October 23, 2012
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
I am currently en route to the Diocese of Maridi, South Sudan. It was with great concern and sadness that I learned a few days ago, while attending the Clergy Conference in our sister Diocese of Down and Dromore (Northern Ireland), that Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has placed a “Restriction of Ministry” on The Right Reverend Mark Lawrence, Bishop of South Carolina, after he had been charged with “abandoning The Episcopal Church,” by a majority of the 18 member panel of the Disciplinary Board for Bishops of The Episcopal Church.
In a letter dated October 15th, the Presiding Bishop stated, “Accordingly, I have this 15th day of October, 2012, at noon EDT, placed a restriction on the exercise of ministry ‘until such time as the House of Bishops shall investigate the matter and act thereon.'” Unless a special House of Bishops’ meeting is called, the next regularly scheduled House of Bishops meeting is March 8-12, 2013.
This latest action taken against Bishop Lawrence and the Diocese of South Carolina is indicative of the brokenness and ongoing division within The Episcopal Church and wider Anglican Communion over a number of important theological, moral, and societal issues, not the least of which include: the interpretation and authority of Holy Scripture as the Word of God; the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as “the way, the truth and the life;” the responsibility and means by which a bishop is to “guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church;” the true purpose and nature of marriage as intended by God; as well as the never ending debate over human sexuality and sexual relations outside of marriage between one man and one woman.
Closely tied to all of this is the current debate over the true polity or structure of The Episcopal Church which directly impacts the numerous lawsuits within the Church over property and assets totaling untold millions of dollars.
I mention all of this because I believe it plays a major role in the controversy over the constitutional and canonical changes approved by the Diocese of South Carolina and other actions taken by Bishop Lawrence, which unfortunately have led to the current charges accusing him of failing to fulfill his ordination vows to “guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church,” and the charge that he “abandoned The Episcopal Church by an open renunciation of the Discipline of the Church.”
One of the major issues at hand in regard to the case against Bishop Lawrence and the Diocese of South Carolina (as well as others before them) is what to do when a bishop and/or diocese honestly believes that the legislation passed by General Convention, or the actions or views held by the majority, are in violation of the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church, or are in contradiction with Holy Scripture and the ordination vows taken by the bishop.
Sadly, we seem to have reached a point in the life and history of the Church that any action taken by a conservative bishop or diocese to uphold their understanding of Holy Scripture and the traditional teaching, polity and Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church risks having charges brought against them if their actions are deemed to threaten or challenge the majority view, particularly in regard to polity issues and the control of Church property and assets. If the conservative voice is to have any future in The Episcopal Church, there must be a way to address controversial issues and to differentiate from that which is believed to be inappropriate or offensive.
Bishop Mark Lawrence is and continues to be a dear friend and Brother in Christ. I believe he is one of the finest and most capable bishops to serve in the House of Bishops in recent history. Despite what some have been led to believe, he has been working extraordinarily hard under very difficult and unique circumstances to keep the Diocese of South Carolina together and remain in The Episcopal Church, while not compromising his or the Diocese’s strongly held beliefs.
As one of the original founding dioceses of The Episcopal Church, South Carolina and its bishops have faithfully served God and His Church for well over 200 years. It has been and continues to be one of the strongest and most vibrant dioceses in the Church. The current state of affairs is not only unnecessary, it is tragic – adversely impacting the entire Church and the mission we have been given by our Lord Jesus Christ in the Great Commission.
It is my most sincere prayer that the Holy Spirit will guide and lead Bishop Lawrence, the Diocese of South Carolina, the Presiding Bishop and the House of Bishops in bringing about an appropriate and just resolution that will ultimately bring healing to all involved, glorifying God and building up His Kingdom. As the Bishop of Albany, I will do everything within my power to work toward such a resolution.
Faithfully Yours in Christ,