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.

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