Nov. 21, 2012
Fifth Diocese Withdraws from
By Mike McManus
The Diocese of South Carolina became the fifth diocese in
which an overwhelming percentage of parishes voted to leave The
In 1790, South Carolina Diocese was one of seven that
organized the Protestant Episcopal Church. What prompted the
Diocese to abandon a denomination it helped form two centuries
The Episcopal Church (TEC) voted in July to recognize
same-sex marriage. S.C. Bishop Mark Lawrence and his entire
delegation walked out of the TEC convention with a statement:
“We hereby repudiate and reject any action of The Episcopal
Church which purports to bless what the Lord clearly does not
bless. Specifically, we declare any rite which purports to bless
same-gender unions to be beyond the authority of the General
However, what sparked the final separation was the decision
by TEC’s Disciplinary Board to charge Lawrence with having
“abandoned The Episcopal Church.” That’s not how the Church of
England, the Anglican home of TEC views it. It voted to continue
its association with the Diocese. Archbishops from “Kenya to
Singapore, England to Egypt, Ireland to the Indian Ocean,
representing the overwhelmingly vast majority of members of the
Anglican Communion” told Lawrence that they consider him “a
faithful Anglican Bishop in good standing.”
They have even called upon The Episcopal Church “to repent
and return to the Lord.”
When a vote was taken on November 17, 54 congregations out of
73 voted to leave TEC, while 12 declared their intention to
remain with it. The others were undecided.
To leave is courageous.
In every case that the diocese has left the denomination, TEC
sued to get financial control of not only the assets of the
diocese, but the properties of the individual congregations. It
won that battle in the Pittsburgh Diocese and Quincy, IL. The
Diocese of Fort Worth will soon plead its case before the Texas
Supreme Court, as will my parish before the Virginia Supreme
Court. Nor has a final resolution been decided with the San
Joaquin Diocese in California.
The matter is personally financially very costly for the
clergy as well. They will forfeit medical insurance. Clergy who
have contributed to the pension fund are vested after five
years, but contributions will no longer be accepted. Severed
from the national denomination, the Diocese of Charleston can
offer neither health insurance nor pensions.
The Episcopal Church has won every legal case to date, with
one exception. All Saints Church in Pawley’s Island, S.C. won
its battle to retain its property in the S.C. Supreme Court.
That precedent may help for the Diocese of South Carolina.
However, I do not understand why The Episcopal Church has
been so successful. Why don’t courts recognize the First
Amendment’s guarantee of the “free exercise” of religion? How
can a national church tell 20,000 people in scores of parishes
in a diocese that they do not have the right to exit that
denomination and join another?
How is TEC successful in the courts? It argues that TEC is a
hierarchal church in which local congregations and clergy
recognize they are subordinate to a bishop and a diocese.
However, in this case, and in four others, an entire diocese
with most of its parishes have walked away. In fact, a new
denomination has arisen from hundreds of orthodox Episcopal
churches who have left to create the Anglican Church in North
America (ACNA), which now has nearly 1,000 churches and 100,000
Interestingly, the Diocese of South Carolina has not yet
decided to join ACNA. As Bishop Lawrence told his
congregations, “As any wise pastor will tell you, if you have
been in a troubling, painful or dysfunctional relationship for a
long period of time and then the marriage or relationship ends,
you would be wise not to jump right away into the first one that
comes along and tie the knot.”
Jesus prayed that his followers “be one,” as he and the
Father are one. That is one command of Jesus that Americans
have excessively ignored.
There are hundreds of denominations, with more forming all
the time, such as the Anglican Church in North America that
joins parishes in the U.S. and Canada. In addition, there are
100,000 independent churches, not affiliated with any
However, this very independence of American churches is what
gives them so much vitality. Nearly two-thirds of Americans are
members of a church or synagogue.
That’s two to 10 times the percentage of Europeans who are
Where in the Bible is a commandment, “Thou shalt not leave?”