The Episcopal Church and SC: Litigation and Long Spoons
By Ladson F. Mills
Special to Virtueonline
April 3, 2013
Episcopalians in the low country of South Carolina were treated to a unique witness from The Episcopal Church this past Maundy Thursday.
On this profoundly sacred day a lawsuit was filed against Bishop Mark Lawrence by the competing diocese remaining loyal to the Presiding Bishop. The eighty-four page document accused Lawrence of "misappropriation, conversion, breach of trust, and breach of fiduciary duty". The Charleston "Post and Courier" described it vividly with the headline "Continuing Diocese Hits Back." While the world witnessed the pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church in actions which reveal him to be a true man of God and class act South Carolina Anglicans were treated to the antics more in keeping with a class bully.
"Maundy" takes its name from the latin "mandatum" from which comes the modern word mandate. In John's Gospel (13:34) Jesus says A new commandment (mandate) I give you that you love one another even as I have loved you." In Rome the new Pope Francis washed and kissed the feet of prisoners, while the Episcopal Church felt the need to "hit back" by violating the sacredness of this day with a lawsuit is as disturbing as it is telling.
Provisional Bishop Charles vonRosenberg's attempt to put a spin on this decision fell short. In a press release he stated "We would not have chosen for this filing to take place during Holy Week...but the legal deadline left us no choice." How inadequate his explanation seems in light of this continuing revealing behavior.
Last November clergy of the Diocese of South Carolina received several communications from this group intentionally disguised to create the impression it was authorized by Bishop Lawrence. Many clergy sought clarity by writing and requesting the identity of those originating the correspondence. They received no response. These concerns were shared with Chairman Hillary Douglas as well as other members of a committee selected by the provisional bishop to assist those who desiring to remain with the National Church. Their explanation was that it was administrative error caused by a lack of clerical help.
Perhaps this is the excuse for their latest failure.
To file this lawsuit during Holy Week is an abomination and one must wonder why any Christian would choose to do such a thing. Any clergy who would agree to such an act is the source of great concern. If this decision originated from the leadership at 815 then it is time to take action against those who are responsible. There are enough unhappy bishops to make this happen if they should ever choose to do so.
Although the document is eighty-four pages in length and hardly riveting it is not without irony. Listed under one heading "For a Tenth Defense (No Justiciable Controversy)" is the statement that the "Plantiff has failed to show the existence of an actual justiciable case or controversy between Plantiff and Defendant." Justiciable is a legal term defined as something "not capable of being decided by legal principle or by a court of law." Could it now be that lawyers for the national church are willing to concede the legal system is not the appropriate venue to settle all issues? How tragic this conclusion earlier could not have been arrived at earlier.
During this recent Holy Week while the world was treated to images of Christian humility, the Episcopal Church chose the secular over the sacred. It is all about money, property and power. In the words of Joseph Welch the attorney whose response to Senator Joe McCarthy is credited with halting the continuation of the 1950's communist witch hunt known as "McCarthyism" we too wonder, "at long last have you left no sense of decency?"
In quiet contrast the youth of Old St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Charleston provides for us a genuine model of Christian behavior. These young people made palm crosses from branches for the Palm Sunday Liturgy. These crosses were given as a gift of love and to their brothers and sisters who along with a retired clergy person had come to a painful decision to leave Old St. Andrew's and remain with the Episcopal Church. They now worship with a group known as the West Ashley Episcopalians. If the time should ever come when the church reconciles it will be because of behavior such as theirs. The clergy and people of the Episcopal Church have every right to expect and demand their leaders behave in a Christian manner.
There is an old Russian proverb which states that he who dines with the devil best have a long spoon. Having witnessed the continued and unrelenting idiocy emanating from the Episcopal Church I am beginning to wonder if there can ever be a spoon long enough.
Ladson F. Mills III is a retired priest living in South Carolina. He currently serves as Scholar in Residence at the Church of Our Saviour, Johns Island. He is a regular contributor to Virtueonline
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