05 December 2006

Bishop-elect Lawrence Speaks Plainly.

Fr. Mark Lawrence, Bishop-elect of South Carolina, has responded to a request for assurances put to him by various bishops and diocesan standing committees (who must give consent to his election for the consecration to proceed, according to Episcopal Church canons). His responses I believe form the best statement yet of the predicament traditional Anglican Christians within the Episcopal Church find themselves in.

As an upcoming article in The Living Church will I hope make clear, neither the Standing Committee of South Carolina nor I have made plans to leave TEC. But I fear many of the above questions, which swirl around vows and canons, profoundly miss the real question of the moment. 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.

We in TEC, conservatives and liberals, orthodox and progressives, reasserters and reappraisers, (or whatever monikers you prefer to use…most of us know the players), are like a married couple living in the same house, sleeping in separate rooms, having harsh words too frequently, making cryptic comments to one another as we pass in the hallways. We have lived like this for years, sharing a common history that we have interpreted in such vastly different ways, and teaching increasingly different values to our children. We each remember slights; snubs and embarrassments foisted on us before our chagrined friends and neighbors by what we each perceive as the other’s selfishness, and at times even rude arrogance.

Now, when Standing Committees and diocesan bishops want promises from me, (though I have kept my ordination vows to adhere to the Doctrine, Discipline and Worship of the Episcopal Church for the past 26 years), it strikes me analogous to the above wife and husband having the following exchange. When the wife wants to use the car to take one of the kids to a baseball game her husband, who has the keys to both cars in his hand, says, "Will you promise you will not leave our marriage or seek custody of this child? Otherwise, no keys!" She says, "I hardly know how to answer you my dear. You suddenly want promises, when you haven't listened for years when I begged you to keep your promises. At least it seems that way to me. And when some of the children have left and not called you for months on end, you only chide and blame them for having left your family the smaller. My heart is heavy from our alienation...and now you keep insisting on promises! Recently I’ve noticed you keep leaving documents of ownership around on coffee tables and counters. You claim it’s your parents who gave the down payment for the house and even the summer cottage. Forgive me, I thought they were both of ours. Have you forgotten it was once a common love that bound us together not documents and deeds? You’ve gotten so upset just because I told our pastor I needed help in our marriage. Isn't it time you ask yourself a few questions about how we all got in this predicament?”

Now certainly I can imagine various responses to the analogy, which I’ve used to illustrate the dynamics of our common life, especially from those who may see themselves in the broad middle. There are those in the church who find themselves in the middle of the family argument. They don’t like the fact that the two sides in conflict within the family have drawn such rigid and embattled lines in the sand. They want us all to get along, but seem most often to side with the reappraisers, not so much because they agree with their perspective, but because they don’t want to disagree with them. On top of that, they see it as most often the “conservatives” who are leaving the Church and wanting to take their familial inheritance with them. So like a member of a dysfunctional family, who prefers to have everyone get along, he, rather than asserting an opinion on the matters tearing the family apart, saves his animus for those who, feeling abused, make in desperation statements of departure.

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. We decline each year in numbers and in our significance to American culture, while growing yearly more out of step with the vast majority of Anglicans across the world. 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”?

Here's the whole thing, well worth reading.



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