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Hoosier Musings on the Road to Emmaus

Friday, March 16, 2007

Elections and consents

The big news flaming around the Anglican Communion this morning, of course, is the declaration as null and void of the election of the Rev. Mark Lawrence as the next bishop of South Carolina. Insofar as I can understand, this was a close thing: 56 diocesan standing committees (a majority) needed to give consent by the extended deadline, which was Monday. The diocese initially said that 57 appeared to have done so, a number having apparently changed their votes at the last minute. However, it seems that several standing committees had not followed the necessary canonical procedures, so only 50 were actually able to be recorded as consents.

I feel badly for all concerned-- and especially for Fr. Lawrence and his family, who have no doubt waited on tenderhooks while the process ground inexorably on. However, that is the way our church governs, and while painful, it is also appropriate. A bishop is a bishop for the larger church as well as his/her own diocese.

That said, I could wish that our diocesan standing committees had gotten their individual acts together. This is not a tricky process, people! From our National Canons:

Each Standing Committee, in not more than one hundred and twenty days after the sending by the electing body of the certificate of the election, shall respond by sending the Standing Committee of the Diocese for which the Bishop is elected either the testimonial of consent in the form set out in paragraph (b) of this Section or written notice of its refusal to give consent.

(b) Evidence of the consent of each Standing Committee shall be a testimonial in the following words, signed by a majority of all the members of the Committee:

We, being a majority of all the members of the Standing Committee of ______________, and having been duly convened at ______________, fully sensible how important it is that the Sacred Order and Office of a Bishop should not be unworthily conferred, and firmly persuaded that it is our duty to bear testimony on this solemn occasion without partiality, do, in the presence of Almighty God, testify that we know of no impediment on account of which the Reverend A.B. ought not to be ordained to that Holy Order. In witness whereof, we have
hereunto set our hands this _____ day of _________in the year of our Lord _________.
(Signed) _______________

In other words... have a meeting within 120 days (that's four months), sign the required consent form or a letter saying you refuse, and move on. The last minute politicking and arm twisting that I know went on is inappropriate. Likewise, not responding at all, as some apparently chose to do, is wholly unacceptable.

So if we must play the blame game, folks, I would suggest that starting with our Presiding Bishop is not appropriate here. She did not arbitrarily "decide" to declare the elections void; she is bound by canon to do so. Check to see how your own standing committee voted-- heck, make sure they even bothered!

Those who do not care for the results do have recourse. The Diocese of South Carolina will be holding another election, and they are certainly free to elect the same man again if they choose-- and if he cares to submit to the gauntlet again.

I will admit that, had I been a voting member, I would not have given my consent to this election. Put simply, what I had read of Fr. Lawrence (including such of his own writings as were available) led me to believe it was not inconceivable that he would consider trying to lead the diocese away from the larger church-- and we have enough "Lone Ranger" behavior, thank you, in both polar extremes of our church.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure... this would not be the first episcopal election to which I would have refused consent. The last was in 2006: the bishop of Northern California, a man twice divorced and three times married. I'm sorry... no. And by the same token (and though I have some friends who will find this hurtful), I do not believe I would have consented to the election of Bp. Robinson. Even if one is willing to consider the validity of same-sex relationships, one needs to acknowledge that he is living in a relationship not yet sanctioned by our collective theology, liturgy and canons. Electing him to the episcopate puts the cart before the horse.

That's what it boils down to. We have not done what we need to in the way of prayer and study and theology and teaching and listening and learning that still desperately needs to be done-- and obdurate, polarizing behavior on both sides of the issue is not the least helpful.

Interested in other news and views? Check out the listing of articles at Episcope, or Reverend Ref, or Tobias Haller.


Blogger Reverend Ref + said...

Why the diocesan s.c.'s couldn't have returned votes in a timely manner, and with the proper form, is almost (note that I said "almost") unbelievable.

And the complaint that the burden of making sure the votes are filed correctly falls on the Diocese of SC isn't any different than when I was going through the ordination process and the burden of making sure that all the proper paperwork was in my file fell on me.

March 16, 2007 10:49 AM  

Anonymous Mark J. said...

Agreed, Ref+... It is a simple paragraph. Copy, paste, fill in, sign, send. Heck, the process even allows you to fax it, reducing the time-in-transit to almost nothing. I'd go beyond "unbelievable" to almost inexcusable.

Interestingly enough, Jane, I wouldn't have voted to confirm Robinson in 2003 for the same reason. We weren't there yet. Many have argued that the same was true of women's ordination a "few" years back, but from what I've read and heard we did more theologizing as a church about that than we did human sexuality.

Likewise I would have been very reluctant to approve the election of the bishop in California (divorces). I was in the room for part of the debate in the House of Bishops last summer on this one, and was glad there was a debate not just a quick election.

Lastly, I'm not sure about South Carolina. I've read some things that indicate that Lawrence would not try to storm out of TEC at any point. His most recent statement on S.C.'s home page, for example, said as much in plain language (I just discovered that letter is gone now--apparently it served no further purpose). So suffice to say I'd be undecided.

But if I were on a Standing Committee I'd certainly push for either a positive or negative response, not the nebulous incorrect format or no response whatsoever.

March 16, 2007 11:49 AM  

Blogger Rev Dr Mom said...

I wonder why the SC in South Carolina didn't know there was a problem earlier since the consents were sent to them before being sent on to 815.

I wouldn't have voted to consent either; Fr. Lawrence's statements seems filled with obfuscation to me, and his (and SC's) refusal to have +KJS as consecrating bishop speaks volumes. But I wish the process had not been so messy and controversial.

March 17, 2007 3:17 PM  

Blogger Lorna said...

well said -and in love. Bravo

March 17, 2007 6:36 PM  

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