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Not all local Episcopal Church leaders agree with a recent letter from the diocesan bishop strongly opposing same-sex blessings, but they said they will comply.
The bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina circulated the letter to his Lowcountry congregations Sunday, condemning the actions of the national Episcopal church on same-sex blessing and gender issues and said he would open talks this week about the future of the diocese in the U.S. church.
The letter from the Rt. Rev. Mark J. Lawrence is the clearest indication yet that he does not believe the conservative diocese can tolerate the latest changes in church doctrine approved at the 77th General Convention of the Episcopal Church that just concluded in Indianapolis.
The Rev. Jeffrey Miller, rector of The Parish Church of St. Helena in Beaufort, and the Rev. Charles Owens III, rector of The Church of the Cross in Bluffton, said they fully support and approve of Lawrence's letter and views.
"Where we stand is very simple," Miller said. "We stand foursquare behind the bishop, and we're in total agreement with the letter that he wrote.:
The Rev. Gregory Kronz, rector for St. Luke's Episcopal Church, Hilton Head Island, was on a mission trip and could not be reached. In the past, the three churches have issued joint letters and statements opposing same-sex blessings.
"It's about honoring what God has said we ought to do," Owens said.
The fourth area church, All Saints Episcopal Church on Hilton Head Island, staked a more moderate stance, but the Rev. Richard Lindsey, the church's rector, said the congregation will comply with Lawrence's views.
"I stand solidly behind the (national) Episcopal Church," he said. "That's not to say I'm not loyal to my bishop, but I tend to disagree. ... We will honor where he stands because we are part of his diocese and he is our bishop."
The church's website states it is a "welcoming, inclusive" church, and Lindsey said he was not surprised with the General Convention's decision because it is the direction the national church has been headed for more than a decade.
"This is the tip of the iceberg," he said. "The real issue is about how we read scripture, about how we interpret God's Word today. God has given us indications we need to have a broader understanding of creation and a broader understanding of how humans are formed."
In the letter addressed to "Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ," Lawrence said the actions taken mark a significant and distressing departure from the doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ as this church has received them. He asked that the letter be read at last Sunday's services and copies provided to parishioners.
In probably the most public of its adopted resolutions, the General Convention that concluded July 12 endorsed a liturgy that can now be used for same-sex blessings. The U.S. Episcopal Church is part of the worldwide Anglican Communion, but the American church's more liberal stance on same-sex issues has created the greatest rift within the 77-million strong Communion and provoked the biggest challenge to its top leader, the Archbishop of Canterbury.
"It hardly needs to be said, but for the record let me say clearly, I will not authorize the use of such rites in the Diocese of South Carolina," Lawrence wrote in the two-page letter. "Such rites are not only contrary to the canons of this diocese and to the judgment of your bishop, but more importantly I believe they are contrary to the teaching of Holy Scripture; to two thousand years of Christian practice; as well as to our created nature."
The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina represents 29,000 Episcopalians along coastal South Carolina.
Lawrence, who has been among the most outspoken of U.S. bishops in his opposition to the ordination of gay clergy, said even more alarming was the adoption of new language that prevents discrimination toward transgendered persons and clears the way for the possible ordination of those who have undergone a change in sexual identity.
"They open the door to innumerable self-understandings of gender identity and gender expression within the Church; normalizing 'transgender,' 'bi-sexual,' 'questioning,' and still yet to be named self-understandings of individualized eros," Lawrence said. "I fail to see how a rector or parish leader who embraces such a canonical change has any authority to discipline a youth minister, Sunday school teacher, or chalice bearer who chooses to dress as a man one Sunday and as a woman another. And this is but one among many possibilities."
- SC Episcopal diocese responds to national church, Feb. 26, 2011
- Local parishes take varying stands, including leaving Episcopal church, Dec. 21, 2009
- Despite divisions nationally, local Episcopal Church split unlikely, Dec. 13, 2008