July 18, 2009
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
“…not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.” Galatians 1:7-8
Grace, peace and courage to you in our Lord Jesus Christ, who was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw the whole world into the redeeming love of the Father and sustain us in the power of the Holy Spirit.
I write to you in the aftermath of General Convention 2009. You need to know that the landscape of Anglicanism and The Episcopal Church has once again changed. I haven’t time now to describe these matters in the detail that they deserve and I am still too close to the events to adequately evaluate them. I shall write you at greater length when I return to Charleston next week. But let me answer ever so briefly two questions: Where is the Episcopal Church after General Convention 2009? What does it mean for South Carolina?
Where is The Episcopal Church after General Convention 2009?
First, TEC has contravened the clear teaching of Holy Scripture and breached the bonds of affection within the Anglican Communion. At General Convention 2003 the debate centered on the clarity of Lambeth 1.10. At GC’06 it focused on the Windsor Report and process which had less clarity than Lambeth 1.10. Here in 2009 Lambeth 1.10 and Windsor were hardly mentioned and the debate returned occasionally to B033 which of course was far weaker than what Lambeth 1.10 or Windsor called for. The trajectory is clear—greater and greater autonomy, license, and stepping apart. Yet the official spin of TEC continues unabated.
Secondly, during our debate some protested that we are moving too quickly. The question is not how quickly we are moving. If blessing same-sex unions is morally wrong now, it will be morally wrong in the future. The matter in dispute in TEC is not like the one St. Paul writes about in I Corinthians 8 of a morally neutral activity such as eating meat offered to idols. In that situation whether to eat or refrain from eating was to be guided by the conscience of other Christians. But this question is completely different, it involves the nature of Christian marriage and the teaching of the universal church about the proper context in which to use the gift of sexuality. The problem isn’t the speed at which the train is moving down the rail: it is the destination to which it is headed.
Thirdly, while the full significance of TEC’s adoption of C056 is not yet clear to me, this much is clear: In allowing Bishops “generous discretion” for granting the blessings of same-sex “marriage” we have entered into a new era of pastoral and canonical chaos, with General Convention’s approval.
What Does This Mean for the Diocese of South Carolina?
I will be meeting with the Standing Committee, Deans and others after my return late Wednesday evening. I will be clarifying my thoughts and seeking greater clarity from the Lord in the intervening days. Please keep me in your prayers as you will be in mine. God has prepared us as a diocese to address this hour in the life of our Church—of that I am confident. It is not a time for alarm. It is a time for thoughtful and steady resolve. We face significant challenges. They are no longer the challenges of tomorrow they are the challenges of today. This cannot be brushed aside as if it is of little consequence.
There is an increasingly aggressive displacement within this Church of the gospel of Jesus Christ’s transforming power by the “new” gospel of indiscriminate inclusivity which seeks to subsume all in its wake. It is marked by an increased evangelistic zeal and mission that hints at imperialistic plans to spread throughout the Communion. This calls for a bold response. It is of the utmost importance that we find more than just a place to stand. Indeed, it is imperative that we find a place to thrive; a place that is faithful, relational and structural—and so we shall!
Faithfully yours in Christ,
+Mark J. Lawrence
Bishop of South Carolina