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.

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