March 31, 2007

Stupid Chess

In his radio address today, President Bush repeated his promise to veto any bill providing additional funding for the Iraq war if it includes a timetable for withdrawal. Both the House and Senate have passed such bills, and it seems likely, though not certain, that any final bill will contain some form of timetable.

Congress should not be intimidated by Bush’s bluster. What can the President do? Yes, he can veto the appropriation bill, but there is a problem. Eventually, he needs the money to prosecute the war, and only Congress can give it too him. It doesn’t matter if, as the administration contends, the Congress cannot override a presidential veto. If the President vetoes the bill and Congress fails to override it, it is the stubbornness of the President that will be responsible for the nation’s inability to “support the troops.”

World-class chess players look many moves ahead. If it is clear that all possible moves lead to their defeat, they resign. The current rhetorical skirmishes between the Congress and the President are aimed at determining just what each side is willing to do. If the Democrats can craft a final bill that will pass both houses, and if they are willing to resist pressure to pass a second post-veto bill without a timetable, they will have maneuvered themselves into a winning position on the chessboard.

Of course, Bush is too stubborn to resign. He will veto the bill, gloat over the sustaining of his veto, and insist that a new bill be sent to him without a timetable. At that point, Congress should simply do nothing. Eventually, the military will need more money, and the American people, who want to end this insane war, will insist that the President swallow his pride and accept what he has insisted is unacceptable. The bill that the President will have to sign at the end of this process will be less to his liking than the one he will have vetoed.

March 30, 2007

“Bovine Sue”

Sue Boulden, a widely-known activist for various causes, particularly for an inclusive Episcopal Church, died on March 27, 2007, on the eve of her 64th birthday. Without Sue, Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh (PEP) would not exist. Her passion drove the group that became PEP. She was its informal leader until we introduced a modicum of organization, making Sue and me “co-conveners” for a time. (I never quite knew what that meant.)

Sue was never embarrassed to represent truth and justice as she saw it, even if that made everyone, including her friends, uncomfortable. Sue’s most recent project had been the resurrection of the long-dormant Pittsburgh chapter of Integrity.

I have written an elegy to Sue—I am beginning to find that I am writing too many of my poems to honor departed friends—that I have titled “Bovine Sue.” You can find the poem here, where I have also explained the somewhat unusual title.

March 18, 2007

Reflections on the Mark Lawrence Affair

Three days after the announcement of the failure of the Very Rev. Mark Lawrence to achieve the consents necessary to be consecrated Bishop of South Carolina, much has been written about the consent process and the significance of its outcome. Particularly because the Mark Lawrence affair played out against a larger context of Anglican controversy, it may be too early to write of its ultimate significance, but it is a good time to point out misconceptions and to argue against what I believe to represent mistaken opinion—even if it is (or was) my own—lest it become conventional wisdom. Eschewing the role of historian, therefore, I take up that of commentator.

“Null and Void”

The first indication that Lawrence’s bid for consecration had failed came from the Rev. J. Haden McCormick, President of the Standing Committee of the Diocese of South Carolina, who began his announcement on the diocesan Web site as follows: “I received a phone call late this afternoon from the Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori giving notification that she was declaring null and void the election of The Very Rev. Mark Lawrence to be bishop of The Diocese of South Carolina.” The lead in the AP story released a short time later was: “Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori took the highly unusual step Thursday of invalidating the election of a bishop in the tradition-minded Diocese of South Carolina, which has rejected her authority because of her liberal theological outlook.”

Neither McCormick’s statement nor that of AP religion writer Rachel Zoll was untrue, but, to the average reader, they may have given the impression that the Presiding Bishop, upset with what had been a rather messy referendum, had simply decided to declare it improper and to ask the diocese to start the episcopal election process over from the beginning. Certainly, some Lawrence supporters concluded that the leader of The Episcopal Church had abused her office by taking unusual and prejudicial action against their candidate. Even the Episcopal News Service story repeated the phrase “null and void.” In explaining what had happened, that story cited Sections 4(a), 4(b), and 8 of Canon III.11, but it failed to cite Section 5, which reads as follows:
In case a majority of all the Standing Committees of the Dioceses do not consent to the ordination of the Bishop-elect within one hundred and twenty days from the date of the notification of the election by the Standing Committee of the Diocese for which the Bishop was elected, or in case a majority of all the Bishops exercising jurisdiction do not consent within one hundred and twenty days from the date of notification to them by the Presiding Bishop of the election, the Presiding Bishop shall declare the election null and void and shall give notice to the Standing Committee of the Diocese for which the Bishop was elected and to the Bishop-elect. The Convention of the Diocese may then proceed to a new election.
Clearly, the Presiding Bishop was doing exactly what she was required to do by Episcopal Church canon. She was not “throwing out” the referendum on Mark Lawrence; she was declaring that, when all the votes were counted, the referendum had lost. The press can perhaps be excused for missing this subtle point, but Episcopalians generally—and ENS, in particular—should have tried to communicate the distinction more clearly to the wider public.

Canonical Changes?

Because some of the consents obtained from standing committees for Lawrence’s consecration were defective—it is still not yet clear which were defective and how—some people have alleged that confusion caused by recent canonical changes were, to some measure, responsible for Lawrence’s rejection. Although changes were made to the canons by the 2006 General Convention, this particular argument is simply not sustainable. There were revisions to Title III in 2006, and what is now Canon III.11 was, in the 2003 revision of the canons, Canon III.16. A careful reading of the relevant sections reveals little difference and virtually no substantive difference, even though material has been rearranged a bit. In any case, the requirement for signed testimonials for bishops-elect apparently goes back to 1789 and for such signed testimonials from standing committees for bishops not approved at the General Convention to 1799, according to White’s and Dykman’s definitive Annotated Constitution and Canons.

Lawrence supporters have blamed the Presiding Bishop for failure to notify standing committees of their faulty testimonials giving consent, but, in actual fact, it was the South Carolina Standing Committee that was responsible, by canon, both for soliciting and collecting consents, none of which were to be sent to the Presiding Bishop until a majority of standing committees consented. One must wonder if the Standing Committee of South Carolina was too busy counting consents to actually look at them. In any case, it is difficult to see how the Standing Committee could misunderstand Canon III.11.4(b):
Evidence of the consent of each Standing Committee shall be a testimonial in the following words, signed by a majority of all the members of the Committee:

We, being a majority of all the members of the Standing Committee of ______________, and having been duly convened at ______________, fully sensible how important it is that the Sacred Order and Office of a Bishop should not be unworthily conferred, and firmly persuaded that it is our duty to bear testimony on this solemn occasion without partiality, do, in the presence of Almighty God, testify that we know of no impediment on account of which the Reverend A.B. ought not to be ordained to that Holy Order. In witness whereof, we have hereunto set our hands this _____ day of _________in the year of our Lord _________.
(Signed) _______________
Adequate Consents or Not?

It is apparently the case that, on March 9, South Carolina had not received the required 56 consents. At that point, the Standing Committee would normally have informed the Presiding Bishop that this was the case, and the matter of Lawrence’s status as bishop-elect would have changed to rejected bishop-elect. (I say “normally,” but, in fact, this situation has not occurred since 1875.) The Presiding Bishop, with the advice of her Chancellor, David Booth Beers, had allowed South Carolina another three days to obtain consents, and, at the end of that period, 57 consents, reputedly, were in hand. These were forwarded to the Office of the Presiding Bishop and were the basis on which Katharine Jefferts Schori made her judgment about the failure of the consent process on March 15. Seven testimonials were found to be defective for such causes as carrying no actual signatures. Why, Lawrence’s supporters asked, could not the Presiding Bishop simply go back to the relevant standing committees and ask for corrected testimonials?

There is, of course, no canonical authority for requesting “proper” testimonials after the consent period has expired. Consents from standing committees are handled much like absentee ballots in civil elections. Ballots must be received by a certain date and must be properly executed, which, in any jurisdiction I know about, requires that they be signed by the voter. Consents, like absentee ballots, are not officially tabulated until the election is over. The only difference is that, whereas in a civil elections, absentee ballots are usually not even opened until the polls are closed, the standing committee of a diocese that has elected a bishop can not only look at consents but can send them back for correction if they are not in order. Does the consent process really have to be more forgiving than this? The Episcopal Church even let standing committees vote twice, and some standing committees did give consent after first withholding it. Episcopal canons do not clearly allow this—nor disallow this, it must be said—but such multiple voting would never be allowed in the civil sphere, where one’s vote would be disallowed if a person voted twice.

One might have wished that Lawrence’s supporters would have been grateful for having been given an extra three days to vote. Instead, they have complained that, having been given one dispensation, they should be granted yet another.

120 Days = 123 Days

In an earlier post, I argued that South Carolina should not have been granted an extra three days for the consent process to be completed. Whereas the favor was intended as a gracious gesture, it was not graciously accepted by those it was intended to help, and it was, I firmly believe, a completely unjustified violation of church canons. “One hundred and twenty days” is, well, 120 days. Let me put that in a way that will be clear, if uncharitable: Allowing 123 days was unfair and illegal. I have no doubt that, had Gene Robinson been required to submit to the same consent process as Mark Lawrence, he would not have been granted the same “grace period,” mostly because everyone could anticipate that the right wing of the church would cry foul, and it would be completely justified in its indignation. Liberals and moderates, however, are assumed to be nice people, so, except for me, virtually everyone has kept quiet about the three extra days. (Mind you, I gave up vying for Miss Congeniality years ago.)

As best as I can tell, such a three-day extension has never been offered in the past. (It will, I sincerely hope, never be offered in the future.) It was extended as a gesture of goodwill toward a minority within the church by someone, namely, the Presiding Bishop, who is supposed to be representing the whole church. The biggest problem with this gesture, beyond its being an abuse of authority, is that validating the election of a controversial bishop is something of a zero-sum game. The bishop-elect either becomes a bishop or not. A dispensation given to the bishop-elect’s supporters necessarily is a handicap imposed on the bishop-elect’s detractors. On what ethical basis can the Presiding Bishop choose to upset the impartiality of the consent process to favor one outcome over another? Episcopalians clearly favor a certain generosity toward those holding minority views, but our polity does not allow the minority to rule, nor should it.


We have been told over and over by Lawrence’s supporters that our church is filled with hypocrites. They claim that, when Gene Robinson was up for consecration, liberals argued that New Hampshire, like any diocese, had the right to the bishop of its choice. South Carolina, the argument goes, should benefit from the same argument. South Carolina’s Canon Theologian Kendall Harmon explained to the Washington Post, however, that liberals have a “double standard” and that “conservatives are not leaving, they’re being driven out of the Episcopal Church.” In fact, some liberal bishops bought the argument that, having voted for Gene Robinson, they had to vote for Mark Lawrence. Bishop John Chane was one of these, and this argument may go a long way toward explaining why bishops with jurisdiction gave Lawrence sufficient consents for consecration.

With all due respect to Bishop Chane, I have to say that the reciprocity argument is specious. In the same story in which Dr. Harmon was quoted, I made the slightly more complex argument that should have moved Bishop Chane and those arguing along the same lines as he: “A diocese has a right to the bishop of its choice, all things being equal. But all things weren’t equal,” I said. “Gene Robinson was not threatening to walk away from the Episcopal Church.”

The Real Problem

Thus, of course, we come to the real problem: Mark Lawrence, goaded by questions from the South Carolina diocese, suggested that he would welcome a separation of the Diocese of South Carolina from The Episcopal Church. When challenged on this, he offered a series of answers to questions of his own devising that did not at all clarify his position and perhaps made Episcopalians even more queasy about his becoming a bishop. The South Carolina Standing Committee later tried to reassure the church in a letter of its own, but that wasn’t very effective either. Why, people wondered, could Lawrence not simply say that he would not leave the church and would do everything in his power to keep South Carolina from doing so? As the consent period was coming to a close, Lawrence finally issued a statement that satisfied some that he was not a potential schismatic. I was unconvinced, but his statement was sufficient to cause some standing committees to change their votes. Lawrence never repudiated his earlier pronouncements, however.

Is this system crazy, or what?

The 120-day consent period is a holdover from an earlier age when communications were not what they are today. Probably, most standing committee members were aware of Mark Lawrence’s election within days, or perhaps even hours. Because of delays in sending out requests for consent, standing committees had nearly six months to consider Lawrence’s suitability. Admittedly, more and more data—one hesitates to use the term “information”—became available as time wore on, but we were presented with the curious situation in which Lawrence and his supporters tried repeatedly to formulate a statement that would satisfy skeptical standing committees without resorting to outright lies. How long does such a process really need to go on? Does anyone who says something outrageous and requires six months to correct his mistake deserve our trust as an Episcopal bishop? Don’t we want bishops who are a little quicker on their feet?

The 120-day consent period should be shortened. It is unnecessary and, in the case of a controversial election, can lead to the painful spectacle we have just witnessed. The period should be cut in half, and standing committees should be allowed to vote only once. If we want to have bishops, let’s have a process that lets us get them faster.

Maybe Not Relieved

In my press release about the outcome of the South Carolina consent process, I said, “I’m sure that most Episcopalians that have been following the quest for consent to consecrate Fr. Lawrence are relieved to know that he will not now become a bishop.” There was, no doubt, some relief that an ugly season in the history of the church was over, but hardly anyone, even standing committee members who voted against giving consent, has been willing to express anything but sadness over the Lawrence affair. Even I find myself not especially cheered by Lawrence’s failure to be made a bishop and not particularly tempted to indulge in schadenfreude. I am gratified, however, in a way that perhaps only a loyal Episcopalian in an ultraconservative diocese like Pittsburgh or Fort Worth or San Joaquin or South Carolina can be. We have seen the narrow intolerance of Episcopal bishops harboring a deep loathing for The Episcopal Church, and we are relieved that our church has chosen not to add to their number. Episcopalians in healthier dioceses still do not fully appreciate the malignancy that threatens our church.

March 15, 2007

Lawrence Bid Fails

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori delivered the news to the Diocese of South Carolina this afternoon that its bishop-elect, the Very Rev. Mark Lawrence, has failed to receive sufficient consents for consecration. Some of the consents received from diocesan standing committees, apparently, were technically defective, leaving fewer than the required 56 valid consents. I, for one, am eagerly awaiting an ENS story that may clarify matters. For now, I have only seen a statement on the Diocese of South Carolina’s Web site announcing (from its point of view) the bad news. Because of my involvement in the campaign to prevent Fr. Lawrence’s consecration, I sent out a press release, which you can read here. I may have more to say when more information about the consent process becomes available.

And the correct date is …, Part II

On March 12, Louie Crew provided something of an explanation for the confusion about the deadline date for sending of consents from standing committees for the consecration of the Very Rev. Mark Lawrence as Bishop of South Carolina. (See my earlier post “And the correct date is ….”) He wrote:
I called the Office of the Presiding Bishop this morning for clarification about the deadlines for consents for Mark Lawrence as Bishop of South Carolina. TEC’s canons specify that the Presiding Bishop must confirm the authenticity of all balloting, not just the balloting of bishops.

March 9th would have been the deadline, but 3 days have been added for a grace period. The Presiding Bishop consulted David Beers, her chancellor, as well as the parliamentarian of the House of Bishops. Therefore all consents must be postmarked by today, March 12th. By this evening the Standing Committee of South Carolina will FedEx to the PB’s Office for verification all of the consent forms which they have received.

Also a Standing Committee which has yet to file consent may notify the Standing Committee of South Carolina by email today that such a consent is in the mails. Paper copies of all consents must be in the PB’s office before any announcement may be made. Consent requires the majority of all members of the Standing Committee, not just a majority of all members present at a particular meeting.

Thanks to Carl Gerdau, Canon to the Presiding Bishop, for walking me through these details.

Newark deputy
Well, as it happens, I was looking into the matter at the same time Louie was. My own investigations came to similar, though not always identical conclusions. I did not learn everything I—and, I’m sure, others—might want to know. What I did learn is that the Presiding Bishop’s Chancellor, David Booth Beers, who acted in the same capacity for previous Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, takes responsibility for the “grace period.” It was either first suggested by or somehow endorsed by the House of Bishops’ Parliamentarian, the Rt. Rev. John Clark Buchanan. I have not been able to identify the role played by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori in allowing South Carolina three extra days, but she clearly could overrule a decision of her Chancellor if she so desired. Beers held a briefing on the three-day extension at the Episcopal Church Center in New York sometime in February, and I have not been able to determine that any other bishop-elect has been granted the dispensation of a “grace period.”

Significance and Rationale

The effect of the three-day grace period applied to the consent process for Mark Lawrence may, in the end, make the difference between Lawrence’s becoming a bishop or not. One hundred twenty days after the Diocese of South Carolina sent its requests for content to consecrate Lawrence, that is, on March 9, insufficient consents were in hand and none appeared to be in transit. After the extended deadline, that is, at midnight on March 12, 55 of the necessary 56 consents were said to have been received. Nearly four days later, the South Carolina Standing Committee has had nothing more to say, and Episcopalians are still wondering whether Lawrence’s consecration has been, according to any set of rules, consented to. Like a close civil election, Lawrence’s fate may not be known for some time, since every vote is important. I have been warned not to anticipate the ultimate result based on the timing of its announcement. The Presiding Bishop’s office may insist on announcing a definitive tally of consents when it makes its announcement, which could occasion a delay even if Mark Lawrence’s failure to attract the required consents is already apparent. Everyone, for the moment, simply has to wait.

Whatever the outcome of the current voting, the church should look carefully at the idea of the three-day grace period. I find little canonical support for it. The consent process is described in Canon III.11.4(a), which reads, in part:
If the date of the election of a Bishop occurs more than one hundred and twenty days before the meeting of the General Convention, The Standing Committee of the Diocese for which the Bishop has been elected shall by its President, or by some person or persons specially appointed, immediately send to the Presiding Bishop and to the Standing Committees of the several Dioceses a certificate of the election by the Secretary of Convention of the Diocese, bearing a statement that evidence of the Bishop-elect’s having been duly ordered Deacon and Priest as to the Bishop-elect’s medical, psychological and psychiatric examination required in Sec. 3(b) of this Canon have been received and that a testimonial signed by a constitutional majority of the Convention must also be delivered in the following form: …

The Presiding Bishop, without delay, shall notify every Bishop of this Church exercising jurisdiction of the Presiding Bishop’s receipt of the certificates mentioned in this Section and request a statement of consent or withholding of consent. Each Standing Committee, in not more than one hundred and twenty days after the sending by the electing body of the certificate of the election, shall respond by sending the Standing Committee of the Diocese for which the Bishop is elected either the testimonial of consent in the form set out in paragraph (b) of this Section or written notice of its refusal to give consent. If a majority of the Standing Committees of all the Dioceses consents to the ordination of the Bishop-elect, the Standing Committee of the Diocese for which the Bishop is elected shall then forward the evidence of the consent, with the other necessary documents described in Sec. 3(a) of this Canon, to the Presiding Bishop. If the Presiding Bishop receives sufficient statements to indicate a majority of those Bishops consents to the ordination, the Presiding Bishop shall, without delay, notify the Standing Committee of the Diocese for which the Bishop is elected and the Bishop-elect of the consent.
(This is taken from the 2006 version of the canons. The 2003 version differs in no substantial way.) Notice that standing committees are to act “in not more than one hundred and twenty days after the sending by the electing body of the certificate of the election” (emphasis added). In other words, the 120-day clock starts running when the requests for consent are sent, irrespective of when they are received. (Notice, by the way, that requests for consents were sent nearly two months after the episcopal election. This, apparently, is typical, as there is a lot of work to do to assemble the necessary paperwork.) The wording of the canon is, no doubt, intended to make the starting date fixed and unambiguous. For complete transparency, the electing diocese should be required to declare publicly when the requests were sent, but the canon does not include this requirement. Because standing committees have 120 days to “respond by sending” the result of their deliberations, those responses must be given a few days to arrive, but it is not the time allowed for receiving consents, but the time allowed for deciding them to which the “grace period” is being applied. The passage above suggests no way that 120 days can become 123 days, and, as far as I know, no one other than the General Convention—this certainly includes the Presiding Bishop’s Chancellor—is authorized to modify a canon.

It has been argued, on the other hand, that Canon III.11.5 does offer enough wiggle room to justify the three-day grace period:
In case a majority of all the Standing Committees of the Dioceses do not consent to the ordination of the Bishop-elect within one hundred and twenty days from the date of the notification of the election by the Standing Committee of the Diocese for which the Bishop was elected, or in case a majority of all the Bishops exercising jurisdiction do not consent within one hundred and twenty days from the date of notification to them by the Presiding Bishop of the election, the Presiding Bishop shall declare the election null and void and shall give notice to the Standing Committee of the Diocese for which the Bishop was elected and to the Bishop-elect. The Convention of the Diocese may then proceed to a new election.
Some see ambiguity in “the date of the notification of the election by the Standing Committee.” What date is that? Is this the date referred to in the previous passage on which takes place “the sending by the electing body of the certificate of the election”? One would think so, but then there is that word “notification.” If one sends a message, can it be a “notification” before the recipient receives it? (If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it … oh, never mind.) If one’s answer is no, then notification takes place on a number of different days, i.e., on days on which the various standing committees receive the notification. Moreover, since some dioceses are overseas, a mailed notice may not arrive for many days, certainly more than three. One could further inquire as to whether one is notified once the request for consent is received, but before anyone opens the envelope. These musings only complicate what seems to be a rather straightforward matter. I believe that the only reasonable interpretation of Section 5 is that the “date of notification” is simply the date on which the Standing Committee of the the electing diocese sends its requests for consent. I believe the writers of Canon III.11 meant to be quite specific about the time frame for response, and it is perverse to suggest that any ambiguity in Section 5 is intended to override the specificity in Section 4(a), particularly because that ambiguity, if taken seriously, could lead to substantial variability in opinions about the date by which a standing committee should respond. (Should every standing committee have a different response date, based on when the request for consent is received? I think not.)

An Evaluation

It has been said that the three-day “grace period” is exactly that, a gift freely given by the church to a diocese. I have several problems with this notion. First, it is not clear that anyone is authorized to offer “grace” in this particular situation, and I personally believe that doing so is a canonical violation. In the situation in question, one must acknowledge that two positions, rather evenly matched, it would seem, are vying to be heard, and is not “grace” extended to one party an unearned impediment imposed on the other?

The three-day extension was imposed in a very manipulative manner. Even the South Carolina Standing Committee did not know of it until the 120 days had nearly expired. Apparently, this was to avoid encouraging the sloth of standing committees who, it was thought, had trouble making a decision in approximately six months! (I discovered early on that standing committees, long before requests for consent were sent, were already discussing whether consent should be given to consecrate Mark Lawrence.) Just when everyone thought the time for consent was over, the goal posts were moved, to the delight of some and the dismay of others.

Will such grace be offered in the future as a matter of course, or is it only for special cases? If a diocese elects a partnered lesbian priest bishop, for example, will an extra three days be allowed for sending consents. Or, since everyone now knows that “one hundred and twenty days” is really “one hundred and twenty-three days,” will we have to add six days next time, since the element of surprise is now forever lost?

I do not like to see our church playing fast and loose with its canons. If our church leaders do not appear to respect the letter of the law, what moral authority does anyone have to complain about the flagrant canonical violations we have seen from the “traditionalist” insurgents within our church, and what credibility do we have with our brothers and sisters in other provinces of the Anglican Communion? Is this “grace,” or are we ceding the high moral ground?

Three days over a period of four months, it might be argued, is a small thing. The extension became known at the very end of those four months, however, when the traditionalist Web site Stand Firm was encouraging, with some success, an effort to change standing committee votes. Adding three days would have seemed fairer—if not more canonical—had everyone been aware of the rules from the beginning.

It will be a constitutional tragedy if Mark Lawrence becomes a bishop only because he was allowed a special dispensation in the consent process. I pray that that does not come to pass, as it is not clear how The Episcopal Church would recover from it.

Whatever happens, the Presiding Bishop should assure the church that no such extra-canonical extension will ever be granted again, and she should appoint a small committee to review Canon III.11 with a view toward making any time limits totally unambiguous. In fact—as one who has read more of our church’s canon law that I would like to admit—I would support formation of a committee whose job it was to read through every line of our constitution and canons with the intention of suggesting changes to the General Convention to eliminate vagueness and ambiguity with “fixing” anything else. It is not surprising that the legislative process of the General Convention does not always produce clear, logical, unambiguous text. There is no reason, however, why it should not clean up after itself.

March 14, 2007

Some Mathematical Reflections on Communion

Mark Harris wrote a post on his blog the other day about Bishop David Bena’s recent move from The Episcopal Church to the Convocation for Anglicans in North America (CANA). Bishop Bena is recently retired from the ultraconservative Diocese of Albany. CANA is claimed by the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) to be “a mission of the Church of Nigeria.” Mark raises various questions about who is in communion with whom and what is the nature of the “transfer” that has taken place. When I read Mark’s post, it had already attracted 23 comments from visitors, and it is probably fair to say that all this analysis has raised rather more questions than it has answered.

Let me assure you at the outset that I do not have the answers that would clarify all the issues involved. The situation makes it clear that the informality of the Anglican Communion can be something of a problem in unfamiliar and challenging circumstances. Although I am not enthusiastic about any proposal for an Anglican covenant—the much talked about idea is really intended as a mechanism to keep The Episcopal Church out of the twenty-first century—some agreement that spelled out how the Anglican Communion is supposed to work could actually be helpful if it avoided anything touching upon doctrine.

Even before the 2003 General Convention voted to consecrate Gene Robinson, there was some doubt about what churches were in communion with what other churches, since the ordination of women had already put strains on our Anglican fellowship. It is becoming increasingly clear that “being in communion” does not have a simple, universally accepted meaning, and, in practice, the concept does not always imply what we might expect. What is required for one church to be in communion with another?

Consider a particular case. The Episcopal and Nigerian churches are in the Anglican Communion and in communion with Canterbury, which might lead one to think that they should be in communion with one another. Nigeria claims not to be in communion with The Episcopal Church, however, which, as far as I can tell, has not declared itself out of communion with the Church of Nigeria. This could have the consequence—I cannot say whether it actually does—that a bishop could transfer “lawfully” from The Episcopal Church to the Church of Nigeria but could not transfer back. (Since, of course, the Anglican Communion really has no enforcement mechanism, anyone can get away with anything that doesn’t cause too much commotion.) This is, of course, goofy. It’s certainly goofy if it’s true, and it’s also goofy that we don’t know whether it’s true or not! Of course, it may be that the Episcopal/Nigerian church relationship cannot be what the Nigerians say it is.

As a mathematician, I find it impossible not to view the matter of communion in terms of relations. A mathematical relation is a formal description that is used to capture and reason about relationships between objects. For example, “equality” is a relation defined on, to keep matters simple, integers. If x and y represent arbitrary integers, we write x = y, meaning that x and y have the same value. In our case, our variables represent churches, and we can define a relation C such that x C y means that church x is in communion with church y. Mathematically, C is given by a set of ordered pairs, such that, (x, y) is contained in the set C if and only if x C y.

The eyes of most readers are, most likely, glazed over by now, but there is a point to this. Relations provide a useful set of named concepts and operations that allow efficient discussion of relationships like “being in communion with.” Whatever this relationship is in practice, it surely involves rules about exchange of clergy and allowing members of the related churches to take communion in one another’s houses of worship. (More definition on the part of the Anglican Communion would likely be helpful.) Now we get mathematical, but only trivially so. We can say that, for any church x, x C x. That is, every church is in communion with itself. This provides no big insight, but it shows that C is, as a mathematician would say, reflexive.

Now for a more interesting mathematical question: is the relation C symmetric? If x C y, is, necessarily, y C x? If being in communion is reciprocal, then the relation should be symmetric. Is it not crazy to suggest that we can be in communion with the Church of Nigeria, but the Church of Nigeria is not in communion with The Episcopal Church? Several observations are in order here. First, how does one “break communion,” i.e., how does church x, in communion with church y, change x C y to not x C y? The answer to this is something else that might go into the aforementioned Anglican covenant. I won’t deal with it here, but I will offer the thought that C should be symmetric because it borders on nonsensical for it not to be. If we all agreed that “being in communion with” is a symmetric relation, then, if the Church of Nigeria declares itself to be out of communion with us in some effective way—whatever that may mean—we do not have to declare what some would think uncharitable, namely, that The Episcopal Church is not in communion with the Church of Nigeria. Instead, our not being in communion with Nigeria would be automatic. Mathematically, C’s being symmetric means that, if (x, y) is not in the relation, then, necessarily, neither is (y, x).

One church in the Anglican Communion is special, namely, the Church of England, represented by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Peter Akinola, Archbishop of Nigeria, has suggested throwing the Church of England out of the Anglican Communion. This, however, is a nonsensical idea, as, at the very least, the Communion has always been seen as churches in communion with the Church of England. One imagines that the Church of England can no more be thrown out of the Anglican Communion than, say, the U.S. could be expelled from the nations of North America.

From this point on, we will consider the relation C defined only on churches of the Anglican Communion. Thus, we will not talk about, say, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The Episcopal Church is in communion with the Lutherans, but this relation may not be the same as the one we have designated by C. In any case, no one thinks the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is in the Anglican Communion, so no variable z that might be of interest can represent that church.

Now consider C defined for Anglican Communion members (or possible members). We see that one object (as the mathematicians would say) is special. It is called the Church of England, and we will represent it as e. Thus, we must have e C e. If the members of the Communion are necessarily churches with which the Archbishop of Canterbury is in communion, then, for any church x in the communion, we must have e C x. If we assume that C is symmetric, which surely seems reasonable, then we can also say that x C e.

Now, should not “being in communion with” within the Anglican Communion be transitive? That is, if x C y and y C z, then should we not be guaranteed that x C z? If C is transitive and symmetric, since every church in the Communion is in communion with the Church of England (and vice versa), then every church in the Communion is necessarily in communion with the other churches of the Communion. Surely this is as it should be.

Now, permit me to offer a definition of the members of the Anglican Communion. First, define the communion relationships of the Anglican Communion as the reflexive, symmetric, transitive closure of C. In other words, if we begin with e C x for each church x that Canterbury is in communion with, we get all of C by adding all ordered pairs needed to make C reflexive, symmetric, and transitive. Don’t worry about the mathematics; this effectively means that all churches in the communion are in communion with all other churches in the communion. As I said, this is clearly how things should be. Seemingly, however, it is not how things are, because, for example, the Church of Nigeria is not in communion with The Episcopal Church.

If you define the communion as I have suggested, however, what happens when the Church of Nigeria declares itself not in communion with our church? Mathematically, this is very simple. Let t represent The Episcopal Church and n represent the Church of Nigeria. Since it is now not the case that n C t, we cannot have t C n because, if we did, it would violate our symmetry requirement. Automatically, The Episcopal Church is not in communion with the Church of Nigeria, and we did not have to “declare” anything to make it so. By transitivity, however, since t C e and e C n, transitivity would imply that t C n. Since this is not in the relation—I’ll skip a logically rigorous argument here—either t or n must never appear in one of our ordered pairs. It would be perverse to suggest that one church that is not the Church of England could unilaterally throw another church out of the Communion, so we must conclude that, if Nigeria breaks communion with The Episcopal Church, the only way to maintain the definition of the Communion is to conclude that Nigeria breaks all relationships with all other Communion churches. In other words, it removes itself from the communion.

Well, admittedly, that was a roundabout way of getting where I finally ended up, but I really do like my mathematical definition of the Communion. After all, an Anglican Communion out of communion with itself just makes no sense. For that part of the Communion that yearns for “clarity” and “unity,” my definition delivers.

March 8, 2007


Yesterday, March 7, five days before the deadline for obtaining adequate consents from standing committees to make him a bishop, Mark Lawrence wrote a letter that attempts to reassure the church that he is not planning to leave it. The letter is prominently posted on the Diocese of South Carolina Web site. It is, in fact, on its home page, where no one can miss it, but where it surely cannot stay forever. Therefore, I will reproduce it here:
Dear Standing Committees of The Episcopal Church,

I have been told that some diocesan Standing Committees have graciously offered to reconsider their denial of consent to my election as the XIV Bishop of South Carolina, if they only have assurance of my intention to remain in The Episcopal Church. Although I previously provided assurance of my intention, this has not been sufficient for some Standing Committees, which are earnestly seeking to make a godly discernment. Therefore, taking to heart the apostolic admonition in 1 Timothy 3:2, “Now a bishop must be above reproach, …temperate [free from rashness], sensible, dignified, hospitable, an apt teacher….” I am reminded to make every attempt to reason with those who have denied consent or who have not yet voted. As I stated at the walkabout in Charleston on September 9, 2006 and again in a statement written on 6 November 2006, I will make the vows of conformity as written in the BCP and the Constitution & Canons, (III.11.8). I will heartily make the vows conforming “…to the doctrine, discipline, and worship” of the Episcopal Church, as well as the trustworthiness of the Holy Scriptures. So to put it as clearly as I can, my intention is to remain in The Episcopal Church.

Yours in Christ,

The Very Reverend Mark J. Lawrence
What are we to make of this declaration? It is, of course, a statement made under duress, but, for the sake of argument, I am willing to consider it an expression of a sincere intention. Should any minds be changed by it? No.

First, let’s look at the statement itself. Lawrence has said before that he will, as he puts it here, “make the vows” required by the church. Of course he will; it is required for consecration. The question has always been whether he will keep the vows he “makes.” He tells us that his “intention is to remain in The Episcopal Church.” This is not the same as saying that he will remain in The Episcopal Church, work for its unity, and resign as bishop and leave the church without prejudice should he, at some future time, not be able to keep the vows he has “made.”

Recall that Lawrence, answering a diocesan questionnaire (see my original essay, “No Consents: A Crucial Test for The Episcopal Church”) said that:
  1. The church should divide over the issue of homosexuality.
  2. He is unsure if he would resign his orders as an Episcopal priest “[i]f the Diocese of South Carolina does not [emphasis added] become separate in some formal way from ECUSA.”
  3. “If the Diocese of South Carolina separates in some formal way from ECUSA,” he would not transfer to an Episcopal diocese remaining in the church.
These are strong opinions and require more explaining away than Lawrence has done in his latest letter and elsewhere.

In his November 6, 2006, letter “clarifying” his opinions, for example—recall that he framed the questions in this letter, although they reflect what was being asked by bishops and standing committees—in answer to the question “What would be your response if the convention of the Diocese of South Carolina voted to leave The Episcopal Church?” he wrote the following:
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.
Lawrence was not being forthcoming then, and he is only seeming to be forthcoming now.

I think that Mark Lawrence now believes that separating the Diocese of South Carolina from the rest of The Episcopal Church is, from his point of view, simply becoming unnecessary. What has changed? Quite simply, the communiqué from the latest meeting of the primates raises the hope that the Anglican Communion will extinguish liberal Christianity from The Episcopal Church and return our church to some mythical seventeenth-century “orthodoxy.” Sadly, he might be right. Diocesan standing committees, however, can help prevent such a disaster by refusing to change their decision to deny consent, by changing their decision to give consent, or, if they have not yet acted on the request for consent, by either denying the request or doing nothing.

March 7, 2007

Down to the Wire

About five days remain for the Very Rev. Mark Lawrence to collect consents from an additional 10 standing committees (at last public count, anyway) if he is to be consecrated the next Bishop of South Carolina. News stories are beginning to appear describing the canonical process that has become something of a cliffhanger. No special last-minute lobbying effort has been in evidence to encourage denial of consent, but the Web site Stand Firm (representing “Traditional Anglicanism in America,” according to its banner) is asking its readers to write to standing committees urging support for the consecration. Stand Firm, helpfully, even provides a sample letter. No doubt, some will view this activity as unseemly, but, if it does not exactly conform to Episcopal tradition, it surely is not prohibited and is in the finest American tradition of lobbying in support of one’s cause. It remains to be seen if it does bishop-elect Lawrence any good.

Today’s Associated Press story out of South Carolina provides little information for those who have been following this affair, but I was struck by this line: “Lawrence said Monday it was highly unusual for the consecration of a bishop to be blocked.” Indeed it is, having not occurred since 1934, when the General Convention denied consent for John Torok to become Bishop of Eau Claire. The last time a bishop-elect failed to gather the necessary consents from bishops with jurisdiction and standing committees—i.e., outside of the General Convention—was in 1875, when standing committees prevented James De Koven from becoming Bishop of Illinois. (De Koven fared badly in his efforts to become a bishop, having been rejected the previous year as Bishop of Wisconsin because of his “ritualist” views. Nonetheless, De Koven’s accomplishments were such that we celebrate his life—see Lesser Feasts and Fasts—on March 22.)

If no one elected bishop has been rejected by the wider church in nearly three-quarters of a century, the fault is not Mark Lawrence’s. His was a leading voice opposing Gene Robinson’s consecration at the 2003 General Convention. In fact, he was a signer of a minority report urging that Robinson be rejected as Bishop of New Hampshire:
Believing that the work of Legislative Committee 07: Consecration of Bishops is, according to the Title III, Canon 22, more than merely a verification of correct procedure, but is equally concerned with the appropriateness of the candidate’s wholesomeness of life (and consequently includes sexual behavior);

And that this wholesomeness is not merely a model for an individual diocese, but also for the entire One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church to which he would be ordained and consecrated;

And whereas the approval of a bishop elect who is in a same-sex relationship, even if monogamous and loving, is in opposition to the clear teaching of Holy Scripture, the historic teaching of the church, and the promulgated teaching of this Body of Christ known as the Episcopal Church by previous General Conventions;

And whereas the approval of a bishop in said lifestyle would become a pretext upon which the church would de facto resolve the question of the appropriateness of homosexual behavior without due reordering of the church’s teaching;

And whereas the approval of this consecration will bring profound consternation to many of our sisters and brothers at home and abroad, straining relationships within the Anglican Communion, and adversely affecting the mission and ministry of the church at home and abroad, the undersigned file this minority report and recommend rejection of C045.

Respectfully submitted,
The Very Rev. Mark J. Lawrence
Anthony J. Clark
John E. Masters

One has to admit that that last paragraph was prophetic! Anyway, Lawrence played a similar role in 2006, being the author of a similar minority report opposing the consecration of Barry Beisner as Bishop of Northern California:
Believing that the work of Legislative Committee 07: Consecration of Bishops is more than merely a verification of correct procedure, but is equally concerned with the appropriateness of the candidate’s wholesomeness of life; and that this wholesomeness of life is not merely a model for an individual diocese, but also for The Episcopal Church, there are some troubling impediments to granting consent for this election.

Therefore, we the undersigned are constrained to bring this matter before the House of Deputies at this 75th General Convention. All of these impediments are concerned with the fact that the Reverend Canon Barry L. Beisner is twice divorced and presently in his third marriage.

It must be stated clearly at the outset that we do not wish to impugn his present ministry in the diocese of Northern California , where he is obviously loved and appreciated. This was resoundingly expressed at the public hearing of our legislative committee meeting. We state even more emphatically that we do not wish to question God’s gracious forgiveness nor the sincerity of Canon Beisner’s repentance.

He has publicly acknowledged the wrongfulness of his prior actions and we affirm him in seeking God’s forgiveness of which we all stand in need. Indeed, we trust, as all Christians should, that Christ’s redeeming work is greater than any of our moral failures or mistakes.

Nevertheless, assurance of forgiveness does not determine the appropriateness of advancement to higher office. We are cognizant of the fact that the Episcopacy is the sacramental symbol of our unity with the apostles and the catholic Church throughout the world.

He or she represents the Church to the world as well as to the faithful. He must, as St. Paul states, “be above reproach” (1 Timothy 3:2). So, before this house proceeds with consenting to this election its members need to rightly weigh the following concerns:
  • It is likely that the anomaly of a twice-divorced and thrice-married bishop may be broadly interpreted by the larger body of Christ, individual Christians, and even by peoples of goodwill in various non-Christian religions, that we in the Episcopal Church have weakened our teaching and commitment to the lifelong sanctity of marriage.

  • It is likely in a time when so many in our nation are suffering because of the widespread fracturing of families, the approval of this election will send a confusing message to the members of our Church and to the unchurched in our communities. As the great Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple once stated, “The Church must be very clear in its public pronouncements so that she may be very pastoral in her application.”

  • The consecration of a bishop is by its very nature a public teaching. Frankly, it is difficult to fully anticipate how the many divorced spouses within our church, as well as the traumatized children shuttled between one home and another, may interpret our consent to such a consecration.

  • It is likely that it may further strain “the bonds of affection” within the Provinces of the Anglican Communion, causing them to question our commitment to the teaching of Holy Scripture, our marriage rite, our Canons and the resolutions of prior General Conventions regarding the sanctity of marriage (i.e., that we believe marriage to be “a lifelong commitment”).

  • We are concerned that since the duties of a bishop require him or her to pass consent to those applying for permission to remarry after divorce, the bishop-elect’s prior marriages and divorces may hinder his ability to function in this capacity.

  • It may also hinder his ability to exercise proper discipline and pastoral care for those priests or deacons and their spouses and families who are experiencing marital difficulties, estrangement, and divorce proceedings to say nothing of possible clergy persons’ applications for re-marriage.

  • It needs to be considered that these prior marriages and divorces may provide far too much room for his conscience to be compromised by his prior failures and thus hindering the exercising of godly judgment towards those under his pastoral care. There is also the remote possibility of remaining woundedness from these failed marriages and that the stresses of the episcopacy are far too great and the risks far too significant.

In conclusion, it needs to be remembered that there are consequences to a person’s actions and that one is often required to live with these consequences. Forgiveness through Christ is sure. Nevertheless, one lives with the consequences. For this body of the Church catholic to attempt to disregard this truth is not only inappropriate, it puts the Church and her members in unnecessary compromise.

Finally, it needs to be noted that the above points are a compilation of concerns, and all are not necessarily held by every signatory of this report. We the undersigned respectfully file this minority report and suggest denial of the consent to this election, which is before you as D038.

The Very Rev. Mark J. Lawrence, San Joaquin
The Rev. Richmond Webster, Alabama
Alma Thompson Bell, Maryland
Christopher Hart, Pennsylvania
The Rev'd Hayden G. Crawford, Southwest Florida
The Rev. Richard S. Westbury, Jr., Florida

Under the circumstances, it is impossible to argue that it is inappropriate to consider Lawrence’s fitness for office without, at the same time, indicting him for having done the same thing to others.

March 4, 2007

And the correct date is …

According to an announcement reported yesterday from the Rev. J. Haden McCormick, president of the Standing Committee of the Diocese of South Carolina, consents from other standing committees for the episcopal consecration of the Very Rev. Mark Lawrence must be “postmarked by March 12, 2007.” Episcopal News Service, in its February 16 story on McCormick’s request that standing committees that have refused to give consent reconsider their decision, gave March 9 as the deadline date, however: “In this case, the requests were mailed November 9, making the 120 day period end on March 9.” (Canon III.11.4(a) requires that standing committees respond within 120 days after requests for consent have been sent by the electing diocese’s standing committee.) So, which date is correct? One certainly hopes that South Carolina is not trying to move the goal posts because the requisite consents have not been forthcoming.

March 3, 2007

Can We Trust Our Bishops?

Probably not. That is, we likely cannot rely on the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church to resist the demands of the Anglican primates, to which they have been instructed to respond by September 30. Will they act to protect our autonomy and vision, to “conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church?” (BCP, p. 513) Without a good deal of lobbying by clergy, laypeople, and a few courageous bishops, don’t count on it.

Why am I so pessimistic? Because, in more than 30 years, our bishops have not dealt effectively with the growing, mostly neo-Puritan, insurgency in the church. Because there have been no presentments offered against bishops like Bob Duncan and Jack Iker, for whom vows and canons provide no restraints on their outrageous behavior. Because Presiding Bishops have repeatedly accepted the harsh judgments of the Primates’ Meeting without questioning the primates’ authority, their understanding of the Anglican Communion, or their mean-spirited reading of Scripture.

Mostly, however, I am discouraged by the news that a majority of the bishops with jurisdiction—those who constitute the core of our House of Bishops—have voted their consent to the consecration of the Very Rev. Mark Lawrence as the next bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina. Lawrence has made ambiguous statements about whether he would seek to remove or accede to removing South Carolina from The Episcopal Church, and, long before the primates tried to implement a plan for actually doing so, he advocated that our church’s autonomy be surrendered to them. (See my essay, “No Consents: A Crucial Test for The Episcopal Church.”) Consecrating Lawrence will give him a vote in the House of Bishops, and that vote will certainly favor the primates’ plan for our church over our independence. Most diocesan bishops, apparently, see no threat in that prospect.

We now must pray that standing committees will prevent the House of Bishops from becoming ever more sympathetic, or tolerant, or simply perplexed by the power plays of the traditionalist insurgency. For the consecration of Lawrence to proceed lawfully, consents from a majority of diocesan standing committees must be received by March 9. At last report, mercifully, that vote was running against consecration. Arms of standing committee members will likely be twisted in the coming week, however, and much of that twisting will be done by bishops.

The church’s Executive Council is now meeting in Portland, Oregon. It is on Executive Council that the voices of clergy and laypeople can be heard at the highest levels of The Episcopal Church between meetings of the General Convention. The House of Bishops meets later this month. I pray that Executive Council will go on record as warning the bishops that they do not have the moral authority—technically, I suspect that they do have the legal authority—to make the declarations they have been asked to make. I also pray that Executive Council will express skepticism, at the very least, of the propriety, wisdom, and practicality of the “pastoral” scheme the primates are trying to impose on our church.

Can we trust Executive Council to support our church? We will soon know. If we cannot, the majority of Episcopalians should be considering what is going to be their next church, since the more than 200-year run of The Episcopal Church will be coming to an end. I doubt that, without substantial pressure from Executive Council and from pulpit and pew, our bishops will resist the will of the primates and the insurgents in their midst.