A disciplinary committee of The Episcopal Church decided Monday that Bishop Mark Lawrence has not abandoned his church.
The judgment came after the 18-member Disciplinary Board of Bishops pored over 63 pages of material submitted by individuals of the Diocese of South Carolina who asserted that recent actions taken under Lawrence’s leadership amounted to a withdrawal from the church.
But the board, led by the retired bishop of the Diocese of Upper South Carolina, the Rt. Rev. Dorsey Henderson, decided otherwise, citing Title IV, Canon 16 of the church’s constitution.
None of the complaints against Lawrence amounted to an open renunciation of church doctrine, discipline or worship; evidence of an allegiance to, or membership in, another religious organization; or the exercise of episcopal acts for a religious body other than the church, Henderson said in a statement.
“Applied strictly to the information under study, none of these three provisions was deemed applicable by a majority of the board,” Henderson said.
The decision ends nearly two months of speculation about Lawrence’s immediate future.
Lawrence has repeatedly said he does not want to leave The Episcopal Church. Rather, it's the church that's compromised its principles and forced diocese officials to take action.
Two years ago, local church officials voted to strengthen the autonomy of the diocese. In February, it changed its constitution, asserting the authority of the local diocese over the national church.
Earlier this month, the Diocese of South Carolina, which oversees congregations in the coastal half of the state, relinquished its legal oversight of all church property, sending quitclaim deeds to each parish.
That move was a repudiation of the Dennis Canon, which states that parishes hold property in trust for dioceses and the national church, according to Lawrence’s critics. Lawrence himself has called the Dennis Canon, introduced in 1979, “a disaster.”
“This kind of action, along with participating in the conventions that severed legal ties to the national church, I think those are real problems,” local attorney Melinda Lucka, a member of Grace Episcopal Church, has said. “On a diocesan level, this further opens the door to parishes that are considering leaving the Episcopal Church.”
It remains to be seen what, if anything, national church officials will do in response to the issuance of quitclaim deeds.
The trouble began — or at least became acute — in 2003, when the Diocese of New Hampshire made the Most Rev. V. Gene Robinson bishop. It was the first time an openly gay man was elevated to that post, and it provoked a backlash among many Anglicans around the world who objected to what they perceived as The Episcopal Church’s compromise of Scripture and tradition in favor of what Lawrence has dubbed “the false gospel of indiscriminate inclusivity.”