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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Mr. Lawrence responds to bishops and Standing Committees

Mark Lawrence Answers

The process of consents of the election of Mark Lawrence as the bishop of the diocese of South Carolina has been made controversial by speculation that he will lead that diocese out of The Episcopal Church.

Bishops with jurisdiction and Standing Committees must vote whether or not there are any "impediments" to his election. Indeed, the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Newark meets tomorrow and this is one of the items on our agenda.

I have carefully read all of the statements made by Mr. Lawrence. His latest statement is posted here. I have also posted a copy below.

As I read this, there are at least twenty places I have circled which are open to interpretation. Unfortunately, my experience in working with the neo-puritan, quasi-orthodox, evangelical members of the church lead me to read this with a hermeneutic of deep suspicion.

Even language such as "May we remain united in Christ and servants in his Kingdom and his Church" sounds good, but my ears have become attuned to hear a voice on the right side of the church say, "Yes, but you don't know Christ as we do. Yours is an inauthentic faith because you read from a counterfeit bible."

I, and the other members of the Standing Committee will, with great thought, serious intention and fervent prayer, discuss all these things and then cast our vote. Please keep this process and all involved - especially Mr. Lawrence and his family - in your prayers.

6 November 2006

William Temple

Dear Bishops and Standing Committee Members:

Thank you for affording me this opportunity to respond to your concerns, particularly regarding my suitability as a colleague in the House of Bishops. I know you are aware of the profound theological differences within The Episcopal Church in this year of 2006. There is little hope that it will cease to be a continuously expanding perimeter in the near future. The question for each of us is at what point we reach the place where our Episcopalian or Anglican commitment to comprehensiveness for the sake of the truth exhausts its elasticity. For me that was with the consent to Canon Robinson’ election at the General Convention in 2003. I was a deputy at that convention, serving on the Consecration of Bishops committee. When our committee voted to send his election to the House of Deputies for approval I felt constrained to write the minority report opposing the committee’s recommendation. As today is the observation of Archbishop William Temple in our calendar, I cannot resist mentioning a statement of this wonderful theologian that now seems prescient for our times and influenced my position in Minneapolis. “The Church must be very clear in her public pronouncements so she may be very pastoral in her application.” I thought we were being anything but clear in our decision in 2003 and it has carried over into GC 2006. From this involvement in the committee on Consecration of Bishops you can see I am no stranger to this matter of consent and for what it may raise in issues of conscience, as well as process. I certainly hope you chose to support the consent process of South Carolina’s election. But I understand that these are less than pacific times in the life of our dear and distinguished Church.

I have loved and served this Church of ours over the last thirty plus years, even when I have found her incorrigibly frustrating. When I have spoken or written critically of her it has not been from a posture of having rejected TEC, but from one of commitment, even investment of my life and my family’s life in the Church’s common call to serve our Lord. We have sacrificed much for this Church, as I’m sure each of you has over many years. I believe it is symptomatic of these times, that I who have adhered for 26 years to my ordination vows am now peppered with requests for me to affirm in advance my commitment “…to the Doctrine, Discipline and Worship of the Episcopal Church…” partially from a misleading article and letter written by a group which presents itself, wrongly enough, under the noble and historic phrase, Via Media. None of us can predict where the angle of repose for this period of profound re-formation will settle. You will find here my answers to questions presented by other concerned bishops. Hopefully they will provide you what you need to make an informed decision. We are each called to be players in it — you and I — regardless of how this consent process for me unfolds. I wish you God’s blessings whichever way you are led to decide, whether for or against me. May we remain united in Christ and servants in his Kingdom and his Church.


The Very Reverend Mark J. Lawrence

1. In what ways will you work to keep the Diocese of South Carolina in The Episcopal Church?
Although this appears to be a reasonable and straightforward question, it is actually anything but. I might as well have been asked while I was engaged to my wife, Allison, “In what ways will you work to keep your wife from leaving her commitments?” The question assumes something that has yet to be demonstrated by any prior action. Unless, of course, one makes the assumption that the request of the Standing Committee for Alternative Primatial Oversight was an initial step of departure, which I do not believe it needs to be. As you are well aware, The Episcopal Church, because of its reliance on constitutional and canonical autonomy, rather than the bonds of affection, has acted not merely unilaterally, but also precipitously towards the considered position of the vast majority within the Anglican Communion, and is now itself in a state of increasing disarray. This action of TEC is quite different from a respectful request made by an aggrieved diocese to the acknowledged Spiritual Leader of our Communion. Certainly we concede that the Archbishop of Canterbury has, heretofore, no jurisdictional authority in these matters. Yet we also know The Episcopal Church’s action in 2003, unlike the APO request, has caused more than a few Episcopalians, as well the worldwide Communion, much consternation. I would ask you to consider the fact that many of us want to remain in the Anglican Communion as well as The Episcopal Church. I would also suggest that you consider that the Diocese of South Carolina, in its recent request for APO, is actually seeking to find a way to remain at one and the same time in TEC and in covenant with the Communion. It serves none of us well to ignore the developing crisis and take refuge in polity which is proving to be no longer sufficient for the challenges we presently face. I have sought, however inadequately, in several of my writings to not only identify the problem, but to go beyond merely admiring the complexity of the crisis, (a peculiar practice which the later decades of the 20th Century seemed to think was a profound enterprise). Frankly, absurd as it may sound, some have criticized me for actually suggesting a different path forward in this ever-changing world of the 21st Century. As if somehow the very suggestion that our polity was insufficient for the day, disqualifies one from being guided by it or taking vows regarding it—an odd assumption at best. I just happen to be someone who does not believe that our discipline, as articulated in our Constitution and Canons, came to us by oracular revelation. Not that I suggest disregarding them—far from it. In fact I suggest if they had been adhered to in past years we might not be in the unfortunate situation we find ourselves in at present. Still they are evolving documents that govern our common life and need to continually be adapted to new eras. We have challenges today that call for a progressive reappraisal of our polity. This can only happen as ecclesial ideas are brought forward to deal with the exigencies of the day, as, I hasten to add, they have often been in the past.

With that said, back to your question. I shall commit myself to work at least as hard at keeping the Diocese of South Carolina in The Episcopal Church, as my sister and brother bishops work at keeping The Episcopal Church in covenanted relationship with the worldwide Anglican Communion.

2. What would be your response if the convention of the Diocese of South Carolina voted to leave The Episcopal Church?
I don’t think that speculative questions of this nature as to what a person will do in some imagined future are either reasonable or helpful. I mean no disrespect by this, but I will say in all fairness, I can think up many such questions of an imagined future crisis that could send any of us into a conundrum of canonical contradictions.

3. Will the Presiding Bishop be welcome to preside at your consecration?
This would be a most unwelcome situation for the vast majority of priests and laypersons of the Diocese of South Carolina. I am sure you know how disruptive this would be for my ministry, the office of the bishop, and for the diocese. This is not a justice issue that needs to be imposed upon a prejudiced body as a matter of authority. It is an issue of conscience that St. Paul thoroughly addresses in his First Letter to the Corinthians. Where there is good will, a desire to please Our Lord, and a respectful deference for the other’s good, a resolution that is good for the Diocese of South Carolina, and The Episcopal Church ought to be able to be agreed upon by all.

4. Do you intend to participate fully in attending meetings of the House of Bishops, including Eucharist?
Yes, unless the in participating in Eucharist on some given occasion, (because of the state of my inner life or conscience), should put my spiritual health in jeopardy.

5. What is your response to the request of the Standing Committee of the Diocese of South Carolina seeking “alternative primatial oversight”?
Here is the prepared answer I gave to the following question at St. Phillip’s Church during the “walkabout” in Charleston. I believe it addresses yours.

The Diocese of South Carolina is among those dioceses which have requested Alternative Primatial Oversight. Do you support this decision? If so, what issues does it raise? Please make reference in your answer to: a) the authority of Holy Scripture b) catholic ecclesiology c) Anglican identity.

I too am a member of a diocese that has asked for Alternative Primatial Oversight, though I was not a member of the Standing Committee that took the action. When it came out in the newspaper that week I thought, well I’ll need to address it on Sunday. I read the lectionary lessons for the coming Sunday, but there was nothing to address the subject there. But in one of those serendipitous convergence I have come to expect while traveling this road in the Kingdom of God, the collect for the Sunday after the Standing Committee of the Diocese of San Joaquin asked for alternative primatial oversight, reads as follows:

Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through …. (BCP, p. 230)

This collect, most likely composed by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer for the 1549 Book of Common Prayer, is rooted in the teaching of the New Testament, particularly Ephesians 2:20-22 and 4:3-4. It is also rooted in one of the essential teachings of the Anglican Reformation—that no human assembly or institution may claim to be the Church of God unless it is founded on the teaching of the apostles. The apostolic Church is founded not on institutional or sacramental continuity alone. What is often referred to, as “Apostolic Succession” is more than merely the laying on of hands from bishop to bishop in sacramental a chain back to the apostles. Equally essential for the church is the teaching of the apostles and prophets succeeding from one generation to another. This is stated clearly in Articles XIX, and XX in the Articles of Religion, (see BCP, page 871).

What is being asserted in these two articles is the priority of Holy Scripture over the authority of the Church. The church as St. Paul taught in his Letter to the Ephesians, and as the above collect ascribes, is built upon the teaching of the apostles as found in Holy Scripture; and it is called to live under and in obedience to the Word of God. The uniqueness of the Anglican and Episcopalian understanding of the Church is that it has held both of these understandings toward the nature of the Church at the same time. It has held the catholic argument that institutional continuity is essential for the identity of the Church. This continuity is sacramentally and visibly expressed in the office of the bishop, the episcopacy. It has also believed in the need to conform to the teaching of the apostles, grounding our belief and practice in the clear teaching of Holy Scripture. Consequently we have been eager to seek unity—striving to maintain the visible unity of the Church, reaching out to Roman Catholics in one direction, and towards our Protestant brothers and sisters in the other, but not seeking this unity at the expense of either of these two truths of the Church. Holding institutional continuity and the need to be under the ever correcting and reforming authority of the Bible. If the questioned should be raised, as it often is, as to who interprets Holy Scripture when different factions or parties in the church disagree, the answer has traditionally been, we turn to the consensus of the faithful. So interpretation of debated texts of scripture is not up to one individual priest or bishop, one local congregation, or even a provincial or national church. We need in such a case to seek the consensus of the faithful through out the worldwide Anglican Communion, and even to give appropriate regard to how the historic church has understood such disputes, as well as what the various branches of Christendom teach on the matter.

The unity of the church needs this considered reflection. Even more essential to our unity with one another is the source of all unity in the Church. As John Stott has observed, “Christian unity arises from our honoring one Father, one Savior, and one indwelling Spirit.” So fundamental to our unity with one another in the church is our unity with the Holy Trinity. It is this unity which raises a series of elementary questions. How can we foster a unity pleasing to God if we deny the very revelation God has given us about himself or the Christian life? How can we be eager for unity with one another if we deny the reconciling work of God in Jesus Christ? How can we say the Holy Spirit is leading the Church through the parliamentary procedures of General Convention if the results of these procedures deny the very truth the Spirit of God has revealed through the teachings of the apostles and prophets? Is it not upon this very teaching that the Church is founded? Of course. It is upon the doctrine of the apostles that the church is built and only upon their doctrine that we can maintain our unity.

I need to say it clearly, I am eager for such unity. A unity drawn not along narrow lines of biblical interpretation, but from an inclusive and comprehensive use of the Bible. I am most eager to remain a Christian in the Anglican tradition. This is a tradition, which as the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has recently stated, has maintained “the absolute priority of the Bible, a catholic loyalty to the sacraments and a habit of cultural sensitivity and intellectual flexibility.” Unfortunately The Episcopal Church has frayed in recent years this strand woven of three cords by our misguided passion to be culturally sensitive and intellectually flexible. In its desire to be perceived as relevant to one segment of our culture it has lost its commitment to the Gospel—which is the only hope we have to offer this segment or any other for that matter. In its desire to be more relevant than thou, TEC has cast aside scriptural faithfulness, particularly the broad and demonstrable teachings of the New Testament that would convict our lifestyle of sin, and call into question our overly permissive approach to morality. Even more disturbing is our grave disregard of fundamental Christian doctrines such as the nature of God, the uniqueness of Christ, the integrity and unity of the Spirit’s work, and the need of humankind for the redemptive work of the cross—at times assuming our sexual proclivities, given by nurture or nature, are, by that fact, necessarily God-given.

I am personally saddened for those gay and lesbian Christians within the church that so much of the debate has focused upon homosexual behavior and relationships. It has too often given way to bigotry or to an easy self-righteousness among heterosexuals. Nevertheless, it is for now the place where the battle lines have been drawn. Regardless of how I wish it had been elsewhere, it is where the larger issues are being debated, leading to a crisis in the worldwide Anglican Communion. The unity of 80 million Christians is at stake. As Archbishop Williams has recently stated, “…the decision of the Episcopal Church to elect a practicing gay man as a bishop was taken without even the American church itself…having formally decided as a local Church what it thinks about blessing same-sex partnerships.”

So when the Standing Committee of our diocese, like the Diocese of South Carolina, asks for Alternative Primatial Oversight it is because recent parliamentary procedure to convince The Episcopal Church that it has erred has proved fruitless. Like an addictive or dysfunctional family, this exclusive pursuit of “cultural sensitivity” has led to destructive patterns of behavior. So perhaps our Standing Committee’s action of disassociation, along with seven other dioceses at present, will demonstrate the seriousness of TEC’s dysfunction. I love this Church enough to practice what those in the counseling professions call tough-love. Underneath all the discussions of human sexuality, our message is this, The Episcopal Church, in its obsession to be what it has termed inclusive, has excluded the priority of Holy Scripture, as well as the historical continuity of the catholic faith. Of course I would not want to make a similar error in either my passion for scripture or in my commitment towards historic catholicity. I am an Anglican—I want all three: the Primacy of the Bible, historic continuity, and cultural sensitivity and intellectual flexibility.

This, then, deals with two of your requests—that, in my response to your question, I address the authority of Holy Scripture and our Anglican identity. I have not to my satisfaction, however, adequately dealt with the issue of catholic Eccelsiology. I’m not sure others in the church have either. We have asked the Archbishop to respond without presenting a thorough doctrine of ecclesiology from which to act. The Stanford economist Paul Romer once said, “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” It would be unfortunate if we do not use this current crisis in the church to do some hard thinking about what God is calling the Anglican Communion to become in the 21st Century. The Windsor Report identified four instruments of Unity, The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC), and the Primates Meeting. Of these four instruments, three are less than a 150 years old, and two are less than 40! The Lambeth Conference first met in 1867 (over the protests and concerns of the Archbishop of York—fear of broadening jurisdictional authority); the ACC was established after Lambeth in 1968; and the Primates first gathered in 1979. These would seem to be evolving attempts of the Anglican Communion to adapt its practical life and ecclesiology to globalization—an increasingly global church trying to come to grips with a nascent global age. Now we’ve entered further into such an era, what Thomas Friedman has described as a flat world, (see his book, The World Is Flat). It strikes me as I reflect back on General Convention in 2006 that many in the church were like the union bosses in the steel mills in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Getting more for the workers in the short term but not recognizing that the company was investing more and more abroad, and not investing in updating the local regional mills. The world was changing and they didn’t fully grasp the change. There’s no going back to isolationism in the world or the church. I believe the mantra of autonomy will prove to be a hindrance to the future which the Anglican Communion, and The Episcopal Church, as a constituent member of the Communion, is called to forge. When farmers in the San Joaquin Valley decide whether or not to plant a cherry orchard they evaluate the market in Japan. When a farmer decides about a crop of cotton he needs to know what’s being grown in Turkey and Egypt, and the demand for fabric in China. Those of you in the business world know a similar thing is true for you. This present crisis in the Anglican Communion is a sign that among other things we have entered into an ever-flattening world. We need to have an Anglican ecclesiology that takes seriously this new era.

Alternative Primatial Oversight is a temporary gasp for air—necessary perhaps, but temporary. I’m in favor of some new and prescient thinking about the way the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion lives out our unity in Christ. There is no going back to pre-2003. Time to chart a path for the future. This is one of the things I believe the request for APO is trying to communicate to the leadership of TEC, along with trying to keep those of us who understand our baptismal and ordination vows to keep in step with apostolic teaching and fellowship, and in covenant with the worldwide Anglican Communion. Ironically, at this point the “conservatives” are being progressive, and the “progressives” strike me as digging in their heels for the past. Time to move ahead. The way the world works has changed and so should we. I hope we in The Episcopal Church can catch up.

6. Do you recognize Katherine Jefferts Schori as Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church and as your Primate?
I recognize Katherine Jefferts Schori as the legitimately elected Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. Sadly, I also recognize that her actions as bishop of Nevada in condoning same sex blessings, for which she has expressed no regret, put her in violation of the Windsor Report and, consequently, compromise her ability to function in primatial authority and relationship. This is not merely a consequence of her stated views, (which is one thing), but her considered actions after the Primate’s Covenant in 2003, as well as subsequent Primatial Communiqu├ęs, i.e. Dromantine, regarding the bonds of affection. How one parses the difference between elected Presiding Bishop and Primatial representation is one of the ecclesial challenges that, to a greater or lesser degree, those who have asked for APO must presently grapple.

7. Will you uphold the Doctrine, Discipline and Worship of the Episcopal Church as now constituted?
Yes, as I have for the last twenty-six plus years of ordained ministry! One, however, should be cognizant of the essential fact that this upholding of the Doctrine, Discipline and Worship of the Episcopal Church includes the essential fact of remaining

“…a constituent member of the Anglican Communion, a Fellowship within the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church…propagating the historic Faith and Order as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer….” (Preamble to the Constitution)

Unfortunately, when this vow is looked at in it’s entirety, all Episcopalians may at some point in the not too distant future be asked to declare allegiance to one portion of the Constitution and Canons at the expense of another. Frankly, this is because in more than a few highly publicized actions, bishops and priests of this Church have acted contrary to the Doctrine, Discipline and Worship of the Episcopal Church.

8. Some further thoughts regarding our present predicament in The Episcopal Church.
As an upcoming article in The Living Church will I hope make clear, neither the Standing Committee of South Carolina nor I have made plans to leave TEC. But I fear many of the above questions, which swirl around vows and canons, profoundly miss the real question of the moment. The questions that bishops and Standing Committees keep posing to me, in one form or another—and I might add, contrary to rumors, most of which have answered—go back to the question of whether South Carolina and I are leaving The Episcopal Church. That is neither the most relevant nor, ultimately, the most important question that needs to be asked.

We in TEC, conservatives and liberals, orthodox and progressives, reasserters and reappraisers, (or whatever monikers you prefer to use…most of us know the players), are like a married couple living in the same house, sleeping in separate rooms, having harsh words too frequently, making cryptic comments to one another as we pass in the hallways. We have lived like this for years, sharing a common history that we have interpreted in such vastly different ways, and teaching increasingly different values to our children. We each remember slights; snubs and embarrassments foisted on us before our chagrined friends and neighbors by what we each perceive as the other’s selfishness, and at times even rude arrogance.

Now, when Standing Committees and diocesan bishops want promises from me, (though I have kept my ordination vows to adhere to the Doctrine, Discipline and Worship of the Episcopal Church for the past 26 years), it strikes me analogous to the above wife and husband having the following exchange. When the wife wants to use the car to take one of the kids to a baseball game her husband, who has the keys to both cars in his hand, says, "Will you promise you will not leave our marriage or seek custody of this child? Otherwise, no keys!" She says, "I hardly know how to answer you my dear. You suddenly want promises, when you haven't listened for years when I begged you to keep your promises. At least it seems that way to me. And when some of the children have left and not called you for months on end, you only chide and blame them for having left your family the smaller. My heart is heavy from our alienation...and now you keep insisting on promises! Recently I’ve noticed you keep leaving documents of ownership around on coffee tables and counters. You claim it’s your parents who gave the down payment for the house and even the summer cottage. Forgive me, I thought they were both of ours. Have you forgotten it was once a common love that bound us together not documents and deeds? You’ve gotten so upset just because I told our pastor I needed help in our marriage. Isn't it time you ask yourself a few questions about how we all got in this predicament?”

Now certainly I can imagine various responses to the analogy, which I’ve used to illustrate the dynamics of our common life, especially from those who may see themselves in the broad middle. There are those in the church who find themselves in the middle of the family argument. They don’t like the fact that the two sides in conflict within the family have drawn such rigid and embattled lines in the sand. They want us all to get along, but seem most often to side with the reappraisers, not so much because they agree with their perspective, but because they don’t want to disagree with them. On top of that, they see it as most often the “conservatives” who are leaving the Church and wanting to take their familial inheritance with them. So like a member of a dysfunctional family, who prefers to have everyone get along, he, rather than asserting an opinion on the matters tearing the family apart, saves his animus for those who, feeling abused, make in desperation statements of departure.

My friends, we in TEC are in a grievous state. This demand for promises to Constitution and Canons when many of the great teachings of the faith are up for grabs strikes me at times like a theatre of the absurd. We decline each year in numbers and in our significance to American culture, while growing yearly more out of step with the vast majority of Anglicans across the world. When some like me make provocative statements to draw attention to the culture of denial that dims with regularity our too frequently myopic provincial eyesight, I am seen by some as unworthy for the episcopate and as a threat to our common unity. On what grounds should consent be denied—for daring to say, “Not only does the emperor have no clothes, but he isn't getting any new subjects either, and some of those he had once have long left. Maybe its time the emperor reassess his reassessments”?


Weiwen Ng said...

Rev Elizabeth,

My prayers in your deliberations. I'm trying to draft a letter to my Diocese's standing committee, asking them to consider not consenting. Not being so familiar with TEC polity, I'm not sure I know exactly what I'm saying.

It occurs to me that if we don't consent, that will be seen as an incendiary act, and SC will almost certainly attempt to withdraw from the church. If we consent, I think sooner or later SC will withdraw anyway. Wasn't there some sort of saying about a rock and a hard place?

Anyway, I have to ask the question: would it not be the Christian thing to let them go in peace, property and all? The property is held in trust for the Diocese and the National Church, but the current occupants are paying for its upkeep ... they surely have some claim to it as well, ethically speaking. If we fought to keep it, we might not win. There's a good chance we would, actually, but it would cost a lot in lawyers' fees and ill will. They are only buildings.

I pray we can find some creative way to turn the other cheek, that we can end up living in peace with each other.

Bonnie said...

Your questions are good ones, but they seem to draw a false "we/they" dichotomy by assuming that all Episcopalians in SC (or Springfield or Pittsburgh or San Joaquim) feel the same way about these issues. And they do not.