The standing committee of the Diocese of South Carolina has been very naughty. It has told all who are interested that a majority of bishops with jurisdiction have consented to the election of Fr. Mark Lawrence as bishop of South Carolina, one of the “First Dioceses” of our church. We have also been informed which Standing Committees have given their consent. According to my friend Louie Crew they do not yet form a majority and the time is drawing nigh to close the matter. Unless there are some swift changes of corporate minds the election will be annulled. This revelation is naughty because, I’m told, the consent process is supposed to be secret, even a secret kept from those who elect the standing committees and are represented by them. Democracy?

It’s only a few moments ago in time when we were being told that the consent process was merely a formality, attesting to the legality of the election process. Indeed I recently heard that there had been a deficiency in the actual election process. The matter was so grave that I have forgotten what it was alleged to be. I think it was something to do with the nomination process being closed in an arbitrary fashion.

Now by the most convoluted interpretation of the rules we set ourselves at the last General Convention about not consenting to the ratification of the election of bishops whose lifestyles are, shall we say, non-canonical, justification is made to reject the duly elected choice of a mature diocese. If it’s not mature it’s certainly been around for long enough. I have herad no startling revelations about Mark Lawrence’s lifestyle.

Looking back the few weeks of time which has elapsed since the election we may well note how the invention of the blog and the email have changed things. When the confirmation process began, we were in declared war,with threats of schism from both sides and a continued far-left triumphalism is full fanfare, opposed by the war drums of the right. “Those who live by the sword shall perish by the sword.”

Almost days later the Primates Communique is at hand, our Primate has called us to a season of prayer, repentance and self-sacrificial love,and our Executive Council tells us that we are all welcome in TEC. Certainly the rejection of the South Carolina election will only serve to revive the former spirit to which both ends of the spectrum contributed mightily. One hopes that if Mark Lawrence is rejected they will either elect him again or wait to see what happens if a separate yet included “province” is established when,one presumes, South Carolina may have it’sbishop. Schism isn’t the answer.

The consent process, as it has emerged now looks mean-spirited. How many instances are there in our history of standing committees successfully rejecting elections? Who were the rejected bishops-elect? What were the consequences? Upon what grounds were they rejected? (I think of DeKoven.) In the meantime, saving their Lordships’ grace, we have consented to some mightily odd bishops with extraordinary views, lifestyles and levels of incompetence in our history. And,of course some holy and able people to boot.

If bishops-elect are to be tested as to their faith and loyalty, is this to continue as an ad hoc process conducted by email, telephone, and perhaps letter, the questions formulated by who knows whom? Will there emerge a new body among us; The National Union of Standing Committees? Will such questions apply to all,and if not, on what grounds will the victims be selected. (I don’t think the Bishop Coadjutor of Tennessee underwent this process?)

There is time, just time, to reverse this looming tragedy. If the test for South Carolina is the determination of whether it intended deliberately to elect a person who defies the doctrine, discipline and worship of TEC as contained in the Constitution and Canons and the Book of Common Prayer openly, then, in justice the same test would be applied to all elections. Indeed there are many now consecrated bishops who should come clean and confess their own defiance. What should be or might be, however laudable is no defence. At the moment, if our claims to democracy are true, we are where we are. We have promised to “conform”.

And as we are keen to assert that the Holy Spirit works assuredly in Conventions, did the Holy Spirit take the day off when Mark Lawrence was so convincingly chosen to be the Chief Pastor of the Diocese of South Carolina? Apparantly the Holy Spirit was on duty in New Hamphire willing to overthrow our Canons. What is sauce for the goose… I stand for genuine and demonstrable comprehension.

2 Responses

  1. Gene Robinson posed no challenge to church canons, though one can argue that he challenged the Christian tradition that gay bishops should remain in the closet. Mark Lawrence, on the other hand, was on record as wanting to surrender the autonomy of The Episcopal Church to the primates even before that was demanded (on no authority, I might add) by the primates themselves.

    As for the consent process itself, an objective reading of the canons can only lead to the conclusion that (1) the basis on which one should give or withhold consent is not clearly specified, and (2) nothing in the canons encourages the process to be transparent. I believe that (1) is wise, but (2) is not.

    Originally, all consents were given by the General Convention. With church leaders gathered together, it was easier for people from different dioceses to confer and make wise decisions about consecrations. Being able to do this only every three years did impose a hardship on the church, however, which lead to the alternate scheme of giving consents through bishops with jurisdiction and standing committees.

    Significantly, the older procedure seems to have rejected more episcopal candidates and has done so more recently. I am hard-pressed to believe that decisions carried out in secret and with limited information are more likely to be good ones than decisions made more openly. The Holy Spirit shouldn’t be in the closet, either.

  2. “This revelation is naughty because, I’m told, the consent process is supposed to be secret, even a secret kept from those who elect the standing committees and are represented by them. Democracy?”

    Hmm…I recall various sets of Diocesan Convention minutes in which the Standing Committee reports consents to various episcopal elections. I was under the impression that the process was quite open.

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