April 18, 2007

Here We Go Again

To hardly anyone’s surprise, the Standing Committee of the Diocese of South Carolina has announced that it will attempt again to make the Very Rev. Mark Lawrence its next bishop. In particular, the following announcement has been posted on the South Carolina Web site:
Statement of the Standing Committee of the Diocese of South Carolina for immediate release

On September 16, 2006, the people of the Diocese of South Carolina overwhelmingly elected the Very Rev. Mark Lawrence as our next bishop on the first ballot. We are fully persuaded that the Holy Spirit spoke in that election and we were reassured that a majority of both bishops and standing committee’s [sic] intended to consent to this election. We are determined to carry forward our diocesan mission within the context of the canons which give order to our common life.

Accordingly, at our meeting today, we unanimously passed a resolution reconvening the 216th annual meeting of the Diocese of South Carolina, which was recessed. At that re-convened meeting, we will request that the convention take the necessary steps to allow the calling of a special convention later in the summer for the purpose of again electing the Very Rev. Mark Lawrence. Formal notification will follow shortly.

Charleston, SC
April 17, 2007

Immediately after Lawrence failed to achieve the requisite consents for his consecration, many people speculated that South Carolina would indeed elect Lawrence again to be its next bishop. They further speculated that, the next time around, consents would easily be obtained. The theory seemed to be that denying consents is a rare occurrence that The Episcopal Church would not have the will to pull off twice in a row. The determination of South Carolina, combined with the closely divided first-round result, seemed as though it might work in Lawrence’s favor.

Or maybe not. The speculation about South Carolina’s future was articulated before the spring House of Bishops meeting, which may have been a turning point in Episcopal Church history. Our bishops now seem to have an increased awareness of the need to protect the constitution of The Episcopal Church against all enemies, foreign and domestic. In particular, there seems now to be a widespread understanding—at long last, one must say—that certain members of the House of Bishops do not simply dissent from majority viewpoints, but are actively working to overthrow The Episcopal Church and to replace it with a fundamentalist caricature of an American Anglican church. From this perspective, Mark Lawrence does not so much look like a wronged priest deserving of a second chance at obtaining justice, as he does a fox knocking at the hen house door. The bishops with jurisdiction, who voted to consent to his consecration last time around, may well reject his cause this time, irrespective of what standing committees do. To everyone’s astonishment, The Episcopal Church has shown that it is not a rubber stamp for anyone a diocese might elect bishop, and the House of Bishops has shown that it is not a rubber stamp for the tyrannical edicts of the Primates’ Meeting.

The South Carolina Standing Committee is convinced that “the Holy Spirit spoke” in its episcopal election. Perhaps its members should consider that it is equally likely that the Holy Spirit spoke in the rejection of Mark Lawrence by diocesan standing committees. Rather than showing how stubborn South Carolinians can be, the Standing Committee might well consider starting an episcopal search process from the beginning, with a new consultant, with greater respect for the moderate Episcopalians in the diocese, and without determining the outcome in advance.

I do not, of course, expect this suggestion to be taken seriously by the South Carolina Standing Committee.

April 1, 2007

The Covenant We Do Need

The Anglican Communion is out of control, and The Episcopal Church doesn’t look too well-ordered, either. Outrageously bad behavior is being widely tolerated, and orderly processes can no longer be relied upon.
Most Episcopalians reading this could write a couple of sentences which, when appended to the previous paragraph, would support its thesis. Not everyone would agree on what the proper evidence is, however.

My own list would certainly include the recent departure from The Episcopal Church of retired Bishop William J. Cox for the Anglican Church of the Southern Cone. Bishop Cox, you may recall, performed various Episcopal acts in Kansas in 2005 at the behest of the Archbishop of Uganda, but without permission of the Bishop of Kansas. This certainly looked like (1) a presentable offense against the canons of The Episcopal Church and (2) improper interference in the local affairs of one Anglican province by another. No disciplinary action was taken immediately, but a presentment was eventually brought against Bishop Cox. Earlier this month, the presentment was deemed serious enough to warrant an actual trial, and it appeared that the bishop might at last receive his just desserts. We have just been informed, however, that Bishop Cox has told the Presiding Bishop that he is leaving The Episcopal Church for a more sympathetic province.

In essence, Bishop Cox has jumped bail and left town. Since The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of the Southern Cone are in the same “Communion,” you might expect that we would have an extradition treaty with Southern Cone that would return the accused to the proper jurisdiction, where he could be tried. Of course, you would be wrong. When any province is angry with any other province, nothing in the Anglican Communion works the way you think it should.

We have heard a lot recently about an Anglican covenant, an idea floated in the Windsor Report, and a concept that even the General Convention—inadvisedly and without adequate consideration, I think—has bought into. Parties within the Anglican Communion seem to have wildly different ideas about the nature of such a covenant. The Episcopal Church has suggested—hoping against hope, really—that it will be all about how provinces do mission together. Many of the primates, on the other hand, want to see a covenant that is (1) a confession of faith binding upon all member churches and (2) an agreement whereby (1) is next to impossible to modify. Their object is to return and to maintain the Anglican Communion safely in the seventeenth century or whenever it was that the Universal Church or the Church of England or Cromwell or somebody—I have no idea who—“had it right.”

Whereas the “covenant process,” from the point of view of The Episcopal Church, seems headed off in the wrong direction, a covenant among Communion members is not necessarily a bad idea. The Anglican Communion is an amazingly fuzzy entity, operating largely without any rules whatever, and certainly without rules agreed to by everyone involved. The exception in this chaos is the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC), which is the most representative Communion body, including bishops, priests, and laypeople among its members. (There are no deacon members of the ACC, but that is a concern for another day.) Moreover, the ACC has a formal constitution and bylaws. These are all about how the ACC works, however, and not how the Anglican Communion works.

In watching the actions of the Anglican Communion over the past several years, I have been most distressed by the violations of conventions that I thought were understood and agreed to by all—that bishops do not act in other jurisdictions without having been invited to do so by the local bishop, that the Lambeth Conference and Primates’ Meeting are only consultative bodies without any substantive authority, that communion between provinces is necessarily mutual, etc. Essentially, these rules are being changed unilaterally. The effect, in some instances, is to centralize authority, but in others, it is just to spread chaos. The Episcopal Church should, I think, acknowledge these trends and announce that it will do everything within its power to reverse them and to work for an Anglican Communion governed by rules that everyone understands and has agreed to.

The foregoing considerations have caused me to change my mind about the need for an Anglican covenant. I now do believe that a covenant is needed. The covenant we need before we begin examining theological differences among provinces, however, is one that specifies clearly the fundamental privileges and obligations of Communion membership. Each province of the Communion should ratify this covenant before any future business not directly related to mission is conducted by the Communion. Among the basic principles that a covenant should establish are the following:
  1. That the Archbishop of Canterbury cannot discriminate in his invitations to the Lambeth Conference. All bishops of a particular kind must be invited or not.
  2. That no primate may be excluded from the Primates’ Meeting.
  3. That diocesan boundaries are inviolable.
  4. That jurisdictions should not overlap.
  5. That breaking communion with one province breaks communion with all.
  6. That Communion-wide rules govern the transfer of ordained persons from a jurisdiction in one province to a jurisdiction in another.
Well, you get the idea. No doubt, there will have to be rules for which specified penalties apply if they are broken. (This takes us to a potentially slippery slope if we wish to avoid building a cumbersome judicial mechanism for the Communion. I don’t claim to have all the answers here.) Personally, I would like to see the Primates’ Meeting abolished and more responsibility given to the ACC, which should meet more often. No doubt, it has been argued that it is too expensive for the larger ACC to meet more frequently, but I suspect that this is not the case, since the ordinary clergy and laypeople who make up the ACC will likely accept not flying to meetings first-class.

Oh, I should mention one other essential rule for a covenant. No bishop, priest, or deacon should be allowed to transfer between jurisdictions to avoid ecclesiastical discipline.