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Blast from the Past: When Doing Right Isn’t (Pawley’s Island Case)

Our recent piece on Allan Haley brought up one of the more acrimonious subjects from the Anglican/Episcopal world we have dealt with: the All Saints/Waccamaw secession from the Episcopal Church, sometimes called the “Pawley’s Island Case.”  When this site switched to WordPress, it left behind the original piece on the subject.  I’m going to try to reconstruct the original posts on the subject: the follow-ups are on the site.  My “post-mortem” on the subject, then and now, are at the end of the post.

When Doing Right Isn’t

17 July 2006

The unravelling of the Episcopal Church is good drama. It’s also educational, both for the participants and the spectators. Nowhere is this more true than the issue of the property, and it is here when one diocese has shown us that doing right only plays into the hands of the enemy.

One of the stupider “footnotes” in the recent saga of the Episcopal Church has been the secession of All Saints Church in Pawley’s Island, South Carolina. All Saints, complete with ample property, was founded when South Carolina was still part of the British Empire and the Church of England was the state church. The Diocese of South Carolina, which includes Charleston and the surrounding Low Country, has many historical churches that date from the same era. It is also one of the most conservative dioceses in the Episcopal Church.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that same Episcopal Church has long since departed from any reasonable definition of Christianity, as comparison with the Book of Common Prayer will attest to. Many in same church would like to leave and take their parish with them. But the ace in the left’s hole has been the “Dennis Canon,” which deeds the property of all Episcopal churches to the general church in trust.

Most jurisdictions have upheld this arrangement. There are a few exceptions, though. The People’s Republic of California, strangely enough, is one of them: they have held that property arrangements that pre-date the Dennis Canon cannot be broken by such an ex post facto act. In this way four Episcopal parishes have escaped the Diocese of Los Angeles and their left-wing prelate, Jon Bruno.

In the case of All Saints, they and their legal counsel figured out that, since the property was deeded before the US even existed, the Dennis Canon could not reach it. So they voted themselves out (reminiscent of what happened in Columbia 20 December 1860) of the Episcopal Church and joined the Anglican Mission in America, which is in fact in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury, the chief prelate of the Church of England and the centre of the Anglican Communion.

So what did this conservative diocese do when confronted with this act of orthodoxy? They sued All Saints. When this didn’t work, they sued the vestry. None of this has brought the parish back into the diocese. In the meanwhile the Episcopal Church elected a woman as Presiding Bishop who refers to our blessed Lord as “Jesus our mother.” Now it’s time for the diocese to secede; after wasting God’s money on trying to keep one parish from doing the right thing, they turn around and seek “alternative primitial oversight” from their new Presiding Bishop.

There is no doubt that the Diocese of South Carolina was preserving its legal interests in suing All Saints. But there is equally no doubt that, looking at things from the standpoint of the real purpose of the Diocese and of God’s church in general, the South Carolinians should have seen that allowing All Saints out—or at least offering token resistance, than caving—was in the long term interest of orthodox Anglicanism in North America. Put another way, instead of seeing All Saints’ secession as an act of rebellion to be crushed, they should have seen it as an exit strategy in the event that things in the Episcopal Church got worse—and anyone with common sense should have seen that this course was for all practical purposes unstoppable.

We follow the saga of Anglicanism and the Episcopal Church for many reasons, some personal, some historical. But we also believe that, in many ways, the takeover of the Episcopal Church by the left is a dress rehearsal for same takeover of the country at large. The main difference between the two is that, with its elevated demographics, the Episcopal Church neither produced nor supported a Ronald Reagan to lead the institution in a different direction. But Reagan’s legacy is slipping away as his supposed heirs scramble for earmarks and attempt to re-create the 1950’s when they need to be taking us into the future.

American conservatives need to look at the broader picture of things. They need to stop whining about the breakdown of the “rule of law” on immigration and see that many of the immigrants have stronger values of work and family then they—–or in some cases their ancestors—–do. They need to stop trying to create a democracy in the Middle East while allowing left-wing pseudo-sophisticates to create a pseudo-democracy at home that can’t even bring ballot security up to par with Mexico’s. And they need to see that, if they continue to squander their energies on petty self-enrichment, like the Episcopalians they will wake up to find a Katherine Jefferts-Schori at the helm—only this one will have police power to back her up.

And she is waiting in the wings.

When Doing Right Isn’t: A Response

19 July 2006

We got an interesting response from “Ron in San Diego” to our piece “When “Doing Right” Isn’t”:

It’s a shame that you call the recent issues of our church “good drama.” Good people on all sides (including the middle) are very troubled by this situation. Yet you claim to be an Episcopalian and label this as “good drama.” John Dean is so right about mean spirited neoconse…

We need to make some clarifications and response.

First, unless I slipped somewhere, I am not currently an Episcopalian, nor have claimed to be on this site.

Second, as far as “good drama” is concerned, there are two things to keep in mind.

The first is that, as any student of the classics knows, the unfolding of history of any kind is a form of drama. In the ancient world, historians such as Tacitus and Thucydides certainly considered the events they chronicled–and editorialised on–as drama, even when it concerned tragic events such as the fall of Athens or the reign of Caligula. Ancient historians felt that history was instructive more than their modern counterparts, which may explain in part why we never seem to learn anything from it.

My second point comes from working about ten years in ministry. Many things happen in this kind of work that wound, wound very deeply, even when theological and ideological events are not involved, as they are with the Episcopal Church. People generally go into ministry to actualise their calling, and when that calling gets bogged down in the very human world around them, it can be very painful. To think of what’s going on around them as “drama” (one friend of mine, a chaplain, likes to take a clinical/psychological look at things like this) helps one deal with the ups and downs of life and work in the ministry, otherwise the pain would be unbearable.

As far as being a “neoconservative” goes, I’m not sure of what Ron’s definition of one is, but I don’t know of any self-respecting neocon who would write the next to the last paragraph of “When “Doing Right” Isn’t.” Neoconservatism as it is practiced in the political realm requires a combination of institutionalism and triumphalism that I can’t quite muster, at least not in combination.

The point of the article is that the Diocese of South Carolina, in suing All Saints, acted against its own theological interests in favour of its legal and financial ones. This to my mind is not correct. Recent events may finally be convincing people in Charleston that I am right on this.

Webmaster’s note, 31 March 2007

This piece has proven to be one of the most controversial pieces we have written for this site.

To start with, one viewer didn’t like our characterisation of TEC’s problems as “good drama,” and we responded to this. (See above.)

Beyond that, we had the bad taste to point out on Kendall Harmon’s website (he is the Canon Theologian for the Diocese of South Carolina) that TEC’s rejection of Mark Lawrence’s election as Bishop was a poor reward for the Diocese’s efforts to retain All Saints on behalf of the church. This led to an accusation that our statement below that the diocese sued first was inaccurate. We responded to this as well.

It is my contention then and now that the Diocese’s blind loyalty both to the U.S. legal system and TEC is misplaced. Irrespective of how this got started, the Diocese expended considerable effort and resources to keep All Saints “in the fold” without consideration of the broader issue of where “the fold” was going. My contention was not only based on purely theological issues but also on practical considerations based on two decades in a business where litigation was frequently initiated and/or perpetuated without considerations of the broader interests of the Company. The Diocese has made the same mistake and no simplistic recourse to “authority” will change that.

Some Closing Reflections

I think it’s fair to say that the Diocese of South Carolina (Episcopal, then Anglican) came to the realisation that “the Diocese’s blind loyalty both to the U.S. legal system and TEC is misplaced.”  Unfortunately but predictably the Episcopal Church–whose own broader interest were likewise neglected in the quest for victory in the courts–pursued the seceding diocese the same way it pursued All Saints.

As far as the political analogy is concerned, I’ve always contended that major elections were the left’s to lose.  And they’ve lost them.  At the centre of that problem is Hillary Clinton; she lost in 2008 to Barack Obama and eight years later to Donald Trump.  Obama for his part had the momentum to make his idea permanent but lacked the energy and the will to do so.  I think that sooner or later, if the left can get its act together and win, whoever leads that triumphal train won’t make the same mistake.  (It’s interesting to note that the California courts eventually caved to the Episcopal Church, as opposed to the comment above.)

The core lesson from this sad saga remains: blind institutional loyalty is a loser, no matter what the institution is.  The authority of God, expressed in his Word, is what counts.  Everything else is secondary.




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