contacted to request that they sign the offer and provide the necessary proof of authority. They never did either."
SC Episcopalians: This is lawyer-speak for covering your ass. Lawrence and his lieutenants were caught flatfooted and panicked in 2015 when the Church lawyers offered to give the 36 plaintiff parishes in Lawrence's lawsuit everything they were asking for.
The offer was made by the Church's attorney Tom Tisdale, with the full consent of the Presiding Bishop, to settle the lawsuit in a way that would give the parishes their properties free and clear, provided they withdrew their claim to ownership of the corporate "Diocese of South Carolina."
The dirty secret of the Lawrence lawsuit is that it has never been about the parishes. Its backers were interested in the Diocese of South Carolina only as a battering ram against the Church. The 36 parishes meant nothing to them except a source of funds to pay lawyers. Legally, the lawsuit could have been just as powerful if only one parish had signed on as a plaintiff, but 36 guaranteed a much bigger pot of money.
Lawrence's legal team turned down the offer on behalf of the parishes even before the parishes knew about it. This whining about the lack of a signed offer or the ability to bind all parties is silliness. No negotiation starts with a final, signed agreement.
Most of the pro-Lawrence clergy and lay people found out about the offer and its instant rejection from this blog. You're welcome.
9. Is there any hope for negotiations in future with TEC?
Lawrencians: If history is any indicator, this seems unlikely. The current provisional bishop of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina, the Rt. Rev. Skip Adams had this very same opportunity to negotiate a settlement with a departing congregation in his diocese of Central New York. He chose not only to reject the parish’s offer to buy back their property at market value, but sold the church building to a Muslim worshiping community at a lower price. Every public statement by TEC to date has made clear that their only goal in mediation is the implementation of the state Supreme Court ruling. “Reconciliation” means simply our surrender and return, without conditions, to TEC."
SC Episcopalians: The time to negotiate was before the state Supreme Court took up the case. Now that the justices have finished their work, there is nothing to negotiate. They settled everything.
New ministry. However, Bishop Adams' vision for the Diocese is to restore a full and robust Christian witness in every parish. If that is the desire of the returning congregations, they will have a friend in him.
Until now, clergy and attorneys for the former breakaway parishes have successfully used the courts to prevent him from speaking directly with the congregations they represent. However, he has invited those among the former Lawrencians to meet with him at three get-acquainted meetings across the Diocese later this month. If you or members of your congregations have particular concerns or questions about your parish's property that you want to share with him, this would be a good opportunity.
Hint regarding Skip Adams. Bishop Adams is a Scripture-based Christian who sees the Biblical story as a loving Creator eternally beckoning his wayward Creation to return and be reconciled to him. He sees this story fulfilled in the incarnation of Christ, and in his life, death, and resurrection. For Christians like Bishop Adams, reconciliation is the opposite of surrender or defeat. It as a step that leads to new life and new possibilities in Christ. This would be a good starting point for a conversation with him.
10. How is our standing within the Anglican Communion?
Lawrencians: "As a member Diocese of the ACNA, we continue in close fellowship with both the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (GAFCON) and the Global South Primates. We look forward to continuing in partnership with these brothers and sisters in Christ around the globe. The Diocese has received letters of support from Anglican primates around the world who recognize that we – like four other former TEC dioceses and at least 200 Episcopal parishes – have disassociated from the Episcopal Church over differences with its interpretation of theology, which many in the global Anglican community consider to be unorthodox. Our relationships with Provinces across the Anglican Communion are numerous and strong."
SC Episcopalians: In other words,'we left the real Anglican Communion when we left the Episcopal Church.'
Pro-Lawrence parishes were promised in 2012 that, after leaving the Episcopal Church, they would just head over to the Church of England and join up with them. That didn't happen, and today they are not recognized by the Anglican Communion as being part of worldwide Anglicanism.
The Communion has 39 provinces around the world. Neither you nor your congregations can be a part of the Communion if you do not belong to one of those provinces. If you live in the United States, your province is called The Episcopal Church. In other words, the only recognized Anglicans in the United States are Episcopalians.
The self-proclaimed "Anglican Church of North America" is a renegade Christian organization that has been repeatedly rejected for membership in the Anglican Communion. Its name is a hoax. GAFCON is not an official part of the Communion either.
not affiliated with ACNA, the Episcopal Church or any of their dioceses
South Carolina Episcopalians
An Independent Journal of News & Commentary for Anglicans