At the start of the month, I made the following statement regarding the Episcopal Bishop of Virginia’s “victory lap” in the Washington Post:
To put it bluntly, this is one of the most duplicitous things I have ever seen a man of the cloth put out. I’ve griped about the Anglican Fudge and how Episcopal ministers and bishops can talk mellifluously at length and yet say nothing, but this time it’s what he says that rankles.
Down the coast, we now have the following, from the liberal Episcopal Forum of South Carolina:
Has the Diocese of South Carolina left the Episcopal Church even though its leaders continue to insist that it hasn’t?
Traditional (sic) Episcopalians in the Diocese explored the meaning of this and other critical issues facing them and their parishes in a public conversation in Charleston Sunday afternoon, sponsored by the Episcopal Forum of South Carolina.
Bishop Mark Lawrence was among 100 members and guests of the Forum who were provided a number of perspectives on recent actions of the Diocese, particularly those related to revisions of the Diocesan Constitution and a wholesale giveaway of the Diocese’s property interests in its parishes over the past two years.
Led by a panel of seven speakers (including the author of this blog), participants were assured that the national Church leadership is very much aware of the actions of the Diocese and its controversial bishop, but does not yet appear to have decided on a response.
Stuff like this is why I thought that Lawrence’s counterpart in Virginia was duplicitous.
If it is the prerogative of the diocese regarding the disposition of the property, it’s also the prerogative of the diocese to allocate that property in a way that it feels it’s in its best interests. It may not be to the liking of the EFSC, but that’s what happens when you allow some “bottom-up” voice in the governance of the church. Put another way, if you don’t want people’s opinions, don’t ask for them.
In our current legal environment, there are good reasons why a diocese or other church entity would divest itself of local parish property. The largest one is that, in the event of litigation, with centrally held property (diocesan or church-wide) the entire entity gets sued. That’s why Roman Catholic dioceses especially hard hit by the paedophile scandals have filed for bankruptcy, although in some ways that’s been a firewall: had the property been held by, say the RCC in the USA, the entire American church would have been on the hook.
The real problem here isn’t diocesan integrity, but the fact that the Episcopal left, in the driver’s seat on a national basis, is pushing the church towards central governance rather than diocesan, which is why, IMHO, all of this blather about diocesan governance regarding property is just that.
If they want to see how a church which is really centrally governed operates, they should look at the Church of God. All of the Administrative Bishops are centrally appointed at the General Assembly, subject to rotation and votes of confidence by the ministers in the state/region. The property is likewise held centrally, which makes every piece of litigation (to say nothing of the property loans) a nail-biter for the whole church, although the day-to-day management of the property is left to the states/regions. But the Episcopal Church, until now at least, hasn’t been done this way.
And that leads to what is in reality the left’s central problem in the Diocese of SC: Mark Lawrence. Up until now they’ve tried to attack him based on a possible secession to another province of the Anglican Communion, and that has problems of its own. A more consistent solution would be to a) make the heterodoxy that dominates thinking in TEC as the official doctrine of the church and b) try Mark Lawrence and depose him as a “heretic” relative to that new “official doctrine”. They tried that in a back-door way with the difficulties he had in obtaining enough consents from his fellow bishops, but, like their real traditional counterparts fifty years ago re James Pike, they lost their nerve.
But nerve is something the current Presiding Bishop is not short of.
One cannot leave this subject without commenting on this:
EFSC President Melinda Lucka offered a lengthy review of the history of the Diocese’s rebellion against the Episcopal Church, and her professional legal opinion that the Diocese has acted illegally by relying on a 2009 state Supreme Court decision awarding a breakaway parish in Pawleys Island ownership of its property based on the issuance of a quitclaim deed in 1902.
This is about as silly as Barack Obama’s “campaign” to trash the Supreme Court in the face of a possible overturn of Obamacare. The court has spoken: what else were they supposed to do? In any case, the diocese had learned their lesson from the whole debacle and moved on.