Episcopal Church, SC Episcopalians reply to breakaway group’s lawsuit

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
Posted Apr 1, 2013

[Episcopal News Service] Legal documents filed in South Carolina Circuit Court on March 28 say that Bishop Mark Lawrence and those people who followed him out of the Episcopal Church have no authority over the assets or property of the Diocese of South Carolina or any of its parishes and have conspired to damage the diocese.

The filing by the Episcopal Church in South Carolina told the court that for more than three years the Lawrence-led group had “knowingly, deliberately, and repeatedly engaged in transactions that purported to transfer interests in real property contrary to explicit provisions of the Constitution and Canons of the Church, and contrary to solemn declarations, oaths, and subscriptions made by individuals who held offices in the Church and were and are among the leadership” of the diocese.

The continuing Episcopalians said that Lawrence and his followers “have publicly declared, and continue to declare, that their actions were not contrary to the Constitution or Canons of the Church, and that [the Constitution and Canons] impose no restriction or limitation on their abilities to continue to engage in such transactions.”

Members of the continuing diocese said in their filing that they are entitled to restitution of property and funds acquired by Lawrence and his supporters through what they say has been fraud, misappropriation, conversion, breach of trust and breach of fiduciary duty.

The Episcopal Church also on March 28 filed a separate document, known as an “answer and counterclaims.”

The documents are part of the legal response to a suit filed against the Episcopal Church and the continuing South Carolina diocese by supporters of Lawrence. Those supporters included 34 parishes who say they have disassociated themselves from the Episcopal Church. A 35th parish, St. Andrew’s in Mount Pleasant, is also one of the plaintiffs, although it claims to have separated from the Episcopal Church some time ago, according to a press release from the continuing diocese.

The breakaway group’s suit, originally filed in January and amended twice since then, asks the court to declare them the sole owners of diocesan and parish property.

The continuing diocese asked the court in its March 28 filing to prevent Lawrence and his followers from “transferring or purporting to transfer, or receiving any purported transfer of, any interest in parish property or diocesan property” in any way other than to return it to the Episcopal Church.

In November 2011, Lawrence either signed or directed others to sign, quitclaim deeds to every parish of the diocese disclaiming any interest in the real estate held by or for the benefit of each parish. A quitclaim deed generally transfers ownership of the property from the party issuing the deed to the recipient. The “Dennis Canon” (Canon 1.7.4) states that a parish holds its property in trust for the diocese and the Episcopal Church. The March 28 filing requests that the court void all of the quitclaim deeds

The court filing also asks that the Lawrence-led group be required to submit with 90 days of the court’s order an accounting of “all real and personal property, investments, bank accounts, funds, securities, and other property, and all proceeds thereof” that the group claims to possess or control. In a related request, the continuing diocese wants an accounting “all transfers, dispositions, acquisitions, and exchanges of or for any such property or assets, and all receipts and expenditures of or from any of such funds or other assets” during the time period beginning Jan. 28, 2008, when Lawrence was ordained as bishop of South Carolina.

And, the filing says the continuing diocese is entitled to “recovery of all damages suffered or incurred by it” because of the wrongful conduct of the Lawrence-led group. No amount is specified in the filing.

“We would not have chosen for this filing to take place during Holy Week, a time when all Christians are focused on prayer and reflection, but the legal deadlines have left us no choice but to respond in a timely way to the action that was brought against us,” the Rt. Rev. Charles G. vonRosenberg, bishop provisional of the continuing diocese, in the press release.

In its filing, the Episcopal Church answers claims by the Lawrence-led group and outlines the hierarchical governance of the church, including the ways in which dioceses are formed and dissolved; the nature in which all property is held in trust for the mission of the church and the vow that its ordained members take to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the church. The document claims the Lawrence-led group’s action violate both the Constitution and Canons and the Declaration of Conformity.

The Episcopal Church’s filing also asks that the Lawrence-led group be prevented from using the diocesan and Episcopal Church names and trademarks because by doing so it is confusing and deceiving people, and tarnishing those names and trademarks.

And it says that those people claiming to run the diocese and the parishes who have joined the Lawrence-led group are not qualified to do so because they are no longer members to the Episcopal Church.

The church’s answer and counterclaim asks the court to declare that the continuing Episcopalians constitute the leadership of the diocese, not the Lawrence-led group, and remedy the counterclaims it makes. The filing reiterates most of the requests made of it by the continuing diocese.

The Maundy Thursday filings are the latest in a multi-front approach taken by the continuing Episcopalians in South Carolina and by the wider Episcopal Church. In early March the vonRosenberg filed suit in federal court asking that he be declared as the bishop recognized by the Episcopal Church and thus having the authority to act in the name of Diocese of South Carolina.

And another motion in U.S. District Court asked for a preliminary injunction to stop Lawrence from using the name and marks of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina and from representing that his activities are associated with the diocese.

Just before Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori convened delegates of the remaining Episcopal Church parishes and missions at a special convention Jan. 26, the breakaway group was granted a temporary injunction banning the remaining Episcopalians from using the name of the diocese. That injunction remains in effect.

The order by Circuit Judge Diane Goodstein forced local Episcopalians to temporarily adopt a working name for their diocese so they could conduct business without violating the injunction. At their special convention they chose the name “The Episcopal Church in South Carolina” to use until the issue can be resolved.

The lawsuit by Lawrence and counterclaims by the Episcopal Church and the continuing Episcopalians followed a series of actions in later 2012 that resulted in the Lawrence-led group leaving the Episcopal Church.

In October 2012, the church’s Disciplinary Board for Bishops had certified to the Presiding Bishop that Lawrence had abandoned the Episcopal Church “by an open renunciation of the discipline of the church.” Jefferts Schori then restricted him from exercising his ministry until the House of Bishops could investigate the Disciplinary Board’s findings and act.

The day the board’s decision was announced, the diocesan Standing Committee said that the action “triggered two pre-existing corporate resolutions of the diocese, which simultaneously disaffiliated the diocese from the Episcopal Church and called a special convention.” Lawrence reiterated that declaration in a Nov. 17 speech to a special diocesan convention. He asked for and received affirmation from those at the Nov. 17 gathering of that departure.

In December, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said she and her Council of Advice agreed Lawrence had renounced his orders by way of his actions and statements by him in the fall of 2012.

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


Comments (70)

  1. Vance Mann says:

    I think it is so sad that in a country where there is separation on Church & State that the State will decide which group owns church property and who will be bishop of the diocese of South Carolina. In all of this the Episcopal Church is being forced to play by the same rules as the “break-away” group.

    1. David Yarbrough says:

      What’s sad is that 815 is attempting to decide for the people of the Diocese of South Carolina – the vast majority of members and parishes of the pre-split Diocese – who owns what and who will be the Bishop.
      It is tragic that the courts have to be involved – but 815 setting Dr. Schori up as supreme ruler and arbiter of the Church is no less tragic.

      1. Zachary Brooks says:

        It’s tragic that our brothers and sisters feel the need to leave our communion, and to take our silver with them. It’s tragic that they hate their fellow Christians so much that they libel us with accusations of apostasy and can’t even be bothered to call our Presiding Bishop by her rightful title. It’s tragic that they are so blinded by their hate that they can’t view the canons of our Church in any way that isn’t insultingly self-serving. It’s tragic that they can’t hand over the keys and leave with integrity.
        There is a lot of tragedy here, but it’s not in the Presiding Bishop doing her job against schismatics. Bishop Schori is only acting as an agent of the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, and it is a tragedy that she is vilified that.

        1. Doug Desper says:

          I’m sorry, Zach, but the “schismatics” aren’t those who feel compelled to separate. Those who fracture the Church are those who have repeatedly tested the patience and good will of the Church by ignoring canons, giving a pass (if not a blessing) to anti-Nicene, Christ denying teachings, and those who have elevated their own spiritual journey above the established teachings of the Church (again found in canons). Just look at a recent small sample of this schismatic behavior. Bishop Spong’s Newark diocese declined about 40% during his tenure, but he was invited by a Virginia diocese to preach at a Good Friday Service, during which time he treated the listener to such personal revelations as how Thomas and Nathaniel (Bartholomew) were likely mythical characters who “may have no more reality than Jane Eyre or Harry Potter.” Or how about the Bishop of Washington DC who recently blogged about the Resurrection that:
          “To say that resurrection is essential doesn’t mean that if someone were to discover a tomb with Jesus’ remains in it that the entire enterprise would come crashing down. The truth is that we don’t know what happened to Jesus after his death, anymore than we can know what will happen to us”.
          Facts are hostile witnesses; and today’s new media will not cover these types of leaders well for very long. Now, who is the schismatic: the one who holds the faith as taught by this Church and wants to retain the work of their own labor (property), or the leaders who wield control to shape a Church led by their own personal revelations who receive no restraint or discipline from their own colleagues?

          1. Marc Kivel says:


            Let’s be a bit more charitable, shall we? Whether or not Thomas or Nathaniel/Bartholomew were likely mythical characters – I was not aware that the Nicene creed considered that to be an essential of the faith nor is it beyond possibility that the names of the apostles were modified, confused, or assumed. And truly, if an ossuary with the bones of “Jesus son of Joseph” were found near the traditional tomb would you be of so little faith that you would suddenly decide the Truth was a lie?! The faith as taught by the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church is no narrower or broader than it has ever been…God does not change and while much is made over the differences of this time I notice that the BCP is still used, the Hymnal sung, the Scriptural Lessons read, and the Eucharist celebrated regularly among Episcopalians on both sides of “The Great Schism”…I find myself wondering if St, Paul’s advice to keep one’s beliefs to one’s self and God might not be profitable to all in the Church?

          2. Pete Meggett says:

            Well said Doug.

        2. Pete Meggett says:

          I like this concept that they want to take your silver and leave. I don’t believe any of the silver was given to TEC. My family was a member of one of the parishes that is still using the silver that was given to the church in the 1700’s. My 5th GGrandfather gave the land that has been used as a cemetery. Another GGrandfather gave several hundred acres so a church could be built in the mid 1700’s. The land that my father has given was given to the local group. Although the family had learned and the last time we gave land to a group it was to the local group not the national and it was set up that the land returns to the family if the use or group changes. This has been a bit long winded, but the comment about” our silver” rather annoyed me. I know that when we have made gifts to the church we have specified that it was to only be used by the local parish. My wife’s family has made major donations to a local church and I assure you they were with the intent of funds being used by the local and not national. So just that I’m clear on this why do you have the idea that this is your silver.

        3. Carol Anderson says:

          Excuse me. Can you tell me what you think Jesus would do? Aren’t these churches leaving to better serve Jesus? Amazing that in a “progressive” Episcopal church, the war paint is put on only when it comes to buildings and $$. I wonder if Jesus would mind if these churches kept their building to worship him, follow and serve him. I think he preached things about you will know the tree by it’s fruit. You really think Jesus would call for a law suit because they no longer want to play ball with a Church denomination that looks very little like the one started by its founding fathers? Why is there no problem tossing basic tenants of Scripture because they are “progressive”, but they will fight to the death on details about who gets the building based on a line in their by laws. You will know a tree by its fruit.

  2. Milton Finch says:

    I feel that Bishop Lawrence and his clergy should consider it an honor for it to have happened when it did. On Maundy Thursday. Christ’s foot washing, the dipping of the sop, feeding the piece to Judas, then Judas immediately betraying Jesus and turning him over to the law. What a wonderful blessing that Bishop Lawrence and those clergy stand condemned in the eyes of TEc. ( John 13) Bishop Lawrence fits into Matthew 5: 10-12 quite perfectly!

    I also love the reason given for the lawyers filing the papers. They said they were constricted by time so they had to file them quickly thereby the event transpiring on Maundy Thursday. Remember Christ’s words to Judas. “What you have to do, do quickly”.


    1. Zachary Brooks says:

      Wow, is that how you view their blatant disregard for Church canons and the unity of God’s Church? Persecution?

      1. Charles E A Johnson+ says:


    2. Marc Kivel says:

      Perhaps Milton you should go back and read the Letters of Paul about folks who come and try to lead the saints astray for their own profit…

  3. Bonnie Leazer says:

    Oh please Milton, let’s get real. It doesn’t matter when the filing of the papers took place, it was going to happen, and its all the esult of legal actions Lawrence and his standing committee took. This use of the Judas example is just an attempt to divert attention away from the real issues in this case that any intelligent person can readily see through. Mark Lawrence is not Jesus Christ. Actions have consequences, and now this is all going to play out, like it or not.

  4. Bonnie Leazer says:

    Oh please Milton, let’s get real. It doesn’t matter when the filing of the papers took place, it was going to happen, and its all the result of legal actions Lawrence and his standing committee took. This use of the Judas example is just an attempt to divert attention away from the real issues in this case that any intelligent person can readily see through. Mark Lawrence is not Jesus Christ. Actions have consequences, and now this is all going to play out, like it or not.

  5. Milton Finch says:

    Bonnie, this being actions within a church, one would think that we could look at the spiritual realities contained within the situation. I am sorry that those realities seem to be beyond your mental grasp, but that makes them none the less true and real. As the book says, if one is following Christ, one may expect the same attacks that came upon Christ to come upon those that follow Him. The spiritual is more real than the material. Here these words and take them to your heart. What you see is a spiritual parallel working itself out in the material world. Lord, forgive them for they know not what they are doing to one of Christ”s own!

    1. Zachary Brooks says:

      I imagine the thief does imagine he is being persecuted when the owner of the house calls the police on him.

    2. John Lawrence says:

      Milton–Please stop these absurd ad hominem attacks. They are unbecoming decent Christian discussion and debate. But if you want to get to the real issues, here they are: There has clearly been an attempt to usurp properties, finances, and resources both material and spiritual and convert them to uses other than they are legally and canonically set apart for. The Diocese of South Carolina subscribed to the Doctrine, Discipline, and Worship of The Episcopal Church when it was first formed as a Diocese in communion with that national body, accepted the episcopate from the national Episcopal Church in union with the General Convention, and, even after the Civil War, reaffirmed its identity as a constituent member of that body. Over the decades and centuries, buildings have been built, ministries have been authorized and ordained, and congregations have been nurtured, built, and continuously supported and provided with ordained leadership for, by, and through the national Episcopal Church. As a result, generations have given of their time, talent, labors, and family members for the building up of this local, diocesan, and national ecclesiastical community. There are clear, definitive fiduciary issues here that the Presiding Bishop and the General Convention (and their designated counsel) are morally and legally bound to uphold. It is disingenuous for people to attempt conversion of property or resources and then complain that it isn’t fair for them to be called on it. Their forebears deserve better, and so do this Communion and its members.

      1. Pete Meggett says:

        But if you want to get to the real issues, here they are: There has clearly been an attempt to usurp properties, finances, and resources both material and spiritual and convert them to uses other than they are legally and canonically set apart for. The Diocese of South Carolina subscribed to the Doctrine, Discipline, and Worship of The Episcopal Church when it was first formed as a Diocese

        Again I find the claims that the Diocese of SC is trying to take TEC property a amusing one. The idea that “The Diocese of South Carolina subscribed to the Doctrine, Discipline, and Worship of The Episcopal Church when it was first formed as a Diocese” That is not quite the truth. Our parish was founded long before there was TEC and even after the American Revolution we were slow to fall under the TEC. I believe that is was not till the early 1810’s that we had a Bishop and most of the churches in the diocese have always asserted their independence from the national. We have tended to be more Calvinist than other parishes due to the background of so many of the early founders. Our church was founded long before there was a United States of America and I find this a funny and strange idea that the property that so many of our local families have been using for over 300 years does not belongs to our church and parish. A dear friend who passed away a few years ago was a direct decendent of one of the signers of the Decoration of Independence and he really had a since of ownership of the church. At one point I felt that we should just walk away from the building and stuff and show that our true Christian Faith was the most important aspect of this ongoing fight. Yet the more I think about this why should I have to leave a building that my family was attending over 300 years ago. They helped to build some of these church’s in SC and I do have a since of ownership and knowing that one day I might also be laid to rest with other family members on the land we have been a part of since the mid 1600’s.

    3. Marc Kivel says:

      Milton, the spiritual-secular argument is a nonstarter…Neo-Platonist pagans may choose to buy into a spirit-body duality, but that isn’t good theology. Having been an observant Jew before becoming a Christian and a member of The Episcopal Church, I assure you that Christ Jesus would not be looking to Mr. Lawrence as a leader or representative nor would he have much use for folks who seem to make their “yes” into “no” when it suits their politics and break away rather than sit and reason together….

  6. Bonnie Leazer says:

    Your own words suggest that you know who is following Christ and who isn’t. You are in no position to make such a judgment. The followers of Jim Jones and other cults believed they were following Christ too. Remember how that all turned out.

  7. Milton Finch says:

    I speak spiritually about a matter that is out there for the world to see. Any Christian…any Christian worth their salt can see the realities and parallels of this situation that began with the attempted silencing of Bishop Lawrence by his “removal” before this all transpired. The High Priest and his cronies really did a wonderful job of silencing the Son of God. It looks like the bunch at the top of TEc are doing just as admirable a job of it. It looks to all as if the two, the High Priest and the presiding bishop are cut from the same cloth!

  8. Lowell Grisham says:

    In 1861, when Easter Sunday was also on March 31, the State of South Carolina initiated the Civil War, firing on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861. Murray Bowen and other Family Systems therapists would have a field day with this. How many wars must we fight to defend the full humanity of all the family in South Carolina?

  9. Rebecca Alford says:

    Milton in all of your posts you seem to wish to make Lawrence equal to Jesus. That is one of the first and most significant signs of the formation of a cult. Lawrencites are so fond of using the “we/they” rhetoric and negative comments. You seem to suggest here that one is only a “real” Christian when they claim allegiance to the Lawrence faction. That should make anyone suspicious of that group.

  10. David Yarbrough says:

    The Diocese of South Carolina and the majority of its membership can no longer abide the abandonment of Scriptural principles, as well as the denial of the unique salvific nature of Jesus Christ, by its Presiding Bishop. This is far from equating Bishop Lawrence with Jesus himself, as he would be the first to admit.
    The Diocese of South Carolina is openly admitting that it follows Jesus Christ.

    1. Marc Kivel says:

      First, David, which Scriptural principles have been abandoned? Do you mean Pauline scripture or the Gospels? I wasn’t aware that Paul was the sole or best spokesman for the Risen Christ – if you take a few moments what you may consider abandonment of the Scriptures may simply be disagreement that Paul is somehow to be considered co-equal with the Christ: something Paul would have been horrified to be accused of…Second, if you go back and read the Gospel According to John, you will discover that Christ Jesus himself says that only the folks that the Father gives him are his – the shepherd knows HIS sheep and the sheep know THEIR shepherd…not everyone was given to Jesus by God the Father evidently…third, a person who is not called is not reasonably going to be a follower of Christ Jesus – that they may have a different relationship to God than ours is more a reflection of God’s incredible love, grace and mercy than the TULIP infection which Calvinism in South Carolina seems to cause…

  11. Bonnie Leazer says:

    Milton and David, I sincerely believe that you believe you are following Christ. That is not the issue here. The issue is that you are presuming to know who isn’t following Christ and you are in no position to judge that. You do not know that. Only God does. On another matter. Many of you in your comments reference the fact that the majority of the membership of the DOSC chose to leave TEC. So be it. We who chose to remain are steadfast in our commitment to the Episcopal Church and the Worldwide Anglican Communion. We are supportive of our leaders and there is nothing anyone can say or do that will change that.

    1. the Rev Dr M. J.Morrissey says:

      Bonnie, check the fruit of the labors (today’s lexicon?..metrics) of the Episcopal Church. Be careful when including the world wide Anglican Communion. The Southern Hemisphere Church outstrips the European and North American Churches and predominately looks askance at us..hardly believing their “eyes.”

      1. Bonnie Leazer says:

        Rev. Morrissey, I’m not concerned about the Southern Hemiphere Church looking askance at Rev. Dr. Morrissey, I’m not concerned that the Southern Hemisphere Church looks askance at us. That will all play out in the future as concerns are addressed and dealt within the Communion. The facts are that the Episcopal Church is the only body within the United States that is officially affiliated with the Worldwide Anglican Communion. The Episcopal Church in South Carolina and the Upper Diocese of South Carolina are the only groups in South Carolina that are officially affiliated with the Worldwide Anglican Communion. This is fact, not opinion.

        1. Bonnie Leazer says:

          Rev. Dr. Morrisey. The first sentence is obviously a misprint.

      2. Marc Kivel says:

        Mr. Morrisey, The Episcopal Church is in communion with Lambeth…I am not aware that +++Justin has extended that same recognition to Mr. Lawrence and his schismatics….

  12. Milton Finch says:

    My issue all along, and I have not wavered from it, is that TEc and those that depend upon them, and not Christ, have been played like puppets. The puppet master yanked the strings, the presiding bishop got angry, the lawyers filed the papers quickly, and now we have the rest of the story. Maundy Thursday happens all over again. Just like Jesus said it would. “If they attacked Me to silence Me, and you follow Me, expect nothing less for yourselves if you stand with Me.”. That is my issue.

    1. Marc Kivel says:

      If you were concerned with Christ you’d not have time to notice the mote in others eyes…you’d be at the ER having the timber removed from your own under general anesthesia…

  13. Bradley Byrne says:

    I have friends in South Carolina on both sides of this dispute. I don’t want to take “sides”. It seems to me that we are grieiving the heart of Christ by having this fight in the first place and by becoming one “side” or the other. Can’t we be one in Christ Jesus? Can’t we follow the Commandment we all heard on Maundy Thursday? What do we gain if we get the buildings but lose the people? This past Easter Sunday mornng, at a beach front bar (!) not far from where I live, over 2000 people attended a worship service where Christ’s Resurrection was proclaimed, the Lord worshipped and the Word spoken boldy, although in a less than orthodox place. How many of our Episcopal churches had 2000 people present? But, isn’t that where Christ was and continues to be? Where two or three (or 2000!) were and are present? Let’s quit fighting among ourselves and get out there where the “harvest is plentiful” and spend our labors, not in fighting one another, but in doing God’s will by loving one another.

    1. Zachary Brooks says:

      If you want unity, you basically have to “take the side” of the Episcopal Church. It’s the Episcopal Church calling for unity, and Bishop Lawrence and his followers who are breaking it.

  14. Anthony Christiansem says:

    Christ lived, died, and rose for love. As far as I can tell, Lawrence and his followers have made their choices based on excluding those they don’t care for. So be it, but they cannot expect to take with them the patrimony left to The Episcopal Church by generations who meant their gifts to go to that church, not to some upstart clique that has abandoned the gospel.

  15. The Rt. Rev. Neff Powell says:

    As deacons, priests, and bishop we have all taken an oath that we believe Holy Scripture contains all things and necessary to salvation and that we will be loyal to the doctrine, discipline and worship of The Episcopal Church. At any time when a clergy person no longer can keep either side of that promise that promise, the appropriate thing to do is to leave, leaving the keys on the table. And, speaking as a history major, I am deeply offended by the twisting of the history of The Episcopal Church and the canons of this church in the story told by those who are leaving TEC.

    1. the Rev Dr M. J.Morrissey says:

      So explain to me how Spong retains his orders?

      Oh yes..I have a degree in History too. Should we really want to bring in the history of the remains of TEC?

      1. Doug Desper says:

        Bishop Powell is my bishop and for that I respect him and he is cordially welcomed. However, I think that a lot of our current nonsense shows a few failures: Failure 1). That a few in our Church want non-essential (to salvation) doctrines defined narrowly (such as ordination of women being banned). Failure 2): The House of Bishops has utterly failed in its duty to discipline errant bishops who have replaced the teachings of this Church with their own private thoughts. There is a largely UNanswered question as to why bishops in the Episcopal Church are more and more like the Mormon prophets in Salt Lake City; leaders who’s private ruminations can become take the place of or be tolerated instead of official doctrine. Failure 3): There is the assumption that a few loud voices (like Bishop Lawrence, et al) hold enough sway to dupe educated clergy and laity into disloyalty and error. This view truly demeans the laity into being mind-numbed enough to listen in lock-step to a mere bishop. Which leads to Failure 4): That there is the assumption that people leaving this Church are incapable of rational thought and have found little that can be decried as divisive foisted on us by errant bishops and priests and that once found we should just keep quiet and let the errant misguide and deform the Church. When the leaders of the Church vacate their responsibility to lead and teach the faith delivered to us people will react. Those people are not the schismatics. And now, someone has to explain why – when it becomes obvious – that our beleagured Church is crippled with these controversies that the blame is on those who want to continue in peace and not give up the fruits of their labor into the hands of (as an example) one bishop who’s tenure resulted in a 40% decline in his diocese while he went undisciplined by the House of Bishops. In these days it seems that the one major sin in TEC is to speak and act against the status quo dysfunction while those who create the intolerable circumstance get invited on more speaking engagements. Here’s an idea: stop blaming the reactions and start addressing the causes.

        1. Marc Kivel says:

          Doug, I concur that there are at least as many failures as you cite in the Church and probably many more. I do think part of the structural problem is that given the geographic size and demographic variety of the USA we would be better served by having an Archbishop in each of ECUSAs provinces recognizing that regional provinces might be able to better discern the Holy Spirit as it applies to the realities of differing parts of our nation.

          As to your cited failures: I think we should follow Augustine’s charge: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, charity; and in all things love.” I believe we can all gather round the BCP as written, Hymnal, the Holy Scriptures, and Baptism and Communion as essentials. Beyond these I would trust the bishops and archbishops to determine with laity and clergy in each province what the Holy Spirit is calling them to do.

          I do believe there needs to be some recognition that “official doctrine” while very appropriate in the Church of Rome is not a hallmark of the Anglican church in the USA – if a bishop or archbishop wants to establish a more formal customary or offer a more robust argument on matters ecclesial or theological – wonderful! But recognize that the unstated assumption among the Laity is that Elizabeth I Regina was correct: it is not necessarily desirable to open windows into men’s souls.

          The rule which, as I understand it, goes back before our birth as a nation, is that a Bishop may only be held accountable by God and his/her peers. Inasmuch as +Spong has not been “sent down” one can either assume various machinations by men or ask what does the Holy Spirit intend to do with +Spong as a sign of God’s will? Thoughts?

      2. Marc Kivel says:

        Mr. Morrisey, kindly allow God to deal with God’s matters in God’s time…

  16. Milton Finch says:

    Neff, I sure am sorry you’re offended via what you have been taught concerning history, right or wrong as it may be. Tell us the spiritual reality of Maundy Thursday so that we may see Christ betrayed after having fed Judas. Tell us of them turning Jesus over to the law along with its spiritual ramifications for Judas. Tell us how Satan manipulates and pulls strings and scues thought to lead one away from the cross that is each ones’ to bear.

    1. John Lawrence says:

      As a sidebar, I find it interesting, curious, and actually offensive that you refer to the schismatic Mark Lawrence who has effectively been deposed as a Bishop of The Episcopal Church as “Bishop Lawrence” while referring to the legitimate Bishop of Southwestern Virginia as “Neff” and the person recognized by The Episcopal Church and the entire worldwide Anglican Communion as our Presiding Bishop as either “Dr.” or “High Priest” (apparently linked in your mind with Caiaphas). You seem to be setting yourself up as the judge of who rightly has authority and who does not. That, historically, has been the hallmark of heresy and heretical sects. Pick and choosing those whose leadership you accept doesn’t work in a Communion, a nation, a community, an institution, or a family.

    2. Marc Kivel says:

      To equate a man who made all sorts of promises NOT to alienate South Carolina from TEC and then went back on his word almost immediately after becoming bishop with Our Lord Jesus Christ is truly a blasphemy against the Holy Spirit if there ever was one…

  17. Ann Willis Scott says:

    Ya know, folks, if you don’t want the Episcopal Church to take what you call “your” property, perhaps you should join a Congregational-style church next time. The Episcopal Church is a hierarchical church, as is the Roman Catholic Church. It started long before Bishop Katharine and 815, so stop blaming either of them. You should have gotten used to the Episcopal way by now — including her wonderfully pastoral chief bishop.

    1. Grant Carson says:

      Ann, pardon, but you’re wrong. Yes, the Roman Catholic Church is hierarchical from the Pope to the Parish. Yes, the Episcopal Church is hierarchical from the Diocesan Bishop to the parish. But not above the Diocesan Bishop. KJS isn’t an archbishop. The next higher authority of the Diocesan Bishop is the General Covention, and the General Convention doesn’t own any property.

      At the hearing before the Supreme Court of Texas, a justice asked a very pertinent question. “If I wanted to buy this property, to whom would I go?” Of course, the answer is to the person who has the deed. In the Diocese of Fort Worth, Bishop Iker has all the deeds. In the Diocese of South Carolina the deeds have been given to the parishes.

      TEC will lose in South Carolina and Texas. All the money TEC spent on lawyers instead of mission will have been in vain.

      1. Marc Kivel says:

        I suspect you’ll find that isn’t the case, Grant: you’ll find that there is a hierarchy implied by accession to the Constitutions and Canons which Ft. Worth accepted as binding upon its becoming a Diocese within TEC…and of course, there’s always Federal court if the folks down in Austin are less than wise…

    2. Marc Kivel says:

      Well said!

  18. Harvey Cottrell says:

    Jesus weeps. Nothing is easy when our sisters and brothers disown our relations. It’s not made easier by name calling or accusation. Leaving is a choice, with that choice comes everything that leaving means. Staying is harder. Community is not always easy. Refusing to call our presiding bishop by her title, or choosing to lowercase he “c” in TEC is sad. Leave if you must, but do so with respect, and with the understanding that leaving is just that. Leaving. You don’t get to keep calling yourselves episcopalians and your not continuing anything, other than continuing to cause schism and division and that is not Christ inspired. Lord behold this your family….Jesus weeps.

  19. Ronald J. Caldwell says:

    Milton Finch and everyone else on this commentary page need to know there is far more to this story than has been publicized so far.

    On Maundy Thursday (March 28), Bishop Lawrence also filed papers in court. In the United States District Court…Charleston Division: “Motion to Dismiss or in the Alternative to Abstain or Stay Proceedings” (2 pages) and “Defendant Lawrence’s Memorandum in Support of his Motion to Dismiss or in the Alternative to Abstain or Stay Proceedings” (35 pages plus exhibits). So far, and after six days, the Diocese of SC has failed to post this on their website. It is about to be posted elsewhere.

    The Rev. Canon James Lewis issued a press release letter (at anglicanink.com) on Mar. 28 castigating Bp vonRobsenberg for going to court on Maundy Thursday. His own bishop was doing the same thing on the same day. That letter has yet to be posted on DSC website.

    Lawrence’s court papers of Mar. 28 contain a very important item: his list of the people in SC that he singled out as his primary opponents. Some poeple might call this his enemies lists. These are the people he chose to be served with the court papers from the state court after the bTemporary Restraining Order, the Preliminary Injunction, abnd the Second Amended Complaint There are three lists: 12 names, three names, and three names.
    You can read these names for yourself when the papers are posted.

    So let’s not have any more vilifaction of one bishop going to court on Maundy Thursday. Both bishops did it.

  20. Milton Finch says:

    Vacuity of the spiritual. Emptiness. Nothing. Nil. Yet, not amazing. Happy Easter, all! Psst…the tomb, dude; it’s empty!

  21. Milton Finch says:


    An Easter Sermon immediately following an attack and betrayal by “good Christian folk.”

  22. J. W. McRee says:

    Dr. Caldwell is not comparing apples with apples. His comment that the Diocese filed on Maundy Thursday is true but only to simply ask the Federal court to refer the matter back to the SC Circuit Court which has been considering this matter since January. I understand, too, that date, March 28th, was given to the Diocese as a deadline by which to file. The filing of this request in no way would distract from people observing Holy Week as it was against entities and not people.

    The lawsuit filed by TEC and The Episcopal Church in South Carolina on Maundy Thursday was a countersuit filed in Circuit Court in response to the SC Circuit Court’s injunction. It did not have to be filed on on that date as there was an 4 April deadline. There was adequate time after Holy Week during which the suit could be filed but they opted for Maundy Thursday to sue Bishop Lawrence as well as parishioners for damages including punitive damages. There is a substantive difference.

    It seems this suit by TEC is clear about what they are all about and that is…property! TEC wants our churches although it has contributed not one penny or maintaining these places of worship, many of them having historic significance. This has been made clear in some 80 other lawsuits TEC has filed throughout the country. If a church does not follow the canons to the letter or worship through traditional orthodox Christianity, then they want the church’s property.Then if the church wants to buy it back, at fair market value or more, a refusal of the offer is given and the property might be sold to be turned into a mosque or Islamic center, as in the case in Binghamton, NY. Of course, that’s not surprising when a suit is filed during the holiest of week

    1. Ronald J. Caldwell says:

      On the issue of Maundy Thursday: neither bishop was required to file on that day. Lawrence had until April 13 to file. That date was an extension that he had earlier requested and been granted. That was sixteen days after Maundy Thursday. vonRosenberg had until April 4 to file, seven days after Maundy Thursday. Why they chose to go to court on Maundy Thursday?–only they can tell us.

      On Maundy Thursday (Mar. 28), Jim Lewis issued an official press release from the PECDSC office criticizing vonRosenberg for going to court on Maundy Thursday. Either Lewis was incredibly disingenuous, or he was out of the loop. Only he can tell us the reason for his strange letter. He also slammed vonRosenberg for being “personal.” In fact all the names in the TEC papers were persons in offical positions in PECDSC. In Lawrence’s papers of Mar. 28, however, we see his enemies lists (p.2-3) some of whom had no official positions. Thus, Lawrence was far more “personal” than vonRosenberg. For a bishop to publish a hit list (these people had been chosen by Lawrence earlier to be hit with court papers), and to do so on Maundy Thursday–well, anyone can draw their own conclusions.

      As for the court papers: vonRosenberg filed on Mar. 28 in Circuit Court a response to Lawrence’s suit first entered in Circuit Court on Jan. 4 and twice amended “Answer, Affirmative Defenses, and Counterclaims of the Episcopal Church in South Carolina to Second Amended Complaint and Declartory and Injunctive Relief.” TEC also filed a response to Lawrence’s law suit entitled “Answer and Counterclaims of the Episcopal Church to Second Amended Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctiv Relief.” Let’s be clear. These responses had to be made in answer to the suit that Lawrence had filed against them in the Circuit (state) court. Lawrence had sued the Episcopal Church first; thus, TEC and vonR had no choice but to respond. On the same day, Mar. 28, Lawrence filed two papers in the U.S. District Court: “Motion to Dismiss or in the Alternative to Abstain or Stay Proceedings” and “Defendant Lawrence’s Memorandum in Support of his Motion to Dismiss or in the Alternative to Abstain or Stay Proceedings.” These papers were his response to the suit vonRosenberg had filed in the U.S. Court on March 5. He too, had no choice but to respond. Both bishops were acting in reponse to suits that had been brought against them.

      All this boils down to a turf war. Lawrence is maneuvering to have the litigation fixed in state court where he has a good chance to prevail. vonRosenberg is maneuvering to have this in federal court where he probably will win. And yes, bottom lin–it is about the property.

  23. Carol McRee says:

    Yes, while the current problems/litigation in SC are over the ownership of the property, the real difference between the Diocese of SC and TECUSA are theological! Always have been and always will be!

    I am not sure why TECUSA is trying so hard in a state where the supreme court has said that the Dennis Canon is null and void and of no effect. Why waste their effort? Do buildings mean that much to them? Alas, they don’t have the numbers to even begin to maintain many of these buildings.

    As for theological differences, TEC bishops from Spong to Budde have denied the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ. To a majority in the Diocese of SC and the Anglican Communion that does not make them Christian nor Anglican.

    1. Ronald J. Caldwell says:

      You say the real differences between the two sides are “theological.” In a way I agree with you. Fifty years ago TEC leadership began a program of promoting the social gospel based on the concept that the relationship between man and God is horizontal. We do God’s will by reaching out to cure the ills of society by Christ-like work. Hence came active participation in the Civil Rights movement, reform of the liturgy (New Prayer Book) to be inclusive, and the ordination of women. Conservatives, however, objected to the social gospel in favor of the traditional emphasis on individual salvation, a vertical relationship between one person and one God. They saw the social reforms as a pointless corruption of pure Christianity. Many conservatives began peeling off TEC which they called too liberal. However, none of these three issues between 1960 and 1990 caused a schism.

      The fourth issue arose in 1990, the full inclusion of homosexuals in the life of TEC. On this issue conservatives drew the line. Soon after Gene Robinson was consecrated a bishop in TEC, schism began and led to five dioceses voting to abandon TEC. Indeed, the ACNA, the main splinter group from TEC, has agreed with all three earlier reforms (except no women bishops) while condemning the fourth. Why did the fourth issue lead to schism when the first three had not? That is a good question that I am exploring while I am researching the causes and nature of the schism in SC.

      So, in my view the fundamental cause of the 5 schisms is theological. The two sides hold widely diverging views of the nature of the relationship between men and women and God. However, the direct cause of the schisms is the issue of homosexuality. The specific cause the led to SC’s break was the adoption of the optional liturgy for the blessing of same sex unions. Lawrence said that was a bridge he could not cross.

      At this point it looks as if the momentum in the legal fight has shifted to vonRosenberg. His lawyers have managed to get it into federal court where he is more than likely to win. In the next 30 or so days, Lawrence will have to appeal to the federal judge who will decide whether to keep the matter in federal court or send it to the state court.

      Even if Lawrence loses the legal war, it is possible that some of the non-Episcopal congregations may be allowed to keep Episcopal Church properties through one means or another as has happened in other dioceses. However, I doubt this is going to happen in places where there are viable continuing Episcopal congregations prepared to resume control of the property. For instance, the property of Lawrence’s old parish, St. Paul’s in Bakersfield, for years in the Anglican diocese, is about to be reclaimed by the Episcopal diocese.

      1. Doug Desper says:

        There is a lot of good commentary here, but this quote is overly reaching into a false characterization: “Conservatives, however, objected to the social gospel in favor of the traditional emphasis on individual salvation, a vertical relationship between one person and one God. They saw the social reforms as a pointless corruption of pure Christianity”. Social studies have proven quite dramatically that the most reliable contributors to the relief of others, charity, and church are conservatives. Arthur C. Brooks, a professor at Syracuse University, published “Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism.” The surprise is that liberals are markedly less charitable than conservatives.
        So, this is not an all or none evaluation. I believe that most conservatives are not reacting against calls for charity, equality, etc. Most conservatives are reacting to errant bishops and priests who cannot preach Christ crucified and risen in a clear and convinced manner. I attended a funeral led by an Episcopal priest who read the Gospel but never once used the name of Jesus Christ in his homily, and never once mentioned the hope of resurrection through the life of Jesus Christ. This, sadly, is too common. People cannot be led to the desert to continue drinking the sand and not sooner or later understand that they are dying of thirst.

        1. Ronald J. Caldwell says:

          “Compassionate conservatism” is an oxymoron that was consigned to the rubbish heap years ago along with the rest of Georgw W. Bush’s nonsense. As for “liberals are markedly less charitable than conservatives,” that depends on how you are defining “charitable.” My comment refers to the social gospel. Who fought for civil rights and who fought against it? Who pushed to get the new prayer book and who wanted to keep 1928? Who waged the long campaign to get ordination for women and who fought to stop it? Who is now fighting for the full inclusion of homosexuals in the church and who is making schism to stop it? Liberals or conservatives? I think we all know the answers.

          Of course conservatives do individual acts of kindness. No one ever said they didn’t. But there is a big difference between doing acts of charity and fighting the big battles for human rights. Conservative Christians (orthodox, fundamentalist, charismatic etc.) empahsize the individual connection between one person and one God and therefore see the big battles for social justice as a diversion and corruption of pure religion that will eventually lead to its self-destruction. When Mark Lawrence says TEC is a comotose patient on life support, that is what he means.

          As a native and life-long white southerner who fled from fundamentalism in 1964 to become an Episcopalian, I’ll say that I am proud and honored to be in such a great institution that has made a profound commitment to applying the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the big battles for human rights, for blacks, for women, for homosexuals, for all people. Admittedly, this has cost TEC dearly in terms of membership and income. However, if doing the right thing costs dearly, even life itself, it is still the right thing to do. Blessed Jonathan Daniels is my hero.

          1. Bonnie Leazer says:


          2. David Yarbrough says:

            Mr. Caldwell, there is a great deal of difference between the battle for human rights for blacks (the cause for which Jonathan Daniels gave his life), Hispanics, and women, and the battle for recognition of unrepented homosexual behavior as a scripturally valid lifestyle.

            God created male and female, white, black, Asian, Hispanic. However, God’s law explicitly forbids homosexual behavior. Christ himself said He did not come to change the law. (According to scripture, the exclusion of women from ministry is Paul’s prohibition, not God’s.)

            Conservative Christians are trying to rescue God’s Church from the slippery slope of falling into self-exaltation, and acquiescence to secular standards rather than God’s. Schism in the current situation simply means that those who reject the authority of God and scripture have slid down the slippery slope.

            The dumbing-down of the BCP in 1979, which removed the language confessing our own unrighteousnesss and total reliance on God in Christ for salvation, is part of the selfsame self-exaltation movement which has brought about this acquienscence to secular standards and the worship of a God created in our own image instead of the other way around.

            Your earlier comment regarding “the relationship between man and God being horizontal” vividly shows the creation of God in our own image. The proper application of a social gospel does share with the poor and the poor in spirit – but does so in humble reliance on a holy and omnipotent God, not in pulling God down to man’s level.

  24. Marc Kivel says:

    I note, Dr. Caldwell, you wrote: ” However, the direct cause of the schisms is the issue of homosexuality. The specific cause the led to SC’s break was the adoption of the optional liturgy for the blessing of same sex unions.” Now here is what I find most interesting. Supposedly Mr. Lawrence has chosen to become a schismatic over a piece of liturgy he was not required to implement in a state where, to the best of my knowledge, same-sex unions are not legal. Do I understand correctly? So, what is in fact the justification for this schism? When he was the legitimate Ordinary in South Carolina, all he had to say was, sorry, it’s not on here as long as I am the Bishop. He could continue to teach and preach as narrow and fundamentalist a faith as he wanted to and who would have stopped him? No one. As has been noted this IS all about property – and why do I have this sneaking suspicion that evangelicals and Southern Baptists have been padding the pews in the schismatic churches for years?

    1. Ronald J. Caldwell says:

      Mr. Kivel: You are right in that as the Episcopal bishop Lawrence did not have to accept the liturgy of the blessing of same sex unions in his diocese. The liturgy is optional and entirely up to the diocesan bishop. Many bishops, including my own, have announced that they will not permit this liturgy. Lawrence could have done that.

      After General Convention of 2012 adopted the optional rite for the blessing of same sex unions, Lawrence returned home to SC and went through a discernment process by which he concluded that he could no longer remain in an institution that allowed anyone to bless same sex unions. He had fought as hard as he could to stop the homosexual-rights movement in TEC for over ten years. He had been a leader in the opposition at GC to Gene Robinson in 2003. Lawrence was exhausted after fighting a long, losing war. He threw in the towel. Therefore, on the first good excuse, the Presiding Bishop’s suspension of Lawrence on Oct. 15, Lawrence and his supporters announced the diocese automatically withdrew from TEC.

      There are many conservatives still in TEC. At least 11 dioceses of the 109 are solidly conservative. Their adaptation to this situation is to vote against the “liberal” measures on the national level, condemn them at home, pass resolutions in their diocesan conventions, and then go on about their own business running their dioceses as they wish while keeping the leadership of TEC at arm’s length. Actually, I think that is a reasonable approach as long as they are not violating the Constitution and Canons of their church.

      Thus, Lawrence and his faction in SC had two models they could have followed 1-the secessionists’ (four dioceses had voted by majority vote to secede from TEC), and 2-the conservative dioceses (denounce national leadership while staying in TEC). Lawrence and his allies chose the first model. Why and how they chose this one and not the second is a problem that I am now researching.

  25. Marc Kivel says:

    Thank you for your note, Dr. Caldwell…I would strongly encourage you to consider some review of the growth of parishes in the former Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina identifying number of members received into the Diocese from various churches in the years between 1994 and today as well as the seminary affiliation(s) of the clergy siding with Mr. Lawrence in his choice to leave TEC…it might also be interesting to correlate your findings with the political affiliation and socioeconomic class of those having chosen to walk out on TEC…

    1. Ronald J. Caldwell says:

      Mr. Kivel: Thanks for the suggestions. You raise some important points. On membership in local churches, I will not be able to get into parish records until the Episcopal church properties now occupied by non-Episcopalians are returned to the Episcopal diocese. Looking at the earlier four breakaway groups, this will take 2-6 years. The old diocesan archives are also under the control of the secessionist diocese and therefore off limits for the moment.

      On the seminary issue, however, there is a clear pattern. Trinity School for Ministry, in Ambridge PA is a crucial link to the schism in SC. This seminary was established in 1976 as a counter point to the social gospel movements that had guided TEC in the 1960s and 70s. It was set up to be a conservative “Evangelical” training ground to produce clergy to counteract the social “liberalism” in TEC. Early leadership in this seminary had strong ties to SC, and still does. By the 1990s, there were numerous alumni of Trinity in SC parishes. Perhaps the best known was the Rev. Kendall Harmon. Of course, the most famous product of Trinity is the leader of the schism in SC, the Rt. Rev. Mark Lawrence.

      We should note that what has happened in SC is unique in the Southeast. Not one other diocese has gone along with SC in its schism. Why is that? The conservative leadership in SC, starting in the 1980s was able to capitalize on the innate cultural conservatism in SC and adapt this conservatism to the issues in TEC. This did not happen in any other diocese of the region. By the time Gene Robinson hit the stage in 2003, SC had already gone through years of escalating hostility to TEC. Conservsatives in SC had a virtual monopoly on the apparati of the diocese. From there it was an easy road in SC to installing Lawrence as bishop and removing the majority of the people of the diocese of SC from TEC.

      The good churchpeople of SC are no more or less conservative than those in surrounding states. The difference is the leadership.

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