South Carolinians say diocesan actions were ‘too far out of bounds’

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
Posted Oct 18, 2012

[Episcopal News Service – New Brunswick, New Jersey] The 12 lay people and two priests who filed complaints with the Episcopal Church’s Disciplinary Board for Bishops alleging that the Diocese of South Carolina Bishop Mark Lawrence had abandoned the Episcopal Church said Oct. 18 that they filed those complaints “with great deliberation” because certain actions he and other diocesan leaders took “seemed to be going too far out of bounds.”

Their statement came in a press release issued just after an attorney who worked with the 14 people had e-mailed a letter to Lawrence about their action. That letter, also e-mailed to Episcopal News Service, notes that they have made their names public “as a courtesy to you, so as not to have secrecy surrounding the action.”

Melinda A. Lucka, an attorney in the Charleston, South Carolina, area and an active communicant in the diocese, said in the letter that the complainants “do not want possible misunderstandings” and stressed that no one from elsewhere in the Episcopal Church encouraged or initiated the complaint.”

The 12 lay communicants include: Robert R. Black, Margaret A. Carpenter, Charles G. Carpenter, Frances L. Elmore, Eleanor Horres, John Kwist, Margaret S. Kwist, Barbara G. Mann, David W. Mann, Warren M. Mersereau, Dolores J. Miller, Robert B. Pinkerton, M. Jaquelin Simons, Mrs. Benjamin Bosworth Smith, John L. Wilder and Virginia C. Wilder. The clergy who were named are the Rev. Colton M. Smith and the Rev. Roger W. Smith.

It was announced Oct. 17 that the disciplinary board had certified to Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori that Lawrence had indeed abandoned the Episcopal Church “by an open renunciation of the discipline of the church.”

The diocese said in an Oct. 17 statement on its website that the board’s action “triggered two pre-existing corporate resolutions of the diocese, which simultaneously disaffiliated the diocese from the Episcopal Church and called a special convention.” That convention will be held Nov. 17 at St. Philip’s Church, Charleston.

The disaffiliation resolution, passed by the diocesan Standing Committee on Sept. 18 is here.

The church’s Executive Council discussed the South Carolina situation during a very brief executive session on the final day of its regularly scheduled meeting Oct. 15-18. Jefferts Schori said during a press conference just before the close of the meeting that she is “still hopeful that we can find a way for South Carolina to remain part of the Episcopal Church.”

In their press release, the 14 people asked for prayers “for the bishop and all involved,” and stressed that “there is definitely a place for orthodox and evangelical views within the diocese; that’s the beauty of being under the large tent of the Episcopal Church.”

“However, viewpoints and practices in the diocese began to take large leaps away from the broader church when various actions took place,” the complainants said. “Severing the legal connections to the governing laws of the church and essentially forming a new corporate entity, outside of the Episcopal Church by changing the diocesan corporate purpose statement to no longer accede to the constitution and canons of our church seemed to be going too far out of bounds.”

“The hope of these individuals is that the diocese will continue to be a home for all Episcopalians to worship and live together in God’s love through Jesus Christ.”

Lucka requested on behalf the 14 people that the disciplinary board look in various actions Lawrence had taken or encouraged over the past two years. She said in the release that she asked the board “if it could make a determination as to whether or not the actions were consistent with the mission and polity of the Episcopal Church.”

Generally, names of individuals who initiate these requests are held in confidence through privacy provisions of the Episcopal Church’s canons, the release said. “However, the complainants in this request gave their approval to allow themselves to be made known to the bishop,” the release said, “as a courtesy to Bishop Lawrence, so as not to be cloaked in a shroud of secrecy.”

The complainants hope that their disclosure “will prevent any suppositions that may be asserted in the upcoming days or weeks that the Episcopal Church may have initiated or encouraged the filing of this request,” the release said.

The complainants said they also wanted to clarify that although most of them are members of the Episcopal Forum of South Carolina (an organization of what the release called “mainstream Episcopalians”), “this was not an action taken by the forum or its board.”

“In addition to the individuals who made this request, there are many, many other loyal Episcopalians in the diocese who felt strongly that Episcopal Church officials should review the bishop’s actions,” the release said.

ENS coverage of the Oct. 17 announcement is here.

— The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor/reporter for the Episcopal News Service.


Comments (44)

  1. John Poynter says:

    We all knew that Bishop Lawrence would be up to these kinds of shenanigans when he was showed his colors in the actions of the Bishop of the San Joaquin, John David Scofield, which was why he was elected Bishop of South Carolina. Leaving the Episcopal Church was part of the deal in the first place.

    1. Mark Nilsen says:

      Funny – I seem to remember that Father Mark Lawrence openly admitted that he had no desire to take SC out of TEC, which was the only reason that he was finally consented to by the Dioceses of the Episcopal Church to become the Bishop of SC. South Carolina has always been faithful to the Gospel as it has been passed down thru the ages (and was a founding member of the Episcopal Church) It has maintained the faith once delivered since before their was an Episcopal Church, and the majority of the diocese is just fine with that. Otherwise, they would have opposed and changes made at the last two conventions.

      This is the doing of a small minority of people in the diocese who have now forced this down the majorities throats. If the powers that be in TEC had really wanted to avoid this instead of making threats and rehashing complaints, they should have sat down with the Bishop in honesty. Instead, as usual, they smiled and talked nice, while plotting to bring down +Lawrence and make corrections to South Carolina’s faithful. TEC attacked the Bishop and the Godly people of South Carolina. And unlike other area’s of the country, this Diocese can leave TEC with their properties with the blessing of the South Carolina Supreme Court.

      I pray for you and your family Bishop Lawrence. God’s speed and hold the course, for the Holy Spirit will guide you correctly.

      Mark Nilsen

  2. Dr. John E. Waters says:

    Congratulations to Bishop Mark Lawrence for his character and the strength of his Biblical convictions. Many of our ancestors who came to South Carolina were Anglican – though current families may be associated differently now. As such, many of us still feel connected through our religious Anglican roots. Historically, South Carolinians have born political and spiritual heros who were brave and as willing to go against the tide of tyranny as they were against error in biblical praxis. Mark Lawrence is such a man. When men fail to speaks up, matters of faith and doctrine drift from orthodoxy allowing the barnacles of easy believism to alter the course of the church of Jesus Christ. Keep the course, Bishop Lawrence, and thank you.

  3. Don Allen says:

    So the complaints of a few people and two priests out of thousands was enough for this complaint to go forward. No wonder the DoSC voted against the process. It reeks.

  4. Please. This is an attempt to finally expel an orthodox Christian witness from the Episcopal Church as well as an attempt to steal a great deal of real estate that TEC will never be able to use again and will eventually have to sell to God only knows who. Any attempt to spin this as anything else is patently ridiculous.

  5. The Rev. Everett Lees says:

    I simply point to Bishop Dorsey Henderson’s comments, “It is also significant that Bishop Lawrence has repeatedly stated that he does not intend to lead the diocese out of The Episcopal Church—that he only seeks a safe place within the Church to live the Christian faith as that diocese perceives it.”

    When we say we are an inclusive church we don’t really mean it at times. A true inclusive church wants liberals and conservatives. We already live in a culture where we flock to people who look, act, vote, think like us…I guess my dream the church would be different than the culture is silly.

    1. Rebecca Alford says:

      Sadly The Bishop has decided that we should not be “indiscriminately inclusive”. He is professing that we should be bigoted and reject certain member of society if they seek to worship with us. That is certainly NOT what TEC is about. Love others as Christ loved us. They say it every Sunday, but they don’t really mean it. The need to add “well except for this list of undesirables who don’t think, look or act like us”. The same argument was tried during slavery, women’s right to vote, civil rights and the admission of women and blacks as priests. TEC has always been on the right side of history and a leader in doing what is morally and legally right. Once again, someone is trying to keep us from doing that and being on the right side of history. I have a dream for that inclusive church too Rev Lees. I hope to live to see it in my lifetime. Other American Episcopalians can enjoy this, but not in the Eastern or Coastal Regions of SC. We are not all following Mark Lawrence, but sadly have no place to attend services so we practice our faith at home. Hopefully the courts and TEC will evict the non-Episcopalians from our properties and we can once again become completely inclusive and LOVE ONE ANOTHER AS CHRIST LOVED US.

      1. David Yarbrough says:

        Loving one another as Christ loves us requires the ability to speak the truth in love – not to ignore Biblical truth in order to achieve “inclusiveness”.

        Hospitality – “radical welcome” – does not involve turning our backs on God’s word but doubling down on proclaiming it, teaching it, and living it with integrity. Affirming the infinite value of all persons in the eyes of God doesn’t mean affirming every sinful behavior.

        And the Episcopal Church, like every other institution operated by sinful human beings, has no claim on “always being on the right side of history”. Whatever God has done through it is typically done in spite of its human agents.

        Maybe – just maybe – when TEC figures this out and starts to preach the entire word of God, the continual decline in the Church will end, and the Church can lead the way to the Third Enlightenment.

        That, Ms. Alford, is MY dream.

  6. Carol McRee says:

    No doubt that the Episcopal Forum was behind these allegations. If they are so wanting to be open why only now admit as to who the complainants are? Why not after the first set of allegations? Only took them three tries to make the faux charges to stick. Hope they are happy now. God bless our godly bishop, The Right Rev. Mark Lawrence!

    Many, many other Episcopalians in the diocese who feel the same way? Doubtful. Look at the votes of the last couple of conventions- resolutions have passed with huge majorities! Maybe a handful – no more than a few percent of the diocese- would agree with the Forum’s actions.

    1. Hugh Magee says:

      This seems a curious way to be “orthodox”!

  7. Sam Chesnutt says:

    God bless our Bishop Lawrence and the members of the standing committee who follow the Biblical scriptures and are not lead astray by secular teachings.

  8. Thomas Andrew says:

    The actions of this supposedly Christian denomination are truly shameful. The Gospel has been truly lost here.

    1. David Yarbrough says:

      Are you referring to the Diocese of South Carolina or ECUSA?

      Clearly ECUSA has lost sight of its Biblical mission and has turned into an agency of social progressivism, no different from the Unitarians and the United Church of Christ.

      1. Why is it that conservative Episcopalians think that social progressivism, Unitarianism, and the United Church of Christ are “bad” labels they can stick on their opponents.

        Given the strong social justice and social progressivism stands taken in the Bible, it seems to me that being “an agency of social progressivism” would be very Biblical. After all, the Bible is full of very challenging social justice messges. “Blessed are the poor for theirs is the Kingdom of God” means in modern terms that any economic system where there is systemic injustice and economic exploitation that only the homeless and truely destitute are innocent.

  9. The Rev. Canon Will Mebane says:

    Gives thanks to G_D and prays for Robert R. Black, Margaret A. Carpenter, Charles G. Carpenter, Frances L. Elmore, Eleanor Horres, John Kwist, Margaret S. Kwist, Barbara G. Mann, David W. Mann, Warren M. Mersereau, Dolores J. Miller, Robert B. Pinkerton, M. Jaquelin Simons, Mrs. Benjamin Bosworth Smith, John L. Wilder and Virginia C. Wilder, the Rev. Colton M. Smith and the Rev. Roger W. Smith. May G_D grant them peace and courage.

    1. David Yarbrough says:

      May GOD grant them His wisdom to repent of their error.

  10. nancy Golson says:

    I now worship in Georgia because it became apparent that I needed to be a closet Episcopalian to remain a member of the Church of the Cross in Bluffton. I predicted that Chuck Owens had been ordained and placed in Bluffton by Bishop Salmon to take the congregation out of ECUSA shortly after his arrival and all of his “I will discern who may serve” instead of “congregation may choose from all who wish to serve” changes were implemented. Yes, there are many, many others who feel the same way as the Reverend Roger Smith,et al. May we all strive to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

  11. John Kirk says:

    “There is definitely a place for orthodox and evangelical views within the diocese.”

    Those who filed the complaint don’t seem to appreciate the irony of this. God pour out His Grace on Bishop Lawrence and the orthodox under his care. May they make their way in sure certainty that they walk in the Light, toward the Light.

    1. Fr. Michael Neal says:

      Well stated John, God bless……………………………..

  12. Susan Thomas says:

    We were looking to buy a second home to become our retirement home in the greater Charleston area. As Episcopalians, we were dismayed to find such a schism in the area. We ended up buying our home in the Diocese of North Carolina to avoid these contentious issues.

    1. Gloria Starns says:


      We were considering retirement in Charleston until this incident came to light, and like you, have decided that South Carolina is not a place we wish to spend what remains of our lives. Our Lord most certainly displayed righteous indignation from time to time–but I do not recall anywhere in the scriptures where he did so for the cause of bigotry.

      1. So disagreement is bigotry? Good to know.

  13. Robert T. Dodd says:

    Ms. McRae: If South Carolina’s diocesan convention, like Albany’s, is skewed toward conservative programs and speakers, it’s no wonder voters and votes lean hard right. Plenty of progressive folk just stay home.

    1. David Yarbrough says:

      Diocesan conventions are meetings of the elected representatives of the parishes. While they aren’t held behind closed doors they aren’t “town hall” meetings. There’s been no attempt by SC parishes to abandon Diocesan Convention – nor, given the growth of the parishes in the Diocese, is there a wholesale exodus of parishioners.

      Mr. Dodd, this isn’t New York State, it’s low country South Carolina, one of the most conservative areas of the country, socially and theologically. Progressive folk are simply a tiny minority in this part of the country.

  14. Why is it that we have such a hard time naming what this is all about. It’s about a diocese that believes it has a God given right to ostracize and exclude church-going gay people. It has never been about anything else. The split started at least 14 years ago when this diocese codified for itself the non-binding Lambeth resolutions of 1998. The leadership of this diocese, rather than being honest about what it opposed, reached back to it’s Jim Crow past and developed an entire lexicon of homophobic code words to use in defense of their defensless policies. I can assure you that in the diocese of SC the word “Orthodoxy” is to gay and lesbian Christians what the words “States Rights” are to African Americans. It is past time to bring this conversation back to what it’s about. Let’s stop using code words and smoke screens. And while everybody is praying for the former bishop, how about including a prayer or two for the thousands of churchgoing gay and lesbian Christians in my diocese who have felt like bastards at the family reunion for decades.

    1. David Yarbrough says:

      The Church is called to uphold the Biblical principles of chastity outside marriage of one man and one woman, and it cannot with integrity deny those principles.

      I frequently compare the Church’s reaction to homosexuality and homosexual marriage to its reaction to those who don’t uphold and practice the Biblical principle of tithing – which hits a lot of people closer to home. The Church doesn’t react with ostracism and exclusion to these people – neither does it affirm their manner of living as worthy nor offer its blessing to those who operate outside Biblical principles.

      All have sinned and come short of the glory of God. God does not affirm us in our sins, but loves us in spite of them, and calls us to repentance and amendment of life. The Church doesn’t have the right to reverse that call.

      1. John Kerrison says:

        Scripture and the Church do preach tithing. It does not ostracise people who do not tithe. All sinners are welcome. I will leave their state of repentence to Jesus.

        The Episcopal Church does affirm homosexuality. Scipture does not. We orthodox Christians do not ostracise homosexuals. You might need to go to Iran if you want to see that.

        You needs to go backs to Sundays schools and brushes up.

        1. David Yarbrough says:

          Mr. Kerrison, while the Church does not ostracize those who fall short of the standard of the tithe, it does not affirm and bless that state of life as worthy and compatible with Biblical Christianity.

          The Church affirms, and is moving rapidly to blessing, homosexuality as a worthy lifestyle compatible with Biblical Christianity. Scripture not only does not affirm homosexuality but proscribes it repeatedly.

          My point, which I have obviously failed to communicate, is that affirmation and welcome, and recognition of all persons as children of God, does not require denying the truth of God’s word or affirming sin – of whatever nature.

          And, as far as brushing up – my extensive Sunday School background (45 years tiimes 52 weeks of Baptist Sunday School, including summers and especially Easter Days) has been supplemented by extensive reading. (As a choir member, unfortunately my participation in Sunday School tends to be subverted by the universal desire of Episcopal choirmasters to rehearse during that hour).

          I commend to you a book called “Three Free Sins” by Dr. Steve Brown, seminary professor and broadcaster – even if you don’t agree with his viewpoint I believe you will find it refreshing.

    2. Here’s an idea, Charlie. How about you drop the leftist bumper stickers like “Jim Crow” and “states rights” and actually address the theological dispute here? Some of us might take you seriously if you do.

      1. John Standard says:

        I take him seriously, Christopher. What we’re dealing with is a Diocese that would rather self-destruct than submit their bishop to the discipline of the leadership of this church, the same discipline that all the other bishops are subject to. And all this because gay people are being made to feel too welcome. That’s not the glib makings of a leftist bumper sticker, it’s a huge theological problem, and the dispute he’s posing is simply this: a Diocese isn’t a martyr if it feels its blatant exclusion of others isn’t being respected on theological grounds.

  15. David Rowe says:

    Since moving to the Diocese (from England), it has been a pleasure and a relief to be under +Mark’s leadership. I’m sure I differ theologically from him in many ways, but he’s an excellent man and bishop, who is having action taken against him by a National Church which is comfortable with theosophical, Unitarian, and relativistic beliefs, but can’t seem to find a place for Evangelicals and other conservatives, whilst resorting to legislation and writ far too easily.

    I’m behind +Mark all the way on this one.

  16. Christopher Cleveland says:

    As a gay man who lives according to the virtues of the Christian religion i.e. chastity outside of marriage between one man and one woman, I fully support Bishop Mark for his robust and faithful support of the Faith even as it is destroyed by others from within. TEC is the least inclusive of all the mainline denominations. Liberals are the only ones welcome. Shame!

  17. Fr. Phillip Ayers says:

    I am heartbroken over this mess. In 1987 I spent a lovely three weeks in the Diocese of South Carolina, at Holy Savior Priory, Pineville, SC, when the brothers of the Order of the Holy Cross were there. It has since closed and the property sold to private enterprise. When I had a few hours between flights, I journeyed into downtown Charleston for a wonderful look at St. Michael’s and St. Philip’s churches. I have many friends from SC as well, including aformer seminary professor who has retired there.
    I try to weigh all the arguments and have great difficulty in doing so. I guess my prediction that “South Carolina will be next [after San Joaquin, Quincy, Fort Worth and Pittsburgh] to go” is coming true. Yes, there IS room in the Episcopal Church for all sorts and conditions of theological views, liturgical practices, ways of “doing and being Church” – but the bottom line, it seems to me, is the Church’s dedication to worship its Lord and to justice and mercy. Justice and mercy are incarnated in our being inclusive of all. And, yes, that includes conservatives and those who claim to be orthodox. I would invite such to consider, or re-consider, their definition of justice and mercy before they decide to bolt from the Episcopal Church. On the other hand, I do not appreciate the seeming heavy-handedness in the way some of these situations have been handled; but I have every confidence in Bishop Katherine and her staff and advisers to handle the situations amicably and for the greater good of Christ and His Church, His Body. Cannot something like what the Diocese of Kansas did with a “cardinal parish” that left be a model? I believe that entailed the parish paying the diocese for its building; much litigation was avoided as well.
    As Bread is broken at the Fraction of the Mass, so we are broken. I pray for healing and reconciliation all around us in these times. Meanwhile, let’s get on with worshiping in spirit and in truth, serving the poor, welcoming the stranger to our midst, and being the Body of Christ!

    Phillip Ayers

  18. Julian Malakar says:

    We should not forget that the TEC was born out of traditional Christian value fully compatible with the truth of the Bible. As a result Church increases many fold since its inception by Jesus Christ. History teaches uprooting roots does not bear good fruits.

    Recent doctrine changes under inclusion as publicized by TEC were made not to destroy traditional value of its entirety but to expand horizon of God’s love for entire human family. It sounds very good but sometimes it sounds too good to believe. Under present circumstances with exclusion of traditional believers by TEC it ensured that fear that all that glitters is not gold. The present circumstances show that the word inclusion has its boundary not because of trusting and believing the God TEC believes but because of its corporate laws. There is the catch 22 for present crisis, it implies that either you believe my way or leave my way. Under theology of inclusion, if there would have been godly love as preach, there would have way to accommodate them with change of corporate laws staying in core value to spread the Gospel of salvation for all mankind thru Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, which both groups traditional and liberal have common value.

  19. Doug Desper says:

    A few Sundays ago the reading from Numbers 11 was: “Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit on them!” The job of the prophet is to make a prophetic community, not just to be a lone voice. In 2008 the Faith Communities Today survey took stock of the prophetic community called The Episcopal Church. It indicated that only 1/3 of the Church was considerably or somewhat liberal. However, the past 12 years of General Conventions has given deference and accommodation to the liberal and revisionist priorities that have been shaping our faith and practice. Why is it, then, that the faith community of the Episcopal Church so easily deferred to the divisive liberal minority who have been at the forefront of testing the patience and loyalty of the other 2/3? I think that if we believe that “all the people” can become prophets then let us examine their fruits. Liberal revisionist dioceses have been trending downward in numbers, closing their cathedrals, and relying on subsidies. The Executive Council just approved a $785,000 line of credit to maintain the small remains of the Diocese of San Joaquin – this after the majority of that prophetic community left over the divisive theological stands of a minority leadership in this Church. If we believe that the Lord forms the Church into prophetic communities then let us examine their fruits rather than be dismayed when patience has been tested past the breaking point. We have arrived at the new normal for the Episcopal Church. This Church has split. Pity that the 2008 Faith Communities Survey wasn’t taken more seriously. We might have avoided giving such deference to revisionism in the name of “prophetic witness”. We must not have believed that the Lord HAD formed a community and that it was already speaking.

  20. Fr Bob Hector says:

    BRAVO. About time.

  21. Ronald J. Caldwell says:

    This train wreck was entirely predicatble. The churchpeople of the South Carolina low country are not substantially different than those of Georgia, or North Carolina or any other southeastern state. What is different is the leadership. Some two decades ago a very conservative clique began monopolizing control over the apparati of that diocese and imposed a top-down authoritarian approach excluding all other viewpoints. They brought in Lawrence from the original breakaway diocese, San Joaquin. For years, SC put itself at direct odds with the structure and direction of the progressive-moving TEC. One should not feel sorry for Lawrence, but for his hundred clergy and 30,000 parishioners who are now being forced to choose between following him into the unknown beyond or staying with TEC. Unfortunately, he has shown no concen for them. He has projected onto them the delusion that the whole diocese can leave TEC intact, property and all. Thus, the real victims here are the faithful people of the diocese of South Carolina. There is a lot more grief ahead for all of them whatever happens with Lawrence. That will be his sad legacy in SC.

  22. Juan F. Perez, Jr. says:

    I just wonder if we have forgotten that Jesus faced the same ridicule that so called “liberals” are facing when he questioned the Law. If I recall, Jesus was about inclusion. Bringing those who where on the fringe to partake in the ever inclusive Love of God. If Bishop Lawrence was not in agreement with the TEC than he should have taken a lesson from Jesus and not try to severe ties but find a means to create a space for dialogue.

    1. David Yarbrough says:

      Bishop Lawrence (and Bishop Waldo) worked to try to find a means to create a space for dialogue. Katharine Jefferts Schori and the TEC staff slapped them down.

  23. thomas mauro says:

    Let us ask ourselves: “What would Jesus do?”

  24. John Kerrison says:

    The truth is that none of these people give a hoot about what Christ would do or say. TEC is a joke, a pathetic joke. They are the ones with the power and are using it like Bull Connor. What institution has a kangaroo court, double jeopardy, negotiates in bad faith, anonymous accusers, and trial in absentia? What kind of values are these? Face it. All these people in the Episcopal Forum care about is power. All the TEC cares about is power. They are a bunch of cowards. They are a joke. If you love Jesus, you will hear his voice and work towards peace. Jesus did not compromise. Nothing ticked Him off more than religious hypocrites. In fact, it was those guys who formed a kangaroo court and staged a mock trial against our Lord. The jokes is on you.

  25. (The Rev.) Stephen Alexander says:

    Secession was a bad idea in 1860 and it’s not any better in 2012.

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