Thursday, October 6, 2011

These days this blog writes itself ... with breaking news

Begin local, end global:

Locally we have a stunning report in Taonga about further news re insurance of churches and the possibility that insurance (extremely high premiums) or lack of insurance (especially for earthquake damage) could drive churches in NZ into the most radical changes seen since the 1950s/60s (when lots of new churches were built in our burgeoning suburbs) and the 1850s/60s (when lots of churches were built in our burgeoning colonial settlements).

Globally we have the expected but nevertheless shocking news that TEC is bringing a canonical charge against [updated: responding to complaints made against] Bishop Mark Lawrence of the Diocese of South Carolina. Rather than try to explain what is going on there, read this link first to Titus One Nine (which is based in South Carolina) and then this and this. There is going to be [updated: could be] one almighty stink about this.

First, because +Mark Lawrence and the Diocese of South Carolina have huge support around the globe. A move against +Mark and the Diocese will seal once and for all in many Anglican minds the view that TEC is fundamentally unsympathetic to any shade or expression of conservative Anglicanism.

Secondly,  my reading of the situation over many years suggests that South Carolina has been very careful in its legal basis for its actions and (in the case of not pursuing a departing church for its property) inactions. [Updated: were] TEC is taking on  [to move from investigating the complaint to bringing a presentment against +Mark, it would be entering into] a risky legal venture in bringing suit against + Mark. This will drag on for years in the courts doing no one any good at all.

Incidentally when you read this material at a link noted above, do you form an impression, as I do, that this presentment is being driven by Episcopalians within the Diocese of South Carolina?

[Updated: actually that impression is confirmed in this important clarifying report and enclosed memo from The Lead.

Further comment here and here]


Kurt said...

Before folks start stinking up the Communion, I suggest that they take the time to read the 63 pages of the presentment. It’s pretty obvious that what’s afoot here is an attempt by right-wingers to leave TEC and take properties with them into the ACNA.

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY

Father Ron Smith said...

Thanks, Kurt, for your observation here. It would seem that some people appear to be panicking from afar - even as far as Aotearoa/ New Zealand - without any real cause. Medication might do the trick.

Pageantmaster said...

Um, as a serial commenter on T19 for a while, I have to tell you that Bishop Mark Lawrence has always been absolutely clear that the Diocese of South Carolina will remain a constituent member of the Episcopal Church. The right wingers leaving spin just won't wash. There is some spin already coming out from TEC, and some pretty transparent attempts to distance responsibility for this from the Presiding Bishop and her lawyers, but it is what it is. People are outraged about it, because it is outrageous.

There are some new disciplinary canons in the Episcopal Church which many thought were intended to enable the Presiding Bishop to oust Mark Lawrence using a small group of local dissenters. Looks like they are right.

It walks, it quacks, a duck it is.

Bryden Black said...

Actually Kurt; the Diocese of SC and +ML in particular have resolutely sought to remain within TEC’s formal structures. Anyone - even us from afar - who has followed events there since say 2006 knows this.

At this stage I’d simply offer prayers for all involved: it’s likely to get VERY ugly eventually, IMHO - not least when we consider the raw dynamics of power and money at play (and read that however you wish ...!).

Father Ron Smith said...

As I understand the situation, since Bishop Mark took over the Diocese, certain references to the diocesan relationship with the Episcopal Church have been either removed or omitted from official Standing Order papers.

When one removes reference to the parent body, does that not suggest some sort of denial of relation-ship? As you say, PM, if it quacks & walks like a duck; it probably is one. I remember a saying I once saw on a bumper sticker: 'Feeling the absence of God? Guess who moved!'

As far as I am aware, TEC did not make the first move.

carl jacobs said...

It's ironic that all the things Liberals say they hate about the proposed Anglican Covenant - coercion, centralization, punishment - are exactly the things they demonstrate they love about KJS and her administration of TEC. Evidently it matters who holds the whip.

As for Bp Lawrence, anyone with eyes to see saw this coming from the moment he returned from GC2009. He has been attempting to provide a safe diocese for conservatives within TEC and that is simply not going to be allowed. Conservatives may remain in TEC, but conservatives will not be allowed to stay in TECs leadership. And so they are being expunged - one by one by one.

If TEC actually mattered, it would be frightening. But TEC is simply building legal debt to drive away its own laity. It is literally killing itself. In the meantime, liberals in TEC will discover what it means when an executive acquires this much power. The whip once acquired is not put away.


Mark Baddeley said...

Certain references to the parent body have been removed, but from what I can see, that hasn't been to deny the relationship. It's a response to changes in how the polity of TEC is being argued.

Increasingly the current leadership of TEC is trying to see itself as a strongly heirarchical Church, where the Presiding Bishop is more like an Archbishop, or even a Primate, and where the Dioceses are branches of the parent body.

I think it is fairly clear that originally it was more federalist in composition - much like the USA itself.

There's reasons for that shift - liberalism's intolerance of dissent once it gains political power, it makes it easy to win property battles in some U.S. states that use the 'deference' principle rather than the 'neutral' principle and the like. But it does seem to be a shift.

In response to that, it seems that the Diocese of South Carolina has clearly articulated its understanding of the relationship of the Diocese to TEC (one which can find a lot of historic precedent), and done so in a way that reflects the principles of law in South Carolina.

It's not a 'distancing', it is an attempt to prevent TEC's national leadership do what they are now going to try and do - force everyone to either agree with their theology in practice or leave.

Bishop Lawrence has made it crystal clear that he has no intention of leaving, and he's persuaded the overwhelming majority of the Diocese to stay when many of the parishes wanted to leave and, under South Carolina law, could do so with all their property intact (the Dennis Canon has no force in South Carolina). That's hardly the act of someone who wants to leave. If +Lawrence said 'let's go' the overwhelming majority of the Diocese would have left years ago.

What he's done is make it clear that the Diocese is sovereign in its territory and does not agree with the direction of TEC and will not support it. That's why they introduced this daft legislation last GC (daft because its a loaded gun with minimal checks and balances) - because they want conservatives to either keep quiet and comply or leave, not stay but differentiate themselves.

Fr. Bryan Owen said...

Kurt wrote: "It’s pretty obvious that what’s afoot here is an attempt by right-wingers to leave TEC and take properties with them into the ACNA."

By contrast, I can imagine a conservative Episcopalian saying this: "It's pretty obvious what's afoot here is an attempt by left-wingers to finish the job of getting conservatives out of the way."

Meanwhile, while the Left and the Right duke it out, we have the reality (which virtually no one at the upper levels of the Episcopal Church's leadership ever publicly acknowledges) that the Episcopal Church is hemorrhaging money and membership, our decline is steady and sure, and we can either make painful decisions on what to do about that today or face devastating consequences in the future. Could it be that it's easier to sue, file charges against, and depose conservatives who dare to cause trouble than it is to deal with the elephant in the Episcopal Church's living room? There's been far more of the former than the latter!

To be fair, I'd bet my pension that if the shoe were on the other foot and the "progressives" were in the minority in the Episcopal Church, we'd see similarly ugly scenarios unfolding. So either way, the elephant stays fat and happy.

C. Wingate said...

Kurt, the present action is a preemptive strike on the presumption that the diocese might leave. I suspect that part of the motivation here is that there are pretty good indications that SC law would be adverse to allowing 815 to gain control of church properties if they did leave, so it's necessary to seat someone more in line with the federalist program before they get a chance to do that.

Fr. Smith, it's not really accurate to sat that TEC didn't make the first move. The Dennis canon is, after all, over thirty years old, and there has been a succession of acts, of varying canonical and constitutional merit, aimed at reducing the power of dioceses to dissent from national office policies. The whole "you can't leave but nobody can tell us what to do" argument that lies behind it all is hypocritical, but it is also delegitimizing. After all, the Anglican hierarchy exists entirely through such a departure.

Kurt said...

Folks might be interested in the viewpoint of Susan W., who is a member of a SC Episcopal parish, and who represents the “loyal” position:

“As an Episcopalian in South Carolina, I can assure you that this is not pointless drama. It is obvious to those who live here that the diocese is positioning itself to withdraw from TEC, as the dioceses of Fort Worth and San Joaquin attempted to do. Most of the churches in the area have removed the word ‘Episcopal’ from their signage and publications, and actively refuse to accept the Presiding Bishop. Many parishioners believe that the diocese has already left the Episcopal Church and now identify as Anglican. The Bishop refuses to recognize groups that are faithful to the TEC, either as a mission or as a church. He refuses to ordain women and those who identify as homosexual. At Bishop Lawrence's instigation, the convention passed a resolution which would allow congregations leaving the TEC to retain the real estate. What possible reason could there be for passing such a resolution, if you did not intend to leave the TEC? Then they removed all mention of the Episcopal Church from the diocese charter. Again, what other reason could you have for doing this? As faithful members of the EPISCOPAL Church, should we wait until they lock us out of the churches (as they did in Fort Worth) before we take action?

”Clearly, Bishop Lawrence's beliefs are at odds with those of TEC. The ideal solution would be to work towards a peaceful split, that would allow each group to keep a reasonable number of church buildings, in which to conduct services. Bishop Lawrence seems determined, not only to leave the TEC, but to make sure that loyal Episcopalians do not have a space in which to worship.”

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY

Bryden Black said...

Further to my earlier post - which seems to have got lost in cyberspace:

has some intriguing Q&A for us to consider!

Father Ron Smith said...

Thanks, Kurt, for your inclusion of the insights of a person who actually lives in the diocese and knows what is going on. The mere fact of the removal of the word 'Episcopal' from Church notice boards would seem to indicate a desire for severance. What more evidence do people need?

Bishop Mark, by his brinkmanship, is inviting some sort of disciplinary action against him. You can't be both an intentional martyr to a cause, and complain about the treatment.

His patent disregard for the rest of the TEC family necessitates some sort of separation. He is obviously uncomfortable with his fellow bishops, and one wonders why he bothered to join them - except, to cause strife from within. Of what good is that to the witness of TEC?

Anonymous said...

"What more evidence do people need?"

Ummm... something concrete? The TEC brand does not do well in some parts of the US, including SC. I am a former member of that diocese prior to moving.

TEC has a history of coercing dioceses to conform to liberal theology, brooking no dissent to the extent canonically possible. That a conservative diocese should (i) take defensive measures against the prospect of coersion (e.g., the refusal to accept the new Title IV in demonstration here) and (ii) the ability to evangelize in their population without excessive reference to a national body departing from the faith.

The bottom line is that these dissenters do not like Bp. Lawrence's teaching. That teaching, which ironically was generally accepted within TEC only a few decades ago, is now being shown as proscribed.

Mark Baddeley said...

Hmmmn, +Lawrence doesn't ordain women or homosexuals and that's part of the evidence that he's intending to leave TEC? This is the same TEC that claims that it has a 'diversity of opinions' on these matters?

It's telling that the last paragraph of Kurt Hill's statement argues that Bishop Lawrence's orthodox Anglican beliefs are so at odds with TEC that he should leave. That seems to be the real issue here. +Lawrence's orthodoxy.

He hasn't recognized some theologically liberal groups who wanted to set up a mission in the diocese. How many evangelicals have I heard complain about the same thing in TEC and the CoE (the latter to do with church plants) under liberal Bishops?

The Diocese passed a resolution saying that parishes that wanted to leave could take their property. That's both South Carolina law, and the view of most orthodox in TEC - IIRC when the three Dioceses left the TEC Diocese they allowed those parishes who wished to remain in TEC, and so leave the Diocese, to keep their properties.

It's even what Kurt Hill herself claims she wants - for there to be a split and everyone to keep 'a reasonable number of buildings.' It's a sign of the duplicity of the charges that she says she wants this, but uses the convention's resolution - which would allow that - as evidence that he wants to leave. A resolution that says that people can leave and have a reasonable number of buildings is evidence that +Lawrence wants to leave, or even more, that he is going to kick the liberals out of their churches (the very thing the resolution would prevent him from being able to do...).

And removing the denomination's name? That's a sign of a problem, but it's not a sign of leaving. Americans are proving less interested in denominational labels, there's a lot of growth in labelless churches. I understand it's not uncommon to find Baptist and Presbyterian churches that don't have mention of their parent denomination anywhere in their initial face. And TEC's reputation is terrible among people who are interested in going to church (it's more positive among social progressives in America, but they are generally not interested in participating in church). Removing the name is a sign of a problem - the parishes doing it think that the name is a stumbling block to evangelism - but it's not a sign of leaving.

His patent disregard for the rest of the TEC family necessitates some sort of separation. He is obviously uncomfortable with his fellow bishops, and one wonders why he bothered to join them - except, to cause strife from within.

Maybe because he was called by the believers in South Carolina to be their bishop, and is committed to the theology and practice of TEC as contained in its constitution?

Would you use this same argument to say that someone who accepted a call to be a rector of an Anglo-Catholic or liberal parish in the Diocese of Sydney (for they exist) was trying to make trouble, and shouldn't do it if they were uncomfortable with the overwhelming majority of reformed evangelical rectors in the Diocese? Or are you saying that they can do it, but only if they go along with the prevailing conservative evangelicalism of the Diocese?

Being Anglican is hard to pin down, given its variations globally and historically. But to say that you can't be an orthodox bishop in TEC - it's just troublemaking - really reveals the true nature of theological liberalism in my opinion. It doesn't play well with others.

Peter Carrell said...

Apologies to Bryden Black who sent an earlier comment in which I thought I had published, but hadn't ... but now is!

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Anonymous above with no name,

Please supply at least a first name when you comment here. Thanks!

Kurt said...

You should read more carefully what you aim to criticize, Mark. The statement I quoted is from Susan W. who is a SC Episcopalian. I’m a he, not a she.

Second, I would dispute Bishop Lawrence’s “orthodoxy” just as I would Sydney’s “Anglicanism.” Please don’t bother with “the majority of Anglicans blah blah blah” argument. I just don’t buy it. There was once an “orthodox” Anglican position on slavery, too. And on the inferiority of the “darker races,” etc., etc. In 50 years most South Carolingian Anglicans will be as just as embarrassed about their contemporary positions on gays and women as they are about their positions on segregation half a century ago.

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY

Mark Baddeley said...

Yes, apologies for that Kurt, and to Susan W. - I saw that you quoted her, but when it came to type out my thoughts I looked down to the bottom of the comment for her name and wasn't thinking when I typed yours.

As for "orthodox", I mean that +Lawrence has the same kind of basic theology as most Christians alive today, Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, and over the last two thousand years on things like doctrine of God, Christology, anthropology, creation, sin, atonement, eschatology. It's a theology that TEC is clearly moving away from fairly quickly. It's not all about sex, Kurt.

And most of us think "they'll be embarrassed about their position on x in 50 years" is a "blah blah blah" argument. We just don't buy it. Try selling it somewhere else.

Father Ron Smith said...

Mark, in your list of 'orthodox' markers, you mention 'Doctrine of God,Christology, anthropology, creation, sin, atonement, eschatology. Can you tell me in detail, where TEC has moved away from these theological precepts, en masse? Bishop Spong is just one retired bishop - he is not TEC!

I find your assertions about the supposed unorthodoxy of TEC and the Presiding Bishop to be ephemeral to say the least. Bishop Katharine is trying to encourage TEC into the modern world, with radical new understandings of science and reasonable engagement with human need in today's world, in the light of Jesus in the gospels. This is not unlike the struggle Jesus had with the entrenched conservatism of the scibes and Pharisees: who read the Scriptures, but did not understand their full meaning.

C. Wingate said...

Fr. Smith, it is a long-running issue that progressive dioceses tolerate heretical priests and rites. Spong is simply one of many.

It is difficult to see where the presiding bishop is attempting to lead us, as I find her theological statements to be mostly incoherent; my former rector thought them to be heretical, but I personally cannot make enough sense out of them to be confident of such a conclusion. However, she is entirely clear in her determination to make ECUSA into a hierarchy run directly out of her office, while denying that anyone else who calls himself an Anglican has any hold over her church whatsoever. If legalism is a problem, then she is at the center of the problem.

Father Ron Smith said...

Anyway, the conservatives presently suffering from the liberality of TEC will soon have another 'Safe Diocese' in North America to flee to. It has just been spawned by the Anglican Church in Nigeria, which plans to set up their own Nigerian 'orthodox' Province in North America. Who knows, Mark Lawrence could yet become its appointed hierarch.

How this new 'Missionary Diocese' will relate to ACNA is yet to be seen. I hope it doesn't upset Bishop Bobby too much. (Or is he now in the U.K., looking after Kenya's new Church there A.C.i.E.?)

Pageantmaster said...

Well, here is a priest in South Carolina who does not agree with the lady quoted by Kurt above:
Indeed the 20,000 plus in the diocese don't seem to either,

As for the doctrine of the Presiding Bishop, having read some of her truly hair-raising theological comments over the past few years, I really don't know what to say, but don't see that departing from doctrine can be claimed of +Mark Lawrence with a straight face.

I have read some of the comments above. The bishop has made it clear that he does not intend to leave, and has done his best to keep the diocese together and maintain a faithful place of worship for its people, resisting the centralisation and intrusiveness which this PB appears obsessed with.

On the one hand some people above are castigating him for doing that and misclaiming he intends to leave and should be disciplined for that mischaracterisation; and on the other are encouraging him to leave if not giving him a shove, indeed positively gleeful at the idea of breaking up the only diocese in TEC which has maintained growth in the last few years.

I don't get the way you lot carry on - it is like a deathwish.

Brother David said...

However, she is entirely clear in her determination to make ECUSA into a hierarchy run directly out of her office, while denying that anyone else who calls himself an Anglican has any hold over her church whatsoever.

Do you mean like hierarchical Anglican churches such as those in Africa, run by such absolute prince bishops as the Primate of All Nigeria? Archbishops with the power to threaten the livelihood of any bishop who defied them and attended Lambeth 2008?

Or the presiding Archbishop of Uganda who robbed the pension from the Rt Rvd Christopher Senyonjo who retired as Bishop of West Buganda after serving for 24 years, because he dared start a counseling ministry in his retirement to African GLBT folks?

Those types of hierarchical Anglican churches?

Paul Powers said...

Although I have never met Bishop Bobby, I doubt that he is upset about this new Nigerian missionary diocese. The vineyard of the unchurched in the US is large and there is plenty of work available for its laborers. I also don't know whether Bishop Bobby reads this blog, but if he does, he will doubtlessly be touched by Father Ronny's solicitude on his behalf. And it's actually Bishop Marty who's going back to England to work with the AMIE.

Father Ron Smith said...

Whatever, and whoever, Paul. These interlopers are destined to fade with the morning dew.

Kurt said...

Maybe you're right, Mark. Perhaps most of these SC "Anglicans" are not ashamed or embarassed by their positions on segregation half a century ago. If I were them, I would be, though.

Kurt Hill
In Brooklyn, NY

SCAnglican said...

As a member of the Diocese of SC, I can assure you that the woman Kurt quoted is very much in the minority, and very much misled by the false gospels the modern world preaches. It's a sad state when people are more concerned with being Episcopalian than being Christian. All we want to do is follow Christ and his teachings, which is what +Lawrence has fought for. +schori, on the other hand, refuses to even acknowledge Christ as the only way to salvation. I'll be sticking to the Bible over society, thanks.

Mark Baddeley said...

Kurt, you're arguing that because a group repudiates a position in the past therefore they will definitely endorse a stance on a question of your choosing some time in the future?

Let's all play. Hmmn... Sydney says something like, "In fifty years everyone will be ashamed of their opposition to lay administration." When someone queries that, they respond, much like you did:

"Maybe you're right, Kurt. Perhaps most of these "Anglicans" are not ashamed or embarassed by their positions on slavery a century ago. If I were them, I would be, though."

As though there is any link at all between one specific issue in the past and an type of argument that says something is right because everyone will think this way in the future.

Predicting the future fifty years in advance is a mug's game for anyone other than the living God. And saying, "I'm right because everyone will think this in fifty years" is even more daft.

Truth isn't determined by majority vote. And it certainly isn't determined by a majority vote that hasn't even occurred yet.

Mark Baddeley said...

This article
has got me thinking that there's another basic problem with the structure of Kurt's argument. From the article:

From 1998 to 2006-2007, the average age of clergy in white, mainline Protestant denominations increased from 48 to 57, the congregations study found.

Over nine years the average age of clergy in white mainline denominations in the U.S. increased one year every year. In other words, it went up in line with the aging of the current crop of clergy - any new blood was either statistically irrelevant, or offset by the addition of people even older than the average (i.e. people beginning their ministerial career at age 50-60).

That's a group of institutions with no future past the working life of the current clergy. There's basically no-one coming through to pass the baton onto. When these guys stop working, it will all but shut down.

This has got nothing to do with whether the cause championed by people like Kurt and Father Ron Smith is right or wrong. It's got nothing to do with truth.

It's got to do with whether they can be confident that in fifty years Christians will agree with them. At present the evidence is pointing against that. Those Christians who are actively practicing their faith in some sense (like regular church going) and who hold to similar views are a minority that has little to no future.

Those Christians who disagree are in the majority, both on a global scale and in English speaking first world countries, and are likely (on current demographic indicators) to be around in fifty years.

So the idea that "SC Anglicans" will be ashamed of their not approving of same gender sexual relationships in fifty years time goes against the evidence anyway. The most likely outcomes would be either:

i)There ceases to be any "Anglicans" at all, and everyone approves of same gender sexual relationships.
ii)There continues to be Christians who disapprove of same gender sexual relationships.

Because the body of people who are actively Christian and who approve does not appear to have a future at this point in time.

That can be celebrated or lamented. And it has nothing to do with what is true or right. It just means that the argument 'all Christians will think this in fifty years' is a huge leap of faith against all the indicators we currently have.

It is far more likely that the opposite will be true, based on current indicators - that no actively practicing Christians will approve of same gender sexual relationships in fifty years. The current generation of active Christians believing that will be, more or less, the last.

As I said, I think predictions fifty years out is a mug's game, so I wouldn't claim that. (If nothing else, I think evangelicalism is due another great falling away into a new kind of liberalism - this seems to go in cycles. And that will give liberalism another phase of life in new institutions even as the old mainlines die.) But if we're going from current demographic trends, the opposite of what was claimed is far more likely than Kurt's claim.

Father Ron Smith said...

We'll see how the new Nigerian 'Diocese in North America' affects the state of play in north Carolina. Perhaps Mark Lawrence may be invited to lead this new 'Province in the Wwilderness'. He would do well there.

Paul Powers said...

Right you are, Fr. Ron! Bishop Lawrence would make a wonderful bishop of the new Nigerian diocese. Of course, he would also make a wonderful Bishop of Christchurch (except that the position has already been filled) and a fantastic Presiding Bishop of TEC or Archbishop of Canterbury. However, he hasn't expressed any interest in being a bishop anywhere but South Carolina. It's heartwarming to see that despite your disagreements with him, you are able to recognize his wonderful qualities.

Father Ron Smith said...

Now, Mark, take a deep breath; I did not actually say that Bishop Mark would make a 'wonderful' bishop anywhere. I did suggest he might be 'suitable' for a pirate 'diocese of Nigeria' in North America. He would then be joining a small community of imposed imported hierarchs in the territory of TEC and the A.C.of C., which seems to be headed by 'Archbishop" R.Duncan
- (who doesn't seem to have been saying very much lately).

I doubt, incidentally, that he would have ever passed muster in the Christchurch diocese. He simply would not have the necessary number
of anti-gay voters in synod. But then, did N.C. really understand his provenance when they voted?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron,
I have met Mark Lawrence.
He would make a very fine bishop anywhere.
Just as we are finding his fellow North American, +Victoria is a fine bishop in a country other than her own.

Pageantmaster said...

Why not check out how fine a bishop Mark Lawrence is?

The sad thing is that in England or maybe New Zealand, he would not stand out as out of the ordinary, but would be seen as a fine evangelist, growing his diocese and committed to bringing new people to Christ.

As for slavery, a charge one has to be careful of throwing about. Regretably my country and perhaps New York State were involved with it, but one has to remember that the UK was the driving force in outlawing it first in our own territories, and then using our navy in the drive to outlaw it worldwide. The US also played a big part. I think one should be careful about throwing such charges about in the same way that one should be careful in the same way with other groups in New Zealand and Australia. It is a shot which may well be hurtful and unfair to the people now living in a state or a country.