CHARLESTON, S.C. The bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, increasingly disenchanted with the direction of the national Episcopal Church, today called a convention to discuss the future of the conservative diocese.
"Frankly, I don't know how to say this in any other way but to tell you that this is a call to action; of mobilization of clergy, parishes and laity," the Very Rev. Mark Lawrence said in a speech released after he delivered it to clergy representing 75 parishes in the lower and eastern part of the state.
Last month, the national church, during its California convention, authorized bishops to bless same-sex unions. The Episcopal Church consecrated its first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, in 2003.
"We face a multitude of false teachings, which like an intrusive vine, is threatening the Episcopal Church," Lawrence said. "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."
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.
But this June, four breakaway conservative dioceses formed a rival national province to the Episcopal Church called the Anglican Church in North America.
Lawrence called on South Carolina parishes to discuss the issues facing the church before sending delegates to an Oct. 24 convention in Mount Pleasant.
He said while some would suggest cutting ties with the national church, others would caution patience.
"While I have no immediate solution to the challenges we face, it is certainly neither a hasty departure nor a paralyzed passivity I counsel," he said. "Either of these I believe, regardless of what godly wisdom they may be for others, would be for us a false peace and a fatal security."
He said the diocese needs a place to both survive and thrive.
"There is also a need to find ways to support conservative parishes and missions in dioceses where there is isolation or worse," he said. "I would like to encourage congregations in this diocese to create missional relationships with 'orthodox' congregations isolated across North America."
Lawrence also said he would work with any parish feeling it no longer wants to stay in the conservative South Carolina diocese.
"This is not my desire for any parish," he said, but added "pastoral sensitivity suggests I should give space to those who feel they need it."
The 2.3 million-member Episcopal church is the U.S. branch Anglican Communion, a 77 million-member communion that is the third-largest group of churches worldwide, behind the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christian churches.