March 13, 2007

The Ducking Stool

The deadline has passed and as of this moment the count stands one lone vote short of consent to the election of the Rev. Mark Lawrence as Bishop of South Carolina. The post may bring in another vote, but it seems bad form for a consenting standing committee not to have given notice by some other means.

It is no secret that I had reservations about Fr. Lawrence, based solely on his ambiguous responses to questions posed by the diocesan search committee, concerning his willingness to remain in the Episcopal Church, and the possibilities of an alternative primate. Perhaps if these leading questions had not been asked, Fr. Lawrence would not have been put in the predicament of having to give an honest answer and express his mixed feelings about the future, and his attitudes towards these possibilities. In its own peculiar way this mirrors the dilemma many gay and lesbian persons have faced in parts of our church, where honesty functions as a bar to acceptance for ordination. Litmus paper, given the right solution, can turn blue as easily as pink.

The sad thing for me in all this is that while I disagree with Mark’s views on a number of matters, I believe him to be an honorable man, an honest man; and he is paying — if it is “paying” not to be confirmed as a bishop — for that honesty. I think he meant what he said at every step of the journey. When he most recently (and perhaps too late) wrote, “So to put it as clearly as I can, my intention is to remain in The Episcopal Church,” I think he was putting it as clearly as he could; that is, he could not in good conscience say simply, “I will not leave the Episcopal Church.” Rather than a prediction, he offered an intention; perhaps not the most fervent assertion of fidelity, but enough of one to persuade at least some of the standing committees to accept this as sufficient.

So I admire his honesty, as I admired his integrity, even as it appears it may cost him the episcopate — at least the legitimately conferred episcopate of this Church. If he is a man of honor, as I think he is, he will forgo any irregular attempt to seize the episcopal throne — resisting what some have suggested he or the diocese should do.

In this sense, the consent process seems to be a kind of trial by ordeal. If the consents indeed are not given, and nothing untoward happens as a result — he returns to parish ministry in San Joaquin, no irregular trans-provincial consecration takes place, no incursions from abroad, nothing in South Carolina other than an orderly return to the process of finding a bishop for a diocese — then it will be evident that Mark Lawrence was a man of his word, and the diocese willing to abide by the laws of this Church. On the other hand, if an irregular consecration happens, it will rather prove the contrary.

This all reminded me this morning of the ducking stool: to convict a witch, try to drown her; if she survives, she’s a witch; if she dies — well, she was innocent. Sorry about that.

What a strange world we live in that the possibility of diocesan secession and alternative primates even need to be discussed, must less treated as real possibilities. It is these possibilities that may have scuttled what might have been a superb episcopal ministry — for there is no doubt in my mind that Mark Lawrence would make a very effective bishop. Perhaps South Carolina will be willing to covenant itself to the rest of The Episcopal Church, to reaffirm its membership in that body, governed by a General Convention few agree with on everything, but willing to abide by a common set of canons; not to ask leading questions about the future, but affirm a commitment in the present; to welcome and acknowledge our Presiding Bishop, as such, even if the diocese doesn’t agree with everything she says or stands for — much as one acknowledges the President even when one belongs to the opposing party. Were this to happen, I think there would be a greater willingness to consent to whomever the diocese elected — including Mark Lawrence should he be elected once again.

— Tobias Haller BSG


Caelius said...

A minor correction: a ducking stool is what you use to punish a scold, a gossip, or basically any type of woman (almost always) whose words are considered too bold for her station. The woman generally stays on the stool and risks nothing worse than death from pneumonia.

What you refer to is the ordeal of cold water or "the swimming of witches."

Yet I cannot but think that ducking stool remains somewhat apropos, too.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Dear Caelius,
Thanks for the correction. I suppose my mind was diverted by the image of a "ducking cathedra" in this case.

Wormwood's Doxy said...

I guess I would have to ask...where is the integrity in seeking to be a bishop of The Episcopal Church, when you cannot say, forthrightly and with no hesitation, "I will not lead this diocese out of the church"?

In fact, I find it unbelieveable that we even had to ask him that question at all. What have we come to when we can even consider as a candidate for the episcopacy a man who apparently despises most of what TEC stands for?

It seems to me that Father Lawrence was trying to have it both ways---get the purple shirt and pointy hat, but leave himself the wiggle room to throw his lot in with Nigeria, et al, if he actually had to live in community with the rest of us. (Or invite +KJS into his diocese.)

I find neither honesty or integrity in that position.

Ann said...

And what about his stance that ++Katharine will not be permitted to attend his consecration? I find that even more problematic.

Sailor said...

>"Perhaps South Carolina will be willing to covenant itself to the rest of The Episcopal Church." This, I think, is the crux of the matter.

The recent campaign was as much about South Carolina as about Mark Lawrence. SC went looking for a bishop-elect who would be willing to lead them out of TEC, and they found a good one. Fr. Lawrence was thus put in a double bind: promise to stay in TEC and betray the hopes of those who elected him; speak the truth and be denied consent. No wonder he tried to evade the question.

Unless the Diocese of South Carolina recommits itself to life within the theological diversity of TEC, what can we expect but a summer rerun?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

W.D. and Ann, I think that I addressed your concern about our Primate in my last paragraph. Refusal of the legitimately elected Presiding Bishop's presence is not only ungracious and uncanonical, but unnecessary.

Doug S., you have summarized my concern exactly. The Diocese is largely at fault in this situation. If they do not adjust their attitude, we are indeed in for a repeat.

Anonymous said...


I wonder if you would comment on this. When our standing committee (southwestern virginia) was asked to reconsider, it did. It ended up upholding the original No. It has not, however, communicated that result to South Carolina. To me, that is bad form given that South Carolina knew we were reconsidering.

Further, when asked for explanation and individual votes, standing committee said, "Not gonna divulge that information." Again, that seems like bad form to me. In our democratic system, shouldn't the people have a right to this information? What say you?

David said...

Br. Tobias wrote, "Doug S., you have summarized my concern exactly. The Diocese is largely at fault in this situation."

Ahh, yes. As their fellow Southerners, myself incl., have been saying over the past 150 years or so:

"South Carolina: Too small to be its own country, to big to be an insane asylum." ;)

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

I suppose I'd say, rather than "bad form" that it would be a courtesy to notify that the decision of the Southwestern Virginia Standing Committee remained unchanged, given the high anxiety level. I certainly would not wish this process on friend or foe alike. At the same time, a repeated "No" might not be so warmly received, either.

I'm of two minds on what you are essentially requesting as a "roll call" of the vote. Our polity recognizes a certain right to privacy in election votes; just as in the ordination process the SC can simply issue a "no" without giving its reasons. I can recognize the desire to know who voted how; but I'm not sure there is a "right" to that information. In an assembly, the call of the roll usually requires a significant supermajority -- not just because it takes time, but because of the desire to protect the members' right to vote off the record. There is no procedure to call for a record of individual standing committee member votes (though there is for a deputation to GC -- and that requires unanimous consent.) So I suppose if a SC wished unanimously to reveal their individual votes, they could; but I don't think that can be expected or required otherwise.

Chris Jones said...

where is the integrity in seeking to be a bishop of The Episcopal Church, when you cannot say, forthrightly and with no hesitation, "I will not lead this diocese out of the church"?

The integrity is in seeking to be a bishop of the Catholic Church, while worrying that the Episcopal Church's commitment to Catholic faith and order seems to be a little thin. If that leads him to be rejected as a bishop of the Episcopal Church, that says more about the Episcopal Church than it does about him.

What have we come to when we can even consider as a candidate for the episcopacy a man who apparently despises most of what TEC stands for?

What have we come to when "what TEC stands for" bears so little relation to the historic Catholic faith? Apparently the heterodoxy of Pike and Spong can be tolerated but the orthodoxy of Lawrence cannot.

Luiz Coelho said...

It is worth noting that, among the three candidates that SC had, he was the less conservative...

W said...

Doug, you raise a good point, although I would disagree that Lawrence was answering vaguely to try to appease both sides and get elected - we can't reliably tell what was going through his mind. In any case, the next move is up to the Diocese of SC. Mark Lawrence was probably (judging solely by his written answers) the most moderate of the candidates they found, which isn't saying much. I would not be surprised if SC moves to secede from the Episcopal Church. I pray we can work our differences out to some degree, but that's a long shot.

Wormwood's Doxy said...

The integrity is in seeking to be a bishop of the Catholic Church

If he wants to be a Big-C Catholic bishop, then he needs to swim the Tiber and be done with it.

If he wants to be a small-C catholic Episocopalian bishop, then he needs to be able to bind himself to the canons of the church and obey them.

What have we come to when "what TEC stands for" bears so little relation to the historic Catholic faith?

As I understand it, the "catholic faith" is summed up in the Nicene Creed, which we say faithfully every week, as part of the Eucharist.

And it's getting very tiresome to see people still pulling out Spong and Pike, as if they are somehow the official spokespeople for those of us who favor inclusion. There are lots of us who are pretty orthodox in our theology who still believe in full inclusion of GLBTs---and who believe that a bishop in the church ought to be loyal to it.

Chris Jones said...

it's getting very tiresome to see people still pulling out Spong and Pike

Tiresome it may be, but Pike and Spong were never disciplined for their errors, and those errors have never been repudiated by the Episcopal Church. From where I sit, it appears that the Episcopal Church has elected a Presiding Bishop who shares those errors. If the Episcopal Church finds it "tiresome" to be blamed for those false teachers, let the Church repudiate their errors, not embrace them by choosing a chief hierarch who agrees with them.

There are lots of us who are pretty orthodox in our theology who still believe in full inclusion of GLBTs

To be honest, I have not seen very much evidence for this assertion. It seems as if, for most of those who believe in "full inclusion," inclusion itself is the Gospel. That is not orthodox.

I have encountered few Episcopalians who are fully loyal to Scripture as understood in the Church's tradition, and are prepared to argue for "inclusion" on that basis. Most "inclusivists" prefer to argue for inclusion on the basis of what they see as justice, and tailor their understanding of Scripture and tradition to suit their ideas of what justice requires. With respect, I think that is backwards; and it certainly is not what has historically been considered orthodox. As Christians we are to draw our values from the Gospel and from the Church's tradition, not judge the Gospel by the values we bring to it.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Mr. Jones, you are wandering from the topic, and I very nearly didn't post your last comment. Pike is dead; Spong is largely seen as an irrelevant eccentric, and certainly no threat to the orthodox bases of the Episcopal Church, which remain the Scriptures, the Creeds, the Sacraments, and the Episcopate.

I do not wich my blog to be coopted into a debate on the supposed shortcomings of our Primate. I have read the critiques on her theological views, and I find them to be seriously lacking both in charity and a knoweldge of the current state of theological thinking in mainstream Christianity (including the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic traditions). Most of those who find fault are coming from a distinctly Reformed and Evangelical theological mindset. But enough of this, as this was not the topic at hand and I consider the matter closed (as far as this venue is concerned.)

To address your point concerning Mark Lawrence: Mark Lawrence was not, I repeat not, rejected because of his theological views, or his conservatism on matters of sexuality. He was rejected on the basis of perceived vagueness in his early responses for futher explantion concerning his statements to the SC search committee. His last minute clarification may have come too late; had it been made a month earlier it might have had a great impact.

I served with Mark on the committee on the consecration of bishops at this last General Convention. We asked all of the candidates about their willingness to abide by the oath of conformity. The committee approved all of the bishops who came before it; of whom two at least were markedly conservative in their views, but were able to give a clear answer to the question. So Mark knew this question was coming, and his response was judged less than forthcoming, concerning his relative loyalty to the Episcopal Church vs. the Anglican Communion. That, and that alone, is the reason for the difficulty he has had obtaining consents. I very much doubt if you could prove that any Standing Committee voted against Mark because of his "orthodoxy" -- unless that "orthodoxy" were to cause him to act in an uncanonical way in violation of the Oath of Conformity. There are plenty of "orthodox" bishops who feel no need to ask for alternative primatial oversight, or threaten withdrawal of their dioceses from the Episcopal Church.

episcopalifem said...

As usual, I think your assessment is spot on.

Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...


I'd be willing to cut him slack on the PB consecrator business. The PB is not an archbishop. Communion with her does not define communion with the Episcopal Church. However misguided the opposition to her theology is (and however ugly the opposition to her person). I even think that this could be a sign of a grave spiritual immaturity on his part that would make me vote against him (if I were in SC, given how the process was managed, who else could I have voted for???)

It is the lack of an unequivocal commitment to remaining within the Episcopal Church that is most troubling. The issues with the PB are a sign of this equivocation, to be sure. Lawrence never assured us that he would keep his vows. It's a bit like hedging the "until we are parted by death" piece in the marriage vows (as the NEWARK report once recommended).

You can't be the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of SC, without being 100% committed to the Episcopal Church. I think it has been misguided to try to squeeze this consent through.

I agree with Tobias that, if he behaves himself after this, there might come a day where he is elected bishop and the consents go through. If an irregular consecration goes through, we will know that it was right to deny consents. I pray that they won't come up with another vote. We don't need another Iker consent. But it won't be something to gloat over. The Church will have made a difficult discernment. I am shocked that he got consent from the bishops. They should have known better.

John B. Chilton said...

There's a lot of "if onlys" given that he's fallen short by a few votes with two or so votes ruled as invalid.

There's no reason to even consider an irregular consecration. South Carolina should simply reelect him, get its -erm- ducks in a row and go back through the process.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for your information. When our deputies came back from GenCon 03 and 06, they freely shared their votes and positions so I assumed this would be an analogous situation. Plus, there is the whole "the people have a right to know" sort of thing.

To push further, let me say this. One of the things about my conservative brothers and sisters in Christ that always has bugged me is how they attack what is not said by liberal leaders. For example, when Griswold used to issue his various words to the church, conservatives would always complain NOT about what he DID say, but about what he did NOT say. I would try vainly to get them to focus on what was actually said and avoid arguing over silence or innuendo or vague references. Focus on what was said, and ask, "Is there anything here that troubles me?"

The irony is of course that the shoe is now on the other foot. The liberals are now attacking folks like Mark Lawrence and others for what they are NOT saying, as opposed to what they are in fact saying. Example: Mark said it was not his intention to leave TEC. But the criticism is not over what he said, that statement is fine. I bet all bishops right now would gladly affirm a statement, "I do not intend to leave TEC."

The criticism is that he DID NOT say "I will never never ever ever period leave TEC and I really really mean it."

And of course the truly ironic fact is that now KJS is making statements that conservatives are criticising for what she ACTUALLY said. Makes the head spin. Are we going to have a pro-life democrat and pro-choice republican facing off in 2008? Cats and dogs living together, mass hysteria...

episcopalifem said...

WG -

In the world of politics, no one says what they really mean. So, in the end, I think we all listen deeply into the silences - we've learned to distrust what is said, and to listen closely for what isn't said. It's an affliction of modern life - at least in the U.S.

Church politics aren't exempt from this affliction.

The church as an institution is far more about man, than God, in my eyes. As imperfect the human lot is, our institutions are bound to reflect it. And the more we focus on what makes us different, the further from unity we'll ever be able to be.

In my eyes, Mark Lawrence learned something important. Be clear when asked, and be ready for the consequences of your clarity.

Christ was.

Anonymous said...


You can't be serious about that post, can you? "Profoundly disturbing?"

So now we're completely disregarding what was actually said, allowing each reader to insert into the silence his or her own "story" about why Mark didn't say what the reader wanted him to say, and to top it all off, we're gonna use someone else's notes (that really make no sense to me) to castigate him further and allege some kind of cover up? Huh?

What are you implying Tobias? I don't want to read anything into your comment so what are you suggesting? Your ending comment about leaving our minds to ponder the reason is borderline reckless (esp. for you whom I very much respect).

And Eileen, I hope you don't live in the world you describe. That sounds like an unhappy place (in my ever so humble opinion). But I guess if I am not saying what I really mean, perhaps I really agree with you. Now I'm confused. Peace to all this wet and cold Friday.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

reposted with corrected link...

WG, Eileen spoke for me before I could. In the meantime, Lisa has pointed out something more in this which I see as profoundly disturbing, and which I never noticed before.

In my previous look at the survey questions submitted by Fr. Lawrence, I had focused on the second page, where the troublesome responses to questions about TEC in relation to the WWAC appear. What I failed to notice was the message scrawled on the top of the first page. "Mark, Great to be with you! Could you take a moment and fill this out again so we have the right answers for our file on you?" You can see the pdf here.

This raises all sorts of questions which I leave it to your mind to ponder.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Rev Ref+ pointed out the link wasn't working, so I have reposted the note.

WG, if you are not troubled by this, then leave it be. Having been in a number of search processes (including one for bishop) I am aware of the need for honesty and openness on the part of the candidate, balanced by a need for confidentiality and prudence on the part of the search committee. So I find this note troubling as it appears to indicate a kind of manipulation on the part of someone -- I don't know who, but apparently not Mark Lawrence, who, I hope answered the questions honestly, as I have before suggested. I am more concerned, at this point, about the light in which the election and consent process itself -- rather than the candidate -- has been cast. It is not Mark Lawrence who appears to me to be at fault, but South Carolina. I have seen similar concerns raised by people who are ardent supporters of Mark Lawrence, in particular the recent confusions over the correct form for consents.. I beleive there were earlier concerns about other actions of the Standing Committee, or about the election, though I don't recall the details at this point.

Suffice it to say that I think the only way out of this mess is to follow the course of action I outlined in the main post here: a new election, and a more careful consent process. Were the present ruling to be reversed, I think Mark Lawrence would be serving under a cloud. I would much rather see a new round -- as provided for in the canons.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Let me add here, as a point of information, that the canonical requirement for a testimonial document signed by a majority of the members of the several Standing Committtes was not new in 2003. It goes back to 1799, when the first provision for Standing Committees to act in this capacity between sessions of General Convention was enacted. There have been many other changes in this canon (including in 2003), but not the part requiring signatures to a document with a set form of words.

episcopalifem said...

WG - I have always experienced you to mean what you say, and to say what you mean. You aren't a politician, you aren't a lobbyist. You are concerned with the truth.

Politicians, not so much.

This is why it is so important to continue the conversation among individuals. You and I, for example, are not seeking an office, or seeking votes, or seeking power. We are perhaps seeking to better understand one another.

To me, that's different than what happens on a global institutional level, where the individual gets lost in the collective. It doesn't matter what you and I think so much as what "most" people think, because that's where the power is.

That's the world as I see it (OCIBW...). If you live in a happier place, may you you remain there in blessing forever.

Anonymous said...

Leave it be? Leave it be? Why, that would mean I'd have to get back to work. Why would I do that? Have a great weekend.

June Butler said...

My friends, here's where this humble Episcopalian in the pew gets mired in the processes and legalities. I can't say that I grasp the whole of the discussion, but I like to read here and go away further along in my knowledge. Please carry on. Though I have nothing worthwhile to contribute to the conversation, I'm listening.

John B. Chilton said...

About the scrawled note on the top of Lawrence's responses:

1. I was thrown off by the lead paragraph since it makes it evident that the document was originally used for surveying the clergy of the diocese for the profile presented to candidates in the search process. So the search committee (are we clear on that? - this document is posted at the cathedral website, not the diocesan website) also used the same document to survey the candidates. After they'd seen the profile? I guess.

2. The someone who signed the note is a Ch*** G***, but one can't make out more. A member of the search committee perhaps? I couldn't find a list of members, and no present _clergy_ in So Caro fit.

Isn't it ironic that you don't have to go further than this document generated by the So Caro search process to find the point of view about willing to separate from TEC that so many find troubling.