The Disciplinary Board has judged that there is insufficient cause to bring charges of abandonment of communion against Bishop Mark Lawrence of South Carolina. Great. I'm glad and thought from the outset that the charges could not be sustained. Still, there are two problems with this judgment:
(i) It is bad news for the Bishop because for him to celebrate the judgement in his favor is to acknowledge the reality that its findings carry canonical weight. So here is what Bishop Lawrence had to say about it all (from his November 29th Letter to the Diocese).
"While the statement leaves many questions unanswered — frankly, to my mind it appears to read like a complex statement of a complex decision in a complex time within a complex church. Nevertheless, I believe it is best to take it at face value (even while noting that this diocese has not recognized the constitutionality of the new disciplinary canon). For now given no more allegations from anonymous sources within the diocese it is my hope we can all get back to focusing our full attention on proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit and to Glory of God the Father that the Church here in the Diocese of South Carolina may add daily to its number those who are being saved." (emphasis mine).
The "face value" of the judgment is that "we can all get back to focusing our full attention on proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ..." Right. But the note that "this diocese has not recognized the constitutionality of the new disciplinary canon" is something that can only be tested in the field - that is the Diocese and its Bishop must object in practice and somehow bring the issue to some next level of reconsideration by the whole church. Because the judgment came down in his favor it turns out this case is not as likely to provoke the reexamination of the canon. Still, one can hope for a variety of reasons that the next General Convention will apply itself to some refinement of the canons.
(ii) Bishop Lawrence has a sense of vocation for the diocese and for himself. He writes,
"Please know our vocation has not changed. While making disciples and witnessing to the unassailable Truth of the Gospel to a hurting and troubled world, and speaking truth to power within the unfolding struggles of The Episcopal Church, as well as taking our place in the larger Anglican Communion, we are, as you have heard me say on many occasions, called by God to Make Biblical Anglicans for a Global Age."
Again I think it a good thing that Bishop Lawrence and the Diocese of South Carolina have a sense of vocation. I assume that such a calling takes place within the context of the vocational call Bishop Lawrence took on at ordination to the episcopate. Here are the elements of that call:
(1) "We are called by God to Make Biblical Anglicans for a Global Age."
(2) (We are) "making disciples and witnessing to the unassailable Truth of the Gospel to a hurting and troubled world"
(3) (We are) "speaking truth to power within the unfolding struggles of The Episcopal Church,
(4) (We are) "taking our place in the larger Anglican Communion."
Items two and four are exemplary statements of the vocation that ought to pertain to all bishops.
Item three assumes a conflict with "power(s)" present in The Episcopal Church, and makes a vocation of "speaking truth to power" in that context. There seems to be no parallel vocation to common life within The Episcopal Church. There is no vocation to common life, apparently, within The Episcopal Church.
Item one: to "make Biblical Anglicans for a Global Age" is clearly a slogan. As a vision it lacks any clarity at all. What is a "biblical Anglican"? and what makes this a "Global Age"? We sort of know what Bishop Lawrence means, but it can slip easily from being about biblically grounded Anglicans in an age of world wide communications and interchange, to a more restrictive and draconian slogan for world wide imposition in a world-wide church of a particular Anglican group's understanding of biblical morality, acceptable behavior, etc.
And of course the real problem here is that Bishop Lawrence claims this vocation as that of his diocese and his own ministry. He claims "we are called by God." How sure is he of that? Or better, how are we to know that he and or his diocese is called by God to this task? And does he assume that this is not at task taken up by The Episcopal Church's leadership or by a majority of other bishops?
Well, the problem is that the judgment of the Disciplinary Board removes a perfect venue for Bishop Lawrence to live out the trial of his vocation. By saying there are insufficient grounds to certify that he has abandoned the communion of this Church (thank God and the Board for that!) he has lost a pulpit to proclaim that God has called him and the people of the Diocese to this holy task, one apparently dismissed by the powers that be in The Episcopal Church.
I can't help thinking that the Bishop will push some more, as he has by granting quitclaim deeds to the parishes, to the end that he can take the fight to the enemy and "speak truth to power within the unfolding struggles of The Episcopal Church."