Did Lawrence lie or is he simply doing what he promised?

Mark Harris blogs that Bishop Mark Lawrence lied to the Church when he his election was confirmed by a majority of Standing Committees and Bishops. Did he?

Harris says on his blog Preludium that it’s “Time to fess up, Bishop Lawrence: You have lied to us.”

Sadly the decisions reached at the previously undisclosed meeting of the directors / standing committee of the new entity (The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina) support the charge that the bishop has colluded with members of the Standing Committee of the Diocese of South Carolina to form an incorporated entity that would acquire all the assets of the Diocese of South Carolina precisely for the purpose of taking all the assets of the diocese. Apparently the Bishop has done just as I suggested might be the case. What the Standing Committee /Board and he have engineered is on the face of it a betrayal of his vows and contrary to the accession clause in the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church.

The Bishop of South Carolina has practiced deception of such an order as to constitute malfeasance in office. He has succeeded in mucking up matters so badly that those who have left with him and those who remain as the Episcopal Church Diocese of South Carolina will both suffer.

It is a sad day for the Church, no matter the eventual outcomes. Bishop Lawrence has betrayed many trusts, not the least the trust extended to him in the follow-up to the second election.

Back in 2006, Harris recorded Lawrence’s answers to questions posed to him by some Bishops and Standing Committees that were weighing his election.

1. In what ways will you work to keep the Diocese of South Carolina in The Episcopal Church?

…I just happen to be someone who does not believe that our discipline, as articulated in our Constitution and Canons, came to us by oracular revelation…

I shall commit myself to work at least as hard at keeping the Diocese of South Carolina in The Episcopal Church, as my sister and brother bishops work at keeping The Episcopal Church in covenanted relationship with the worldwide Anglican Communion.

Meaning, I suppose, given his sense that we have disregarded the relationship with the other churches of the Anglican Communion, not at all… By the way, bishop elect Lawrence, I don’t believe our discipline came by oracular revelation either. Nobody does.

2. What would be your response if the convention of the Diocese of South Carolina voted to leave The Episcopal Church?

I don’t think that speculative questions of this nature as to what a person will do in some imagined future are either reasonable or helpful.

This is known in impolite company as a cop out.

3. Will the Presiding Bishop be welcome to preside at your consecration?

This would be a most unwelcome situation for the vast majority of priests and laypersons of the Diocese of South Carolina…

What he means is NO.

4. Do you intend to participate fully in attending meetings of the House of Bishops, including Eucharist?

Yes, unless the in participating in Eucharist on some given occasion, (because of the state of my inner life or conscience), should put my spiritual health in jeopardy.

This is an amazingly confused understanding of the Eucharist. Participating fully in the Eucharist does not require reception of communion, say for example, when you believe yourself not to be prepared. But taking part in the prayers, offering thanks and hearing the Word are seldom occasions that put one’s spiritual health in jeopardy. More, he didn’t answer the other part of the question, which is occasioned by the scandal of bishops who only attend part of the meetings as a witness to their objection to the work of the house.

5. What is your response to the request of the Standing Committee of the Diocese of South Carolina seeking “alternative primatial oversight”?

… I’m in favor of some new and prescient thinking about the way the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion lives out our unity in Christ. There is no going back to pre-2003. Time to chart a path for the future. … The way the world works has changed and so should we. I hope we in The Episcopal Church can catch up.

So, he is for APO, on the way to a new future… what might that be, in the light of the Global South Steering Committee’s press for unity and submission to their leadership?

6. Do you recognize Katherine Jefferts Schori as Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church and as your Primate?

I recognize Katherine Jefferts Schori as the legitimately elected Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. Sadly, I also recognize that her actions …compromise her ability to function in primatial authority and relationship. …

This is a NO.

7. Will you uphold the Doctrine, Discipline and Worship of the Episcopal Church as now constituted?

Yes, as I have for the last twenty-six plus years of ordained ministry! …… all Episcopalians may at some point in the not too distant future be asked to declare allegiance to one portion of the Constitution and Canons at the expense of another. Frankly, this is because in more than a few highly publicized actions, bishops and priests of this Church have acted contrary to the Doctrine, Discipline and Worship of the Episcopal Church.

Sure, every bit as much as anyone else has done so. This is a bit flat, isn’t it?

8. Some further thoughts regarding our present predicament in The Episcopal Church.

… The questions that bishops and Standing Committees keep posing to me, in one form or another—and I might add, contrary to rumors, most of which have answered—go back to the question of whether South Carolina and I are leaving The Episcopal Church. That is neither the most relevant nor, ultimately, the most important question that needs to be asked.

… My friends, we in TEC are in a grievous state. This demand for promises to Constitution and Canons when many of the great teachings of the faith are up for grabs strikes me at times like a theatre of the absurd. … When some like me make provocative statements to draw attention to the culture of denial that dims with regularity our too frequently myopic provincial eyesight, I am seen by some as unworthy for the episcopate and as a threat to our common unity. On what grounds should consent be denied—for daring to say, “Not only does the emperor have no clothes, but he isn’t getting any new subjects either, and some of those he had once have long left. Maybe its time the emperor reassess his reassessments”?

This question seems not to be part of the rest, but put there by the bishop elect. So asking about conformity to the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Episcopal Church is absurd. I suppose so. The end of all this is a ridicule of those who would as any questions at all. Not such a good idea.

Tobias Haller, also writing in 2006, noted that Lawrence was simply not willing to submit to the kind of scrutiny he demanded of Bishops Robinson and Beisner and their confirmation hearings in 2003 and 2006. He also noted how Lawrence had a very flexible notion of how “vows” are to be lived.

Then there is his strange use of the marriage analogy. To use marriage analogically (in the right way), nothing in the marriage vow suggests one party has the power over the faithfulness of the other, only over one’s own faithfulness to that partner. This is part of the meaning of “for better, for worse.” Lawrence seems here to want to make a conditional promise: I will remain faithful until either my own judgment, or some other judgment extrinsic to the Episcopal Church (the Primates, or some of them?) allows me to sever the relationship. That is not a Vow, it is a Pre-Nuptial Agreement.

And this brings me to my gravest concern, which is not for the church (which has worn out many an anvil) but for Mark. As a spiritual director, I can only note with horror the idea of someone making a vow with such a conditional attitude: that he will conform to the discipline of the church so long as it remains consistent with what he thinks it ought to be (and he suggests it even now isn’t!). It is the actual Episcopal Church of the here and now to whose discipline Mark is being asked to conform — not some hypothetical church of the future more to his liking. Not being willing to commit unconditionally is an impediment, pure and simple. It isn’t about Lawrence’s positions on gay clergy, the authority of Scripture, or the ordination of women. It is in his inability to make a simple statement that he will conform to the discipline of the Episcopal Church even if he disagrees with it, come what may regarding the Anglican Communion.

It appears that Bishop Lawrence has been itching for this fight and now he has it. With the apparent demise of the Anglican Covenant, the plan to align the diocese with the larger Anglican Communion has been put aside. Instead, he has been leading the charge to create the legal fiction that Diocese of South Carolina is a free-standing denomination in its own right and that any allegiance to the Episcopal Church since its founding has only been a matter of convienence and choice.

The problem was that he fudged his answers and obfuscated his promises just enough that many standing committees and bishops crossed their fingers, held their noses and nodded assent anyway, hoping for the best.

Did he lie? Maybe. Maybe not. Should he fess up and admit that this is exactly where he always wanted to take his diocese? Definitely.

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