Ballplayers Doing Brain Surgery: What might have been done in & about South Carolina Episcopalians.

In case you have not been following events between the Diocese of South Carolina and the Episocopal Church, here is a short version: South Carolina is very traditional in terms of biblical interpretation and marriage. The rest of the Episcopal Church tends not to be. A conflict, brewing for quite some time, came to a head a week ago when a “letter of restriction” was placed on the ministry of their bishop, preventing him from any ministerial duties during the investigation. This triggered automatic disaffiliation clauses South Carolina had put in place. The accusations involve two old charges that were previously dismissed and a new charge of abandoning the Episcopal Church by giving Quit Claim deeds to the churches in their diocese. The Episcopal Church has canon law saying that church property belongs to the national church, rather than the local body that built it. This seems counter-intuitive to non-denoms, but that is our polity. The whole thing is presumably now headed to court where years of lawsuits will consume millions of dollars given to the work of God. The following is a response to many questions as to “What would you have done?”

Jordan Haynie, Candidate for the priesthood in Fort Worth (and many others) had the following question:

“I do not think the Episcopal Church is as big a tent as we claim to be, nor are we as big as we want to be. But I do not think that is the issue here. Bishop Lawrence and the diocesan convention of South Carolina were making the moves to make it possible for them to leave. How should the Disciplinary Board of Bishops respond to actions like that? What do you recommend?”

Hi Jordan,

Thank you for joining the conversation. I am excited for you in your candidacy to Holy Orders.

I will give you my best shot at where the people I know in SC were coming from. I think it will be instructive as to how we got where we are, and then I’ll attempt my best shot at what I hope I would have done…

I am not a bishop, presiding bishop, or member of the disciplinary board. Asking me to solve this problem is a bit like asking a basketball player to perform your brain surgery. I have neither experience nor training, so I am weighing in on a subject that is far over my head so I wade into these waters with fear and trepidation.

Although I am not someone with authority, influence or power, I am a person whose primary friendships in our church, outside of my own diocese, are in the Diocese of California and the Diocese of South Carolina. My connections are primarily relational rather than theological. I am convinced that the great people I am friends with in the SF bay area would really appreciate the great people I am friends with in Charleston…on every subject minus one. And vice-versa. As my connections are relational, any solutions I attempt would be as well…and would have involved being in one-another’s world.

I did not understand Charleston until ministry took me to South Carolina three times. Because I have spent probably two weeks there, at their camp, diocesan office and with their youth ministers, I understood where they were coming from. Because I am not from there, I understand where we are coming from and our institutional need not to “give away the farm.”

I was on phone or text with friends during each of their “troubling” decisions. I can tell you that my diocesan friends in SC: a) wanted to remain in the Episcopal Church (unlike the four departing diocese’), b) were convinced that they were being attacked by the larger church, c) had voices in their midst that wanted to depart and d) were making their moves thinking they had both insured protection for their place in the church and maintained their own internal unity.

To the outside world, it was Tom Ferguson’s slow motion accident in the print shop he wrote about the other day on Crusty Old Dean. I could see how what they were doing made sense to them as a way to insure their continuance in the church…and that it would have the exact opposite effect with the rest of the church. Then I would talk to our people going to meetings to respond to SC and beg them to give room. We would then respond in equally predictable ways to insure our position was protected. In the end, like Tom as a teen in the print shop, I am too removed from the levers of power for my opinion to have any influence whatsoever. Unlike Tom, I do not think this was the way it is supposed to happen. I am not enough of a Calvinist I suppose – I think we all missed it. All of us.

People keep saying to me, “This is exactly what they were angling for.” There were those voices in SC. I do not believe Bishop Lawrence was one of those. I may be completely wrong. But if I am, he and his staff are the best liars I have ever met. What motive would they have had for being dishonest with a youth guy from Arizona…on multiple occasions over a four-year period?

Jordan, you asked what I would have done. I would have risked everything for unity. I think that was actually what the Quit Claim deeds were for a bishop whose rectors said, “We are with you because you will sue us.” Put yourself in his shoes for a few moments: Pawley’s Island had already gone against the diocese – making them the one diocese in which the courts have not sided with the us. I cannot imagine doing what Bishop Lawrence did, but bishop’s are under pressures that people who do not work in bishop’s offices do not see. What I was told was that Bishop Lawrence made an attempt to keep his diocese together on collegial bonds rather than canonical ones-which is the diocese’ understanding of what the courts in SC have said they wouldn’t uphold anyway. Like I say, I do not think I would have done what he did, but I my experience of bishop Lawrence is that, like my bishop, Kirk Smith, he is a straight-shooter. He was quite willing to say things to me he could assume I would not agree with.

I choose not to read motives into people on either side. I find it uncharitable. What is public is that Bishop Waldo and Bishop Lawrence were in dialogue with the Presiding Bishop. That was why I used the counselor’s office analogy in my previous post.

I tend to give bishops the benefit of the doubt – mainly because I work for one. I watch my bishop daily balance the needs of the larger church, the needs of congregations, the needs of individuals and what he is convinced is his proper response to the call of God. Being a bishop is complicated and he does the best he can as a follower of Christ, utilizing his experience and wisdom. And in that complexity, someone’s felt needs are usually thwarted. Win-win is often hard to achieve in a world of scarcity. So I give grace in my assessment of bishops.

I am not a Presiding Bishop either, so I want to be charitable with Katherine as well. None of us know the pressures that she is under institutionally. I do hope that I would have had the patience to let the attempts at reconciliation with Bishop Waldo work themselves out before presenting the restriction letter.

So, if I were bishop I hope I wouldn’t have given the Quit-Claim deeds…and I might have lost all of my cardinal parishes. If I were presiding bishop I hope I would have let the reconciliation process go on-in which case, I am sure that there are institutional needs of the larger church being met in the timing of the charges that we are not privy to…and I would guess I would have had a high price to pay for that action as well. If I were on the disciplinary board I hope that I would have looked at what was going on, asked questions, listened, expressed understanding as to the pressure the bishop was under. I then would have pointed out our ability and right to step in, then affirmed their right to differentiate. I would have asked the bishop what SC could do to show good faith that they wished to remain with us. I would hope I could have started with the assumption that we are on the same team…and remember that most bishops don’t really want to be congregationalists and ask more questions and then ask for them to throw us a bone…specifically to use more care in their language and to begin giving to things in the national church they could support in good conscience.

Would any of this have worked? I do not know. Maybe not. I’m just a basketball player. You are asking for brain surgery and that is way above my pay grade.


15 thoughts on “Ballplayers Doing Brain Surgery: What might have been done in & about South Carolina Episcopalians.

  1. Hi Matt,

    I wanted to try to clear up a number of things from this and the previous posts that seem to me to be misunderstandings of the canonical situation. I think that one of the first steps to dealing with and moving through this sad circumstance is clarifying what actually transpired and why.

    First, Bishop Lawrence’s restriction is not at all based on his or his diocese’s traditional views on biblical interpretation or on marriage – those are matters of doctrine. This isn’t a case of theological progressives ousting the theological conservative. The certification of abandonment was very clear and specific that the grounds for restriction were “open renunciation of the Discipline of the Church”. Discipline, not doctrine, was at issue in this situation. It is fine for any parishioner, bishop, congregation, or diocese to hold and promulgate views like those that the Diocese of South Carolina, but it is not allowable for any cleric for violate the church’s discipline. In short, while we most certainly can extend the church’s roominess to those who disagree with the church’s direction, that is unrelated to the restriction issue at hand.

    Second, Presiding Bishop Katherine didn’t have an option to wait and let the reconciliation process go on. According to the canons [IV.16(A).1], once the Disciplinary Board certifies abandonment, she is obligated to “place a restriction on the exercise of ministry of said Bishop until such time as the House of Bishops shall investigate the matter and act thereon”. Her role is essentially just that of messenger, so once the board decided, her hands were tied.

    Third, the Presiding Bishop is not a member of the Disciplinary Board as one of your commenters suggested (although I think Susan caught this). According to Canon IV.17.3, this board has ten bishops, four priests or deacons, and four lay people. The roster that Susan posted is one short of the full eighteen, but all ten bishops are accounted for.

    Fourth, to say that the two charges previously brought were dismissed isn’t quite telling the whole story. Bishop Henderson, who is the chair of the Disciplinary Board, wrote at the time that the diocese’s actions seemed “to be pointing toward abandonment of the Church and its discipline by the diocese”, and that even though Bishop Lawrence supported them, there was insufficient proof at that time to convince the board that this equated to Bishop Lawrence himself abandoning the church’s discipline. Bishop Henderson then added that one “significant” factor in this decision was Bishop Lawrence’s repeated assertion that he wouldn’t leave TEC. When these actions came once again under scrutiny, the Board was presented with charges that implicated Bishop Lawrence himself – in particular, for failing to rule the withdrawal of accession “out of order or otherwise dissenting from their adoption, but instead speaking in support of them in his formal address to the Convention”. This second time around, the charge clarified that it was not (only) the diocese, but also and in particular its bishop, who had abandoned the discipline of the church.

    Finally, while it is certainly sad that Diocese of South Carolina has now officially left, the responsibility for this rest squarely on their shoulders. By presenting Bishop Lawrence with a ministerial restriction, TEC said nothing about South Carolina’s ability to remain in the church. They had drafted and passed automatic-triggering resolutions under their own volition. In a case such as this, the canonical process is the restricted bishop would have sixty days to refute the charge or recant (which would end the matter), or let that timeframe expire, at which point the Presiding Bishop would “present the matter to the House of Bishops at the next regular or special meeting of the House” for a vote on deposition [Canon IV.16(A).2]. Personally, I am not convinced that had such a vote taken place, that Bishop Lawrence would have been deposed (possibly, but not certainly). Yet even if he had been, TEC still would not have moved to eject the Diocese of South Carolina from its ranks. That separation is entirely a consequence of the diocese’s own resolutions that fire at the slightest hint of a canonical process. Though I cannot speak for individual Episcopalians with whom you may have conversed or liberal bloggers whose take is essentially “good riddance”, the church leadership does not want South Carolina to secede – that will mean nothing but heartache and money wasted on lawsuits. Despite what those uncharitable individuals say, there emphatically is room in TEC for differing voices. But those voices must choose to remain at the table. If they set themselves up to bolt at the slightest hint of ecclesiastical discipline, then it is disingenuous to play the role of poor victim being abandoned by the larger church.

    I’d be interested to hear responses to this, either from you or from your South Carolina readers. Have I misrepresented the facts? Oversimplified? Ignored actions that change the picture? If so, where? If not, how do these facts affect the statements made by the diocese or by those who would just as soon see the diocese go?

    Hope this helps clarify some things, and that you can get your readers engaged in these important discussions.


    • Hi Matt,
      I am still not finished with my back paper-writing, but before too much water goes under the bridge I want to respond to your well articulated comments…

      1. Open Renunciation: You say he did. The disciplinary board says he did. I am told the abandonment canon was written for people who had already quit the church. What bishop Lawrence has done by not opposing actions is surely not what those canons anticipated. He had a lot of people in his diocese who wanted to leave. What he said to me and to his staff was that he was doing everything he could do to keep his diocese together and inside of the Episcopal Church-even if it was as a bubble bulging out of the rest of the venn diagram.

      2. While the Presiding Bishop does canonically have to deal with an incident when it hits our desk, we are all dreaming if we think that 815 didn’t know that actions were occurring with the DBB. It is reasonable to assume that a phone call could have been made asking for any action to wait while reconciliation attempts were ongoing.

      3. I didn’t recall anyone saying she was a member of the DBB. I must have missed that. The universal rule of leadership is that you do not surprise the bigdogs. I would assume that she knew of their deliberations.

      4. The accession to the canons charge keeps coming up. Again, I am no expert in any of this, but I am told that the Anglican Curmudgeon blog once posted a list of several dozen diocese’ that lack accession to the canons, the constitution or both. That in itself does not seem to me to constitute abandonment.

      I would say your representation of the facts is accurate from a TEC perspective-which is what I said in my first post: Everyone’s actions make sense in their own context. SC was making moves that, in their mind, protected themselves from us. I think they thought that if they made it so onerous to attack them that the stakes would be too high and we would leave them alone. We evidently thought otherwise…and that the time to wade into all of that was now. I do not know why we chose the action we chose knowing the results that would ensue-but we did and their must be a reason. I am not privy to that information and have no idea what it might be, but multi-million dollar organizations do not do major moves with major repercussions without a cost-benefit analysis and an end game. We had a group of people making extreme moves out of extreme fear. They had no where else to go. In the giant game of kick-the-can they had built their fort. We said, “You can keep your fort, all we want is your captain.” We knew they wouldn’t go for that.

      I have no idea what that end game is or why we played the nuclear card now.

  2. Matt Hall, I agree to some extent with your characterization. The problem remains, however, that “I refuse to do what you tell me to do” is not abandonment; defiance is not departure. The proper and honest route to follow is to put this through a presentment to judge the question of whether Lawrence is actually obligated to deal with his parishes in a particular way, and whether in particular KJS’s declaration that no parish is to be allowed to leave with its property has any force.

    • I am pleasantly surprised that we agree to some extent — I know your name from other blogs, so it’s nice to (virtually) meet you. My concern with what you are suggesting is that the canons are indeed clear that all property is held in trust for TEC, so to assert otherwise and take legal steps to alienate the property is indeed a canonical violation. Bishop Lawrence’s disagreement is one thing — I think many people have particular parts of the canons they don’t love — but defiance is another. When he flouted the rules, he opened himself up to sanctioning.

      • Hello again Matt,
        I am speaking out of turn here and repeating what numerous people in South Carolina have told me:”Losing the Pawley’s Island case meant that we cannot keep our folks together legally. We will have to stay together out of relationship rather than rule.” Whether it will play out that the courts will decide congregationally or not, we shall find out. It sounds as if that was the legal opinion they operated under. Again, I am a source of third hand information on this, but the sense I had was that they increasingly felt pinched between their inability to make people stay and the movement of the rest of the church in a way that would make it impossible to keep their churches in. The rest of the church assumes that churches must stay in TEC. How would living in a diocese that had lost a case change your perspective? How would it alter the landscape and the decisions you make?

      • Matt, the problem here is in the interpretation of what holding such a trust implies. There is a tendency in the current conflict to interpret that trust solely in terms of property value, with the further implication that the agents of the church mentioned in the Dennis canon are specifically charged with maintaining that value for the church’s sake. But the canon doesn’t actually say any of those latter things, and the dioceses are not real estate holding companies.

        The interpretation that 815 is pushing is that the dioceses can’t dispose of property if the national church executives forbid it, and that they can only dispose of it in ways that those executives direct. That, again, is not what the canon says. I would agree that it establishes a “you can’t take it with you” rule, but it does not, that I can see, prevent SC from disposing of property as it sees fit. Now, I do think the quitclaim actions are questionable, though given the precedent down there probably aren’t necessary either. But I see nothing in the Dennis canon that prevents a diocese from giving away a property as it seems best.

        Beyond any of this, though, is the more basic problem that 815’s approach to this is blatantly in opposition to what Jesus teaches. This is some sermon-on-the-mount stuff here. I am absolutely sure that Jesus didn’t say, “if a man takes your coat, find a court and sue his pants off.”

        • Ok, you know far more about this than I. I know just enough of our canons to meet ordination requirements. So I have a few questions:

          btw, I agree wholeheartedly that suing one another’s pants off is certainly hard to square with what Jesus said (and Paul).

          I am trying to read between the lines here…Are you making the assumption that the St. Andrew’s departure is the precipitating factor for all of this? Or the quit claim deeds?

          I am hard pressed to see how letting properties go is “holding them in trust.” -And this is coming from someone who has said repeatedly, I am in favor of giving as much latitude as possible to keep people at the table.” Can you help me with this? How could a bishop release properties in a way that was in the interest of the whole?

          I ask that honestly. As you know, I am not on the party-bus with those who are saying, “We didn’t make them leave, they took their toys and went home.” It has always looked to me like their strategy was to appear strong and try to make it so onerous to mess with them that the rest of the church left them alone…the little guy on the playground scowling to get other kids to leave him be. I always thought that was a strategy that would virtually insure trouble for them. I do not think their intent was departure.

          Also, is there a canonical way around the charges? Is there a way for the HOB for example to go to Charleston and say something to the effect of: “Here is where this is going if we stay on this road: Everyone is going to waste millions. We will win the cases and all be broke and all be smaller and all be off the mission of the gospel. In the end, we still see you as Episcopalians and do not want to give our buildings to others, so you will end up back in the buildings because you are us and we will give you the keys when we are done anyway. Except that the wheels will have ground to a halt everywhere as we spent a decade wrapped up in this. So lets figure out how to keep the money given for the Gospel working for the Gospel rather than the lawyers. We are going to let you be a bubble in our Venn diagram, you are going to give to message-driven missions that you endorse through 815.”

    • Hi Charles,
      Are you saying that the real issue is St. Andrew’s being allowed to depart unopposed?

      I think your “defiance is not departure” statement is spot on. They are defiant. They hadn’t left.

      I still do not know why that wasn’t ok, given our roominess for all kinds of theological meanderings we have tolerated.

  3. I think the problem with that characterization is that it fails to take into consideration the context. As others have pointed out, there are many bishops who could be cited for abandonment of communion if we took seriously what our canons and our prayer book says about things like Communion before Baptism. I recognize that what the bishop has been charged with abandonment over discipline rather than doctrine, but it is the disagreement over doctrine that motivates those who brought the charges against him in the first place. The very thing that South Carolina was reacting against, the secretive and extreme nature of the new disciplinary canons, is what has now been used against them. There is a legitimate disagreement here about what the “discipline” of this church actually is, just as there is a legitimate disagreement about what our doctrine actually is, RE things like marriage. It makes very little sense to me why we would up-end that conversation to go after one particular bishop, other than because he is an easy target. After all, half the bishops on the disciplinary board come from dioceses where their constitutions either do not accede to the canons or do not accede to both constitution and canons and yet somehow no one has seen fit to bring charges against them.

    • Hello Fr.
      As I recall, South Carolina was the diocese that reacted vehemently to the new disciplinary canons when they were made public. At the time they said, “They will use these to come after our bishop.” I thought that they were being paranoid. They made decisions to about the accession clauses specifically in response to those canons.

      Is that the case that half the bishops do not have accession clauses? Because that would make a strong case that it is doctrine that caused the questions of discipline.

      • If you believe the blogosphere, everyone understood that the purpose of the changes was to make it easier to keep another diocese from leaving, that is, to execute a coup against the diocesan structures so as to make the subsequent legal battle go more easily. And everyone knew that the target was South Carolina.

        And it hardly matters about the accession clauses. Selective prosecution has been a nasty problem ever since Cy Jones was removed from Montana; nobody is going to go after a liberal diocese for any irregularities. The polity is badly broken because, in practice, it only functions in one direction: it is increasingly hard to get the church to maintain adherence to any orthodox/traditional point of theology, but the national church is willing to bring legal force upon those who resist that drift. Part of Lawrence’s problem, I gather, is that the St. Mark’s Chapel which is at the focus of the current fight was formed by Lawrence’s opposition specifically to get an unorthodox toehold in the diocese.

        As to the trust, and letting properties go: bishops are consecrated, not just for dioceses, but for the whole church. And as the sort of protestants that we are, “whole church” has to be construed as including not just our denomination or even the Anglican Communion, but Christendom as a whole. I do not see that The Church is helped out by our hierarchy trying to put itself in the position of a perceived tyranny that begs to be thrown off, or spending a lot of money to retain a property which is not of actual value to us. Take the case of Good Shepherd, Binghamton: what ever I think of Matt Kennedy (and he grates on me), I don’t see the outcome as a win for the Church, or even for the denomination. The diocese had no use for the building, and indeed it’s hard to see a more ironic fate for it than that it has been sold to the Muslims, for crying out loud. Meanwhile the parish continues, minus whatever legal costs were incurred and whatever time wasted and whatever ill-will generated all around. I cannot see any way that the millions spent in litigation are going to get the Episcopal Church anything more than some salve to the wounded pride of various of its members.

        • Every time you comment it is extremely interesting. I am not much of a conspiracy theorist because I think people like to be “in the know” and talk too much…especially in the age of Twitter & Pinterest. Now we don’t just hear about it-we get to see if for ourselves!

          The word in our office was that title IV was to go after another bishop, whose name I will not mention, who covered up malfeasance earlier in his career as a parish priest. That person I believe is a progressive.

          Cy Jones is before my time. I had never heard his name. It does seem that we have a very uneven enforcement, especially with the latest wave against the other bishops. It seems that conservatives are welcome as long as there is no boat rocking. As my two African American friends who preach with me at St. Judes said when I explained what is going on, “Conservatives are welcome…quietly and at the back of the bus.” I immediately tried to defend TEC and they smiled patronizingly at me. They think I am pretty naive.

          I cannot imagine the thought process that leaves us thinking that our churches (planted by groups named things like “Society for the propagation of the gospel”) are better off belonging to Muslims than people who use our prayer book but think we are mistaken on sexuality.

          We live in interesting times.

          It does feel as if we have fallen into a weird Girardian world. Do people with their hands on the national wheels of power realize the way this all appears to be a Progressive pogrom? Are we merely an addiction to conflict?

          A valid question is at what point will we have been sufficiently purged of undesirables? I had a friend, a very influential priest nationally, say recently, “When I started as a priest I was on the left. Now, without changing a position in my 25 ordained years, I am the exposed right flank. I am still pro women’s ordination. Still pro same sex blessings. Still a Democrat. But I am considered a dangerous conservative.”

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