Sunday, March 18, 2007
"It's so unfair!"
Given all that's happened in South Carolina, I suppose I'd be saying the same thing.
Actually, that at various times in my life, I know I have said both statements: "It's so unfair!" And, "God is unfair!"
When your team - your candidate - looses, it's hard to see how anything about the process is fair.
If I've had anything to do with the process, it's hard to take any responsibility for my loss. And, if I've messed up and lost due to a technicality, well, there is no greater consolation than to scream, "Are you kidding me? That's so unfair!"
So, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised to hear the cry, "Unfair!" coming from South Carolina where Mark Lawrence's election to the episcopacy failed to receive the necessary consents - especially because so many of those consents were determined to be incomplete or otherwise not compliant with the canons of The Episcopal Church.
One of the leaders in South Carolina recently wrote this: "None of any of this would have been necessary if Mark Lawrence were evaluated fairly, but instead he was misjudged by a different standard than the one claimed to be in use by many in church leadership in the last several years."
I had to respond: Okay, *******. I know that you all are reeling in the pain of this. I don't mean to add to it. Truly. I've said it over and over and I'll say it again: This is a loss for Mark Lawrence, for the Diocese of South Carolina, and for the church. It's a terrible, terrible tragedy.
I know your words are coming from a place of that pain, but I simply cannot let your most recent remarks go without comment.
There can be no doubt that this was a controversial election for TEC. In a controversial election, there's bound to be, well, controversy. People take sides. Passions flair. Mistakes are made.
Pretty normal, so far, even for the church.
The process, by canon law, takes 120 days. That's true for Newark, Hawai'i, Connecticut, South Carolina and any other diocese holding an episcopal election, whether it's controversial or not. Everybody who is elected to the privilege of service on a Standing Committee knows this - or should know it.
In the Diocese of Newark, shortly after Bishop Croneberger announced his intention to retire, we got a visit from a bishop who works at the National Church Center, whose job it is to help inform Standing Committees of their canonical responsibilities. A consultant to the process is also recommended and, at least in our case, our Search Committee worked very closely with that consultant.
In the event of a controversial election, or an election in a diocese which holds a theological perspective considered to be in the minority of or challenge to the mainstream, AND in the present politically charged climate of the church (and SC applies on all counts), it would seem to me that it is incumbent on the Standing Committee - knowing the obstacles before it and the time line which binds it - to, as we say in the circles of activism in the Progressive wing of the church, "work the phones."
In our election of Mark Beckwith in the Diocese of Newark, we took no chances, given the highly charged political climate of our church and the controversial nature of our diocesan theological stands. We targeted those same churches you mentioned, especially "a number of province ix votes (which) were not counted because the procedure is inherently elitist and classist toward them."
You continue, "They are not in a position to have all of the people from a standing committee in one place to sign a form since for them to do so would cost a lot of time and money they do not have."
They had the same 120 days the rest of us had. If the Standing Committee of South Carolina had began "working the phones" as the group led by Sarah Hey over at Stand Firm did at the 11th hour of the consent process, I can assure you there would have been ample time to deal with the forces of "classism and elitism." (BTW, Ms. Hey did a masterful job and is to be highly commended.)
What's the old saying that always makes me go "Ugh!"? Oh, yeah, "Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part." I always hate to hear that, but only because it's true. The problem with 11th hour efforts is precisely what you experienced - with consents arriving 30 minutes to midnight of the deadline.
Again: The Standing Committee of the Diocese of South Carolina had 120 days. They knew this at the beginning of the process. And, the Office of the Presiding Bishop still graciously and generously provided a 'grace period' of three days for the mail system.
Mark Lawrence came under intense scrutiny. Of this there can be no doubt. You may remember that the scrutiny was even more intense - under a national and international microscope while media from around the world camped at the door step of General Convention - for the consent process of Bishop Gene Robinson.
Was any of what either Lawrence or Robinson experienced fair? Hardly.
Were they judged fairly? Well, judging by Lawrence's remarks today about "choosing sides" it would appear so, despite the reported reception, albeit late or incomplete, of an adequate number of consents.
It would appear that that which many of us feared most in Lawrence's episcopacy - that he would "choose sides" rather than "build bridges" (the role of a pontiff or bishop) has come to be true.
Even so, I suspect that if he were to be duly elected tomorrow, he would win consents. He would still be controversial. His election and consent process would still be intensely scrutinized. But, two things would be different:
1. people would be voting with greater clarity about the man's platform and intention and
2. I'm willing to bet a whole boatload of donut holes that the Standing Committee of the Diocese of South Carolina would be working a whole mess of phones right from Jump Street.
Again, ******, I'm sorry for your pain. Truly I am. You know as well as I do that ours is a God of great mercy and plenteous redemption.
By the standards of the world, God IS unfair. That's because God knows the end of this story, and what is happening at this particular time in this particular situation is just one part of the picture, the completion of which we can't yet see.
The Gospel story of the Prodigals - father and son - in Sunday's lectionary for Lent IV is a good meditation for healing in this hour.
I pray that the prodigal, extravagant, wasteful love of God will not be wasted on God's prodigal daughters and sons, so that, unlike the angry elder son, healing and reconciliation may be found - and celebrated!