I take up the subject of Lawrence again in response to a comment from the Rev. Bruce Robison. I addressed some of the issues he raised in my own comment, and, in this post, I want to focus on the remarks of Bishop W. Andrew Waldo, to which my friend called attention.
Bishop Waldo’s October 19, 2011, guest editorial in The State is “Unity, diversity both necessary and possible in Episcopal Church.” Alas, this essay exemplifies the kind of fuzzy-thinking, head-in-the-sand, collegiality-at-all-costs inanity that makes me wonder if having bishops is really worth all the trouble they seem to cause.
Waldo begins with hand-wringing about what is going on next door to his diocese:
Episcopalians in the Columbia-based Episcopal Diocese of Upper South Carolina are watching with heavy hearts as our brothers and sisters in the Charleston-based Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina contend with allegations that their bishop, the Rt. Rev. Mark Lawrence, has “abandoned the communion” of the Episcopal Church.Waldo’s basic thesis is that Mark Lawrence is a capital fellow for whom we should make sacrifices in the name of theological diversity. He writes, “I consider Bishop Lawrence a friend and respected fellow-laborer in the vineyards of the Lord. I know him to be a loyal and faithful minister who seeks to raise valid and serious questions as to the theology, polity and structure of the Episcopal Church.”
I do not disagree with Waldo when he says, “Our church has a long history of theological diversity and respect for those with whom we disagree, and we can all benefit from the challenge of addressing these questions openly and in a spirit of mutual charity.” Waldo, however, like so many conservatives who have actually left The Episcopal Church, seems to believe that theology is important, but institutional rules are not. Waldo writes
…it is hard for me to see how the actions complained of against Bishop Lawrence rise to the level of an intentional abandonment of the communion of this church, as is charged. I have difficulty understanding why matters that are arguably legislative and constitutional in nature should be dealt with in a disciplinary context.Because The Episcopal Church does have a tradition of theological diversity, it generally shies away from heresy trials. (The radical conservatives are not so skittish about theological witch hunts, as the late Bishop Walter Righter discovered.) In fact, no one is pursuing charges against Bishop Lawrence for his theology, whatever that might be.
We do, however, expect our bishops to “engage to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church” (BCP, p. 513). In particular, we govern our church in a democratic manner, and the constitution and canons of the General Convention are to be obeyed, even by bishops. If a bishop does not approve of our governing documents, he or she is free to suggest changes at the next General Convention. Such advocacy is perfectly acceptable.
Ours is a church of theological diversity, but not of trustworthiness diversity. The doctrine of The Episcopal Church is hard to pin down, but its constitution and canons are largely unambiguous. Although theological concepts, such as that of the Trinity, may be more “important” than “matters that are arguably legislative and constitutional in nature,” bishops are pledged to be trustworthy champions of the latter. “Diversity” in legislative and constitutional matters is insubordination, a refusal to play by agreed upon rules, a failure to keep a moral commitment. This is precisely what “should be dealt with in a disciplinary context” [emphasis added]. What kind of example is a bishop who pledges his sacred honor to uphold the rules under which our church has agreed to operate but who flagrantly disobeys those rules because he doesn’t like certain decisions the church has made?
In his penultimate paragraph, Waldo writes
In John 15:12-13, Jesus makes an arresting proclamation about Christian unity: He commands that his disciples love one another as he has loved us. He tells us that such love means a willingness even to die for the sake of each other. This requires a deep trust in God’s providential hand in human events rather than in our own “rightness”—regardless of whether we lean right or left.I see no compelling reason why the church should make sacrifices for a bishop who believes he is above the mundane conventions by which the rest of us live our life together. No one is persecuting Bishop Mark Lawrence—not for his theology, not for his views on how the church should operate. It is not the duty of the church to accommodate a bishop who puts himself above the decision-making mechanisms established by the church. If Mark Lawrence cannot live within the parameters set by a democratic General Convention, he has an ethical duty to resign. Failing that, he must accept the consequences of what can only be seen as his transgressions.
Bishop Waldo has failed to understand the essentials of the situation in which Bishop Lawrence has placed himself. Whether Lawrence has abandoned the communion of The Episcopal Church is debatable—the canons are indeed unclear on just what this locution means. I have no doubt, however, that he has committed offenses deserving of deposition. The facts brought forward by the people of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina are not frivolous. Lawrence cannot blame changes to the South Carolina constitution and canons on his diocesan convention. As bishop presiding over the convention, he had the obligation to declare propositions clearly out of order to be such. He did not.
In opposing the giving of consents to Mark Lawrence’s consecration, I titled my argument “No Consents: A Crucial Test for The Episcopal Church.” Having first succeeded, then failed in that test, the church has been presented by Mark Lawrence with yet another test of its wisdom and resolve. Perhaps it will succeed this time.