Southern Diocese Leaving Episcopal Church

Article excerpt

The Diocese of South Carolina has announced that it has disaffiliated with the Episcopal Church, escalating a long-running skirmish and setting the stage to become the fifth diocese to secede from the denomination.

South Carolina said the split was triggered by disciplinary action taken against Bishop Mark Lawrence, its conservative leader. The diocese passed a resolution on October 2 stating that it would immediately secede should the Episcopal Church "discipline, impair, restrict, place on administrative leave, charge, derecognize" or otherwise inhibit the diocese or its leaders.

Twelve lay Episcopalians and two priests in South Carolina brought the charges against Lawrence. The denomination's 18-member Disciplinary Board for Bishops found him guilty of abandoning the Episcopal Church and renouncing its rules in September.

Episcopal presiding bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori informed Lawrence of the guilty verdict on October 15, curtailing his ministry and prohibiting him from acting as an ordained Episcopal priest.

"We feel a deep sense of sadness but a renewed sense of God's providence," the diocese said in a statement on October 17.

The South Carolina diocese announced October 20 that it will hold a special convention November 17 "to begin to discern the best way forward into a new Anglican future. We are all in the valley of decision, whether we have desired it or not."

Neva Rae Fox, a spokesperson for the New York-based Episcopal Church, said that "many are saddened by the recent events in the Diocese of South Carolina and the actions taken by the bishop that led up to the decision by the disciplinary board to certify the bishop's abandonment of the church."

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The stand-off between the national church and the diocese resembles a cold war, said Kendall Harmon, canon theologian for the diocese. "It's a sad set of conflicts, and an enormous waste of time and money that could be better spent elsewhere."

In a broad sense, the split was prompted by theological differences over homosexuality. The Episcopal Church has ordained gay and lesbian bishops and voted this summer to allow the blessing of same-sex unions. Lawrence has called such moves "the false gospel of indiscriminate inclusivity. …