South Carolina diocese defecting from the Episcopal Church

RNS photo by Kevin Eckstrom

(RNS) The Diocese of South Carolina announced on Wednesday (Oct. 17) that it has disaffiliated from the Episcopal Church, escalating a long-running skirmish and setting the stage to become the fifth diocese to secede from the denomination.

(RNS1-MAR07) The Rev. Mark Lawrence is the Episcopal bishop-elect of South Carolina. 
Lawrence has had trouble gaining ``consents'' to his election from other Episcopal dioceses. For 
use with RNS-CAROLINA-BISHOP, transmitted March 7, 2007. Religion News Service photo 
courtesy of Episcopal News Service.

(RNS1-MAR07) The Rev. Mark Lawrence is the Episcopal bishop-elect of South Carolina.
Lawrence has had trouble gaining “consents” to his election from other Episcopal dioceses. For
use with RNS-CAROLINA-BISHOP, transmitted March 7, 2007. Religion News Service photo
courtesy of Episcopal News Service.

South Carolina said the split was triggered by disciplinary action taken against Bishop Mark Lawrence, its conservative leader. The diocese passed a resolution on Oct. 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 Monday, 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. A diocesan spokesman did not respond to requests for further comment.

Neva Rae Fox, a spokesperson for the Episcopal Church, said, “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.”

The stand-off between the national church and the diocese resembles a Cold War, said the Rev. 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.”

St. Michael's, a church within the Diocese of South Carolina, is 1 of the 2 most prominent Episcopal churches in Charleston, S.C.

St. Michael's, a church within the Diocese of South Carolina, is 1 of the 2 most prominent Episcopal churches in Charleston, S.C.

Dozens of congregations and four dioceses —  in California, Texas, Pennsylvania and Illinois — have split from the Episcopal Church, often triggering long and expensive court battles over church property.  

Fox said that “dioceses may not leave the Episcopal Church.”

“Even if leaders and individual members of congregations choose to leave, those who remain continue as members of the Episcopal Church and leader of their dioceses,” she said.

Under Lawrence’s leadership, the South Carolina diocese has legally and theologically distanced itself from the Episcopal Church, removing references to the the national church in civil and church documents and issuing deeds that release the diocese's and denomination's claims to parish property.

Spread along the state’s southeast coast, the 29,000-member diocese even declared itself sovereign within the Episcopal Church in 2010. After a July vote to bless same-sex unions, Lawrence and most of the South Carolina delegation left General Convention, the church’s triennial governing body.

The guilty verdict by the Disciplinary Board for Bishops came as Lawrence and Jefferts Schori were negotiating to find “creative solutions” for resolving their differences, according to the South Carolina diocese. Church rules stipulate that the presiding bishop must implement the disciplinary board's decisions, Fox said. 

Lawrence was found not guilty of similar charges last year, before he released the claims to church property.

Lawrence was elected bishop of South Carolina in 2006, but failed to gain adequate approval from a majority of dioceses amid fears that he would lead the diocese to secede. In 2007, Lawrence was elected a second time and gained approval after offering assurances that he would try to keep the diocese in the Episcopal Church.


About the author

Daniel Burke

Daniel Burke worked for Religion News Service from 2006-2013. He now co-edits CNN's Belief Blog.


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  • Ann Boleyn had ambitious designs and Henry VIII could not keep his tremendous lust for her under control and so the Anglican Church was born. It was then kept alive by seizing the wealth of the Church which had been a tremendous help to the poor and redistributing that wealth to Henry and members of the upper classes to the economic and spiritual detriment of the lower classes. The Episcopalian Church had its origin in schism and will continue to fragment.

  • How ironic that Anglicans/Episcopalians in the 21st century are telling their members that they cannot secede from the Anglican church. There would be no such thing as “the Anglican (Episcopalian) church” if it were not for the fact that 16th century Catholics, i.e., papists, broke away from the Catholic Church and formed “the Anglican church,” then proceeded to steal much of the property.

    And why is homosexuality seen as so bad? Adultery, which was the catalyst for the creation of the Anglican church, is condemned in Sacred Scripture as well. And what about contraception? It’s okay?

    The reason the Anglicans, along with all Protestant denominations, have fragmented into thousands of sects that have accepted divorce and remarriage, contraception, abortion, and homosexuality is due to their rejection of truth, which is a rejection of Christ’s teaching concerning the nature of His Church, which is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic, and governed by the Bishop of Rome.

  • The usual misinformed comment about how anglicanism started. Anglicanism was started by Elizabeth I as a via media between the Extremes of the Catholicism of herSister Mary and the Presbyterianism of her Brother Edward.

    Henry VIII opposed protestantism and considered himself a Catholic his entire life, his schism with the Vatican not withstanding.

    The above poster is clearly a Roman Catholic ,utterly ignorant of 16th century English History

  • I find the above comments (by people who are obviously catholic) a bit dishonest and hippocritical. What percent of professing catholics use birth control without hesitation? The “catholic” church has split just as many times as any other denomination if not more; the great schisim, martin luther, Henry VIII, and more recently SSPX. All schismatic catholics. As Christ said “Judge not, lest ye be judged” At least the anglacans are honest about their differences.

  • Of course the Anglican ( that is ENGLISH) church was born from ambition, lust, adultery and looting. That it was “distilled” from the original Catholicism and the then-new-fangled Presbyterianism, does not make it any less schismatic. And although the Catholic Church has suffered many splinterings – jus within the USA there are some 33,000 Protestant groups- the Bark of Peter continues to sail triumphantly under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the One, True, Holy, CATHOLIC, and Apostolic Church founded by Christ, WITHOUT A SINGLE ABOUT FACE OR DOGMATIC CHANGE in more than 2,000 years and counting. The oldest and longest-lasting institution on the face of the Earth.
    And BTW, the stampede by disgruntled Anglicans and Episcopalians back Home to Rome is what prompted Benedict XVI to create the Anglican rite of the Church that is growing by leaps and bounds.

  • Thor,

    With all due respect, please do a google search on the origin of the Church of England. It was founded by Henry VIIII. I learned that in high school world history.

    “Whilst it was Henry who created the Church of England by repudiating papal authority, it was his spiritual advisor, Thomas Cranmer, who was its theological architect. In particular, it was Cranmer who wrote the prayers and litany that form the traditional Book of Common Prayer and who established the 39 articles of religion that form the basis of the Church’s teaching. However, following Henry’s death in 1547, the protestant reformed tradition began to exert more and more influence over the English Church. Henry had been succeeded by his young son, Edward VI, who favoured the protestant position. The rich, colourful and highly symbolic form of religion began to be replaced by the plain even austere forms of service favoured by the Protestants. Church walls were painted a plain white, losing the rich colours and wall paintings that were common up until then. Statues were ripped out, their niches still empty to this day. ” etc.

  • @Thor
    It is also true that the Anglican church considers itself “Catholic” in that it is part of what it sees as the universal true church. However, as John Henry Cardinal Newman realized Anglicans for whatever reason left the church in a way analogous to previous movements leaving the church. But the so-called Roman Church was always “the Church” that was left, that is consistent and true from the beginning.

  • Also ,remember Henry V111 and Cranmer called the Mass BLASPHEMOUS AND DID AWAY WITH THE ALTERS AND ABOLISHED THE PRIESTHOOD. They “ordained”
    Ministers of the Word in which they just preach. ONE HUNDRED TWENTY YEARS LATER
    they realized their mistake and started to “ordain” priests to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the
    SAID INVALID MASSES. Pope Leo X111 Made an exhaustive study of the Anglican “priesthood” and declared them invalid due to “LACK OF INTENTION AND
    DEFECTIVE FORM”. That is why today when Anglican “priests” convert to Catholicism
    they are REORDAINED.The Anglican Church is divided into two groups,the high church
    and the low church. the high church calls themselves “Catholic” and the low church
    calls themselves protestant.Today worldwide Anglicanism is self destructing.

  • A very warm welcome to the Anglican and Episcopalians who are choosing to swim the Tiber to Rome Eh!!!!

  • it is a shame that the history of the anglican church is being defended by some one who does not know it except for what they googled. It seems now google is the way to find definitive information not the true history as recorded in England. I suggest you read a great book by a wonderful historian Hilaire Belloc called The Reformation.

  • All that happened in the 16th century in certain parts of the Western Church was that the pope’s spurious claims of hegemony over Christendom were recognized by sincere, concerned and learned Christian for what they were-a fantasy, comforting to some Christians but totally without merit to others.

    Cardinal Newman once said that “To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant.” One can but wonder to what history the dear, old soul was referring. The fact is, “To be deep in history is to cease to feel any need to submit to the papal obedience.”

  • Just another heretical self indulgent disobedient ungodly cult. Founded on the shifting sands of human error and collapsing on its own foundations of sand.
    to bad it took this long for the Anglican cult to implode.

  • A thumbs-up to Bishop Lawrence, and may you find greener pastures. How pleasant to read a story about an Episcopal bishop and NOT find myself disgusted!

  • The sheer audacity of mere mortals to form “churches” “denominations” and “sects” in parallel/opposition to the one, holy, catholic and apostolic body founded by Christ for His divine purposes – with His personally appointed head and ironclad guarantee of infallibility! All the ridiculous gobbledy gook from the thousands of different groups about really being “one Church in spirit”, with only “minor doctrinal differences” between them nothwithstanding…

    Think about it.

  • Wow! Lets all pile on the Episcopalians. Next thing you know someone will remember that today 10% of Americans (30 million people) used to consider themselves Roman Catholics. Oh my, someone has said it. See how they love one another.
    How may of you experts on religion know that Christianity used to be the dominent religion in the Middle East and East? But Christians there spent so much time fighting among themselves in the first few centuries of the CE, persecuting those who had a different understanding of who Christ was and what he wanted of us, and who aligned themselves with corupt governments, that they were easy pickings for conquers and the newer religion, Islam.
    At the moment Christianity in the West seems to be loosing ground. Could it be we are just repeating what happened in the East so long ago?

  • My Lord and Saviour is Jesus Christ. I am an Anglican/Episcopalian. God put me here, here I’ll stay.
    The Church of England was the Church in England long before there were Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or Anglican parts of the Church. Christ founded just one Church of which all baptized with water in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit are members. It does matter what you believe about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit= The Holy Trinity – and therefore Mormons are not Christians, The Church of England was not founded by Henry VIII. It was founded like the other 2 branches by Christ. Be true to history if not to the Lord.

  • The former bishop led his previous diocese to believe that he would remain faithful to his vows and his charge as bishop. Bishops, as he has now been made to understand, aren’t afforded the luxury of flip-flopping like a politician running for office.

  • King Henry vacillated wildly between Catholic teachings and Anglican teaching thought his life. He had no burning to leave the church. He didn’t separate from Rome because he considered the church flawed. He simply wanted to marry Ann Bolyn. The schism between two churches was one of the bloodiest religious periods in history.
    And for all you out there who take the creed words of ” one holy catholic and apostolic church” as a reference to the Catholic Church, you are wrong. The lower case catholic referees to the worldwide church of believers, not the official Catholic Church.
    I am a former Catholic and left because of the child abuse scandal and cover up by the church. No man can claim to be led by God and participate in that kind of behavior.
    As for the homosexuality issue, the meaning Christianity can be summed up in one teaching of Jesus. When asked which commandment was the most important, he replied ” You shall love The Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”…” You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” He did not add any qualifiers such as, “However, you are only required to love those YOU decide are worthy.”
    God considers us ALL worthy. That is the defininition of Grace.
    The Episcopal Church is a church governed by bishops. In order to be a parish, every individual church signs and agreement with their diocese that states that church property and assets belong to the diocese. We are not entilited to leave the diocese without repercussions. Episcopal Churches who choose to do so are NOT recognized by the Anglican Church no matter what sign they put in front of their building. No one ever thinks about the people who wish to remain part of our church and have be denied entrance to their parish church and the privileges of being members of a diocese.

  • I know many many RC’s that are totally against the teachings of the RC’s relative to divorce; LGBT folks; marriage of priests etc…but still call themselves “Good Catholics”….go figure.

  • I find the many comments by Roman Catholics above to be ignorant of their own faith and glancing away from the practices of their fellow adherents. Birth Control is practiced by 68% of all married/single Catholics. Having celibate men make decisions about a woman’s body is not from the Holy Spirit, but from male arrogance. And the RC bishops have this in abundance! As someone said above, Anglicans at least are honest and open about their differences. In light of the protests by the RC laity of the RC bishops at their annual mtg in Baltimore this past week, maybe the Romans are becoming more open too!

  • Anybody mention that “Nones” are the fastest growing group in North American religion right now, especially with those under 30 years old? Religion is so boring and reading stories like this, who can blame people for deciding to sleep in on Sundays?

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