Making sense of the trial in South Carolina

Mark Lawrence

By A.S. Haley

In trying to make sense of the trial in South Carolina (which I did not attend, but know only from the reports of those who did), I noted certain pervasive themes.

First, the trial was a clash of diametrically opposed camps. Bishop Lawrence, his parishes and his Diocese were focused on going forward with their evangelical mission; the lawsuit was a drag on their ability to do so. Bishop vonRosenberg and his Episcopal Church (USA) were obsessed with looking back – to what they viewed as a hierarchical structure from the outset; to the prerogatives of national power that are concomitant to such a structure; and especially to the power wielded collectively by the House of Bishops, and by the Presiding Bishop in their absence.

Second, the trial was a clash of legal strategies dictated by the law of South Carolina. This case came to trial against the background of the South Carolina Supreme Court’s 2009 decision in All Saints Waccamaw Parish v. The Episcopal Church, a case I analyzed in this earlier post. The Court held two things: first, that a religious body who followed its own procedures, and South Carolina law, in amending its governing documents could not have those amendments declared void in the absence of superior church laws or rules forbidding such amendments, and which were in place before the dispute arose; and second, that the only kind of a religious trust that could have any effect under South Carolina law was one declared in a writing signed by the owner of the property being placed in trust – and not by the national church unilaterally, in its role as a putative beneficiary of any such trust.



Comments 1

  • For some reason the story of the Prodigal Son comes to mind. When the Son asked his Father for his inheritance, the Father could have easily said no. He could have given arguments as to why he didn’t have to do this. Instead he gave the Son what he wanted.

    In this situation, the departing Churches just want to leave with their property so they can continue to do God’s work in the way that they see fit. The ECUSA rather than acquiese and wish them well, is determined to try and keep what they perceive to be theirs, no matter the monetary cost and the harm in relationships it causes. Whether the ECUSA has an legal argument as to their right to the property is irrelevant. The Father in the Prodigal Son story did not act this way, and Our Father does not want us to act this way.

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