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Bishop of Springfield’s Diocesan Address to Synod



Well like it or not, and I tend not to, most of the GAFCON leaders are members of our Communion. What are the bounds of dissent? Strangely enough this is the central question raised by the Anglican Covenant. Any competent historian will note that we have fought our doctrinal wars lustily and with little restraint other than that self-imposed by an occasional attack of charity.



So TEC struggles with the right and limit of self-expression, even for bishops and those who commend the Covenant do the same. That both seem to reach different conclusions is par for the course in our comprehension.
By the way, this isn’t the first time that the Diocese of South Carolina embraced a theology not generally received elsewhere in TEC. In the early 19th Century is was the center of a Calvinist revival which spread through the South and was largely responsible for the growth of TEC westward. The polemics indulged in by the factional journals and sermons of the time make our current conflict look wimpy. Because we have always been remarkable hospitable to new (or old) movements there has been a constant shift in opinions, always resisted by those who gained ascendancy the last time!  What seems “progressive” becomes “traditionalist” when threatened. And yet through our history this very ability and liberality has renewed and refreshed us. Gamaliel might be our patron saint.
More than once in our history as a distinct face in Christianity we have slipped into coercion in a fit of insecurity and fright. The results have never been pleasant or honoring to God. Our vocation is to be comprehensive, our practice from time to time is to be exclusive.
Now if TEC concludes that it must save its life by excluding those who dissent from its policies, it may well lose its life as Anglican. Knowing one is right is heady medicine and easily morphs into repression.
I have no idea who has reported the Bishop of South Carolina to the Disciplinary Board. I have read some of their supporters moan that their diocese has been taken away from them, reproducing the Low Church laments when states like Illinois were taken over by Anglo Catholics in the 19th Century. My advice would be to let well alone. If South Carolina can stay in TEC, despite cavils and dramatic language and canonical amendments, let it. We have so much see to do if we are to stem our Provincial decline.

Where Angels fear to tread

One expects a certain naiveté from Christians. On the whole most of us take an optimistic view about goodness and expect it to be a marked attribute of the baptized. Even the most convinced Calvinist, sure that many or most are bound for Below, expects the elect to be kind and good and true.

The problem remains that not all Christians are much better, and some are worse than non-believers. Nothing brings out the devil in us than when we are enmeshed in church politics. The urge to destroy one’s alleged enemies, to get even, to exact revenge becomes the more tempting, if we perceive that such people threaten our own position or our gains. Ample opportunity is given to indulge in such sin when a system is constructed which invites people to bring allegations to a tribunal, indeed which makes such reporting a solemn obligation. In totalitarian societies citizens are encouraged to identify the enemy, to spy, to elaborate, and the temptation to settle old scores becomes almost irresistible.

Certainly it is the duty of citizens in a free society to report abuse to the authorities. Yet the expectation remains that the authorities, with much training and experience, are able to sort out the genuine from the frivolous or the malicious. If such a sifting system breaks down, ordinary people live in insecurity.

In a Christian church which perceives itself in danger, the temptation is to adopt what I might describe as a post 9/11 posture. When such a church is dominated by those who have little or no sympathy for conscientious minorities, whose officials are amateurs, untrained in assessing credible evidence, the possibilities for abuse grow exponentially.

In recent elections and confirmations of bishops we have seen this danger in vivid colors. Persons thought to be rational have leveled frivolous and malicious charges and widely circulated them through the web. Now anonymous persons, obviously clerics, have brought allegations against the Bishop of South Carolina, many of which are plainly daft and desperate. It remains to be seen whether the Disciplinary Board established by the new Title IV canons will demonstrate impartiality and common sense and a modicum of charity. The bishop and diocese of South Carolina – a founding diocese of our church – remain within TEC. Their loss, under any circumstances would be a blow to any pretense that we remain an Anglican, and thus comprehensive church.

I read somewhere an email in which an opponent of Bishop Lawrence yearned for the old days before the diocese was “taken over” by conservatives. Dioceses and indeed the whole Episcopal Church have been “taken over” by Catholics, Evangelicals, Progressives in the past. It goes with the territory. South Carolina was the scene of the 19th Century Calvinist revival in PECUSA. It has also been Broad Church and variations on most of our themes. Yet in the past a toleration of dissent, of plain speaking, of inter-party conflict  has always been part of our scene, of our ethos. We must take enormous care to preserve such liberality. Using law to settle scores or to force division can only weaken our witness at a time in which are membership is dwindling, our influence at its lowest level since the end of the 18th. Century and our finances in jeopardy. The allegations presented against the Bishop of South Carolina are foolish. Perhaps some of the actions of the diocesan convention have been unnecessarily pointed, but express the views of many loyal Episcopalians across the  country. I trust the Disciplinary Board will show wisdom, and a mind to the stability of our church.