Thursday, March 15, 2007

South Carolina

Election of the Reverend Lawrence Declared Null and Void

The Reverend Mark Lawrence did not receive the requisite number of valid consents to be consecrated a bishop in the Episcopal Church for the Diocese of South Carolina. A majority of bishops in TEC approved his consecration. However, he also needed consent from 56 standing committees. According to the Diocese of South Carolina webpage and Episcopal News Service, some standing committees failed to submit their consents as required under our canons.

The news is now official with this story from Episcopal News Service. Father Lawrence has not met the requirements for consecration under the constitution and canons of the Episcopal Church. At least two options are now available to the Diocese of South Carolina.

If the diocese heeds the constitution and canons of the Episcopal Church, the diocese will call another election, elect a bishop, and launch the consent process again. They have the option of electing Father Lawrence again and working to gather the necessary consents on the next round. Brother Tobias Haller has thoughtfully addressed that option.

Some observers worry that the diocese and Father Lawrence will ignore the votes of the Episcopal Church and will proceed to conduct an "irregular" consecration. We believe the Standing Committee and Diocese of South Carolina will not choose that route, but will instead hold another election.

There is much grief to be shared on all sides about the process under which the election of Father Lawrence has been conducted and the way the consent process has been handled and now concluded. In what must be an extremely difficult time for him, his family, and the Diocese of South Carolina, The Episcopal Majority expresses our prayers of support.

Many people across the spectrum of the Episcopal Church have stated they believe Father Lawrence has a vocation to the episcopate. Without a doubt, many people hope he will run again in that diocese and would welcome his election by South Carolina.

Whomever South Carolina elects next, only one thing needs to change for the bishop-elect to sail smoothly and quickly through the consent process: The bishop-elect simply needs to state unequivocally that he or she will remain in the Episcopal Church and will do everything in his or her power to keep the Diocese of South Carolina within the Episcopal Church. There should be no "litmus tests" for theology – no "litmus tests" at all, beyond those already established in our canons and Book of Common Prayer. We need voices from left, right, and center to keep the Episcopal Church healthy and whole as the Anglican witness in this country. With the simple assurance that the bishop-elect of South Carolina will remain within this church, there will be no need for the kind of last-minute scurrying that seems to have scuttled Father Lawrence's consents. We can then do all things decently and in order, as is our wont.

Many questions remain, and all are being explored around the blogosphere this night. We are certain that Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori and other leaders of our church will provide more details so far as their commitment to transparency and respect for confidentiality allow. For now, let us all maintain a non-anxious presence, trusting that God is working these things out in God's own time.

Looking Back … Looking Forward

At The Episcopal Majority, we hope that the Diocese of South Carolina and the whole church will continue to work within the Episcopal Church's constitution and canons.

EpiScope provides a history of other bishops who have been elected but not consecrated in the Episcopal Church. While some commentators would suggest that the situation with Father Lawrence and the Diocese of South Carolina is unprecedented, it appears that is not at all the case.

In a private e-mail (which she has given permission to publish), the Reverend Elizabeth Kaeton stated:

I pray that we can all move forward in a positive direction to the next steps we must take toward an examination of any problems in the process, making any necessary corrections and changes to ensure that the consent process is executed at the diocesan level with the same generosity, graciousness and competence as we have come to expect from the national level of our church.
We add our prayers to hers.

Lisa Fox
for The Episcopal Majority


Blogger Suzer said...

Can anyone explain this in plain English? What does this mean? Electronic transmissions -- were some consents sent by fax? I don't get it. It sounds like he received the correct number of consents, but this was declared null and void by a technicality? Or is there more to it than that?

3/16/2007 8:43 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Suzer, we don't yet have all the details from Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori or other officials at Church Center. But here's the text that was released from ENS:

"Canonically adequate ballots were received by South Carolina from 50 diocesan standing committees. Several other standing committees were reported to have consented, but no signatures were attached to their ballots, or the ballot itself was missing from South Carolina's records, Jefferts Schori reported. Any committee that did not respond is considered to have voted no."

The canons for consents haven't changed since the late 18th century. Standing Committees are to return a signed consent form to the Standing Committee that has held an election. It's that simple.

More recently, faxed forms have also been deemed acceptable.

There has been some speculation that some Standing Committees tried to "vote" by e-mail. But there is no indication in the ENS statement that that's the source of the problem. As we all know, on the Internet anyone can send an e-mail posing as anyone. Any decent hacker could send an e-mail pretending to be the President of a Standing Committee. Further, the legitimate president of a Standing Committee that voted "yes" could send an e-mail saying they voted "no." It's a good thing e-mail "consents" are disallowed. But we don't know that was the problem in the South Carolina election.

All we know for now is that the necessary consents were not obtained under the canons that have been in place for over 200 years. That's hardly a "technicality." We have consented to the consecration of well over 900 bishops under these canons. They have served us well.

The long and the short of it seems to be: the standing committee of South Carolina simply dropped the ball. Even some conservatives who supported Lawrence are saying that the South Carolina standing committee should resign in disgrace over their mishandling of this whole process. They had 120 days to gather the necessary consents. They failed to do so. Now they want to pretend it's all the fault of the canons or the Presiding Bishop. But over 900 bishops have been duly consecrated under the same canons. Either South Carolina's standing committee is just too stupid to read and follow the rules … or else they want some special rights that no other diocese has claimed.

This will sort itself out, Suzer. Trust the process. And trust our Presiding Bishop. It's only a "crisis" if we let them declare it so. Our Presiding Bishop has urged us to keep a non-anxious presence, and I'm with her in that.

Of course, I could be wrong . . . .

3/16/2007 11:19 PM  
Blogger Suzer said...

Lisa -- Thank you for the explanation. It is hard to decipher the information from ENS and what I've read elsewhere -- these folks are about as clear as lawyers when it comes to describing what happened! You've made it a bit more understandable -- thanks!

3/17/2007 8:38 AM  
Blogger Saint Pat said...

Amen, Lisa. Great posting on this touchy subject. I hadn't been quite sure what to make of it.

3/17/2007 9:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To the author of this article,

How can you say there should be no "litmus tests" for candidates but then say that all candidates must say X in order to be considered? Is that not a "litmus test?" I must say I'm rather puzzled by the intent of your article--at once gracious and at once demanding (or even commanding).

3/18/2007 5:42 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Widening Gyre, look again at the text. It doesn't say "no litmus tests--period." It says: "There should be no "litmus tests" for theology – no 'litmus tests' at all, beyond those already established in our canons and Book of Common Prayer."

Does that help? or am I misunderstanding your question?

3/18/2007 7:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I heard that if a standing committee didn't respond in writing that is a violation of a Canon, is that true? And if so, will those standing committees be held accountable and some form of disciplinary action taken against them?

Lisa, I don't think it was very Christian or charitable to call the Standing Committee of SC stupid. I think that was uncalled for and below the belt.


3/18/2007 11:46 PM  
Blogger Robert McLean MD PhD said...

This was not a Florida presidential election. The fact that KJS gave a three day grace period for foreign dioceses to mail in their consents shows she has wide latitude in conducting these elections. This latitude certainly could have been used to simply call up the dioceses in question and asked them to clarify their "hanging chad" ballots. Instead of applying social justice, she made a ruling that would have made the most legalistic pharisees proud.

The two Katherines' actions (KJS and Katherine Willy) both leave a perisistent stench of political machinations.

3/19/2007 4:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Thanks for the reply. That helps.

So should I assume from your reply that you think Mark Lawrence failed the litmus tests that we do impose? Doesn't it make you a little uncomfortable saying that we do in fact impose litmus tests on our candidates?

3/19/2007 8:39 AM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Carol, had I not been writing at such a late hour (after 11p.m. here), I probably would have chosen a word other than "stupid." You're correct; it was an ill-advised adjective, and I repent of calling them stupid. However, they sure weren't very organized and effective, either, were they? South Carolina had one hundred twenty days [That's a very, very long time!] in which to gather the necessary consents. They had the responsibility to be sure the rules were followed. It's nobody's fault but their own that things got messed-up in a last-minute scramble. Even Kendall Harmon has said that the Presiding Bishop and staff at Church Center were "helpful." And – as far as I can tell – the standing committee didn't try very hard to "work the phones." Had it not been for the energetic efforts of conservative bloggers – especially over at StandFirm – I doubt Father Lawrence would have received the last-minute influx of consents (valid or not) that he did. So … why didn't the standing committee of South Carolina do – and do much earlier – what the conservative bloggers did in the waning hours? Their failure to do so shouldn't be characterized as "stupid," but it sure wasn't smart either.

I recommend you take a look at this timely posting by Elizabeth Kaeton on what a standing committee should do -- and what many have done -- when dealing with a controversial consent process.

Now … as to your first questions: I'm neither a Deputy nor a Standing Committee member. I don't know how these things work. I suspect there's never been an election in which every standing committee has registered a vote, but that's just my hunch. I know Brad Drell is trying to make something of this. But I don't think that dog's gonna hunt. We require that a majority of standing committee members – not just a majority of those present and voting – vote to consent in order for the vote to be registered as a "yes." And that gives an advantage to the bishop-elect; a standing committee can meet several times, adding one or two more signatures in subsequent meetings. Similarly, we require that a majority of standing committees – not just a majority of those who vote – must vote "yes" in order for a bishop-elect to be consecrated. And, as we saw in recent days, it means that standing committees can change their votes. For whatever reasons, some standing committees simply abstain. I don't know why. Maybe because they just can't make up their minds. It's not an issue about which I can get very worked-up. I would remind you, however, that we have set this high bar for all bishops-elect in the Episcopal Church. Until this week, nobody has suggested it was unfair. Why is that?

3/19/2007 7:48 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Dr. McLean, are you proposing that we give all bishops-elect an infinite window of opportunity to gain consents? If so, send that proposal to the next General Convention.

3/19/2007 7:53 PM  
Blogger Lisa Fox said...

Widening Gyre, apparently a majority of standing committees intended to say they believed he passed those litmus tests.

As long as the litmus tests are our prayer book (with all the scriptures and theology embedded therein) and canons, then – no, it does not at all make me uncomfortable to say we impose litmus tests. I just want to be sure the litmus tests are about core theology and basic conformity to our canons.

You didn't ask, but let me add this: I am not on my diocese's standing committee. And I thank God I'm not! This would have been a very, very hard vote for me. I bet Father Lawrence and I agree on the core tenets of the faith, though we surely disagree on some points of moral theology. However, some of his statements before last week – and very many of them since the nullification – make me gravely doubt his willingness to operate within the canons of this church. I'm glad I was not called upon to make the decision that the standing committees had to make.

I hope this helps.

3/19/2007 8:12 PM  
Blogger Suzer said...

I think it would be sensible to provide some rule that would allow for extensions. I understand that 120 days is a long time -- more than enough for everyone who needs to sign to do it. But given the controversy involved and many questions asked, I think provisions for an extension would have been prudent. I probably wouldn't agree with Rev. Lawrence on many things, but I do grieve over what happened. I work in the legal field, and in all but the most pressing cases, extensions are regularly granted for any number of reasons. Why can't our church do that, too?

I understand all of the points made above, and have my reservations about Rev. Lawrence, but think that, especially at this time of potential schism, perhaps our church structure could have provided a bit more leeway. I am thankful that Bishop Schori did give a few extra days, but perhaps rules could be set so that something like this does not happen again in the future? There needs to be some sort of failsafe, so if a standing committee drops the ball, some other group can accomplish what needs to be done, with an extension.

3/19/2007 10:43 PM  

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