December 6, 2006

Bishop-Elect Mark Lawrence has issued a wholesale response to the many questions raised concerning his confirmation as Bishop of South Carolina. His answers have not apparently satisfied most of those who had concerns in the first place, based on his comments during his candidacy and after his election. Those, such as myself, who were troubled, are now decided. (In my case I don't have a vote, not being a member of a standing committee, and the election having taken place after rather than immediately before the General Convention meeting, in which case I would have had a vote.)

Let me see if I can "get it for you retail." What has bothered me most in what I have seen from Mark Lawrence, not only in the immediate context of his candidacy and election, is inconsistency. He took a strong stand against the confirmation both of Bishop Robinson and Bishop Beisner, not just voting against them but leading the opposition and framing the minority reports. Both of these men were put under intense scrutiny during the General Convention sessions in which their confirmations were acted upon. They were forthcoming. (Perhaps it was easier to "forthcome" when one could stand before a microphone in an overheated committee room while a panel of seated judges peppered one with accusations and calls for further explanation.) Their answers were fulsome and complete, and touched on deeply personal matters.

Mark Lawrence's wholesale responses, on the other hand, appear evasive, vague, fudgy and, to say the worst, duplicitous. (There is only one proper response to the "hypothetical" question, "If your diocesan convention votes to leave the Episcopal Church what would you do?" and that is (for starters) "I will do all in my power to prevent the diocese from making such an unconstitutional attempt, including charging clerical members of the Convention with violation of their Ordination Vows.")

So, on this matter, Mark appears to demand a level of accountability he is unwilling to give.

The second inconsistency is his alleged allegiance to "the Anglican Communion" as if it were a "church" rather than a communion of churches. As the recent Panel of Reference recommendation concerning New Westminster made clear, one is a member of the Anglican Communion through membership in a church that is a member of the Anglican Communion, and in this case that means The Episcopal Church. This is where Lawrence's misuse of the TEC Preamble comes in: the Episcopal Church is a constituent member of the Anglican Communion: a founding member, an element without which the Anglican Communion will cease to be what it claims to be; and if on the remote chance two-thirds of the Primates were to vote to expel The Episcopal Church from the Anglican Communion, they would in fact and in principle be approving the dissolution of the Communion by removing one of its constituent parts. That's what "constituent" means.

Then there is his strange use of the marriage analogy. To use marriage analogically (in the right way), nothing in the marriage vow suggests one party has the power over the faithfulness of the other, only over one's own faithfulness to that partner. This is part of the meaning of "for better, for worse." Lawrence seems here to want to make a conditional promise: I will remain faithful until either my own judgment, or some other judgment extrinsic to the Episcopal Church (the Primates, or some of them?) allows me to sever the relationship. That is not a Vow, it is a Pre-Nuptial Agreement.

And this brings me to my gravest concern, which is not for the church (which has worn out many an anvil) but for Mark. As a spiritual director, I can only note with horror the idea of someone making a vow with such a conditional attitude: that he will conform to the discipline of the church so long as it remains consistent with what he thinks it ought to be (and he suggests it even now isn't!). It is the actual Episcopal Church of the here and now to whose discipline Mark is being asked to conform — not some hypothetical church of the future more to his liking. Not being willing to commit unconditionally is an impediment, pure and simple. It isn't about Lawrence's positions on gay clergy, the authority of Scripture, or the ordination of women. It is in his inability to make a simple statement that he will conform to the discipline of the Episcopal Church even if he disagrees with it, come what may regarding the Anglican Communion.

Some have raised the issue of "What will happen?" if consents are not received. That, I would say, is a hypothetical question.

—Tobias Haller BSG


Anonymous said...

The questions were straight forward. It is unfortunate that the answers seemed tortuous and evasive.
Thanks for separating the "wheat from the chaff".


Jon said...

If TEC decides to treat the rest of the Communion like idiots only worthy to take notes and say "of course, you must be right, we shouldn't think, we're obviously no good at it," TEC will only have itself to blame. While TEC has not yet behaved so badly towards the rest of the Communion, there are times when those defending TEC's decisions seem to lean a little in that direction.

One of the things I seem to recall hearing from the ABC indicate that this is a time in which many things that have been taken for granted could be rejected or significantly modified by the diverse pressures on the Communion at this time. If this includes TEC being a constituent member of the AC, that could profoundly shake a significant portion of TEC. What do you expect when what has been a significant aspect of a person's self-identity is abruptly removed?


Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Daer Jon,
I agree that TEC has not in any way treated the rest of the WWAC "like idiots." I think we have been very patient to say, "We hear what you are saying but we disagree. We are very sorry you are hurt by our decision, and any incidental or dependent damage. We will try to do better at communicating in the future, and promise to be better at listening. We do not intend, however, to repudiate what we have done, as we think it to be in itself a good thing."

As to TEC no longer being a member of the Anglican Communion (constituent or otherwise), I do not give that a very high likelihood. I do, on the other hand, see a split coming when the more irascible members of the "Global South" do not get what they are seeking. I think when the dust settles, the Episcopal Church will still be in communion with Canterbury. Ultimately, I dare say most Episcopalians do not (and did not) think of themselves as "Anglicans First" but initially as members of a parish, and even then only secondly as Episcopalians, with the Anglican Communion coming in a very distant third. So I don't think that most Episcopalians would feel a great sense of loss even were TEC (and I say even as I think it a very remote possibility) no longer to be in Communion with Canterbury.

Anonymous said...

I remember learning about something in high school. There was a war between a group of 'states'. The issue was that many people felt that since they were states they were justified in putting the states first, and the so called 'union' second. After all, a state is a state, and a union is just made up of states. Turns out that's wrong.

All Mark Lawrence is saying is that in the grand scheme of things he would like to be loyal to both, but if Virginia (ECUSA) starts acting in a way which is at war with the USA, he would consider pulling a west virginia (Diocese of South Carolina) and split off in order to stay within the United States.

It seems as if all those so eager to maintain and expand state's rights are really the ones itching for war.

You might come back and say that the situation is not the same, legally the Anglican communion and the instrument of unity do not function as a federal government. But I would simply have to say that that is how the southern states in the Civil War saw it too. In ECUSA's constitution it makes referance to being in communion with the AC a foundational value, that means that the AC and the instruments of unity are in fact over ECUSA in a way analogous to a federal government

Anonymous said...

Just passing by and couldn't help noticing....

Tobias, you speak of TEC's patience with the AC. As one who is outside TEC but a member of another constituent member church of AC (and I am not an 'irascible member of the Global South'), it seems to me that the AC have exercised great patience as we watch and wait for what TEC will do. Using the marriage analogy that each partner can only be responsible for their own faithfulness, it could be argued that TEC have failed in this by continuing on a course, knowing full well what it would mean to the Communion, and offering only conditional 'apologies' for doing so.

I don't write off TEC nor do I wish to see them out of the AC. But I also feel sympathy for dioceses like SC and individual parishes who feel out of step with TEC but with a deep desire to remain Anglican. I'm with Jon on this one - of course SC are going to look to the AC, unless they are given better assurances by TEC that they will be listened to. (Sorry - that's a lot of C's!)


Anonymous said...

I concur with all three points you make in your response to Jon.

Each province of the AC is free to make its own decisions. I do not believe the decisions made at GC2006 were made with any sense of arrogance (despite what the detractors of TEC may claim). The charge of arrogance is merely a ploy used to inflame the emotions. From the many reports that I have read concerning the decisions made at GC2006, they were made with some amount of pain and humility.

George Pattison, an English theologian writes in ?Gays and the Future of Anglicanism?:
"What?s all this in the papers about ?Anglicans?. Rector ? I thought we were Church of England?"
This, a question put to him by a parishioner in the 1980?s.
This has also been my personal experience growing up in the Episcopal Church. I thought first of being a member of my local parish which happened to be Episcopal. I knew that we were an ?offshoot? of the Church of England. I think I, and most members of the congregation, with the exception of the clergy, were pretty much unaware that we were members of the Anglican Communion. In or out of the communion, I don?t think anyone would have noticed. The liturgy the same, the hymns the same, not a beat skipped.

I also see it as more likely that the ?irascible members of the ?Global South?? may pack up their bags and leave if as you say they ?do not get what they are seeking?. TEC has expressed a desire to remain in the AC, the ?Global South? has made maybe ?not so veiled threats? to form their own communion, separate from the AC.


Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Dear St&c,
There are a number of problems with your analogy, at least as applied to the Anglican Communion in relationship to the Episcopal Church. Were you to apply the analogy to South Carolina and TEC, it might make more sense -- and it seems South Carolina has a rich history of "state's rights" or "diocesan rights" coming ahead of the "national" union.

The primary difference is, of course, that the Episcopal Church is a fully functioning national church. The Anglican Communion is, as our Constitutions says, "a fellowship"; and as the Anglican Communion describes itself, "a fellowship of autonomous churches" -- it has no central organization or governing structure (beyond the consultative functions of the Anglican Consultative Council and the even weaker and non-constitutional Lambeth Conference -- which is exactly that, a conference with no authority over any of the bishops who attend. Autonomy (self-rule) is state's rights. There is no way in which the provinces of the Communion are inferior to some higher assembly. Some propose the creation of such a structure, but that is not the historic or present reality.

As to the mention of the Anglican Communion in our own Constitution, this is ground that has been gone over extensively elsewhere; I will simply note that it is not "foundational" since it was only added to the Constitution in 1967, as a statement of the historical reality. Part of that reality is that the Episcopal Church predates the Anglican Communion, and when the Anglican Communion finally came to be, the Episcopal Church was one of the founding, or "constituent" members. That is what "constituent" means -- we were among the provinces that "constituted" the Anglican Communion. As to being "in communion with Canterbury" for a few of the early years in the emergence of the Episcopal Church, there were some significant obstacles to full communion -- as evinced in the Historic Episcopate -- in that Seabury was unable to obtain consecration from England. So, again, if one is going to use a word like "foundational" one needs to go back to the foundation to see what was happening.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Dear Anonymous,

I would certainly say that the Archbishop of Canterbury has been remarkably patient -- with everybody. He has also said that he feels the Episcopal Church has made great efforts to do as it has been asked. The complaints that it hasn't done enough are coming primarily from folks in some of our domestic dioceses and from the Global South. Many parts of the Communion are already on record as saying that there wasn't a problem in the first place (I'd say about 1/3 of the Communion is on that beam: South Africa, Wales, New Zealand, Brazil, Canada, Mexico, Central America, etc.).

Part of moral theology requires that one not stop doing what one believes is right simply because someone else thinks one is wrong. One listens to their advice, weighs it, and then must decide what to do. In the present situation we appear to have a conflict between a hierarchy of goods: the good of communion vs. the good (which some call bad) of a revised understanding of sexual morality and the place this new understanding takes in the life of individuals and churches. The fact is, as I've said, a significant portion of the Anglican Communion have said quite clearly that this latter is not an issue over which the former need be sacrificed. So the onus, as I see it, is upon those who are actually violating the communion: cutting off fellowship, ordaining wandering bishops to invade other churches, and threatening schism. None of these latter choices is strictly speaking "necessary" -- and, to put the final word on it, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said as much, and asked them to be patient.

The reality, as I see it, is that a certain irascible element want the communion to split, and are working to make that split happen. They are overreacting (and in many cases misrepresenting) the extent to which the Episcopal Church has "departed from the faith" as they see it. They have ignored the appeals of Canterbury, in some cases (Nigeria) openly rejecting Canterbury as a traitor to their cause.

Jon said...

I mostly agree with you Tobias, but I'm not sure you have given appropriate weight to the particular characteristics of conservatives in TEC in considering Mark Lawrence's election. Most, if not all, conservatives (perhaps the term ultra-conservatives would be preferred)expect TEC to be severely disciplined by the time Lambeth 2008 ends. They are also much more likely to be "Anglican First" Episcopalians, especially if they're clergy. I agree with you that they are likely to be disappointed by the Communion, but until that happens their expectation will color every action they take with respect to TEC. This is why I am not surprised that Mark Lawrence hasn't simply promised to stay with TEC no matter what. He expects all hell to break loose shortly, and won't lie about what could happen if that happens. Since this appears to be in line with the expected characteristics for what we could expect from Diocese of South Carolina, I find his answer on whether he would participate in HoB meetings more interesting and somewhat more hopeful than the rest. If he will work within the institution until TEC is removed from the AC, he could be working within TEC for his entire tenure as bishop.


Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

I agree with your assessment Jon. The reason I have a problem with this approach on Lawrence's part, as I think I may have said elsewhere, is that it relies too much on hypotheticals (ironic that he shoudl protest that!). Many in the far-right are absolutely sure, it seems, that TEC is going to be kicked out of the AC, and are acting in that way. My question to them is, as I think the AB of C has also urged, is, "Wait and see." Canterbury has been calling on dioceses to remain within their provinces, not to appeal for alternative Primates (which he's clearly said he can't do, at least not in the way they want -- and he has said that ++KJS's proposal is an interesting way forward while the APO-requesters have rejected it.)

I see Lawrence as caught up in this emotional world-view, and unable to step back from it and clearly say, as he should, I have no intention of separating from the Episcopal Church. If he can't say that, in other words, if he feels he must keep his options open in case a split comes, then he isn't really prepared to make the kind of unqualified commitment that is being asked of him. I don't think he's a bad person, far from it. I agree that there are a few hopeful signs in his comments, though they are obscured by the "big" problems. But I also think he has to make a decision based on what actually is instead of what might be. I don't envy him, or those who are considering consent at this moment.

Anonymous said...

Tobias, I was, at first, on the fence as to whether the standing committee should vote to confirm Mark Lawrence as bishop of the Diocese of South Carolina.

My main reason was that a majority of those eligible to vote had chosen him. One of the reasons I argued for the confimation of Gene Robinson was that the priests and people of New Hampshire wanted him to be their bishop.

However, the situation in South Carolina is different, in that I'm not sure that the priests and people of the diocese want to remain in the Episcopal Church.

These words of yours resonate with me:

As a spiritual director, I can only note with horror the idea of someone making a vow with such a conditional attitude:

Mark Lawrence must, of course, make an unequivocal choice about affirming his loyalty to the Episcopal Church. If he is doubtful that he can do this because it might result in conflict with his loyalty to some other entity, then he should bow out. If he does not, then, I agree, the vote should be "No".

I find his answer to this question quite troubling also.

Will the Presiding Bishop be welcome to preside at your consecration?

This would be a most unwelcome situation for the vast majority of priests and laypersons of the Diocese of South Carolina. I am sure you know how disruptive this would be for my ministry, the office of the bishop, and for the diocese.

What can you say of a bishop and a diocese of the Episcopal Church, who will not welcome the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Chruch to - you know - preside?

Jon said...

The conservative error is a part of what is, and probably a significant part of what is in places like South Carolina. If Mark Lawrence clearly said that he wouldn't leave TEC, the conservatives, acting based upon their error, would be very likely to make life hell for him assuming they didn't pay him to step aside as bishop-elect.

Given that the conservatives are going to be disappointed, what sort of person will it take to pastor them such that they don't leave TEC and the AC entirely? I doubt anyone clear in their commitment to TEC would be permitted to get close enough to help, but someone who refused to break from the AC no matter which direction TEC went might be able to pull it off. At the least, such a person would be able to establish the relationships neccesary to have a chance even if the disappointment proves to great to hold together through.


Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Grandmère, merci!

Jon, I think you are summing up the core of the dilemma very well. It is a long-time problem in pastoral ministry: how do you minister to an unruly flock. The "hard" leader may simply alienate the flock; the "softie" may keep the flock but to what end? I would say that one of the correctives in having a consent process is precisely to provide for the kind of balance that, in the best of all possible worlds, might prevent an unruly flock from simply "choosing teachers to their liking" while also providing that some outside entity not merely impose a tyrant.

In the present case, from my experience of him I would have thought Mark Lawrence to have been ideal -- until he started to appear to hedge his bets on the issue of schism. I think he could have been elected by saying, "I will remain loyal to The Episcopal Church and seek tirelessly to change it in those things where you and I believe it has gone amiss; and work to ensure that any of its errors have no impact in this diocese."

It is probably true that, for some, such an assurance would not be enough, and they would seek to leave the Episcopal Church, regardless of their Bishop's efforts. This is one of the sad realities of pastoral ministry -- you can't please everybody if you are really going to do something rather than do nothing The problem is that if one truly believes the system is not only wrong but irreformable, one has little reason to remain in it -- and that goes for people as well as bishop.

Anonymous said...

With some regret, I have written the chair of my Diocesan Standing Committee and asked her to consider not consenting to Rev Lawrence's consecration.

If TEC does not consent, it will be seen as an incendiary act. However, the consequences of consenting could be worse.

If the Diocese of South Carolina wishes to secede, let them say so plainly, and deal with the rest of the church openly. And keep in mind, not every person and/or church in that Diocese wishes to secede.

Jon said...

If he won't leave TEC before it is removed from the AC, I think the phrase "talk is cheap" may be applicable. The effect, if he does as suggested and TEC isn't removed from the AC, would be that he would act like a conservative faithful to TEC while not antagonizing those he has to work with in South Carolina. The harder trick will be for Mark Lawrence to start pushing the diocese into a trajectory that keeps it in TEC, and I have no idea what that would take, although getting them to accept the Primatial Vicar could be a step in the right direction. Either way, it looks to me like keeping TEC and the AC both whole and together is going to take a lot of careful politics.


-frank said...

Weiwen, easy with the adjectives, incendiary is a bit inflammatory.