Episcopal officials voted Saturday to distance the Diocese of South Carolina from the national church and engage other disaffected orthodox Episcopalians in response to recent church actions affirming the rights of gays and lesbians and to other theological concerns.
The resolutions presented at the special convention, held at Christ Episcopal Church in Mount Pleasant, were meant to reinforce the autonomy of the Diocese of South Carolina and assert a theology that, in the words of Bishop Mark Lawrence, rejects "the false gospel of indiscriminate inclusivity."
Four of the five resolutions passed overwhelmingly, including one that calls on the bishop and standing committee "to begin withdrawing from all bodies of The Episcopal Church that have assented to actions contrary to Holy Scripture, the doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ as this Church has received them."
Lawrence and other diocese officials have said that such action represents a disengagement from the governing bodies of the national church but not a formal separation. It is a "protest of conscience" and an expression of hope that Episcopal Church officials will "show a willingness to repent."
In July, the General Convention of the national church passed resolutions affirming the rights of gays and lesbians who seek a civil union or a leadership role in the church.
The Diocese of South Carolina, which oversees the coastal half of the state, has long voiced its opposition to what is perceived as the liberal drift of an Episcopal Church concerned more with multiculturalism and political correctness than with the authority of Scripture.
Delegates at Saturday's closed-door meeting decided to table Resolution No. 5, after some debate about changing its language. The resolution stated that the diocese "will not condone prejudice or deny the dignity of any person, including but not limited to, those who believe themselves to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered," but will "speak the truth in love as Holy Scripture comments for the amendment of life required of disciples of Christ."
The resolution could now be subject to modification then offered again for a vote at the next convention.
Resolution No. 1 takes The Episcopal Church to task for departing from the doctrine, discipline and worship of The Church of England, affirms the "unique Lordship of Jesus Christ" and grants the bishop and standing committee of the diocese authority to determine what is "edifying to the Body of Christ" and how best to uphold and propagate the constitutions and canons of the church.
Resolution No. 2 declares "null and void" the decision of General Convention to suggest a path toward the blessing of same-sex unions and consecration of gay bishops, and calls on the diocese to withdraw from all bodies of The Episcopal Church.
Resolution No. 3 promotes the formation of "missional relationships" with other dioceses and "orthodox congregations isolated across North America."
Resolution No. 4 calls on the diocese to endorse a draft of the Anglican Covenant, a proposed document that would unify orthodox Anglicans worldwide.
At least six parishes -- clergy and lay delegates -- voted "no" on all the resolutions, according to the Rev. David Williams, rector of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church: St. Stephen's, St. Mark's, Calvary, Grace, Holy Cross Faith Memorial on Pawley's Island and All Saints on Hilton Head.
Other parishes, such as Old St. Andrews and Trinity on Edisto Island, dissented with the majority in at least some cases, according to participants.
In an open letter to the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina addressing the governance and procedures of The Episcopal Church, House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson expressed concerned over what she called "misleading statements" contained in diocesan resolutions presented for a vote on Saturday.
"Looking at Resolutions 1 and 2 in particular and at Resolutions 1-4 as a whole, entitled 'Guiding Principles for Engagement,' I am concerned that some in the Diocese are seeking through these resolutions to move the Diocese out of the full life of The Episcopal Church and perhaps even see the resolutions as steps preliminary in attempting to separate the Diocese from the Church," Anderson, the church's highest ranking lay person, wrote. "I am concerned that several of the proposed resolutions contain misleading statements or assert positions that are in conflict with those of this Church."
The Oath of Conformity, which diocese officials argue has been compromised, acknowledges the autonomy of The Episcopal Church and does not require it to adhere strictly to the practices of other members of the Anglican Communion, Anderson wrote. Despite assertions found in the resolutions, the official doctrines and discipline of the church do not include certain historical documents cited by diocese officials. And no diocese can unilaterally declare the actions of General Convention, the governing body of the church, to be "null and void" since all members of the church are required by canon law to abide by such actions, she wrote.
"The General Convention is the governing body of the Church and the authority of all other entities and offices comes from General Convention," Anderson wrote. "So, adoption of a resolution declaring an action of General Convention null and void is itself, a nullity. Actions of General Convention are binding on dioceses regardless of whether their bishops and deputies voted for or against them, agree with them or even participated in General Convention. … A diocese is, of course, free to express its disagreement with an action of General Convention and to work to change it but it may not declare it to be null and void and of no effect in the diocese."
The Rev. Dow Sanderson, rector of Church of the Holy Communion, an Anglo-Catholic parish, said passage of the resolutions is not likely to have an immediate effect on the daily life of the diocese, "but it gives people a sense that something momentous occurred."
"The diocese does not want to follow resolutions of General Convention that contravene 2,000 years of church history," Sanderson said, calling the vote a "move toward differentiation" from the national church.
The Rev. Al Zadig, rector of St. Michael's, said the bishop's opening address was his finest, eloquently expressing the grievances of the diocese. Passage of the resolutions was a blessing, he said.
"It will bless my leadership because when the bishop and rectors are on the same page, you can do so much more ministry," Zadig said. "It helps me explain to my parish where we are."
Effective ministry requires that the diocese differentiate itself from The Episcopal Church, he said.
"Right now, we're connected to a theological cesspool," Zadig said. The resolutions "put feet to our words," he said.
The Rev. Jimmy Gallant, vicar of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Orangeburg, and the Rev. Dallas Wilson of St. John's Chapel on Hanover Street, said they support the bishop and voted in favor of the resolutions but remain focused on the word of God and on being faithful disciples of Christ.
Wilson noted that nothing would likely change, especially in blighted neighborhoods where the two men do much of their work.
"It's an exercise for us," Wilson said. "It could be an exercise in futility."
Williams, whose St. Stephen's congregation is loyal to the national church, said the resolutions essentially are meaningless, except as an expression of protest, since they are contrary to the canons of the church.
"Anything they vote on is moot," he said.
As long as the bishop remains a member of the Episcopal House of Bishops and continues to attend General Convention meetings, he is part of the church, Williams said.
When pressed by a delegate to specify what bodies of the church the diocese is withdrawing from, Lawrence said the House of Bishops and General Convention, according to participants.
"At some point," Williams said, "the church will have to rule on this."
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A house divided: Episcopal Church fractured by different beliefs, published 01/07/07Anglicans may form two tracks, published 07/29/09All Saints Church: Court rules in favor of Pawley's Island Congregation, published 09/22/09Bishop Lawrence clarifies position of Episcopal diocese, published 10/09/09S.C. Episcopalians nearing vote, published 10/11/09Differing viewpoints, published 10/11/09