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On Thursday, the Rt. Rev. Mark J. Lawrence published an open letter to those in the Diocese of South Carolina explaining his position and accusing the Episcopal Church’s leadership of identity theft.On the same day that Lawrence’s letter appeared, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, distributed a pastoral letter to the Diocese of South Carolina explaining her position and recent events.To read both letters, go to postandcourier.com.
The half-page ad in last Sunday’s Post and Courier from a group claiming to represent the Diocese of South Carolina used as the centerpiece for its rationale this quote from the late Bishop William Alexander Guerry:
“We shall strive for unity, not uniformity. Uniformity is mechanical, barren, unfruitful, and unprofitable. Unity is organic, living and capable of endless growth. If we are to be truly catholic, as Christ himself is catholic, then we must have a church broad enough to embrace within its communion every living soul.”
I agree wholeheartedly. Unfortunately, these words when used by this alternative Steering Committee are ironic, hypocritical and disingenuous. If this group or the Episcopal Church (TEC) truly believed these words, the issue facing the original Episcopalians in South Carolina would not exist. But this group and TEC do not practice what they preach and to invoke a godly man like Bishop Guerry is symptomatic of the basic flaw in TEC, a “diverse like me” mind-set.
TEC has repeatedly “talked” about unity amid diversity, yet “acted” through its polity with malice and divisiveness toward individuals, churches and dioceses whose theological tenets it found out of sync with its narrow definition of diversity. A review of comments made by TEC Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori shows the painful and unnecessary results of church polity void of Christian charity and integrity. Jefferts Schori made the following comments in official communications:
1. “This Episcopal Church is a broad and inclusive enough tent to hold that variety. The willingness to live in tension is a hallmark of Anglicanism, beginning from its roots in Celtic Christianity pushing up against Roman Christianity in the centuries of the first millennium.”
2. “We do not seek to impose our understanding on others. We do earnestly hope for continued dialogue with those who disagree, for we believe that the Spirit is always calling us to greater understanding.”
3. “Unitary control does not characterize Anglicanism; rather, diversity in fellowship and communion does.”
4. “We affirm the image of God in the person who disagrees with us. We believe that the Body of Christ is only found when such diversity is welcomed with abundant and radical hospitality.”
5. “We’re looking toward a church that is more varied and less rigidly controlled, more networked and less directed. This new church is going to be more organic, more profoundly a body with uniquely gifted parts, each one honored and blessed for the service of God’s mission.”
Ironically, these claims often were offered as a rationale for TEC disagreeing with the vast majority of the Anglican Communion outside the U.S. At other times, the pleas for “unity amid diversity” were to support TEC’s or Jefferts Schori’s belief in divergent perspectives on the divinity of Christ, sin, the death of Christ on the cross, the inerrancy of Scripture, or the Resurrection.
Many Orthodox Episcopalians in South Carolina believed the presiding bishop’s statements about diversity and hoped that TEC would indeed “affirm the image of God in the person who disagrees with us” and would “believe that the Body of Christ is only found when such diversity is welcomed with abundant and radical hospitality.” Our Bishop Mark Lawrence was adamant that the Diocese of South Carolina would do everything humanly possible, and divinely inspired, to stay within TEC. Our leader, like many of his parishioners, wanted only a small space to stand on our Orthodox beliefs within TEC.
Unfortunately, that small space continued to shrink with each new decision by TEC. The 2009 revision of the canons reduced the space to a corner. The attempt to charge Bishop Lawrence with two offenses in 2010-11 made the corner very small, but being acquitted at least provided a tiny space to stand on principle and orthodox beliefs. The 2012 decisions on gender identity and ecclesiastical authority eliminated that tiny space. Finally, finding a godly man guilty of abandonment converted the tiny space into a razor’s edge, severing the affiliation of a diocese that predated the establishment of TEC.
There appears to be no sincerity, no Christian charity, and certainly no unity when Jefferts Schori’s and TEC’s words are contradicted by their actions.
During my career that included being president of two church-related liberal arts colleges, an insightful faculty member at one of the colleges called the relativist philosophy sweeping across campuses as a “diverse like me” mind-set. Diversity is great as long as it includes all those who agree with a certain postmodern worldview.
Jefferts Schori and TEC embody this “diverse like me” mind-set. Even though the Anglican Communion, of which TEC represents less than 3 percent, is supportive of the Orthodox beliefs of the Diocese of South Carolina, TEC will not allow the original Diocese of South Carolina to stay “under the tent with diversity in fellowship and communion, affirming the image of God in persons who disagree, welcoming with abundant and radical hospitality, a body with uniquely gifted parts, each one honored and blessed for the service of God’s mission.”
Where is diversity with fellowship and communion? Where is affirming the image of God in persons who disagree? Where is welcoming with abundant and radical hospitality? Where is the church broad enough to embrace within its communion every living soul? Where is the tiny space we worked so hard to find so that we could remain in TEC?
That tiny space to stand on principle and belief has become a razor’s edge of hypocrisy, severing a tie that should have remained. That tiny space has been eliminated by a “diverse like me” mind-set in a dysfunctional polity. And the Episcopal Church, the original and legitimate Diocese of South Carolina, the Anglican Communion and God’s kingdom on Earth will be the worse for it.
Dr. Peter T. Mitchell is a vestry member at Prince George Winyah Episcopal Church in Georgetown.
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