SUMMERVILLE, S.C. — Tensions between the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina and the national Episcopal Church continued to heat up at the diocese’s 219th convention held March 26 and 27.
Delegates to the convention quickly passed a series of resolutions asserting its “sovereignty” from the national body. Four of five passed resolutions addressed the diocese’s heritage, so-called “ecclesiastical intrusions” by Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and the diocese’s authority to interpret religious texts and doctrine independently. One resolution spoke out against the Episcopal Church’s use of lawsuits against seceding parishes the diocese considers “in good standing.”
Disagreements over LGBT inclusion and equality within the church have complicated the relationship between the denomination, a member of the worldwide Anglican communion, and its South Carolina Lowcountry province. In recent years, the diocese’s actions have become increasingly more hostile and outspoken as leaders here move the diocese closer toward schism.
Last fall, the diocese passed four resolutions speaking out against LGBT equality, authorizing the diocese to begin withdrawing from national church committees and granting individual parishes the right to enter into relationships with “orthodox congregations across North America.” Several parishes in the South Carolina diocese have already separated from the national church.
Addressing the convention delegates, Bishop Mark Lawrence said efforts to include LGBT people in the church have moved forward without consequence. He chastised national leaders for a departure from orthodox doctrine.
“The march of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Movement has gone on relatively unchallenged,” Lawrence said, according to prepared remarks posted on the diocese’s website. “Clearly these are disruptive challenges to the teaching we have received from the last two thousand years in the church of Jesus Christ…This false Gospel of Indiscriminate Inclusivity like kudzu in an old growth forest has suffocated the mission of the Church and has helped to set The Episcopal Church on a denominationally downward spiral of radically decreasing membership and increasing irrelevance.”
The Diocese of South Carolina, which includes all of Eastern and Coastal South Carolina, was originally formed in 1706 and re-organized in 1785. The diocese is home to 76 parishes and close to 30,000 members. Bishop Lawrence opposed the election of openly gay New Hampshire Bishop Gene Robinson in 2003. In 2006, the diocese rejected the authority of Presiding Bishop Schori. The diocese also opposed two LGBT-affirming resolutions presented and approved at the denomination’s national convention in 2009.
The diocese’s more liberal sister province to the north and west, based in Columbia, elected a moderate bishop in December. It has not passed any anti-LGBT resolutions or statements, and is considered generally welcoming to LGBT parishioners. : :