(Photo: Abe Thomy)
The Episcopal Church has decided to clear the charges leveled at a bishop who spoke critically of the church’s stance on homosexuality.
The Rt. Rev. Mark Lawrence, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, was cleared of charges that he was planning to break with The Episcopal Church.
“[L]et me express my heartfelt gratitude for the innumerable letters, emails and spoken words of encouragement I have received from so many within the diocese,” wrote Lawrence in a letter to diocese members.
The Rev. Dr. Kendall S. Harmon, canon theologian for the Diocese of South Carolina, told The Christian Post that the diocese was “relieved” by the decision.
“We are relieved at the decision and thankful for the hard work of the people involved,” said Harmon, adding that they were “deeply troubled” over what Lawrence had to go through.
The controversy that surrounded Lawrence focused on his criticism of homosexuality, a position professed by his diocese.
Accusers saw the bishop’s criticism as being an indicator that he was planning to have the diocese leave The Episcopal Church and proof that he had abandoned church principles. The Episcopal Forum particularly accused leaders in the diocese of "accelerating the process of alienation and disassociation" from The Episcopal Church.
“The position of the diocese is the position of the ecumenical consensus of Christians East and West through the church’s history,” Harmon argued, in opposition to homosexuality.
“There are only two states of human beings, singleness and marriage, and the only proper context for the expression of sexual intimacy is between a man and a woman who are married to each other.”
Harmon said that regarding homosexuality “we believe there have been multiple erroneous decisions made” by Episcopal Church leadership “in the last decade or more.”
“We are also more and more troubled that such wrongful decisions are increasingly allowed to be promoted in local practice, while senior leadership claims that other standards are being upheld,” said Harmon.
“This has led to increasing chaos in our own province as well as sowed disunity through the Anglican Communion.”
The Episcopal Church – the U.S. arm of Anglicanism – caused uproar in 2003 when it consecrated its first openly gay bishop. Despite calls for restraint from the wider Anglican Communion, a second partnered gay bishop was consecrated in 2010. Episcopal leaders passed resolutions the year before, opening the ordination process to all baptized members, which would include practicing homosexuals, and calling for the development of theological and liturgical resources for the blessing of same gender relationships.
Bishop David Anderson, president & CEO of the American Anglican Council, believed Lawrence would remain a target of Episcopal Church leadership.
“I don't think it will stop The Episcopal Church from going after Bishop Lawrence and the diocese in the future,” said Anderson in an interview with CP.
“They are basically fishing in the Diocese of South Carolina, looking to catch those that challenge and distance themselves from the national church's unbiblical theology.”
On the issue of leaving, Harmon explained that Lawrence seeks “to be a faithful upholder of both evangelical truth and catholic order” and is “disturbed” by those who decide to leave the church.
“At the same time he is deeply troubled by the continued movement of The Episcopal Church away from the Gospel of Jesus Christ died and risen,” said Harmon.
In October, the Rt. Rev. Lawrence was accused of attempting to abandon the principles of the Episcopal Church.
A statement released Monday, Nov. 28, by the Disciplinary Board for Bishops concluded that Bishop Lawrence had no intention to break from The Episcopal Church or abandon its principles.