In the Diocese of South Carolina
The Charleston Mercury ran the following article in its October 2, 2013 issue. We are grateful for their permission to reprint the article.
The real story behind our split with The Episcopal Church
By Jim Lewis
Much has been written about the Diocese of South Carolina’s separation from The Episcopal Church (TEC) — and most of it has been wrong.
Virtually all the articles suggest our diocese left because TEC ordained a gay bishop. That’s just not true. The diocese separated last year, nine years after TEC elected its first, non-celibate, gay bishop — and only after the denomination tried to strip all authority from our bishop, the Rt. Rev. Mark Lawrence.
Though media insist our motive for leaving is our difference with TEC’s policies on the ordination of gay bishops and same-sex marriage, the real issues are rooted in the 1970s, well before Gene Robinson became the first openly gay Episcopal bishop in 2003.
It’s about God, not gays
To understand the situation in South Carolina, you need to understand the history of the Episcopal Church, which is the American expression of the Anglican Communion. We have a unique view of the denomination since the Diocese of South Carolina was one of the nine pre-existing dioceses that founded TEC in 1789. The denomination has been redefining itself since the 1970s effectively evolving into two churches under one roof — a traditional one that embraced historic Anglican doctrines and a modernist one.
By the 1990s, the modernist faction was gaining dominance within the denomination. For example, TEC’s then-Presiding Bishop, the Most Rev. Frank Griswold, proclaimed that “truth,” is “pluriform.” This meant the church recognized no single truth, no single theology, no single pathway to salvation.
He effectively said that one person’s truth is as good as another’s. And many of us found that to contradict everything we believe as Anglicans.
It’s true that we live in a nuanced, multicultural world, but traditional Anglicans believe in the authority of Scripture. For us, a belief in Christ is fundamental to the faith, not one of several optional paths to salvation. It is why we are Anglicans, rather than Unitarians or Buddhists or Hindus or something else.
In a 2006 interview with Time magazine, the Presiding Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Katharine Jefferts-Schori, a strong pluriform proponent claimed that to believe, as Jesus said, that He is “the way the truth and the life no one comes to the Father but through Him,” was to put God in an “awfully small box.” That denial of Jesus’ essential role clearly displayed the difference between traditional and modernist or pluriform Anglicans/Episcopalians.
Many leave TEC
The denomination’s embrace of relativism has increased under Jefferts-Schori’s leadership.
As the newly elected presiding bishop, Jefferts-Schori presided over the General Convention in 2006 that failed to honor the requests made by the Anglican Communion. In response, seven dioceses — including the dioceses of South Carolina, San Joaquin, Calif.; Pittsburgh, Fort Worth, Springfield, Ill., Dallas and Central Florida — asked the Archbishop of Canterbury to grant them oversight by someone other than TEC’s presiding bishop.
When no action took place, an exodus began. San Joaquin left TEC in 2007. The Diocese of Quincy, Ill., voted to leave in 2008. Pittsburgh and Fort Worth left in 2009. Between 2000 and 2010, TEC church attendance dropped by 23 percent – and some dioceses lost up to 80 percent of their attendees at Sunday services. Beyond the four dioceses, more than 100 individual parishes left the denomination.
But the Diocese of South Carolina stayed, trying to work with TEC. We took the steps necessary in good conscience to differentiate ourselves from the positions and actions of the TEC leadership while still remaining in the denomination. It’s true that our people were torn about TEC’s shift away from historic Anglican beliefs, but we remained part of the denomination, until last year, when it ruled that Bishop Lawrence had “abandoned” the church and took steps to remove him from the leadership role to which members of the diocese had elected him.
Strong support to leave
The denomination’s Disciplinary Board for Bishops claimed that Bishop Lawrence abandoned the Episcopal Church “by an open renunciation of the discipline of the church.” We believe the decision stemmed from the bishop’s consistent efforts to protect traditional voices and beliefs. The charges laid against him were for actions taken by our Diocesan Convention and its duly-elected leaders.
The Diocese’s Standing Committee announced that the action of TEC’s Disciplinary Board triggered two pre-existing corporate resolutions that simultaneously disaffiliated us from the Episcopal Church and called a special convention of the diocese.
The disaffiliation was affirmed by the vast majority of members who attended the special convention in November 2012. It has since been confirmed again in votes by congregations within the diocese. In all, 49 parishes representing 80 percent of the diocese’s 30,000 members voted to leave TEC, exercising our right to freedom of association.
Anglican leaders from around the world have sent messages of support for the diocese. Many members of the global Anglican Communion feel as we do that TEC has departed from historic Anglican beliefs. Most agree TEC has embraced a radical fringe scriptural interpretation that makes following Christ’s teachings optional for salvation.
The diocese has also been visited by numerous Anglican bishops to demonstrate their support. Easily a dozen from around the globe have been our guests since our departure with more each month. There are vastly more Anglicans in Communion with the Diocese of South Carolina right now than with TEC.
In January, we filed suit in South Carolina Circuit Court, asking for legal protection of the diocese’s property and identity from takeover by TEC. Critics suggest that our suit was unusual. Some even say that the litigation was unprecedented — and “un-Christian.” To be clear, however, the only thing unusual about the lawsuit was that we managed to file before TEC.
The little-reported fact is that TEC has filed more than 80 lawsuits seeking to seize the property of individual parishes and dioceses that left the denomination. TEC itself has admitted to spending more than $22 million on its legal action. These efforts have largely succeeded when TEC attempts to seize the property of individual parishes. Parishes across the country have been evicted from their churches.
TEC’s policy is simple and punitive: No one who leaves TEC may buy the seized church buildings. In several cases where TEC has succeeded in seizing a church, it has evicted the congregation and shuttered the building. In some cases, the church has been handed over to remnant groups that remained loyal to TEC. In other cases, the church has been sold to another religious group.
However, TEC has had less success with the lawsuits it has filed against dioceses. Recently, an Illinois Circuit Court judge decided that TEC had no grounds to seize the endowment funds of the Diocese of Quincy. The Texas Supreme Court overturned a lower court decision supporting TEC over the separated Diocese of Fort Worth. And in South Carolina, a federal district court judge decided that the Circuit Court of South Carolina is the proper court to decide the fate of our property, upsetting TEC’s efforts to get the case heard by the federal judiciary.
It’s about religious freedom
We are not thrilled about turning to the courts for help but believe we had no other recourse for our protection. Much like St. Paul's appeal to Rome (Acts 25), we feel confident the courts will give us a fair hearing. While TEC attempts to portray us as bigots, the real issue is religious freedom.
Members of the diocese who voted to leave TEC feel the denomination has moved away from the authority of Scripture and their historic Anglican beliefs. They left us. You may agree with us about this, or you may find that TEC’s revisions are appropriate. But whatever you believe, those personal opinions should not prevent us — or others – from practicing our faith.
And, since that religious freedom is constitutionally guaranteed in the United States, we believe that the people who built and paid for the disassociated parishes and dioceses have a right to their property. Obviously, TEC wants to keep those millions of dollars in property — an attractive prize for a denomination that is losing members and closing churches.
Irony of reconciliation
Local media have devoted significant attention to the claims of TEC’s representatives that they hope for reconciliation between the denomination and the diocese.
It is difficult to imagine what form that reconciliation might take. After all, Bishop Lawrence spent years trying to keep us within TEC — only to be found guilty of abandonment while in the very midst of attempting negotiation. We were effectively fired upon under a flag of truce. Individual parishes that separated from TEC around the country have been spurned when they attempted to buy their church buildings from the denomination. In one case, a church was actually sold to an Islamic community group at a price significantly lower than the congregation had offered.
That said, we do not wish malice against anyone who wishes to embrace TEC’s vision of faith. But neither will we allow them to impose their vision on us.
The Reverend Jim Lewis serves as the canon to the ordinary for the Diocese of South Carolina.
- 2013-10-05_Jim_Lewis_Article.pdf (Acrobat, 101.5 KB)
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Vestry Resolution Regarding Representation at January 25th-26th Meeting
- VestryResolution.pdf (Acrobat, 55.5 KB)
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St. Paul’s Church, Summerville, Joins Diocese of South Carolina in Historic Lawsuit to Protect More than $500 Million in Local Property from Episcopal Church ‘Land Grab’
Locals react to national church efforts to remove bishop and hijack control of Diocesan holdings and parishes
Summerville, SC, January 4, 2012 – St. Paul’s Church Summerville is one of the parishes joining the Diocese of South Carolina and the Trustees of the Diocese in a lawsuit filed today in a South Carolina Circuit Court seeking a declaratory judgment against The Episcopal Church (TEC) to protect the Diocese’s real and personal property and that of its parishes.
The parishes participating in the suit, along with the other supporting parishes, represent 74 percent of the members in the Diocese.
The suit also asks the court to prevent The Episcopal Church from infringing on the protected marks of the Diocese, including its seal and its historical names, and to prevent The Episcopal Church from assuming the Diocese’s identity, established long before The Episcopal Church’s creation.
‘We have historic and new buildings on our campus worth millions of dollars sacrificially paid for by members of St. Paul’s Summerville—none of these present buildings built between 1857 and 2003 received any financial contribution from The Episcopal Church headquartered in New York City’, said the Rev. Michael Lumpkin, Rector of St. Paul’s Summerville. "Like many of our fellow Lowcountry parishes, we are one of the oldest churches in the nation dating to our establishment in 1707 as a Church of England parish on the banks of the Stono River. We have re-located three times during our three centuries of existence, following the inland 18th and 19th century population migration until settling at our present location on West Carolina Avenue in Summerville. Like the Diocese of South Carolina and other parishes we pre-date the establishment of The Episcopal Church by several decades. We will protect our property from any forced take-over by others."
The Diocese of South Carolina was established in 1785 as an independent, voluntary association that grew from the missionary work of the Church of England. It was one of nine dioceses that in October 1789 voluntarily formed The Episcopal Church, which eventually became an American province in the worldwide Anglican Communion, also a voluntary association.
“When the Diocese disassociated from The Episcopal Church we didn’t become a new entity,” explained the Rev. Jim Lewis, Canon to the Ordinary. “We have existed as an association since 1785. We incorporated in 1973; adopted our current legal name, ‘The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina,’ in 1987; and we disassociated from the Episcopal Church in October of 2012. The Episcopal Church has every right to have a presence in the area served by our Diocese – but it does not have a right to use our identity. The Episcopal Church must create a new entity.”
Of the Diocese’s 71 parishes and approximately 30,000 members, 22,244 members have chosen to remain with the Diocese, including some of the Lowcountry’s largest and oldest congregations. About 1,900 members are undecided and 5,300 – nearly half of them from a single church in Charleston – say they want to remain with The Episcopal Church. While the Diocese has disassociated from The Episcopal Church, it remains a part of the Anglican Communion.
Though theologically more conservative than the leadership of the national Episcopal Church, Bishop Lawrence has for six years struggled to keep the Diocese intact and a part of The Episcopal Church, even as some 200 parishes and four other dioceses nationwide disassociated. The parishes and dioceses disagreed with The Episcopal Church’s recent interpretation of scripture, which is widely considered to be radical by most of the world’s 80 million Anglicans.
When Bishop Lawrence and the Diocese challenged The Episcopal Church’s direction, the group’s disciplinary board attempted to remove him. In response, the Diocese disassociated from The Episcopal Church.
“We believe The Episcopal Church’s decision to embrace an unorthodox theology separated it from the doctrine our Diocese has followed for centuries, the same doctrine that nearly 80 million Anglicans around the world continue to follow today,” said Bishop Lawrence. “This is an issue of religious freedom. Like our colonial forefathers, we are pursuing the freedom to practice our faith as we see fit, not as it is dictated to us by a self-proclaimed religious authority who threatens to take our property unless we relinquish our beliefs. The actions taken by TEC make it clear that such freedom of worship is intolerable to them.”
"We are Anglicans of Scripture, Tradition and Reason and find the present trajectory of The Episcopal Church contrary to our Biblical beliefs as well as the Tradition established through the ages of how much latitude one is allowed to interpret Scripture’s plain sense," said the Rev. Lumpkin. Since this summer, he has written more about these issues on his blog which can be found at the stpaulssummerville.orgwebsite under the heading ‘Mike’s Blog’.
Since the mid-1960s, membership in The Episcopal Church has declined by more than 37 percent – to about 1,923,046 members. During the same period, the number of members in the Diocese of South Carolina has increased by 48 percent, to 29,531.
The Episcopal Church has spent more than $22 million on legal action, filing at least 75 lawsuits against the four other dioceses and 200 congregations that have disassociated from the church. The suits have sought to seize the property of local parishes. Today’s suit is the second preemptively filed by a diocese to protect diocesan and parish property in the wake of a disassociation. The first was the Diocese of Quincy filed in March 2009.
South Carolina state law tends to support the property rights of churches. A recent state Supreme Court decision found that All Saints Church of Pawley’s Island was the true owner of its property and that The Episcopal Church held no interest.
The Episcopal Church has already begun an effort to adopt the Diocese of South Carolina’s identity by calling for a convention to identify new leadership for the Diocese and creating a website and other material using the Diocesan seal.
“The Diocese has established its registered trademarks, seals, buildings and other property through more than 200 years of ministry in South Carolina – beginning before The Episcopal Church even existed,” said the Rev. Jim Lewis, Canon to the Ordinary. “Many of our parishes even predate the United States. We take this legal action to protect the legacy of generations of faithful members who embraced the theology and practices that underpin Anglican belief around the world – but now must do so outside The Episcopal Church.”
St. Paul’s Summerville is a vibrant, growing church community with its campus located in the heart of Summerville. It enjoys a breadth of worship styles from traditional to informal contemporary worship at its four services on Sunday mornings. The vision of this community is ‘To Impact the World in the Name of Jesus Christ.’ The vision includes ‘taking the good news of Jesus into our hearts, our homes, neighborhoods, workplaces and the world, guided by the Holy Spirit.’ Our doors are open to anyone who is seeking to find God or a closer relationship with Him.
"We've moved on!" Diocese of South Carolina looks forward - more information.
Announcement Regarding the Disaffiliation of the Diocese of SC from The Episcopal Church as made to the Parish of St. Paul’s Summerville
by the Clergy on Sunday, October 21, 2012
On Wednesday, October 17, the Diocese of SC, of which we are a member church, dis-affiliated from The Episcopal Church in the USA. This action came as a response to the Episcopal Church’s sudden and unjust restriction of Bishop Lawrence’s ministry on Monday, October 15. The Presiding Bishop and the Episcopal Church took this step despite the fact that Bishop Lawrence had initiated and was in the midst of trying to negotiate a peaceful settlement with the Episcopal Church in order to resolve the seemingly insurmountable theological differences between the two.
As a result, the Diocese of South Carolina has removed its affiliation from the Episcopal Church. While we remain an Anglican Church, we wait patiently on the Lord in discernment of our final provincial affiliation. However, we can say for sure that we are no longer in the Episcopal Church. This is a legal fact and a canonical fact. It may go without saying that The Episcopal Church will not believe nor agree and, therefore, a battle is likely to follow.
For St. Paul’s to remain with the Diocese of SC requires no action on our part. If a particular church or a priest wishes to leave the Diocese and re-join the Episcopal Church, they will need to take action to dis-affiliate from the Diocese of SC. As the ordained of this parish, Mike, Tyler, John and Fred announced to you a year ago our individual decisions that if there was a separation of the Diocese from The Episcopal Church, we were each already firmly decided that we were going to remain with the Diocese of SC and Bishop Lawrence. That conviction remains as strong today as it ever has been.
I know that you likely have many questions. We are only four days removed from the actions of our Diocese but as we get more answers we will share them with you. In the meantime, there are many resources at your disposal online. The place to start is the Diocesan website – here you will find many documents including an important recent timeline of events. While you are there, be sure to sign up for the Diocesan e-news to stay up-to-date on the latest events. Of course, you may speak with the clergy and leaders of this parish at any time to discuss your concerns.
Finally, as God’s providence would have it, we finish today a sermon series on grace. Many of us will look at these events with varying emotions and convictions. Let us resolve to act with love and charity towards all who are members of our family as we sort through any differences in the most Christ-like manner possible. And may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit remain with us always.
Frequently asked Questions - from the website of the Diocese of South Carolina.