S.C. Diocese Engages in 'Battle' with Episcopal Church

Though the Diocese of South Carolina remains affiliated with The Episcopal Church, the two are waging a battle over Scripture and polity.

South Carolina Bishop Mark Lawrence was not hesitant this week to express his continuing frustrations with the national church body's "false gospel" and ongoing pursuit of litigations.

"The distractions that come from the decisions others have made within The Episcopal Church have created restlessness in my spirit," he said at the diocese's 219th annual convention which concluded Friday.

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"Like those in the Church at Corinth with whom St. Paul was confronted, many within the leadership of The Episcopal Church have grown willful," he lamented. "They will have their way though it is contrary to the received teaching of God's Holy Word, the trustworthy traditions of the Christian Faith, and the expressed will of the Anglican Communion."

Lawrence specifically mentioned the recent approval by a majority of Episcopal Church leaders for the ordination of a partnered lesbian. The Rev. Canon Mary Douglas Glasspool will be consecrated in May as bishop suffragan in the Diocese of Los Angeles.

"Clearly these are disruptive challenges to the teaching we have received from the last two thousand years in the church of Jesus Christ," Lawrence said.

"This is our battle to engage," he emphasized. "We are not entirely alone, but our list of allies at home grows thin. This is our time to stand and be humbly counted among the faithful, just as others have in prior generations."

The diocese on Friday approved a resolution declaring itself as "a gospel diocese, called to proclaim an evangelical faith."

It passed four other resolutions dealing with the issue of polity and rejecting the "ecclesiastical intrusions by the presiding bishop" of The Episcopal Church.

"The Ecclesiastical Authority of the Diocese, with the advice and counsel of the Chancellor, is the sole and final authority with respect to any dispute concerning the interpretation of the Constitution and Canons of this Diocese and its interpretations shall be final and binding in all respects," one resolution states.

Lawrence stressed during the convention that he is the only bishop with canonical jurisdiction in the diocese. He accused the Episcopal presiding bishop, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, of "overreach" of her authority.

The chancellor of the presiding bishop recently retained a local attorney to represent The Episcopal Church in local matters. The Charleston attorney has been requesting information concerning the actions of some S.C. congregations which had modified their bylaws to delete references to The Episcopal Church. Lawrence believes the national church leaders are seeking to build a case against the ecclesiastical authorities of the diocese and its parishes.

"Every Diocesan Bishop ... indeed every Episcopalian ought to know that if this is allowed to stand, that if The Presiding Bishop and her chancellor are allowed to hire an attorney in a diocese of this Church, to look over the shoulder of any bishop or worse dictate to that Bishop or Standing Committee how they are to deal with the parishes and missions under their care, imposing upon them mandates or directives as to how they disburse or purchase property then we have entered into a new era of unprecedented hierarchy, and greater autocratic leadership from the Presiding Bishop's office and his or her chancellor," Lawrence stated.

The diocese has demanded the removal of the presiding bishop's legal counsel.

"Unfortunately, after lengthy and respectful conversation, the Presiding Bishop and I stand looking at one another across a wide, deep and seemingly unbridgeable theological and canonical chasm," he added.

After hearing the bishop's address, the Rev. Chuck Owens, rector of Church of the Cross in Bluffton, S.C., said "it is becoming clearer by the day that the Diocese of South Carolina and The Episcopal Church are on opposite sides of a battle that will soon be engaged on multiple fronts, theology and polity being the most obvious at the moment."

In October, the Diocese of South Carolina voted to begin withdrawing from all bodies of The Episcopal Church that have assented to actions contrary to Scripture and Anglican tradition. The withdrawal was not a complete split from the national church.

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