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Meeting considers future of SC Episcopal diocese

Stephen James Johnson

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From the Associated Press.

CHARLESTON, S.C. – Episcopalians in the Diocese of South Carolina will consider resolutions this week to distance the diocese from the national Episcopal Church because of its positions on same-sex marriage and ordination of gays.

One of the resolutions calls for the diocese to also work with other churches opposed to the national church‘s stance on those issues.

“It would be a withdrawal from some of the national councils of the church,” said Canon Kendall Harmon. “It’s about as far as you can get but still be in.”

Representatives from congregations in the diocese meet Saturday for a special convention in Mount Pleasant. The diocese comprises 75 parishes in the lower and eastern part of the state.

In calling the convention last summer, Bishop Mark Lawrence said false teachings are affecting the national church “like an intrusive vine.”

“I have called this the false Gospel of Indiscriminate Inclusivity because I see a common pattern in how the core doctrines of our faith are being systematically deconstructed,” Lawrence said.

In 2003, the national church consecrated its first openly gay bishop and last summer, at its national convention, authorized bishops to bless same-sex unions.

In 2006, the Diocese of South Carolina and two others opposing consecration of gay bishops voted to reject the authority of the national church’s presiding bishop, but stopped short of a full break with the church.

In June, four breakaway conservative dioceses formed the Anglican Church in North America, a rival national province to the Episcopal Church. Dozens of individual parishes have also joined.

But the Diocese of South Carolina is not considering that.

“The only model that’s been out there for us has either been leave or acquiesce, and that hasn’t been working,” Lawrence said Monday.

“We need to get the 30,000 members of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina awakened to the challenges before us,” he added. “Once we have done that, then the question is how do we engage the larger Episcopal Church?”

One of the resolutions to be debated Saturday says the national church has “failed to operate within the boundaries of its canons and continued participation in such behavior would make the Diocese of South Carolina complicit in this dysfunction.”

It authorizes the bishop and the diocesan Standing Committee “to begin withdrawing from all bodies of the Episcopal Church that have assented to actions contrary to Holy Scripture, the doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ as this Church has received them.”

Harmon likened the resolution to a wife in a troubled marriage moving to a room down the hall.

“The point is it’s intended to save the marriage and she is still in the marriage and she is still in the house,” he said. “You’re trying to do something that is inherently contradictory in order to be heard.”

He said it’s hard to gauge whether the resolution will pass and wouldn’t speculate.

Another resolution calls on the diocese to work with other dioceses and parishes with similar commitments.

Delegates also will consider a resolution saying the diocese will not condone prejudice against anyone, “including those who believe themselves to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered. Nevertheless, we will speak the truth in love as Holy Scripture commends for the amendment of life required of disciples of Christ.”

Many conservative Episcopalians believe Scripture forbids same-sex relationships.

The 2.3 million-member Episcopal Church is the U.S. branch of the Anglican Communion, a 77 million-member communion that is the third-largest group of churches worldwide, behind the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christian churches.

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Meeting considers future of SC Episcopal diocese