Time to say NO

I wish I knew Mark Lawrence, bishop elect for the Diocese of South Carolina. I am very taken with his chutzpah, his nerve, his gall, whatever you call it. But after several bouts of hearing him out and giving him every benefit, cutting him every slack, he comes back with words that leave me perplexed. These are not words of comfort or words of assurance.

He is quoted in the Living Church (online) saying:

“I should also continue to be cognizant that upholding the doctrine, discipline and worship of The Episcopal Church includes the essential fact of it remaining a constituent member of the Anglican Communion. No one knows where we will end up. Anglicanism is in a profound state of transformation right now.

“The people of South Carolina followed the process, and I was overwhelmingly elected on the first ballot. Does anyone really think by rejecting me as bishop that they can force Episcopalians in the Diocese of South Carolina to choose someone more to their liking? Is that going to help convince the people of South Carolina that they are still respected and their voice listened to by the majority?”

As I understand the first of these statements, Fr. Lawrence is committed to upholding the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Episcopal Church so long as it remains a constituent member of the Anglican Communion. Other remarks of his lead me to understand that he does not believe the Episcopal Church is such a member or he believes that will not be the case for very long.

More, Fr. Lawrence holds that the preamble to the Constitution is definitive rather than descriptive, that is IF we are a constituent member we are “really” the Episcopal Church, and IF NOT we are not really The Episcopal Church. In this second case, he does not consider himself bound by the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church since TEC is not then a part of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.

Fr. Lawrence is wrong in so holding.

As I understand the second of these statements, Fr. Lawrence seems to think that not consenting to his election is so that “they can force Episcopalians in the Diocese of South Carolina to choose someone more to their liking?” The issue is not “someone to their liking,” the issue is someone who can without guile take the oath.

Fr. Lawrence asks, “Is that (not giving consent) going to help convince the people of South Carolina that they are still respected and their voice listened to by the majority?” No, not giving consent is not going to convince the people of South Carolina of anything. But why should they need convincing? This is not about making up to someone, or respecting someone who has not been respected in the past. No one has suggested that I know of that the Diocese of South Carolina ought not be respected or is somehow held in lesser esteem than other Dioceses. There is no need to convince the Diocese of anything, as far as I am aware.

This process is about having an election accompanied by the resolution of the several Dioceses, represented by the Bishops of Jurisdiction and the Standing Committees, so that it is clear that the Bishop so elected will have seat in the House of Bishops and so that the Presiding Bishop takes in hand the process for the ordination of the bishop as a bishop in the Episcopal Church.

It seems to me that Fr. Lawrence (i) fails to show that without reservations he is willing to take the oath, and (ii) wildly misunderstands or misstates the reason for consent.

With regret I have come to believe Fr. Lawrence is not without guile in the concerns raised.

It is time to say NO.


  1. I think Fr Lawrence is going to be a fantastic bishop for my diocese of South Carolina. What makes me sad is that it would appear (and of course I could be wrong but this is my own opinion and feelings)that the majority of the Episcopal Church, while willing to ride rough shod over the Anglican Communion by ordaining Gene Robinson despite requests not to do so because of the problems it might cause (and the arguments were - what right do 'they' have to tell the Episcopal Church what to do) now ride rough shod over a person they do not like and threaten not to confirm his election. Of course there are complicated issues on both sides of the debate but South Carolina have chosen their Bishop just as New Hampshire chose theirs - whatever you think of him and his theology, that is the choice of South Carolina.

    Andy John

  2. Mark,
    Your playing some kind of word games here, and I really don't understand your point other than that this is a conservative who you don't seem to like. What is wrong with being a Bishop as long as it remains a part of the Anglican Communion? I'm pretty sure that is what we are currently in. Or, are you saying, that if the Epicopal Church is expunged from the Anglican Communion, that everyone should be loyal to that...what ever THAT may be?

  3. The question is not about Mark Lawrence’s theology, of which I have little direct evidence. Lawrence has made it quite clear (in an earlier piece in The Living Church, for example) that he believes the polity of The Episcopal Church is defective. He has suggested changing it radically and, seemingly, without going though the democratic process built into our constitution. Moreover, he refuses to say categorically that he will obey the constitution and canons. His allegiance is clearly to the Anglican Communion first and to The Episcopal Church if that is convenient.

    When one becomes a leader in an organization, it is not unreasonable to expect that the leader will uphold the bylaws, rules, etc., of the organization, not only to protect the integrity of the organization, but also to set an example for others. In taking office, the President of the United States, for example, swears that he or she “will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” It would not be appropriate for the President-elect to say that his or her allegiance to the Constitution is dependent upon, say, the US’s remaining in the U.N.

    Mark Lawrence has belittled the questions asked of him, apparently thinking that “spiritual” questions are more important than “political” ones. Well, it used to be that giving one's word without deception or reservation was a sign of moral character. Apparently, however, issues of sexuality have pushed more mundane ethical concerns off the list of sins certain elements of the church worry about. A categorical commitment by a bishop to the constitution and canons of The Episcopal Church is an absolute requirement. It is clear that a number of bishops in this church do not see the importance of this particular vow. We do not need more bishops who think that way.

    I was pleased that South Carolina elected the least radical of the candidates for bishop. Perhaps next time, the nomination process will not so aggressively restrict the choices and will allow more centrist candidates to stand for election. I certainly hope so.

  4. “The people of South Carolina followed the process, and I was overwhelmingly elected on the first ballot. Does anyone really think by rejecting me as bishop that they can force Episcopalians in the Diocese of South Carolina to choose someone more to their liking? Is that going to help convince the people of South Carolina that they are still respected and their voice listened to by the majority?”

    Notice that these 3 sentences have TWO different subjects? What may hold for Fr. Lawrence on the 1st and 3rd sentences, is completely UNDERCUT by the 2nd.

    Look at it again:

    Does anyone really think by rejecting me as bishop that they can force Episcopalians in the Diocese of South Carolina to choose someone more to their liking?

    Ah, but were "the people of South Carolina" (sentences 1 & 3) really acting as "Episcopalians" (sentence 2)?

    As embodied in their choice of bishop (among other things), that's what remains (painfully!) very much in DOUBT.

    [In total contrast to the Episcopalians in the Diocese of New Hampshire, whose fidelity to TEC's Constitution & Canons---rooted in Scripture, Tradition and Reason---was never in doubt]

    Andy John, you have a lot of gall to compare faithful +Gene, to petulant Mark+. :-(

  5. JCF,

    I am afraid you are quite wrong. Being a follower and disciple of Christ should be the first goal and aim - being Episcopalian comes second, not the other way round.

    Mark Lawrence has been accused of not wanting to adhere to the Canons and the laws of the Episcopal Church. Yet Mark Lawrence realizes that there is a higher law - higher than the Episcopal Church which he serves and loves - it is God's laws, God's ways, God's Gospel. Mark Lawrence firstly serves the Lod and when the church do things which go against the teachings of God's words then God's words must be upheld above the Episcopal Canons. Many times in the Old Testament God tells the Israelites to stop offering sacrifces and burnt offerings because their hearts were not following the true heart of the law of God.

    Mark Lawrence's words in no way compromises his ability to be a Bishop in the Episcopal Church. In fact it makes him all the more called to be so.

    Andy John

  6. No, Andy John--if Mark were truly obedient first and foremost to the Lord, as you describe, and he felt that this would probably call for him leading a diocese out of the Episcopal Church, he would respectfully decline election.

    It is absurd to think God would have him lie--have him promising to obey canons that he would later be obliged to break. The very notion makes a mockery of the holiness to which Mark is called--and yet it seems to make no impression on you at all.

  7. I am afraid I don't agree with you (although, without sounding hollow, I am not saying i am perfectly right). Many progressives, in my own opinion, appear to have departed from the Gospel Message and from the Anglican tradition - of course you will disagree with me on this and of course you are entitled to, but then you do seem to disagree with over 70% of the Anglican Communion. Now I know that what I am about to say would be ripped to shreds by progressives and I am sure they would provide long arguments as to why I was wrong, but I think we now have a situation whereby the progressives demand the church be more liberal and more accomodating to those with differing views and yet when people present a different view to them they attack and denounce them. I feel that progressives act in exactly the same manner as they condemn conservatives in acting - intolerant.

    Finally, and taking a completely different tact, no one would ever claim that they held the perfect theology - that would be arrogance beyond belief, if not heresy. So why do we (both onservatives and progressives) ACT and DISCUSS as though we do have the perfect theology. We should reflect more as to whether our theology is off base. Maybe the first question we should ask ourselves in a debate is not "I am right and you are wrong" but "which part of my theology might be uncertain, sketchy or even wrong."

  8. I attend St. Paul’s in Bakersfield, California and listen with interest to what the Rector Mark Lawrence has to say. He is an engaging speaker with a powerful intellect. I admire Mark. I have been a guest in his home and he in mine. I hired his son who recently departed to attend seminary and follow in Mark’s footsteps. His wife is a jewel among the rest of us. Mark is the kind of a person with whom you are comfortable in any setting.

    I first learned of the dissention in the Episcopal Church in the media. The appointment of a gay bishop and the election of a female (pilot, scientist, bishop) from Nevada as the presiding bishop. That is a lot of change in a few years. People generally do not like rapid change unless they can see a direct, immediate benefit.

    One thing that I have learned in my sixty-one years is that like it or not change is constant. A willow tree in a windstorm bends and survives while the mighty oak stands firm, splinters and sometimes dies. The Episcopal Church is an oak tree. The alternate primatial oversight (APO) advocates are one limb and the The Episcopal Church is the rest of the tree.

    This oak tree is shaking in a wind of yet another controversy fanned by the Episcopal media, some standing committee members who have never met Mark, arguably TEC leadership and some bloggers. TEC leadership is apparently working to deny Mark the consent he and the State of South Carolina deserve as the newly elected Bishop of South Carolina.

    None of Mark’s critics really know him or what he is about. Some wish to denigrate him because the limb they are perched upon in the oak tree is creaking and beginning to crack. They appear to be scared and threatened. They wrongly believe that thwarting Mark will restore order as they wish it. It won’t. It will be worse.

    The APO movement is growing. TEC membership is dwindling and it is a small player among all Anglicans. Anglicans worldwide have taken a dim view of the recent actions of TEC leadership paralleling the departure of a growing number of USA churches and dioceses now seeking oversight from powerful, large, foreign Anglican entities. TEC leadership perhaps needs to re-examine its actions including the apparent campaign to squelch dissent i.e. Mark, South Carolina Episcopalians and the APO movement.

    Both the TEC leadership and APO advocates are stubbornly heading to an impasse with a sad but predictable outcome. Remember how the Church of England was formed. It could happen again here, though for different reasons. Do we really want Episcopalians divided into The Episcopalian Church and in the other corner a newly formed Anglican Church of America Is there no room for discussion or must we go our separate ways?

    The future of the national church now appears to be an eventual hostile divorce which often results in anger and financial ruin on both sides and in the end enriches only the attorneys now poised and waiting.

    Can both factions set aside their differences long enough to talk? I wonder what Jesus Christ would do? Have we lost sight of our Christianity and humanity in this political dispute?

    Denying consent for Mark as the Bishop of South Carolina won’t help TEC. The opposite is true. Mark is an apparent scapegoat for those that believe denying consent will somehow stop dissent. It won’t. To deny consent for Mark will only galvanize the APO and the parishioners throughout the nation who silently question the direction of the current TEC leadership. If the Bishops and Standing Committees consented to the consecration of Bishop Robinson how can they face God and deny consent to Father Mark?

    TEC is indeed at a fork in the road. We need to take the path of love and compassion for all Episcopalians. After all, we are a religious institution not a political institution. God will smile on those that can and do.


OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with some cautions and one rule:
Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.