|Episcopal Bishop Mark Lawrence|
The bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina circulated a letter to his Lowcountry congregations today condemning the actions of the national Episcopal church on same-sex blessing and gender issues and said he would open talks this week about the future of the diocese in the U.S. church.
The letter from the Rt. Rev. Mark J. Lawrence is the clearest indication yet that he does not believe the conservative diocese can tolerate the latest changes in church doctrine approved at the 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church that just concluded in Indianapolis.
In the letter addressed to “Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,” Lawrence said “the actions taken mark a significant and distressing departure from the doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ as this church has received them.” He asked that the letter be read at today’s services and copies provided to parishioners.
In probably the most public of its adopted resolutions, the General Convention that concluded July 12 endorsed a liturgy that can now be used for same-sex blessings. The U.S. Episcopal Church is part of the worldwide Anglican Communion, but the American church’s more liberal stance on same-sex issues has created the greatest rift within the 77-million strong Communion and provoked the biggest challenge to its top leader, the Archbishop of Canterbury.
“It hardly needs to be said, but for the record let me say clearly, I will not authorize the use of such rites in the Diocese of South Carolina,” Lawrence wrote in the two-page letter. “Such rites are not only contrary to the canons of this diocese and to the judgment of your bishop, but more importantly I believe they are contrary to the teaching of Holy Scripture; to two thousand years of Christian practice; as well as to our created nature.”
The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina represents 29,000 Episcopalians along coastal South Carolina. Midlands and Upstate Episcopalians reside in the more moderate Episcopal Diocese of Upper South Carolina, with 28,000 members. The Upper Diocese leader, Bishop W. Andrew Waldo, said earlier he would not vote to endorse the same-sex blessing rite but would be open to establishing a task force to study the issue further. He has said his parishioners reside on all spectrums of the same-sex issue.
Lawrence, who has been among the most outspoken of U.S. bishops in his opposition to the ordination of gay clergy, said even more alarming was the adoption of new language that prevents discrimination toward transgendered persons and clears the way for the possible ordination of those who have undergone a change in sexual identity.
“They open the door to innumerable self-understandings of gender identity and gender expression within the Church; normalizing ‘transgender,’ ‘bi-sexual,’ ‘questioning,’ and still yet to be named self-understandings of individualized eros,” Lawrence said. “I fail to see how a rector or parish leader who embraces such a canonical change has any authority to discipline a youth minister, Sunday school teacher, or chalice bearer who chooses to dress as a man one Sunday and as a woman another. And this is but one among many possibilities.”
Lawrence had earlier sought alternative leadership for his diocese, contending U.S. leaders did not represent the beliefs of his congregants. The Sunday letter seemed to significantly heighten that unease with the U. S. church. He said he plans to meet Monday with his Council of Advice and on Tuesday with the Diocesan Standing Committee. Beginning July 1, Lawrence said he would open meetings with deans and clergy.
“Given these changes in the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Episcopal Church, the question that is before us is: “What does being faithful to Jesus Christ look like for this diocese at this time?”
The Rev. Kendall S. Harmon, the canon theologian for the Diocese of South Carolina, said when interviewed Saturday: “It’s clear we have to separate ourselves from the false teaching. It’s not clear what the godly response is at the diocese.”
Read it all here.