Monday, November 12, 2012

Episcopal Coup

The latest wrinkle in the South Carolina "abandonment" crisis is a couple of curious meeting notices sent under the letterhead of the diocese. It quickly came out that neither of these letters came from Bishop Lawrence or the diocesan standing committee, but were instead promulgated by the same rump group which is trying to get Lawrence thrown out. Indeed we find out that the reason there were two of these notices is that the rector of the parish announced as a meeting place in the first letter discovered the misrepresentation and balked.

Anyone can see that the pattern established with the four previous departures is being worked through again: a new bishop is named from above, a competing corporate structure is erected, and the battle to claim the property is commenced. The first wrinkle in this case is the move to evict Laurence before he can leave, and the (in my opinion stupid) suicide clauses in the SC canons. The problem with the latter is exactly that, had they not been enacted, the fraud of claiming to be the real diocese wouldn't be even remotely plausible.

But there is a second wrinkle, which has come to light in this review of the affair from the Anglican Communion Institute. There is rather too much evidence, not utterly conclusive to be sure, but strongly suggestive that the whole action is something of a coup against the diocese, mounted with the approval and assistance of the presiding bishop's office. Apparently all the mechanism for replacing Lawrence and the standing committee has been sitting ready for some time, awaiting only the moment when abandonment could be claimed; and that claim was made possible, it may appear, by the change in the composition of the disciplinary board. And in all of the this preparation there are traces of the presiding bishop's influence if not direct action and assistance.

And that leads directly to the other hole in all of this. One of the peculiarities of the Episcopal Church governance is a lot of checks and balances against clerical power. As a rule, parishes and dioceses pick their own bishops, and while there are counterbalances to prevent them from picking someone too objectionable, normally they cannot have someone imposed on them, and once they seat someone, it is difficult to dislodge that person, either from the inside or the outside. There is even less control over laypeople. The loophole, however, is that when there is a vacancy, some interim appointment must be made, and this is the hierarchy's entrance into control from above. The only thing preventing the naming of so inmicable a character of Jack Spong to the South Carolina throne is that he is unlikely to accept the appointment. And not only that, but a whole new standing committee may be named, populated of course from the list prepared by Lawrence's enemies.

It's hard to look at all this and not see some traces of a scheme specifically to oust Lawrence and the standing committee, and to replace both with figures more acceptable to the progressives and thus steer the diocese on a more acceptable (to them) course. And given the ACI timeline, it's extremely tempting to suspect that this was done with the knowledge and even connivance of national church offices. And once again, we're back to the four-decade-old problem: church governance only seems to work when it helps the progressives, but not when it would hinder them. Is it any wonder the SC expected to have to leave?


The Archer of the Forest said...

This whole thing is such an utter boondoggle because 815 does not understand that this is not just another inter-diocesan squabble as is the case in other dioceses where stuff like this has gone down. Everyone I know in South Carolina, Episcopal or otherwise is viewing this as a Yankee Carpetbagger vs. aggrieved Southerner. 815 has blundered into an entrenched culture war that has gone on for over a century, and they don't realize it.

C. Wingate said...

The point, I think, is that there are strong signs that they DO realize it, and are "carpetbagging" with malice aforethought.

Frair John said...

I know the some of the people who filed the original complaint. They filed something with Griswald about Salmon, and were told not to worry their little heads. The PB had words with the Bishop and everything was a-okay. When someone decided to push the issue they were told to be quiet and behave: Pay, Pray, Obey.
Remember, Griswald pushed off complaints about Spong for years until he was pushed into a corner by the, cowardly, attempt on Writer.
We are now reaping the whirl wind of the, repeated, failure of previous PBs offices to follow the canonical procedures when it came to complaints of people against their Bishops, left, right and canter. Most of this would be slowed down if Lawrence would respond to the charges, rather than act like nothing has happened.
The Bishops of SC have been prepping for this for decades, and the National Church has steadfastly ignored the warnings from with in. The real crime here can only be laid at Griswald's feet for inaction and abandonment of the diocese to the rapacious desires of Bishops, one of whom should have been rejected as fast and as furiously as that twit in the UP.

Frair John said...

As for the "Carper bagger" bit: At least one of the signatories is a cradle member of the Episcopal church to a family that has been down there since the colonial era. The carpetbaggers, from her perspective, are the carefully selected clergy allowed in by the Bishops and the, to use her word, "lick-spittle" laity who have shoved there way into power.

Anonymous said...

The previous commenter should check the historical details about Spong and the Righter trial in 1996. Browning was PB then. Griswold wasn't PB until 1997.

Both Browning and Griswold never would have done a thing to reign in Spong anyway, had they been able to. While they may not have been on board with his 'Theism is dead' campaign, they supported his other advocacies.