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The Episcopal Church and South Carolina: Limits to Tolerance and Inclusion

The Episcopal Church and South Carolina: Limits to Tolerance and Inclusion

By Ladson F. Mills III
Special to Virtueonline
May 3, 2013

Edwin Friedman, author, therapist and leadership consultant, observed that when "anxiety reaches certain thresholds, reasonableness and honesty no longer defend against illusion". This would explain the recent week here in the church in South Carolina.

I was taken aback when it was reported by a local blogger that I was facing the possibility of being deposed as a priest of the Episcopal Church. I never considered such a thing in my active ministry or that it could happen in retirement.

A quick investigation revealed the source. My name was used as part of a headline for this story. Since this information stood in contradiction to the letter I recently received from provisional bishop Charles vonRosenberg I was confused. Either the author had a source to which I was not privileged or he was wrong.

Upon examining the article it became evident the perspective I bring to matters in South Carolina is not appreciated. I gather that he is comfortable with retired clergy placing Title IV charges against bishops with whom he disagrees, but draws the line if retired clergy take exception to the policies of bishops with whom he does agree.

His reason for declaring I might possibly be deposed remains unclear. A mutual friend suggests his information was derived from the "old list". I was unaware of the existence of an "old list" or a new one for that matter. Why would this man have access to such a list and what information does it contain which would lead him to such a conclusion?

Of deeper concern was his mischaracterization of Bishop Mark Lawrence. I cannot say that I have ever served as an active priest under Bishop Lawrence. When I moved back home in retirement I did research before requesting my letter be moved into the diocese. Among the most supportive information came from a priest who is a highly visible leader in the group remaining loyal to the Episcopal Church. Even with his profound disagreements with Lawrence he could not help but genuinely like and respect the decency of the man. This is echoed throughout the wider church including his colleagues in the House of Bishops.

This is a far cry from the threatening description in the article. The author's observations do not ring true. I regularly interact with clergy who have chosen to remain with Bishop Lawrence and never heard any suggestion of retaliation for anything from this man. It is well known that he has gone out of his way to work with clergy during this difficult transition. He has supported those desiring to remain loyal to the national church even allowing them to transfer to other TEC dioceses while continuing to work within his jurisdiction.

I recently spoke with a priest who left the Diocese of South Carolina several years ago to ask about his experiences with Bishop Lawrence. He stated that Bishop Lawrence's willingness to work with clergy in this difficult time was never a question. The real questions was what will the Episcopal Church do.

It became clear last summer while researching issues regarding the General Convention that a subtle change is occurring throughout the wider church. Good and caring people from the more liberal perspective now question the wisdom of what appears to be the systematic eradicating of conservative Episcopalians.

I discovered many clergy hoped Bonnie Anderson would remain as President of the House of Deputies. This was not because they agree with her, but she is seen as one capable and willing to stop the intrusive encroachment by the national church. Many of these clergy are personally fond of the presiding bishop but worry she does not seem to understand when or where to draw the line.

Several senior clergy who previously supported Title IV now admit that regardless of the original intent it has created more problems than it has solved. The legal model adopted by the church has proven to be deeply flawed and unnecessarily divisive.

Several months ago I was contacted by a seminarian from one of the more liberal seminaries. He hoped to gain the perspective of a more traditionally conservative remaining in the church. He believed that in doing so he would be able to minister to them in a meaningful way. While there is much on which we disagree I was impressed by his decision. I was encouraged to learn his concern now being openly discussed in Episcopal seminaries.

During these past weeks I have been contacted by friends hoping I will choose to remain in the Episcopal Church. Hence my surprise at receiving at letter giving me two weeks to make a decision which I was unprepared to make. The author of the critical blog may choose to ridicule and provoke fun at the pain regarding this dilemma but for many retired clergy it is no laughing matter.

This past week reveals the great challenge ahead for The Episcopal Church if it is serious about including conservatives. Over the last decade we were asked to tolerate same sex unions, transgender inclusions, draconian changes to the canons, as well as millions wasted in court battles when arbitration would be better. Criticism from a retired clergyman does not seem an excessive burden for the sake of tolerance and inclusion in light of all this.

In the April 28th edition of 'The Living Church" Christopher Wells in his article, "Making Room for Conservatives" writes in order to preserve diversity which includes conservative Episcopalians "it will not be by accident but by deliberate choice of the majority party, to extend a different kind of generous pastoral response to meet the needs of conservative members, individuals and parishes as well as dioceses". The great power of his argument is that it seems to have been taken from General Convention Resolution A049 which is in regard to the blessings of same sex relationships.

So to my revisionist blogger I have what may be for you some unwelcome news. If you are serious about tolerance and inclusion; you may have to get used to living with a few tolerance testers.

Ladson F. Mills III is a retired priest with over thirty years pastoral experience. He lives with his wife in South Carolina. He currently serves as scholar in residence at Church of Our Saviour, Johns Island. He is a regular contributor to "Virtueonline."

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