Friday, November 16, 2012

South Carolina Schism

"If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other" (Galatians 5:15).

Watching the situation in the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina unfold has been deeply painful to all Episcopalians (and other Christians) who care about unity.  No doubt, there's plenty of blame to go around.  But the bottom line is that this situation compromises our witness and makes us look no different than a world in which will-to-power politics trumps charity and good will.  We are modeling the Church of the Ugly Party for all the world to see.

In a posting entitled "For the Love of God," Bishop Dan Martins offers a summary of how things have gotten to this sad point, along with a heart-wrenching appeal to both sides in this debacle to "step back from the brink."  He writes:

Tragedy is the only word to describe all of this, and it would be difficult, if not impossible, to overstate its scope. South Carolina is a strong and thriving diocese. It has consistently been a statistical anomaly in an Episcopal Church that is steadily aging and deteriorating. All eyes have indeed been on South Carolina, but for the wrong reasons. Rather than arising from suspicion and malice, the attention should be springing from envy and a desire to emulate. Its loss will be no mere statistical blip, and will probably exceed the combined numerical total of the previously departed San Joaquin, Fort Worth, Quincy, and about half of Pittsburgh. For anyone who loves the Episcopal Church, Anglicanism, or just loves Jesus, this is an occasion of profound sorrow. 
So here's my futility exercise. 
To my beloved brothers and sisters in the Diocese of South Carolina, as you meet in convention this Saturday: For the love of God, step back from the brink. Lay aside that which is your right, in honor of him who laid aside everything for us, not counting equality with God something to be grasped. The entire Episcopal Church needs you, but none more so than we who have stood with you in witness to the revealed word of God and the tradition of "mere Anglicanism." I am begging you: Do not abandon us. Let us together be Jeremiah at the bottom of the well, bearing costly witness to God's truth. Let us together be Hosea, faithfully loving those who do not love us back, for the sake of the wholeness of the people of God. 
To the Presiding Bishop: Katharine, for the love of God, step back from the brink. Rescind the announcements you have made about the offices of Bishop and Standing Committee being vacant. Give peace a chance. Create space for the seeds of future trust and love to at least lie dormant for a season in anticipation of future germination. When the Confederate dioceses formed their own church in the 1860s, the General Convention, in great wisdom, simply refused to recognize their departure, thereby greatly facilitating eventual reconciliation and avoiding the schism that other American Christian bodies experienced in the wake of the Civil War. You are renowned for your calls for nimbleness and imagination in the face of the challenges our church faces. This is the moment for you to exercise precisely that sort of leadership. The legacy of your tenure as Presiding Bishop will be written in the next three days. Will it be a legacy of juridical gridlock, or bold generosity for the sake of God's mission? 
I am reduced nearly to tears, and they may yet flow. 
For the love of God.

Read it all.

Fr. Robert Hendrickson at The Curate's Desk also offers important comments on this situation in a posting entitled "Abandoning Communion?"  Noting the ways in which this ecclesial conflict mirrors the worst aspects of the American culture war, he writes:

It is tempting to assert our own rightness and importance when we feel most under threat. Pair this with an increasingly zero-sum mindset that has crept into the partisan language of so-called conservatives and so-called progressives and you will find a recipe for a near blasphemous inversion of Communion. 
The truly conservative approach would be to find that which is good and holy in our life together and hold fast to that despite the trials of the day knowing that the passions of the day are not heated enough to overtake our shared life in Christ. The truly progressive approach would be to embrace the multitude of opinions and allow the work of the Spirit to continue among those with whom we disagree. 
Yet we find ourselves at an impasse of sad proportions. I suppose what is most depressing is the utter pettiness of the entire matter. A growing diocese (the only one in the Episcopal Church) that is a founding diocese of this Church is no longer going to be part of the Episcopal Church – part of this Communion. In the name of being right both the Diocese of South Carolina and the Presiding Bishop’s office have squared off in a manner that is frighteningly banal. 
I say banal because it is the same small-minded, ungracious, and undignified malaise that has taken hold of our politics, economics, and culture more broadly. It is the fruit of 50 years of zero-sum thinking that has crippled our ability to be in true Communion. We talk of the Church being counter-cultural, speaking truth to power, blah, blah, blah. 
Never has the Church so looked like the dominant culture around us than in this new fight. Like those souls who found themselves on the losing side on election day, we have the ecclesiastical equivalent of people filing secession papers. Like the utter simple-mindedness of the election campaign, everything is now dismissed as either unabashedly revisionist and unholy or shamelessly retrograde and homophobic. I have heard fellow priests mocking the departing dioceses, priests, and bishops and saying, “good riddance.” 
The dialogue is poisoned because our hearts have been. Faith, Hope, and Charity have all taken a back seat to being right. 
Never have we been such a sad and wan facsimile of the broader culture.

Fr. Hendrickson concludes with an indictment of us all: "No one individual has abandoned Communion. We are all abandoning Communion."  Read it all.

And looking at the situation from "across the pond" in the Church of Ireland, BC at Catholicity and Covenant sums it up this way:

If the polities of this world too often regard diversity and common life as contradictory experiences, the Church is called in and through communion to experience diversity (catholic, evangelical, liberal) in a common life (baptism, eucharist, prayer, Scripture, episcopate). A failure by the Church to live out diversity in a common life - communion - is not only a matter of discipline. It goes to the very heart of the Church's calling to share in the life of the Triune God and to invite the world to enter into this life. TEC v. South Carolina is not merely a matter of an ecclesial version of Blue State v. Red State. It is a failure of Church to be Church.

A while back a clergy colleague told me that ideological warfare is always ugly. Looking at what's happening with South Carolina, I can see that he was right!

Pray for the Church.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

This post completely ignores one critically important detail--one that seems common among such pleas that attempt to posit some sort of moral equivalence between TEC and the Diocese of South Carolina. That is that a disaffected minority group in the Diocese of South Carolina lodged charges against Bishop Lawrence with the sole intent to depose him and have him replaced by a revisionist bishop. The DBB violated the very spirit and intent of the canons for abandonment (Bishop Lawrence never once proclaimed that he had left the church--quite the contrary, he adamantly stated that he had not left, nor had any intent to leave, TEC); yet, DBB certified abandonment charges. The domino effect would be that rectors of orthodox parishes would then be removed by the new rump bishop (who would not be subject to the normal election process in the diocese). In short, practically every parish would have no say whatsoever as to their episcopal or clerical authority, but would be forced to accept whomever the PB forced down their throats. That is nothing short of tyranny.

The Diocese of South Carolina has been perfectly content (albeit uneasily) to remain as a voice of charitable dissent from the prevailing zeitgeist of TEC, but it's quite clear the Presiding Bishop and others within the church simply will not abide and orthodox voice--however much a minority--in "her" church. The Diocese of South Carolina (with support of her sister diocese in Upper South Carolina) made a good-faith effort to put forth a compromise that would allow it to remain within TEC with its closely guarded principles and beliefs intact--which I shouldn't have to point out reflect 2,000-plus years of Christian doctrine and tradition which has been received from the Apostles and Church Fathers--but the Presiding Bishop, through deceit and subterfuge, completely undermined and derailed the attempt by Bishop Lawrence and Bishop Waldo (Diocese of Upper South Carolina).

For anyone to suggest that somehow TEC and The Diocese of South Carolina are somehow equally to blame is complete and utter nonsense. The diocese attempted to extend an olive branch and the Presiding Bishop repaid the diocese with an adder. Her "pastoral letter" (which she sent practically on the eve of the diocese's special convention) is nothing short of a smile on a dog.

--Bryan Hunter, Member of Vestry, St Michael's Church, Charleston

Bryan Owen said...

Hi Bryan. Thank you for sharing your perspective. I am very sympathetic with the plight of your diocese, and I am appalled by the incoherence and aggression in which this matter has been pursued (note, for instance, The Anglican Communion Institute's analysis in the essay "Consumed By Litigation: TEC in South Carolina"). But regardless of who's in the right and who's in the wrong (and I'm generally wary of claims to "absolute" innocence), my overriding concerns are (a) how this will damage both the Diocese of SC, the larger Episcopal Church, and relations throughout the Anglican Communion, and (b) the message all of this proclaims to a society increasingly skeptical of both institutional religion in general and Christianity in particular. It does, indeed, look all too much like the ugliness we see in our national politics. And so regardless of how one looks at this situation, it is deeply tragic.

Please be assured of my prayers for you and everyone affected by this tragedy in the Diocese of SC.

Anonymous said...

Dear Bryan,

First, thank you for your prayers, which we very much need and appreciate.

I could not agree more that this situation is tragic in the truest sense of the word (one that has been watered down by overuse).

The Diocese of South Carolina had no intentions of leaving TEC. Bishop Lawrence, at great personal sacrifice and often in the face of harsh criticism, has performed a Herculean task trying to keep a diverse diocese intact and in TEC. But TEC has put us in an impossible situation: "We're going to depose +Lawrence and replace him with our hand-picked revisionist, whom you will have to live with against your conscience, but if you leave we'll drop the hammer on you. TEC has left us absolutely no choice--no choice whatsoever. Would you have us sleep in this Procrustean bed? Trust me, my family was instrumental in establishing Anglicanism (and later the Episcopal Church) in America. It is not with a light heart or any sense of fondness that we go this course. Would that it could be otherwise, but for the sake of the Gospel we will do so cheerfully and, I hope, humbly.

--Bryan Hunter

Bryan Owen said...

Hello again, Bryan, and thank you for the follow-up comment. I agree that this is "an impossible situation," and I join countless others whose hearts are broken by what is happening. For the time being it may be (in the words of Bishop Dan Martins) an "exercise in futility," but I continue to pray that somehow, by God's grace, unity and fellowship in Christ can be restored.

Regardless of how things shake out, my prayers will continue for you and all of our brothers and sisters in the Diocese of South Carolina.

The Reformed Reinhardt said...

I respect your commentary and Bishop Martins' point of view, and I agree that all of us are sinful human beings who need God's grace in our lives...but I am sorry to say I cannot buy any equivalence between TEC and the Diocese of South Carolina at all. I think that is a faulty assumption that many Episcopalians (more of 'my church, right or wrong' stuff) are making. I've been reading about this issue for years now, and Lawrence+ has been more patient with Jeffert-Schori than I would have been, and he has made it clear that he was not intending to remove South Carolina from the polity of TEC. However, everyone who has been reading about this issue knew that the line of demarcation here was the Title IV procedures that South Carolina would not tolerate were they used against the diocese or its bishop. Clearly, the aggressor in this case is Katherine Jeffert Schori, not Mark Lawrence+ or the Diocese of South Carolina (just as the Japanese and not the Americans where the aggressors at Pearl Harbor, no matter how tragic it was for all concerned).

Maybe the difference between orthodox Episcopalians who feel as I do and orthodox Episcopalians who feel as you do is that once I saw that South Carolina was finally gone (because the national church leadership crossed the line), then I knew that in 3-5 years I wouldn't be attending a TEC church anymore. While I had talked to my wife before about eventually moving to an area where there were more ACNA congregations, for me South Carolina's departure and the ensuing war was different--this time I could see more clearly than I had before that our end of the table where biblical Anglicans have tried to secure within TEC is finally being sawed away.

By 2020, I'm sure that all orthodox Christians in TEC will either be in ACNA or in different mainline denominational churches. Perhaps a few backwater pockets here and there will escape the final purges, but not many. The Presiding Bishop, for all her talk about 'diversity', just wants obedience and doesn't seem interested in tolerating dissent anymore.

Bryan Owen said...

Thanks for contributing to the conversation, Reformed Reinhardt. I think you are right that there is a difference among orthodox Episcopalians with respect to the South Carolina situation. Clearly, for example, Bishop Dan Martins' view differs from what you and Bryan Hunter have expressed.

Of course, if things get even worse (as if this situation isn't bad enough!), other orthodox Episcopalians may start singing a different tune.

Maxine Schell said...

For many of us orthodox, we really can fund no difference in the revisionists and secularists, though many revisionists seem to be more libertines.

Galletta said...

FWIW, I totally agree with Bryan Hunter. While I am not from South Carolina (although I live here now), I too have generations of ancestors that were Anglicans both here and in England. It is somewhat painful to disassociate, but just remember that it is the Diocese of SC that has gotten letters from around the world that still recognize us for the Anglicans that we have been since 1785 and for some families like Bryan's probably for generations before that. Remember St. Philip's where the diocese is meeting today has been around since about 1680 ( depends on who ask as to exact date). We are STILL ANGLICAN!!
SC Blu Cat Lady

Bryan Owen said...

Thank you for sharing your thoughts, SC Blu Cat Lady. My prayers for the Diocese of SC and for the rest of The Episcopal Church shall continue.

Bryan Owen said...

In some post-SC thoughts on the future of Anglicanism in North America, Fr. Jonathan at The Conciliar Anglican makes an important point about schism. He writes:

"Every schism is a sin, just as every divorce is a sin, even though there are sometimes mitigating circumstances that might make such things necessary in our fallen world. Our proper attitude towards our own contribution to schism must always be one of repentance. And if you do not think you have contributed at all to schism, you are self-deluded and need to repent all the more."

I realize those words may sound harsh to some. I do not think that's what Fr. Jonathan intends, and it is certainly not in the spirit of harshness that I share them here. On the contrary, I offer Fr. Jonathan's words with a heartfelt desire to see good come out of this tragedy, and with the knowledge that at the foot of the cross, all of us stand equally in need of God's mercy.

Pray for me, a sinner.

The Reformed Reinhardt said...

I've been trying to understand your point of view because I think you manage to articulate what a lot of my orthodox brethren believe (though they aren't always as clear as you). These are some responses thoughts I've had. Please respond and correct me where you disagree.

I think the difference between orthodox Episcopalians such as myself and orthodox Episcopalians such as yourself is that I don't see an orthodox body leaving TEC as tragic or 'schism.' The breaking of Methodism from the Anglican church was a schism and was indeed tragic (and I think both church bodies are still paying a price for it). However, I don't think today's problems are the same.

(1). Everyone has to pray about this and make their own judgement, but when I look to what has become the national TEC church, I personally don't see very much that is 'recognizably Christian' anymore: at best, I see well-meaning 'institutional idolatry' that we sometimes sugarcoat as issues of 'Apostolic Succession,' but look more often like old-fashioned 'turf wars' that become part of our workplace culture in any business or institution.

At worst, I see a body of people at 815 who act like political managers, parliamentary whips, propaganda spewers, ideological hacks, tricky accountants who move around endowments and church funds (given for missions, etc.) to use them for ungodly things (lawsuits against Christians, gay and lesbian initiatives, etc.), and so forth.

I also quite frequently see church leaders making public professions about how they are trying to 'prayerfully discern' issues such as same-sex blessings and ordaining transsexuals...but then they go ahead and do what they want to do anyway. Though I've returned to Mississippi and attend church just over the state line in Tennessee, I was confirmed in Diocese of Fort Worth and before it left TEC, we had lots of talks about 'staying or leaving,' guest speakers from both sides. I was a moderate in 2007 when all this started, but as my ears became numbed with the pious professions of the TEC 'company men' who were brought to speak in my very orthodox parish, by 2008 I decided that Iker was way, way more right than wrong.

(2). The Diocese of South Carolina was the 'great experiment' that was designed to settle the following question: Can an orthodox, biblical Anglican body peacefully exist within the larger heretical TEC body. I think we have our answer on that one. Also, since GC 2012 is the first GC that accomplished nothing (everyone who wanted to do "A" was going to do it regardless of the tally, and now that "A" is the tally, those opposed to it say they will not do it, etc.), I think we will see more 815 fiat in the future.

(3). The church that paid for C.S. Lewis to record his lectures on the "Four Loves" as well as some of his other academic talks (which I have in my audio-library) is gone. While there are still remnants of the old church (such as yourself, or my old rector back in Texas who baptized my children, or my rector and associate rector where we attend now), this is the church that Pike built, not Lewis or Seabury.

That's why I'm not spending much time wringing my hands on this issue of 'schism' these days (it is only schism when two bodies of Christians split, right?). But I also realize that this is a set of issues that everyone has to discern personally through prayer and reading of the scripture, and everyone comes to the truth differently (which is what the Episcopal church used to be about...not left-wing takeovers.) I respect your view and Bishop Martins' view, and most of all, I wish we were a part of a church body where these issues didn't matter.

Blessings!

Bryan Owen said...

Thanks for sharing additional thoughts, Reformed Reinhardt. Your points deserve more thoughtful responses than I have time to offer today, so I'm going to let all of this simmer before I write anything specific.

Bryan Owen said...

Greetings again, Reformed Reinhardt. While I’ve continued thinking about the points you’ve raised in your last comment, I came across the latest posting from Bishop Dan Martins entitled “Epic Fail." Quite frankly, I simply cannot imagine offering a better response to the kinds of issues you’ve raised than what Bishop Martins has written.

Nevertheless, I will add the following:

I see your point about the difference between Methodism breaking away and the current situation with the Diocese of SC. But I still regard any breaking away as a tragic deviation from our Lord’s prayer “that they may all be one” (John 17:21). There may be good and even necessary reasons for the breaking away, but IMO it is still tragic.

And yes, I wholeheartedly agree that everyone has to pray about this and make their own judgment. I consider this a matter of conscience. And even though it’s painful, I respect the decision some have made to leave TEC.

As to no longer seeing very much that is recognizably Christian in TEC, I think that what one sees in TEC is not only shaped by theological convictions, but also at least partly colored by one’s location within TEC. I currently serve in a diocese that makes room for orthodox laity and clergy. It’s not perfect, but there’s room (that may change dramatically depending on what happens when my current bishop retires). Things would be quite different if I were in a diocese in which the bishop’s expectations and policies were anti-orthodox and uncompromising in demanding compliance with the progressive agenda. And things would be very different if (as Bishop Martins has pointed out) TEC’s core liturgical documents (i.e., The Book of Common Prayer) entailed heresy. Thus far, I do not believe that keeping my ordination vow to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of TEC commits me to heresy.

I’m not sure that the the Diocese of SC was “designed” to settle the question of whether or not orthodox Anglicans still have a place in TEC, although I can certainly see how some can read the situation that way.. It has sometimes seemed to me that Bishop Lawrence has been daring the PB and others to take action against him. I have very mixed feelings about that. And I find myself preferring the ‘methodology’ of folks like Bishop Dan Martins. Perhaps that’s naïve. Time will surely tell!

And regarding the claim that TEC is now “the church that Pike built, not Lewis or Seabury,” I honestly wonder about that. Sure, I think you’re spot on when it comes to TEC’s progressive leadership. But when it comes to the ‘rank and file’ in the pews in many dioceses, I’m not sure that Pike would be more attractive than Lewis. I guess it would depend on the individual.

I just heard the other day about an Episcopal priest who serves as a college chaplain, and every week he gathers students to listen to a brief lecture on Lewis and then engage in discussion. It’s a thriving ministry. That’s a good sign! I also think that the way Fr. Jonathan of The Conciliar Anglican is engaging young adults with the riches of ‘classical Anglicanism’ is another sign of possible renewal. In the midst of the incoherence and deviations, there are pockets of faithfulness and hope out there.

I can’t predict the future, but at this time I can subscribe to what Fr. Jonathan has written in a recent posting: “I [will] remain a loyal and faithful priest of the Episcopal Church and I will continue as such, unless the official doctrine of the church is changed so as to be no longer recognizably Christian or I am asked to leave.”