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