Episcopal Church Begins Campaign to Unseat South Carolina Bishop Mark Lawrence
The Episcopal Church has told the Diocese of South Carolina that recent changes to its Constitution and Canons are Meaningless
September 24, 2011
An official of the Episcopal Church informed Bishop Mark Lawrence this week that recent changes made to the Constitution of the Diocese of South Carolina are “null and void” in the eyes of The Episcopal Church.
Last February delegates to the 2011 Diocesan Convention gave final approval to amendments to the Diocese’s governing document eliminating “accession” to the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church.
In the Episcopal Church, “accession” means that a Diocese agrees that the national Church’s Constitution supersedes that of the Diocese when they are in conflict. The actions of the Convention, approved and supported by the Bishop and Standing Committee, would have reversed that relationship.
According to the Secretary of the Church’s Executive Council, members of its Joint Standing Committee on Governance and Administration determined over the summer that the actions of the Diocesan Convention are sufficiently similar to those taken by rebellious Dioceses of Quincy, San Joaquin, Pittsburgh, and Fort Worth in previous years as to be covered by the same 2007 Executive Council Resolution (NAC023) that declared them meaningless.
The 2007 Resolution specifically states that “any diocesan amendment that purports in any way to limit or lessen an unqualified accession to the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church are null and void, as if such amendments had not been passed.”
The Resolution goes further to say that it is applicable, not just to those four dioceses, but any other dioceses that take “steps or have adopted amendments that purport in any way to limit or lessen unqualified accession to the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church”.
In short, once a diocese commits to join the Episcopal Church, it has no authority to leave. Individual clergy and lay people can leave, but a diocese as a corporate entity can’t.
Bishop Lawrence, who claims the Diocese of South Carolina is “sovereign”, has argued that the Diocese wasn’t “intending” to leave the Church, even though he and the Standing Committee were fully aware that accession to the Church’s Constitution is essential to membership.
The underlying issue here is the ownership of Episcopal Church property in the Diocese, specifically the property of parishes that might want to leave the Episcopal Church.
The Bishop and the Standing Committee of the Diocese argue that they alone have the authority to decide what happens to it.
This report, hosted on line by ‘virtueonline’, records a change of situation vis a vis the relationship between the Diocese of South Carolina and The Episcopal Church in the U.S. Bishop Lawrence, a controversial choice of Bishop of the Diocese, has, ever since his election, showed a marked intention to undermine the polity of TEC with regard to its acceptance of the LGBT community, and the ordination of Gay Bishops in the Church.
At their last S.C. Diocesan Synod, the meeting decided to scrap all reference to the diocese’s ‘accession to the Constitutions and Canons of The Episcopal Church’. Such a procedure has obviously been seen by the Presiding Bishop and the governing body of TEC as some sort of act of rebellion, and the TEC Executive has now taken its own action against Bishop Lawrence and the Diocese of South Carolina on the grounds of their secession from TEC.
S.C.’s action here follows the pattern of that taken by the former TEC dioceses of Quincy, San Joaquin, Pittsburgh, and Fort Worth, before they announced their secession from TEC. Presumably, if the Bishop and the Diocese do not retract their action, they will will receive the same treatment meted out to these former dioceses.
This is not a case of the Diocese of Carolina being cast out of TEC; rather, the diocese has shown its deliberate intention of opting out of the TEC Constitution, thereby presumably rendering its continuing membership of TEC null and void.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand