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Liberal Episcopalian Spins Actions of South Carolina Bishop Mark Lawrence

News Analysis

By David W. Virtue
www.virtueonline.org 
December 12, 2012

According to a local Episcopal bloggerhttp://scepiscopalians.com/Where_do_we_go_from_here.html in the Diocese of South Carolina, the diocese is adrift as Bishop Mark Lawrence's options narrow.

BLOGGER: With the conclusion of the 2012 General Convention in July, the Diocese of South Carolina has begun a muddled assessment of its future in a Church committed to the inclusion of gays, lesbians, bisexual, and transgendered Christians as full participants in its corporate life.

Insisting the embrace of such people is contrary to what God wants, Bishop Mark Lawrence has established himself as a highly visible field commander in what he has characterized as "war" with the Episcopal Church. Lawrence believes that sexual relations with persons of the opposite sex bring people closer to God, while sexual relations with persons of the same gender leads them astray. 

VOL: First of all, it is not what God "wants"; it is what He demands. His word on this is unequivocal. All seven references in the Old and New Testament clearly prohibit any and all sexual behavior outside of marriage between a man and a woman. And yes we are at war with the world, flesh and the devil and the souls of men and women are at stake.

BLOGGER: Speculation has been rampant about what, if anything, the Diocese should do in response to the actions of the Convention, which voted to allow individual bishops to authorize same-gender "blessings" in their dioceses. None of the options are without risk. However, there is one safe option that has not yet been put forward: Accept reality, declare victory, and bone up on the Great Commission Jesus gave His Church. The war is over, yet we continue to defeat ourselves. 

VOL: The war is not over. Spiritual warfare lasts a lifetime and Bishop Lawrence is one in a continuum of "field commanders" who have chosen to wage it and then chosen to separate from an apostate church. Think Luther and the Reformation. The Great Commission demands full undivided discipleship and the sexual constraints Scripture outlines.

BLOGGER: By any standard, the war has been very one-sided, fueled more by imagined enemies than any real threats to followers of Jesus Christ in South Carolina.

VOL: This is not a regional battle; it is a national war raging throughout the whole Episcopal Church that has seen five dioceses and more than 100,000 Episcopalians flee for their spiritual safety and sanity to safer Anglican pastures. The enemies are far from imagined. They are real and spiritually deadly. 

BLOGGER: Throughout the struggle the Diocese insisted it wanted a safe place to practice its own unique brand of Biblical literalism, free from "incursions" by the rest of the Church and unhindered by the practices or governing structures of the Episcopal Church. It wanted to be free to pass judgment on homosexuals and others whose encounters with God were different from its own. Within the diocese traditional Episcopalians have been marginalized, and their parishes are no longer influential.

VOL: What doctrines encompass "biblical literalism" would this blogger choose to accept or reject; the bodily resurrection, the atonement, the Virgin Birth? If Scripture says sodomy will keep you from entering the kingdom, then saying so (but not passing judgment on the person) is the right thing to do, not the wrong thing. It's a soul thing.

BLOGGER: In every respect, the Diocese has achieved what it wanted. However, now it wants to destroy the Episcopal Church in the Diocese by defrauding it of its property and resources, a quixotic venture that is proving costly and self-defeating just as it did in the four other breakaway dioceses.

As the War went on, its once lofty goals turned into mean, personal, and petty attacks. The Second Reformation began to look more like the Inquisition.

VOL: The diocese remains by title, the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina of which Lawrence remains the Bishop. He has destroyed nothing. The courts have already decreed that the properties belong to the diocese based on the All Saints Pawleys Island, SC decision. It has also been one of the most successful growing dioceses in the entire Episcopal Church. It grew because it had a very clear understanding of the gospel which the vast majority of dioceses do not have. Many are ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ preferring to talk more about inclusivity and diversity. The Second Reformation is underway and it is being spear-headed by the ACNA.

BLOGGER: When Lawrence became bishop, there was great enthusiasm and hopefulness for the cause. Diocesan leaders and their allies saw in the emerging struggle the seeds of a Second Reformation, and the return of Anglicanism to the narrow Biblical literalism of the 19th century. Their "war" would not only defeat the dominant liberal bias in the Episcopal Church, but propagate their own fundamentalist vision throughout the Anglican Communion.

VOL: Words like "narrow Biblical literalism" and "fundamentalist" are the hobgoblin words of liberal minds afraid to engage exegetically with Scripture or theologically with the real issues, so they throw inflammatory language at orthodox Christians and hope it sticks.

BLOGGER: Unfortunately, the opposing army was unresponsive. In spite of flurries of resolutions, years of grandstanding by Diocesan Conventions, and angry missives fired point-blank by the Standing Committee, the Diocese was not much noticed by the rest of the Church. 

VOL: The penultimate bishop of this diocese was the brilliant Bishop C. FitzSimons Allison who holds an earned Oxford doctorate (no other TEC bishop has one) with several books under his belt including the Rise of Moralism, which would answer the blogger's criticisms about fundamentalism. You wanna accuse him of grandstanding?

BLOGGER: The only meaningful reactions came from the Presiding Bishop, whose approach was non-confrontational and pastoral. When unnamed communicants of the Diocese initiated a review of Lawrence's actions in 2011, the House of Bishops' Disciplinary Board seemed to shrug its shoulders.

VOL: The PB is "pastoral"... That would be hysterically funny if it weren't such a flat out lie. Ask about her "pastoral" response to former Bishop of Pittsburgh Robert Duncan whom she kicked out the church and then had a faux trial, or to Bishop Keith Ackerman when she cut off his medical after he left the Diocese of Quincy and his wife has cancer. How wonderfully pastoral of her. (Sarcasm intended) or telling Lawrence that he had renounced his orders when clearly he had not.

BLOGGER: In the wider Church, the Diocese's allies became few in number. Even moderate to conservative dioceses were coming to terms with the presence of GLBT Christians in their congregations, and the pastoral challenges they, their families, and their children represented. They rejected the angry judgment of the Diocese of South Carolina that the Church was surrendering to liberal pressure groups seeking to legitimize that which in the mind of the Almighty is unholy and un-Christian. 

VOL: The issue was NEVER the presence of GLBT persons in church. I belonged to a conservative Episcopal parish for some 17 years and there was always a small group of homosexuals present and they felt right at home there. However if you believe that homosexual BEHAVIOR is wrong, it is the obligation of priests and bishops to speak up with all the warnings Scripture says about such behavior.

BLOGGER: On the legal front, the news was equally as discouraging. Challenges to the ownership of Church properties by breakaway groups were being handed down with nearly uniform outcomes against the rebels. In many ways these cases actually clarified and strengthened the authority of hierarchical governing structures like those in the Episcopal Church. 

VOL: Yes, the Dennis Canon has been upheld till recently, when it was overturned in a legal ruling by a judge for a Presbyterian Church in Oregon. This may have far reaching implications for The Episcopal Church. Furthermore, the national church never put a penny into building any of these churches, so why should the laity who poured millions of dollars into building them not try and protect the assets they bought and paid for? Furthermore, some liberal bishops have cut deals on properties. Think about NJ Bishop George Councell who cut a deal for a parish in Helmetta in his state. Everyone walked away happy. As well the evangelical bishop of Central Florida John Howe cut a deal with fleeing parishes without a nickel being paid to lawyers.

BLOGGER: Across the Anglican Communion, early and frenzied support for the Diocese dissipated. A proposed new "Anglican Covenant" to transform the nature of the Communion into a more disciplined, doctrinaire, and conservative entity was rejected in cornerstone Anglican provinces like Canada, the United States, Scotland, and even England. 

VOL: True. The liberals rejected it more than orthodox provinces, what does that tell you? The disciplinary Section IV was a bridge too far for liberals. They never had any intention of going for it. Even Mrs. Jefferts Schori said recently it was past its shelf life.

BLOGGER: The rebellion's fervent hope of a new Archbishop of Canterbury, who would throw the uberliberal Episcopal Church out of the Anglican Communion and replace it with themselves, seems increasingly unlikely. 

VOL: The jury is still out on the evangelical Bishop Justin Welby. Premature judgment is just that --premature. He does not have the power to throw anybody out. He can withhold an invitation to primatial gatherings if he so chooses. We are not Rome, we do not have a Magisterium.

BLOGGER: Breakaway parishes attempting to align themselves with anti-gay Anglican provinces in Africa have found far more discord and disconnect than they'd imagined. The Anglican Mission in America, a missionary arm of the Anglican Province of Rwanda with roots in Pawley's Island, severed ties with its African sponsor largely over miscommunications, allegations of arrogance by Rwandans against the American bishops, and cultural confusion over the word, "knucklehead." 

VOL: African Anglican provinces are not anti-gay; you might say they are anti-gay behavior. And yes, the AMiA debacle is a blot on the evangelical landscape and there is no whitewashing it.

BLOGGER: After ten years of conflict, clergy and former supporters are quietly drifting away from Bishop Lawrence. 

VOL: Not true. He has the full support of most of his diocese and a lot of outside support including archbishops and bishops of the Global South who, incidentally, represent the vast majority of Anglicans.

BLOGGER: The path forward for Bishop Lawrence is unclear and fraught with landmines. Years of self-inflicted wounds and delusions portends a difficult journey for his true believers. 

VOL: The way will be unclear for a while but things will sort themselves out. Katharine Jefferts Schori will undoubtedly do her best to make his life a living Hell with as many landmines (read lawsuits) as she can, but she will not have the last say. God does and will.

BLOGGER: Lawrence's future as a bishop in the Episcopal Church, if that is what he wants, is most likely not his to fashion. His insistence that the Diocese is somehow "sovereign" and not subject to the governing structures of the Church, and that he is the sole arbiter of what constitutes the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church in the Diocese has put him well beyond the bounds of the vows of loyalty he made at his consecration not even five years ago. 

VOL: Lawrence has no future in The Episcopal Church. He has left it. The "doctrine, discipline and worship of the Episcopal Church" is not the same as the doctrine and discipline of the Anglican Communion, nor of the truth of Scripture. It could be argued that it is TEC that has failed to keep the "doctrine and discipline" of the church. It is TEC that has become heretical. The PB cannot even affirm the full deity of Christ or the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

BLOGGER: His issuance of quitclaim deeds and efforts that have been made by rebellious parishes to cloud the ownership of their properties have put him squarely at odds with his explicit obligation as a bishop to protect Church property. 

VOL: His obligation is to protect the teachings of the church - the faith - not church property. That is secondary. The property issue will have to be tested in court. The Episcopal Church has already lost Round One.

BLOGGER: Many of his colleagues in the House of Bishop believe they cannot allow his rebellious acts to stand lest they be seen as precedence. According to one Bishop, "Bob Duncan didn't come close to doing what this guy has done." 

VOL: Jefferts Schori can't throw him out. He voluntarily left. He's already gone.

BLOGGER: Robert Duncan is the deposed bishop of Pittsburgh, who unsuccessfully tried to take his Diocese out of the Episcopal Church five years ago. 

VOL: He took most of the diocese with him. The rump diocese has been left with a minority of parishes and parishioners.

BLOGGER: Lawrence and Duncan have been close friends and political allies since Lawrence served in that diocese earlier in his ministry. 

VOL: Not enough for Lawrence to throw his lot into the ACNA.

BLOGGER: His extreme and out-of-proportion protests against the Church have even alienated many who were otherwise sympathetic to his cause. He'd likely have a soft landing post-episcopate, as he is fully vested in the Church Pension Fund, and would still have a platform for his views among the more conservative elements of the Anglican Communion. 

VOL: It was either/or. Either he stayed or he left. There is no middle ground, no soft landing. Furthermore no one knows the future. For now he will stay on as the bishop of the diocese.

BLOGGER: He has squandered the extraordinary goodwill that accompanied his election and consecration, and significantly depleted the financial resources of the Diocese largely by hiring an army of lawyers for purposes that have never been made entirely clear. The Diocese claims that it is the fastest growing in the country, but even by its own reports, membership levels are still lagging behind those in the final years of Bishop Salmon's episcopacy. 

VOL: Facts are facts. The diocese was and is a growing diocese, also one of the largest and most financially successful in the country. It will diminish for a time when the FORUM crowd is gone, but it will pick up again.

BLOGGER: Bishop Lawrence has generally surrounded himself with a cadre of admiring friends and advisors who uniformly reflect his Biblical literalism and hostility to authority. Lawrence has revamped key governing structures of the Diocese such that they are now little more than an extension of that cadre. The direction of the Diocese is generally believed to be directed by God through revelation to Bishop Lawrence, who in turn, shares it with the Standing Committee, then the clergy, then the lay people of the Diocese. 

VOL: And liberals don't? Los Angeles Bishop Jon Bruno has his gay and lesbian sycophants in spades, ditto for Bishop Tom Shaw of Massachusetts.

BLOGGER: Traditional Episcopalians in the Diocese, whose personal, political, and financial support sustained Lawrence's predecessors, have been kept at arms' length and not are unlikely to return to the fold as long as Lawrence is active. Though their numbers have diminished, they still retain much institutional history, and the wealth to revive Diocesan finances. 

VOL: I cannot speak to this. For the moment, it looks like the FORUM parishes are on one side of the ecclesiastical fence. The rest of the diocese except one - St. Andrew's in Mt. Pleasant -- is on the other. Time will tell about what traditional Episcopalians will do.

BLOGGER: According to two attorneys contacted by SC Episcopalians, Lawrence and his allies have used the past few years to engage in a coordinated campaign to defraud the Episcopal Church of its property at a level that rises to criminal conspiracy. 

VOL: That will need to be tested in court. What criminal conspiracy?

BLOGGER: Looking back through the history of the Diocese of South Carolina, it is difficult to find an episcopate more tumultuous, and less effective than that of Bishop Lawrence. 

VOL: This blogger should have lived in the Diocese of Pennsylvania under the tyrannical reign of Charles E. Bennison for a decade. He was hated by both liberals and conservatives. GC2012 pushed a canon through just to get rid of Bennison. This blogger doesn't know what he is talking about.

BLOGGER: Should he decide to stay on as Bishop, there is perhaps enough goodwill still available to him to steer the Diocese back onto a more productive course. He will have to work at it, and invest more of himself in getting to know his parishes and their communicants. This is a Diocese of extraordinary theological, demographic, and political diversity, and it has never thrived except under leaders who've been able to deftly weave that diversity into a common cause. 

VOL: That remains to be seen.

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