Bishop Lawrence Addresses His Convention, Which Votes to Shake the Dust from its Feet
His message to the Special Convention of the Diocese of South Carolina in Charleston was strong and clear. Here is the essence of it, in two excerpted paragraphs:
Consequently, I trust you will understand that I have striven in these past five years, contrary to what some may believe or assert, to keep us from this day; from what I have referred to in numerous deanery and parish gatherings as the Valley of Decision. There is little need to rehearse the events that have brought us to this moment other than to say—it is a convergence of Theology, Morality, and Church Polity that has led to our collision with the leadership of TEC. I hope most of our delegates and clergy who have heard me address these matters know in their hearts and minds that this is no attempt to build gated communities around our churches as some have piously suggested or to keep the hungry seeking hearts of a needy world from our doors. Rather, let the doors of our churches be open not only that seekers may come in but more importantly so we may go out to engage the unbelieving with the hope of the gospel and serve our communities, disdaining any tendency to stand daintily aloof in self-righteousness. Indeed, let us greet every visitor at our porch with Christ and while some of our members stand at open doors to welcome, still others will go out as our Lord has directed into the highways and byways of the world—across seas and across the street—with the Good News of a loving Father, a crucified-yet-living Savior and a community of wounded-healers learning, however falteringly, to walk in step with His Spirit. Let not God’s feast go unattended. This is our calling and our mission.
But I must say this again and again. This has never been about who is welcome or not welcome in our church. Its about what we shall tell them about Jesus Christ, his mercy, his grace and his truth – it is about , what we shall tell them when they come and what we shall share when we go out.
Bishop Lawrence keeps the truth of the Gospel first and foremost throughout his address. The price of staying in ECUSA cannot be the surrender of God’s Word as Christians have received and held it through the centuries:
We have spent far too many hours and days and years in a dubious and fruitless resistance to the relentless path of TEC. And while some of us still struggle in grief at what has happened and where these extraordinary days have brought us, I believe it is time to turn the page. The leaders of TEC have made their positions known—our theological and creedal commitments regarding the trustworthiness of Scripture, the uniqueness and universality of Jesus Christ, and other precious truths, while tolerated, are just opinions among others; our understanding of human nature, the givenness of gender as male and female, woven by God into the natural and created order, is now declared by canon law to be unacceptable; our understanding of marriage as proclaimed in the Book of Common Prayer “established by God in creation” and espoused by Anglicans around the world hangs precariously in the life of the Episcopal Church by a thin and fraying thread; and our understanding of the church’s polity, which until the legal strategy of the present Presiding Bishop’s litigation team framed their legal arguments, was a widely held and respected position in this church. Now to hold it and express it is tantamount to misconduct or worse to act upon it – is ruled as abandonment of this church. While one might wish the theological and moral concerns were on center stage, it is the Disciplinary Board for Bishops misuse of the church’s polity that has finally left us no place to stand within TEC. So be it. They have spoken. We have acted. We have withdrawn from that Church that we along with six other dioceses help to organize centuries ago.
While I have strived to keep us from this Valley of Decision, having walked so long in its gloom myself—once forced to decide—my allegiances are firm. The doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ as this church has received them and the solemn declaration “that I do believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary for salvation” cannot be surrendered.
ECUSA will not be allowed to interfere in the Diocese’s mission for the sake of its machinations, which are all about property and power, and have nothing to do with salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. The path for this Convention is clear, and there is no point in looking back, or reflecting on “what might have been.” Moreover, those who disagree may do so freely and without rancor or penalty; those who need more time for discernment may have all the time they need.
Nor can we embrace the new revisions to the doctrine, discipline and worship so wrongly adopted. Whether we could or could not have stayed longer, or continued to resist in the face of these recent innovations need not detain us further. An unconstitutional process has weighed us in a faulty canonical balance and found us wanting. The PB’s legal team having entered with coy excuses and without canonical authority into this diocese some three or more years ago, now emerges from the shadows, stepping boldly into the light of day. We must of course address them and their actions; but should they look to reconciliation and not litigation, changing from their prior practice of speaking peace, peace while waging canonical and legal war, we shall meet with them in openness to seek new and creative solutions. Yet let this be known, they will not detract us from Christ’s mission. We move on.
Those who are not with us, you may go in peace; your properties intact. Those who have yet to decide we give you what time you need. Persuasion is almost always the preferable policy, not coercion. By God’s grace we will bear you no ill. We have many friends among the bishops, priests and laity of TEC, and we wish you well.
Furthermore, I bear no ill toward the Episcopal Church. She has been the incubator for an Anglican Christianity where God placed me many years ago. Rich is her heritage and regal her beauty. When I have quarreled with her it has been a lover’s quarrel. For many of the precious gifts she has received from prior generations she has not maintained. And she has left no place for many of us to maintain them either. So I say free from malice and with abiding charity we must turn the page.
And I say this as well: to all who will continue with us: “Let us rend our hearts and not our garments.” Let us be careful not to poison the waters of our communities with our differences with TEC.
Rarely have the spiritually hungry, the seeker, the unconverted or the unchurched been won for Jesus Christ through church conflicts, denominational discord, or ecclesiastical excesses. If we are to have the aroma of Christ we must live in his grace with faith, hope, and charity. The apostle has described it well: the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness (long-suffering) and self control. Therefore, we cannot allow either personally or corporately any root of bitterness, resentment, unforgivenness, anger or fear to take us like untied and forgotten buoys in an outgoing tide, burying our hearts and mission in some muddy marsh or to float adrift in some backwater slough.
No, we shall turn the page with hearts wide open and love abounding for the chief of sinners – which is always us. We shall move on.
Actually, let me state it more accurately. We have moved on. With the Standing Committee’s resolution of disassociation the fact is accomplished: legally and canonically. The resolutions before you this day are affirmations of that fact. You have only to decide if that is your will and your emotions will follow.
The Convention voted overwhelmingly to affirm the actions of the Standing Committee. The Diocese of South Carolina is no longer a constituent member of ECUSA—but that does not make it any less “Episcopal.” ECUSA has no monopoly on that name, which simply means “headed by bishops.” The name of the Diocese, therefore, remains “the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina,” and its full description remains what it was in colonial times: “The Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America in the Diocese of South Carolina.”
Ah, you ask, but if it is no longer a member of ECUSA, then it is no longer in the Anglican Communion?
The question proceeds from a gentlemens’ club mentality, which sees the “Anglican Communion” as consisting of only members whose names appear on the official membership schedule of the Anglican Consultative Council. That is today true only in a narrow, legal sense. The truth is that for a good while now, there are and have been two Anglican Communions. And a good way to tell them apart is to look at the ones who recognize Bishop Lawrence as a bishop in good standing and who pray in solidarity with his Diocese, versus those who will not:
Our vision since 2009 has been to Make Biblical Anglicans for a Global Age: Helping by God’s grace to help shape emerging Anglicanism in the 21st Century. Just this week I mentioned in my recent Open Letter to the Diocese that we have heard from Archbishops, Presiding Bishops, and diocesan bishops from Kenya to Singapore, England to Egypt, Ireland to the Indian Ocean, Canada to Australia. They, represent the overwhelmingly vast majority of members of the Anglican Communion and they consider me as a faithful Anglican Bishop in good standing and they consider this diocese as part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.
Ah friends, this has got to comfort us as we await further guidance from God regarding future affiliation. And we need to continue conversation with the Provinces and Dioceses with whom we have missional relationships. Just yesterday I received emails from bishops in Egypt, North Africa and Ethiopia assuring us of their prayers. I thought my gosh if those in such hard pressed environments should take an interest and intercede on our behalf is humbling. I woke this morning to see an email from Ireland, from Bishop Clarke saying we are in his prayers. We are not alone. Greater are those with us than any who may be against us.
I have omitted a long central passage from the address in which Bishop Lawrence discusses the state of Anglicanism in North America, and in the State of South Carolina in particular (with no less than six denominations in the Anglican tradition having bishops and clergy there!). Be sure, as the Rev. Canon Dr. Kendall Harmon will tell you, to go and read the whole thing.
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