Tuesday, December 05, 2006

No on Lawrence

I am glad I am not on the Standing Committee, because I would have to do a very difficult thing. If were on a Standing Committee, I would not vote to consent to the consecration of bishop-elect for South Carolina, the Rev. Mark Lawrence.

First of all, based on my reading of Fr. Lawrence's own words, I cannot see how he can claim to promise to uphold the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Episcopal Church. According to him , he would see himself an a Bishop of the Anglican Communion and not of the Episcopal Church per se. The difficulty, of course, is that we are only in the Anglican Communion by virtue of our being a part of the Episcopal Church. The ACI folks, the Network people and others have created this strange alternative reality that there is a pervasive, overriding Anglican Church (called a Communion) that has an existence independent of the constituent churches that make it up. This is the illogical end of their misguided assumptions.

I see a second weakness. He does not comment on his view of ordained women, so I am only guessing that he is opposed and would not himself ordain women to the priesthood. He calls Bishop Jefferts-Schori the "duly elected presiding Bishop" but recognize neither her office nor her authority, and therefore the authority of the House of Bishops who elected her and the House of Deputies that confirmed the election. In his not recognizing her, he not only does not recognize ordained women, but also ceases to recognize the Councils of this Church. He has said as much in his view of the church having departed from catholic doctrine and tradition in 2003.

Which leads me back to the first objection: if he does not recognize the authority of the councils of this church, then how can he depend on these same councils to consecrate him a Bishop? If the church has strayed from essential doctrine to the point where can neither accept the spiritual authority of the PB nor GC, then how can he in conscience accept ordination from them?

His ecclessiology is weak and convulted. Like many opponents to the ordination of women, he believes that the grace of the sacrament of ordination is conditional on gender. He has become at best a semi-Donatist, in that he will not accept the authority of those in orders if their doctrine or conduct is unacceptable (to him). It seems obvious that he wants only those Episcopal hands laid on him that agree with him. It is a very functional view of holy orders, and breathtakingly cynical in his use of them.

If he were really Catholic in his orientation, he would accept +Katherine as both a Bishop of this church and our Primate, and he would accept the authority of the councils of this church, including his fellow Bishops, because the efficacy of their orders remains intact even if doesn't agree with their views or believes their behavior to be less than ideal.

Finally, I think his words betray him: if the present attempt to create a parallel province continues and is even the least bit successful (it seems that not even the lack of recognition from Canterbury will stop them now, they are on a roll), it is obvious that he wants to take his orders and his diocese with him, lock stock and barrel. Instead of working for unity , he seeks consecration so that he may aide and abet schism.

If I were Lawrence, and if I had written what he has written, my own sense of integrity and deep theological conviction would cause me to withdraw from the process. If Father Lawrence really feels called to be a bishop in this Brave New Anglican World that is envisioned, he should withdraw from the Episcopal Church and seek at least ministry if not consecration from more compatible hands.

(Of course, if he were to do this, then his behavior would have to be very different. What looks heroic when protesting against the Episcopal Church would not be tolerated for one minute anywhere in the "Global South.")

The last reason I would, if had the power, vote not to consent is this: If Father Lawrence were to be consecrated a Bishop in the Episcopal Church and then act (as he says he could) to take his diocese out of the Episcopal Church, then he would be taking what belongs to the whole Church and keep it for himself as his own possession. It is a kind of theft. To vow to uphold and defend a church that he would so easily break from shows a profound lack of integrity at worst and, at best, a deeply cynical view of his own orders and calling. He does not understand that to witness to the truth of the Gospel is to uphold and work for the unity of Christ's church.

He seems to have forgotten that our unity does rest in us and in our agreements. Our unity rests in Christ. A Bishop ought to know better. You cannot be ordained into an office that witnesses to unity while working for schism.

Update: Others have weighed in today. Read Tobias Haller and Mark Harris on the same subject. atg+

1 comment:

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

The thing that 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 Lawrences' 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 diocese leaves will you stay?" and that is "Yes, and I will do all in my power to prevent the diocese from making such an unconstitutional attempt.")

So Mark appears to demand a level of accountability he is unwilling to give.

The second inconsistency is the one you cite: this 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.

Finally, as a spiritual director, I can only note with horror the idea of someone making a vow with the conditional attitude Mark evinces: that he will conform to the discipline of the church so long as it remains consistent with what he thinks it ought to be (although he says it even now isn't!). This kind of conditional finger-crossing is not allowed.