Friday, March 16, 2007

The No-Win Scenario

In a twist that even the best political fiction writer couldn't make up, the election of The Very Rev. Mark Lawrence as bishop of South Carolina might have received consents from a sufficient number of Standing Committees of the Church, but the precise number voting to consent is open to interpretation, as the canons require written, signed documentation -- of which only 50 such canonically countable consents were apparently received (56 were needed). This compelled the rare declaration that the election is null and void.

This is a sad situation, and no one comes out looking good. Nor does this engender trust at a time when it is in short supply. The conspiracy theorists are now invited out of the woodwork, which only adds insult to injury.

Our Presiding Bishop had a tough call to make, knowing, I'm sure, that she would be tarred for not "bending" far enough to confirm the validity of all the consents. Whether the canonical requirements of her office allow for such flexibility, I very much doubt. The deadline had already been extended for three days. And had she offered such flexibility, this would have only cast a cloud of questions over the validity of the consent process as the consecration moved forward. ++Katharine, less than a year into her nine year term, keeps facing these painful decisions with unflinching clarity. Her dignity and grace in such circumstances is truly admirable. Prayers go with her.

There's been a most unhelpful accusation made in some places of "canonical fundamentalism" on the side of "liberals." It's an insult aimed at highlighting the charge that Bishop Katharine and those who agree with her position don't read or follow the teachings of Scripture. I would argue that canons, unlike a good deal of Scripture, are written and intended to be read and applied legally and fairly literally. They are most helpful in contested situations like this one, as they assist our leadership in making decisions, however difficult, so that the Church may move forward. It strikes me that charges of "canonical fundamentalism" are just easy points to score in a profoundly difficult situation for everyone involved.

South Carolina now faces the disheartening slog of "doing it all over again." They also face tough questions about why the process wasn't more carefully monitored internally, especially given its contentious nature. Blithe suggestions that they re-elect Mark Lawrence coming from one side I think ignore the simple fact that it isn't so simple. No episcopal election, for those of us who have lived through them up close and personal, is a straightforward or easy process. It is expensive and exhausting for everyone, most of all for the people dotting the i's, crossing the t's, and especially for the candidates themselves. Prayers go with South Carolina, too, as they try to move forward from this disappointment.

Comparisons between this election and that of +Gene Robinson in New Hampshire are also being made around the Anglican blogosphere. This collapses the complexity of both elections and consent processes into two-dimensional polemic that only succeeds in further division. Capitalizing on this comparison is no greater than the sleeze we all love to hate in secular politics. Please stop.

So Bishop Robinson gets clobbered once again, his name dragged around without reference to his own unique dignity as a human being made in the image of God or to his successful ministry as bishop. This is scapegoating at its worst. I admire +Gene's backbone, and the grace of God he exhibits. Prayers be with him.

Mark Lawrence+ and his family have been raked over the coals, too, with little reference to his gifts for ordained ministry. However much I may disagree with his positions both ecclesiological and theological, my heart goes out to him. He willingly put himself forward for discernment through a minefield of conflict at this particular juncture in Episcopal and Anglican history. I think (I hope charitably and somewhat accurately) that the more tortured passages of his writing so widely circulated arose from the profound tensions of his loyalties not only to his own convictions, but to the people of South Carolina who elected him, to the people of Bakersfield and the Diocese of San Joaquin whom he presently serves, and to the Episcopal Church of which he has been a part for many years. It's been argued that clarity earlier might have served him and South Carolina better, but that is, of course, with the benefit of hindsight. He has had to bear considerable scrutiny and vitriol and the anxieties of waiting for what I can only imagine is a heartrending outcome. His fortitude is commendable and a witness to God's grace. Were he to allow his name to move forward again in South Carolina, all the more so. Prayers go with him.

So everyone did their best to do their "job," no one looks particularly good, but then the Spirit has ways of working with that, too. Please pray.

Tobias Haller has posted a public conversation with Mark Lawrence. A link to it may be found at his blog.

No comments: