S.C. Bishop Weighs Future Amid Liberal Episcopal Actions

In a long and, to many, confusing address to Episcopal clergy in the Diocese of South Carolina, the Very Rev. Mark Lawrence proposed withdrawing from all governing bodies of The Episcopal Church "that have assented to actions contrary to Holy Scripture."

The South Carolina bishop insisted, "This is not a flight into isolation; nor is it an abandonment of duty, but the protest of conscience," during his address last Thursday.

The main protest is against the denomination's controversial decisions last month at the General Convention to approve resolutions that some believe open the ordination process to practicing homosexuals and move the national church closer to the blessing of same-sex unions.

But Lawrence also highlighted the "multitude of false teachings" that has threatened The Episcopal Church for decades.

The core doctrines of their faith that are being "systematically deconstructed" include the trinity, the uniqueness of Christ, scriptural authority, baptismal theology, human sexuality, and the constitution and canons of the church.

He called it the "gospel of indiscriminate inclusion" and contended it is inevitable. This new gospel, he argued, is a movement not only within the church but also within the larger European and North American culture.

Thus, leaving The Episcopal Church would not free any parish or diocese from engaging the challenge, he said.

Supporting neither a "hasty departure" nor a "paralyzed passivity," Lawrence said there is still a need for dynamism and provisionality.

"It is an increasingly fluid landscape in which we are called to do our work and at times seems to change from week to week as developments take place on several fronts. While our principles may stay consistent our strategy must be dynamic and provisional."

Along with a proposal to begin withdrawing from all bodies of governance, he urged congregations in the South Carolina diocese to create missional relationships with other "orthodox congregations isolated across North America" and surrounded by liberal Episcopal dioceses.

Essentially, the role the diocese will play, Lawrence indicated, is being in but not of the mainstream of The Episcopal Church.

"For now our task is clear: As some within TEC are busy cutting the cords of fellowship with the larger Church through the unilateral actions of General Convention expanding policies which further tear the fabric of the Communion; our task will be to weave and braid missional relationships which strengthen far flung dioceses and provinces in the work of the gospel," he said.

One evangelical priest told VirtueOnline.org that the address was "bizarre." "People are trying to understand what the bishop really said. If he doesn't uphold the doctrine and discipline of the church (meaning TEC), what does he want ordinands to uphold that will be accepted by the leadership of TEC?"

The proposals the bishop introduced are scheduled to be considered at a special diocesan convention in October.

Clergy who attended last week's meeting informed VirtueOnline that the Oct. 24 convention will address how candidates for ordination should take their vows to The Episcopal Church.

Bishop Lawrence was consecrated as bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina in January 2008 after affirming to leaders of The Episcopal Church that he had no plans to remove the diocese from the denomination. The Diocese of South Carolina was among several nationwide that voted to reject the authority of the Episcopal Church's presiding bishop over the issues of ordaining gay clergy and blessing same-sex unions.