Monday, March 05, 2007

A Failure of Imagination

You've got to believe me. I was already planning an entry on this subject before my friend Fr Tony Clavier beat me to it. And he did it well, thus stealing most of my thunder.

Nonetheless, let me at least say "Me too!" As I understand it, the shelf life of the Diocese of South Carolina's episcopal election last September goes past date six days hence. We are told that the requisite number of consents from bishops with jurisdiction have been received, but that some eleven more Standing Committees still need to cast an affirmative vote. The good news is--again, if my factual information is correct--that there is yet another Saturday in the time frame, Saturday being, I would suppose, the most common day for Standing Committees to meet. But that's a pretty thin silver lining on an otherwise gloomy horizon.

I have to say at this point that I am having trouble offering even a pretense of objective analysis here. Mark Lawrence is a friend of mine, and I am angry on his behalf. Really angry. If I could call down actual thunderbolts on the offending Standing Committees, I would be sorely tempted. God help me.

Got ... to ... pull ... myself ... together ... now ... must ... remain ... rational.

Thanks, I needed that.

From what I can discern, among those Standing Committees that have articulated a reason for withholding consent to Father Lawrence's election, the only reason given--the only reason they will own up to, at any rate--is that the Diocese of South Carolina is 1) a member of the Network, and 2) among the group that asked for Alternate Primatial Oversight, and is therefore on a sort of "secession watch." So they want Fr Lawrence to say something like, "As Bishop of South Carolina, I will under no circumstances abet any attempt by the diocese to withdraw from the Episcopal Church. I am unequivocally loyal to the Episcopal Church."

At one level, this seems both reasonable and prudent. When a criminal suspect is considered a flight risk, bail suddenly goes way up. But, I would like to suggest, this is very simplistic "inside the box" thinking. It's bureaucratic. It's the kind of thinking that wins battles and loses wars. It is so right that it's wrong. It is so wise that it's foolish.


For starters, there's the Law of Unintended Consequences. Consent is being withheld from Fr Lawrence, ostensibly, out of fear that, as bishop, he may help lead his diocese out of TEC. Yet, the nullification of this election (because the clock runs out) cannot help but create prodigious anger among South Carolina Episcopalians, which will increase the likelihood that they will want to kiss TEC goodbye.

Second, it doesn't factor in the changed post-Dar landscape. The pastoral plan proposed by the primates (or "scheme" as the British English of the communique puts it) envisions an American solution that maintains the status of the Episcopal Church within the Anglican Communion. Dioceses like South Carolina that are on "secession watch" really have no other option than to cooperate with this plan. They have appealed to the Primates, and the Primates have responded. The Primatial Vicar scheme (Primates' Edition, that is, not the only originally floated by the PB) is the only game in town, and that would keep South Carolina clearly within TEC. So the risk would seem to be so significantly lowered that one might question the "proportionality" (borrowing "just war theory" jargon) of a response so drastic as denying consent to an episcopal election.

Third, it ignores the dictum that "perception is reality." This is true saying, and worthy of all men to be believed. Anyone involved in parish ministry (among others) can attest to that. And the perception is that the real reason Mark Lawrence is not getting his consents is because of his basic theological and moral views, not his attitude toward the Constitution & Canons. The perception is that there is a double standard operating here, that when it was New Hampshire's turn, the decent and proper thing to do was consent, because the people of the Diocese of New Hampshire deserved to have the bishop they elected, regardless of some the baggage he came with in terms of the wider church, but now when it is South Carolina's turn, the man they elected on the first ballot with nearly a three-quarters majority (and arguably the least dogmatically conservative candidate in the field) has to be subject to an unprecedented level of scrutiny.

Some of my colleagues here in the Diocese of San Joaquin (also on secession watch) will doubtless confirm that I have vigorously challenged this perception whenever it has been voiced in my hearing, that I have advocated taking at face value any explanation offered for the withholding of consent. But, to tell you the truth, I'm not sure I've persuaded myself. It just feels awfully suspicious. We all need to remember that a Standing Committee doesn't have to say No. It can just not say Yes until the matter becomes moot, either because a sufficient number of others have said Yes, or because the election expires. A number of the 60+ Standing Committees that are not in the Yes column for Mark, I strongly suspect, have simply not responded, and have therefore offered no explanation for their decision. Call me cynical (others have), but if my life depended on guessing whether some of those decisions were made on a purely ideological basis, my guess would be in the affirmative.

So, as many as might tell us that it's about the integrity of the Episcopal Church's polity, I'm not buying it. It's about brazen power politics. It's about the worst sort of calculated, short-term strategic thinking. It's a failure of charity. It's a failure of imagination. There are tragedies, and there are tragedies that are senseless because they didn't have to happen. Guess which kind this one is.

Now if anyone from across the divide talks to me about being interested in "reconciliation" in the next 24 hours ... what's that gagging sound I hear?????

No comments: