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Friday, March 16, 2007

Losing it

Mark Lawrence has lost the consent process for his election as bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina. In so doing, he has most certainly won a page in the history of the Episcopal Church.

It’s been more than 70 years since this has happened in TEC – the last being the rejection by General Convention of the election of the Rev’d John Torok as Bishop Suffragan in the Diocese of Eau Claire in 1934.

The conservative blogs are reeling – mostly from the noxious fumes of their own peculiar brand of toxin.

Mark may have lost this bid for the episcopacy, but the evangelical zealots are really “losing it.”

You just have to stroll on over to any one of their blogs to hear their machinations on the wild variety of the conspiracy theories being bandied about.

But, be sure to put on your asbestos hip boots before you go. It’s a bit like walking through the third ring of Dante’s Inferno.

Ironies abound. One of the most peculiar of them all comes from a conservative cleric in the Diocese of San Joaquin who recently wrote: “FWIW, it seems to border on canonical fundamentalism to insist on adherence to the strict letter of the law in a case like this. Where is common sense, let alone wisdom or charity?"

Sorry, kids. I probably should have issued a “Spew warning” before printing that. Yes, he did say, "common sense, wisdom and charity" in the same sentence with "canonical fundamentalism."

They who would tear our church apart over a narrow interpretation of Scripture, are now calling the National Church in general and our Presiding Bishop in particular on a "narrow" interpretation of our canons.

“Canonical fundamentalism.” Forget ironic! How absolutely cheeky! The term "canonical fundamentalism" when applied to this situation would be comical if it weren't painfully untrue.

March 9th was the canonical deadline which was extended to March 12th to accommodate the ‘snail mail’ system both here and our diocese abroad. The leadership at the national church level has been generous, gracious and competent.

As a member of the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Newark for the past three years and as its newly elected President, I have had the privilege of experiencing the election process of a bishop from that particular if not peculiar perspective.

While the consent process for bishops is handled directly between the individual bishop's office and the Office of the Presiding Bishop, I can attest that it is the responsibility of the Standing Committee to ensure that all consents from the Standing Committees are in proper order before they are sent to the National Church Center.

There can be no doubt that the Standing Committee of the Diocese of South Carolina knew the results of the consent process before the Presiding Bishop’s office verified it.

Kim Byham, my immediate predecessor on the Standing Committee, used to remind us frequently, when we were going through our election and consent process just a few short months ago, that there are many diocese that, as a matter of course, simply never respond to the request for consents.

Indeed, Louie Crew, another one of my predecessors on the Standing Committee, who helped to oversee the consent process when Mark Beckwith was elected bishop, wrote a strong letter of reprimand to those dioceses, which I think improved the rate of responses.

In truth, Kendall Harmon, Canon Theologian of the Diocese of South Carolina, has also been urging restraint and withholding of judgment until all the facts are in.

Even so, imagine my relief when I stumbled across this welcome, if not shocking piece of honesty in the comment section of one of the blogs:

Don Says: March 15th, 2007 at 8:29 pm I have a hard time saying this but I hold the Standing committee of SC and the diocese office completely responsible for this turn of events. Dr. Harmon will not say it but I will. The crossing of “t’s” and dotting of “i’s” was completely screwed up by the people in charge of the follow up process. The SC needs to be replaced at the next convention and the head of the committee needs to resign immediately.

We are all flawed human beings who operate out of the best of intentions. Let us not forget that there are many, many other good people in the Diocese of South Carolina who duly elected a bishop for their diocese and find themselves back to square one in terms of the election process. Those folk are hurting right now, on lots of different levels and for lots of different reasons.

It does absolutely no good – on either side of the aisle – to advance conspiracy theories, or speculate about motives, or cast suspicions about the integrity of certain individuals.

Despite my personal and theological differences with the man and the diocese, there is no doubt that this is a tragedy for Mark Lawrence, his wife and family, for the diocese of South Carolina, and for the church.

I pray that we can all move forward in a positive direction to the next steps we must take toward an examination of any problems in the process, making any necessary corrections and changes to ensure that the consent process is executed at the diocesan level with the same generosity, graciousness and competence as we have come to expect from the national level of our church.

While probably no secret, here’s my own confession: I did not vote to consent to Mark Lawrence’s election. If he runs again and wins, unless he can state clearly that he intends to remain in The Episcopal Church and do everything in his power to keep the Diocese of South Carolina in the Episcopal Church, I probably would not vote to consent to his election, should that be the case.

That is not “voting on tea leaves”, as has been suggested. Given the current climate of his present home diocese of San Joaquin, which has already voted to remove itself from TEC, and the vigorously adversarial theological climate of South Carolina, not to mention the stridently conservative theology of Mark Lawrence, these are legitimate concerns.

And, voting not to consent is my right. It’s the same right the various deputies and bishops had when they voted not to consent to the election of V. Gene Robinson as duly elected bishop of New Hampshire. Those who voted not to consent simply did not have the majority. That's just the way the system works.

As I tell my Vestry or the members of various committees before we vote on an important issue, if your vote is not in the majority, it is not because your opinion or position is not valued or respected or that you were not "heard." It just happens that yours is the minoriy opinion.

It’s the polity and procedure of The Episcopal Church. It’s the same system of “checks and balances” that are the genius of our system of Government. That’s a good political term. In the church, I prefer to call it “radical, mutual interdependence.”

The rendering as “null and void” of the election of Mark Lawrence says more about the state of the diocese of South Carolina and the state of the church and the World Wide Anglican Communion than it does about anything – or anyone – else. We’ll all be better off the sooner we start taking responsibility for our own actions and the results thereof.

Here’s the message I get loud and clear: Mark Lawrence has not just lost the episcopacy. We are losing it - and I'm not talking about those zealous Evangelicals who write and comment on conservative, orthodox, neo-Puritan blogs.

We are losing our sense of the gracious, generous Spirit of Anglican Accommodation.

We are losing our minds – the “mind of Christ” – which is not about ‘group think’ but about holding in tension the paradox and mystery of the reality of two very different truths.

We are losing our sense of unity in Christ, instead clinging frantically to the false god of uniformity under a particular charismatic bishop - either at home or in a foreign curia.

We are losing our sense of our radical, mutual interdependence in Christ which is being exchanged for the false security of "compliance" and "submission" to various primatial "reports" and "communiques."

Mark Lawrence is not the only one who has lost. South Carolina is not the only diocese which has lost. We are all - each and every one of us - losing something less tangible, but far more valuable.

We are in schism. Of this, there can no longer be any doubt.


Bill said...

I’d love to say that this makes me feel good, but it doesn’t. It’s a reflection of ignorance and stupidity on so many levels. By being supremely paranoid, they did this to themselves. By being intolerant and failing to trust, they did this to themselves. By intentionally dragging their feet in the consent process, they did this to themselves. By spending so much of their time and resources on what should be non-issues like gays and women, they did this to themselves. They have no one to blame in this but themselves. And yet, bear witness to the collateral damage they have visited upon good people. People we do not necessarily agree with but good people none the less.

Since these Orthodox Christians are so fond of the literal word, let me quote from the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Galatians.
“6:5For each man shall bear his own burden. 6:6But let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things. 6:7Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. 6:8For he that soweth unto his own flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth unto the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap eternal life. “ They sowed discord and corruption. The proof is, as is oft said, in the pudding.

Rev Nawny said...

What a great place to be! For indeed how wonderful and mysterious the hope that what is lost will indeed be found!

wmj said...

This piece coupled with the previous David Virture (excuse, please) piece, remind me of a great line from Sondheim's "Anyone Can Whistle" - OK, I am that old.."They didn't believe in God, they only believed in religion."

I need to go lie down.

DBW said...

I am a conservative who thinks this was a good thing. If +KJS had made a production about charitably allowing the election to be approved, and pointing out the problems, every time Lawrence made any decision people didn't care for, they would say "he shouldn't even be a bishop." This is much of what conservatives say about +VGR, who, from my POV, seems to be keeping himself to himself. At any rate, as things stand now, in the event that he is re-elected, it will happen with all the t's crossed and i's dotted, and he will in no way be beholden to +KJS for doing him any sort of favor.

Jane R said...

Thanks for your reflection on this... I went over to T1:9 right after I heard the news (I don't go that often) to check out reactions and whew,I had to go rest and fan myself for a while; though to be fair, people are making much ado on all sides. I wonder whether the internet and other rapid communication are making us all trigger-happy (forgive the violent imagery, I should say "overly reactive" but perhaps the imagery was apt, since speedy [over-]reaction is often a violent thing) and whether we all need to be a little more mindfulness-meditation oriented and take a deep breath. I almost always feel when I read you, Elizabeth, as if you have taken that breath (okay, so the flipflops at Convention that led to the PeaceBang advice were a little hasty ;-) but you did have, er, stressful circumstances), and it is refreshing.

I'm pondering how one does the 'net and practices mindfulness at the same time. I think some of us blogging types (I a more recently arrived one, you and others of longer date) wrestle with this one and deal with it in a variety of ways.

I'm finding church conversations are now being affected by this dynamic of event->rapid reactions->events->rapid reactions->more rapid reactions.

And Ranter, thanks. Good point. And the +VGR election was fully procedural (in addition to the Holy Spirit being involved) and that is always something to point out -- but the same goes for any election; we do have a polity and process and the best is to keep them as clean and solid as possible. (Many at T1:9 felt TEC did not on this one, but I tend to agree with you and this was a way to keep things clean.)

I'm going to ponder some more. (And perhaps continue to fan myself ;-)).

Marie said...

I love the last part of your post. "We are losing it." That speaks the truth, the sad truth of where we are right now. Thanks.