The Very Rev. Mark J. Lawrence is the controversial bishop-elect of South
Carolina. He cannot be consecrated unless and until he receives the consent of
a majority of the standing committees of Episcopal Church dioceses, as well as
the consent of a majority of the bishops with jurisdiction. In my essay of
October 16, 2006, “No
Consents: A Crucial Test for The Episcopal Church,” I urged the withholding
of consents, not because of theological concerns—I know little about the
bishop-elect’s specific beliefs—but because of Lawrence’s seemingly tenuous
commitment to The Episcopal Church and because of a well-founded fear that, if
consecrated, Lawrence might attempt to remove the entire South Carolina diocese
from The Episcopal Church. Others have shared my concerns, and both
Via Media USA
Forum of South Carolina have written to bishops and standing committees to
express their reservations.
Lawrence has apparently received a number of requests for clarification of
his views by those who must grant or withhold consent. On December 4, Simon Sarmiento posted a response by Lawrence to such requests on his Web site,
Anglicans. “Mark Lawrence Answers”—I presume that Sarmiento added the
title—comprises a letter to “Bishops and Standing Committee Members,” followed
by questions and answers. Lawrence may well have written other responses to
inquiries, but only “Answers” has been made public.
I am pleased that Fr. Lawrence has seen fit to respond to questions that
have been put to him. (It is unclear whether his response on Thinking Anglicans
was intended to be made public, but, now that it has been, Episcopal News
Service has written a
it.) I am equally pleased that he seems not to have succumbed to the temptation
to tell people what they would like to hear, irrespective of his true beliefs.
This is not to say that Lawrence’s answers are completely candid, however. The
Mark Lawrence I see in “Answers” seems to be the same Mark Lawrence of whom I
wrote in October. My view remains that consent to consecrate South Carolina’s
bishop-elect should not be given.
I believe that “Answers” demands a response from Lawrence’s critics. A
number of bloggers (for example,
have already remarked on it briefly. Because I have written at length on the
matter of consents for the South Carolina bishop-elect in what Lawrence calls a
“misleading article,” I feel compelled to take on the task myself. There is no
reason for me to repeat what I have already said, none of which seems to
require any revision, so I will simply annotate the latest material from
Lawrence. (Readers unfamiliar with “No Consents” are urged to read it before
proceeding.) “Mark Lawrence Answers” is reproduced below. My comments are in
Mark Lawrence Answers
6 November 2006
Dear Bishops and Standing Committee Members:
Thank you for affording me this opportunity to respond to your concerns,
particularly regarding my suitability as a colleague in the House of Bishops. I
know you are aware of the profound theological differences within The Episcopal
Church in this year of 2006. There is little hope that it will cease to be a
continuously expanding perimeter in the near future. The question for each of
us is at what point we reach the place where our Episcopalian or Anglican
commitment to comprehensiveness for the sake of the truth exhausts its
For me that was with the consent to Canon Robinson’ [sic] election at
the General Convention in 2003. I was a deputy at that convention, serving on
the Consecration of Bishops committee. When our committee voted to send his
election to the House of Deputies for approval I felt constrained to write the
minority report opposing the committee’s recommendation.
As today is the observation of Archbishop William Temple in our calendar, I
cannot resist mentioning a statement of this wonderful theologian that now
seems prescient for our times and influenced my position in Minneapolis. “The Church
must be very clear in her public pronouncements so she may be very pastoral in
her application.” I thought we were being anything but clear in our decision in
2003 and it has carried over into GC 2006.
From this involvement in the committee on Consecration of Bishops you can see I
am no stranger to this matter of consent and for what it may raise in issues of
conscience, as well as process. I certainly hope you chose to support the
consent process of South Carolina’s election. But I understand that these are
less than pacific times in the life of our dear and distinguished Church.
I have loved and served this Church of ours over the last thirty plus years,
even when I have found her incorrigibly frustrating. When I have spoken or
written critically of her it has not been from a posture of having rejected
TEC, but from one of commitment, even investment of my life and my family’s
life in the Church’s common call to serve our Lord. We have sacrificed much for
this Church, as I’m sure each of you has over many years. I believe it is
symptomatic of these times, that I who have adhered for 26 years to my
ordination vows am now peppered with requests for me to affirm in advance my
commitment “…to the Doctrine, Discipline and Worship of the Episcopal Church…” partially
from a misleading article
and letter written by a group which presents itself, wrongly enough, under the
noble and historic phrase, Via Media.
None of us can predict where the angle of repose for this period of profound
re-formation will settle. You will find here my answers to questions presented
by other concerned bishops. Hopefully they will provide you what you need to
make an informed decision. We are each called to be players in it—you and
I—regardless of how this consent process for me unfolds. I wish you God’s
blessings whichever way you are led to decide, whether for or against me. May
we remain united in Christ and servants in his Kingdom and his Church.
The Very Reverend Mark J. Lawrence
1. In what ways will you work to keep the Diocese of South Carolina in The
Although this appears to be a reasonable and straightforward question, it is
actually anything but. I might as well have been asked while I was engaged to
my wife, Allison, “In what ways will you work to keep your wife from leaving
her commitments?” The question assumes something that has yet to be
demonstrated by any prior action. Unless, of course, one makes the assumption
that the request of the Standing Committee for Alternative Primatial Oversight
was an initial step of departure, which I do not believe it needs to be.
As you are well aware, The Episcopal Church, because of its reliance on
constitutional and canonical autonomy, rather than the bonds of affection, has
acted not merely unilaterally, but also precipitously towards the considered
position of the vast majority within the Anglican Communion, and is now itself
in a state of increasing disarray.
This action of TEC is quite different from a respectful request made by an
aggrieved diocese to the acknowledged Spiritual Leader of our Communion.
Certainly we concede that the Archbishop of Canterbury has, heretofore, no
jurisdictional authority in these matters.
Yet we also know The Episcopal Church’s action in 2003, unlike the APO request,
has caused more than a few Episcopalians, as well the worldwide Communion, much
I would ask you to consider the fact that many of us want to remain in the
Anglican Communion as well as The Episcopal Church. I would also suggest that
you consider that the Diocese of South Carolina, in its recent request for APO,
is actually seeking to find a way to remain at one and the same time in TEC and
in covenant with the Communion.
It serves none of us well to ignore the developing crisis and take refuge in
polity which is proving to be no longer sufficient for the challenges we
I have sought, however inadequately, in several of my writings to not only
identify the problem, but to go beyond merely admiring the complexity of the
crisis, (a peculiar practice which the later decades of the 20th
Century seemed to think was a profound enterprise). Frankly, absurd as it may
sound, some have criticized me for actually suggesting a different path forward
in this ever-changing world of the 21st Century. As if somehow the
very suggestion that our polity was insufficient for the day, disqualifies one
from being guided by it or taking vows regarding it—an odd assumption at best.
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.
Not that I suggest disregarding them—far from it. In fact I suggest if they had
been adhered to in past years we might not be in the unfortunate situation we
find ourselves in at present.
Still they are evolving documents that govern our common life and need to
continually be adapted to new eras. We have challenges today that call for a
progressive reappraisal of our polity. This can only happen as ecclesial ideas
are brought forward to deal with the exigencies of the day, as, I hasten to
add, they have often been in the past.
With that said, back to your question. 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.
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. I mean no
disrespect by this, but I will say in all fairness, I can think up many such
questions of an imagined future crisis that could send any of us into a
conundrum of canonical contradictions.
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. I am sure you know how
disruptive this would be for my ministry, the office of the bishop, and for the
diocese. This is not a justice issue that needs to be imposed upon a prejudiced
body as a matter of authority. It is an issue of conscience that St. Paul
thoroughly addresses in his First Letter to the Corinthians. Where there is
good will, a desire to please Our Lord, and a respectful deference for the
other’s good, a resolution that is good for the Diocese of South Carolina, and
The Episcopal Church ought to be able to be agreed upon by all.
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.
5. What is your response to the request of the Standing Committee of the
Diocese of South Carolina seeking “alternative primatial oversight”?
Here is the prepared answer I gave to the following question at St.
Phillip’s Church during the “walkabout” in Charleston. I believe it addresses
The Diocese of South Carolina is among those dioceses which have
requested Alternative Primatial Oversight. Do you support this decision? If so,
what issues does it raise? Please make reference in your answer to: a) the
authority of Holy Scripture b) catholic ecclesiology c) Anglican identity.
I too am a member of a diocese that has asked for Alternative Primatial
Oversight, though I was not a member of the Standing Committee that took the
When it came out in the newspaper that week I thought, well I’ll need to
address it on Sunday. I read the lectionary lessons for the coming Sunday, but
there was nothing to address the subject there. But in one of those
serendipitous convergence I have come to expect while traveling this road in
the Kingdom of God, the collect for the Sunday after the Standing Committee of
the Diocese of San Joaquin asked for alternative primatial oversight, reads as
Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of
the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief
cornerstone: Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by
their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through ….
(BCP, p. 230)
This collect, most likely composed by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer for the 1549
Book of Common Prayer, is rooted in the teaching of the New Testament,
particularly Ephesians 2:20-22 and 4:3-4. It is also rooted in one of the
essential teachings of the Anglican Reformation—that no human assembly or
institution may claim to be the Church of God unless it is founded on the
teaching of the apostles. The apostolic Church is founded not on institutional
or sacramental continuity alone. What is often referred to, as “Apostolic
Succession” is more than merely the laying on of hands from bishop to bishop in
sacramental a chain back to the apostles. Equally essential for the church is
the teaching of the apostles and prophets succeeding from one generation to
another. This is stated clearly in Articles XIX, and XX in the Articles of
Religion, (see BCP, page 871).
What is being asserted in these two articles is the priority of Holy
Scripture over the authority of the Church. The church as St. Paul taught in
his Letter to the Ephesians, and as the above collect ascribes, is built upon
the teaching of the apostles as found in Holy Scripture; and it is called to
live under and in obedience to the Word of God. The uniqueness of the Anglican
and Episcopalian understanding of the Church is that it has held both of these
understandings toward the nature of the Church at the same time. It has held
the catholic argument that institutional continuity is essential for the identity
of the Church. This continuity is sacramentally and visibly expressed in the
office of the bishop, the episcopacy. It has also believed in the need to
conform to the teaching of the apostles, grounding our belief and practice in
the clear teaching of Holy Scripture. Consequently we have been eager to seek
unity—striving to maintain the visible unity of the Church, reaching out to
Roman Catholics in one direction, and towards our Protestant brothers and
sisters in the other, but not seeking this unity at the expense of either of
these two truths of the Church. Holding institutional continuity and the need
to be under the ever correcting and reforming authority of the Bible. If the
questioned [sic] should be raised, as it often is, as to who interprets
Holy Scripture when different factions or parties in the church disagree, the
answer has traditionally been, we turn to the consensus of the faithful. So
interpretation of debated texts of scripture is not up to one individual priest
or bishop, one local congregation, or even a provincial or national church. We
need in such a case to seek the consensus of the faithful through out [sic]
the worldwide Anglican Communion, and even to give appropriate regard to how
the historic church has understood such disputes, as well as what the various
branches of Christendom teach on the matter.
The unity of the church needs this considered reflection. Even more
essential to our unity with one another is the source of all unity in the
Church. As John Stott has observed, “Christian unity arises from our honoring
one Father, one Savior, and one indwelling Spirit.” So fundamental to our unity
with one another in the church is our unity with the Holy Trinity. It is this
unity which raises a series of elementary questions. How can we foster a unity
pleasing to God if we deny the very revelation God has given us about himself
or the Christian life?
How can we be eager for unity with one another if we deny the reconciling work
of God in Jesus Christ? How can we say the Holy Spirit is leading the Church
through the parliamentary procedures of General Convention if the results of
these procedures deny the very truth the Spirit of God has revealed through the
teachings of the apostles and prophets? Is it not upon this very teaching that the
Church is founded? Of course. It is upon the doctrine of the apostles that the
church is built and only upon their doctrine that we can maintain our unity.
I need to say it clearly, I am eager for such unity. A unity drawn not along
narrow lines of biblical interpretation, but from an inclusive and
comprehensive use of the Bible. I am most eager to remain a Christian in the
Anglican tradition. This is a tradition, which as the Archbishop of Canterbury,
Rowan Williams, has recently stated, has maintained “the absolute priority of
the Bible, a catholic loyalty to the sacraments and a habit of cultural
sensitivity and intellectual flexibility.” Unfortunately The Episcopal Church
has frayed in recent years this strand woven of three cords by our misguided passion
to be culturally sensitive and intellectually flexible. In its desire to be
perceived as relevant to one segment of our culture it has lost its commitment
to the Gospel—which is the only hope we have to offer this segment or any other
for that matter. In its desire to be more relevant than thou, TEC has cast
aside scriptural faithfulness, particularly the broad and demonstrable
teachings of the New Testament that would convict our lifestyle of sin, and
call into question our overly permissive approach to morality. Even more
disturbing is our grave disregard of fundamental Christian doctrines such as
the nature of God, the uniqueness of Christ, the integrity and unity of the
Spirit’s work, and the need of humankind for the redemptive work of the cross—at
times assuming our sexual proclivities, given by nurture or nature, are, by
that fact, necessarily God-given.
I am personally saddened for those gay and lesbian Christians within the
church that so much of the debate has focused upon homosexual behavior and
relationships. It has too often given way to bigotry or to an easy
self-righteousness among heterosexuals. Nevertheless, it is for now the place
where the battle lines have been drawn. Regardless of how I wish it had been
elsewhere, it is where the larger issues are being debated, leading to a crisis
in the worldwide Anglican Communion. The unity of 80 million Christians is at
stake. As Archbishop Williams has recently stated, “…the decision of the
Episcopal Church to elect a practicing gay man as a bishop was taken without
even the American church itself…having formally decided as a local Church what
it thinks about blessing same-sex partnerships.”
So when the Standing Committee of our diocese, like the Diocese of South
Carolina, asks for Alternative Primatial Oversight it is because recent
parliamentary procedure to convince The Episcopal Church that it has erred has
Like an addictive or dysfunctional family, this exclusive pursuit of “cultural
sensitivity” has led to destructive patterns of behavior.
So perhaps our Standing Committee’s action of disassociation, along with seven
other dioceses at present, will demonstrate the seriousness of TEC’s
dysfunction. I love this Church enough to practice what those in the counseling
professions call tough-love. Underneath all the discussions of human sexuality,
our message is this, The Episcopal Church, in its obsession to be what it has
termed inclusive, has excluded the priority of Holy Scripture, as well as the
historical continuity of the catholic faith. Of course I would not want to make
a similar error in either my passion for scripture or in my commitment towards
historic catholicity. I am an Anglican—I want all three: the Primacy of the
Bible, historic continuity, and cultural sensitivity and intellectual
This, then, deals with two of your requests—that, in my response to your
question, I address the authority of Holy Scripture and our Anglican identity.
I have not to my satisfaction, however, adequately dealt with the issue of
catholic Eccelsiology. I’m not sure others in the church have either. We have
asked the Archbishop to respond without presenting a thorough doctrine of
ecclesiology from which to act. The Stanford economist Paul Romer once said, “A
crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” It would be unfortunate if we do not use
this current crisis in the church to do some hard thinking about what God is
calling the Anglican Communion to become in the 21st Century. The
Windsor Report identified four instruments of Unity, The Archbishop of
Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC),
and the Primates Meeting. Of these four instruments, three are less than a 150
years old, and two are less than 40! The Lambeth Conference first met in 1867 (over
the protests and concerns of the Archbishop of York—fear of broadening
jurisdictional authority); the ACC was established after Lambeth in 1968; and
the Primates first gathered in 1979. These would seem to be evolving attempts
of the Anglican Communion to adapt its practical life and ecclesiology to
globalization—an increasingly global church trying to come to grips with a
nascent global age. Now we’ve entered further into such an era, what Thomas
Friedman has described as a flat world, (see his book, The World Is Flat).
It strikes me as I reflect back on General Convention in 2006 that many in the
church were like the union bosses in the steel mills in the late ‘70s and early
‘80s. Getting more for the workers in the short term but not recognizing that the
company was investing more and more abroad, and not investing in updating the
local regional mills. The world was changing and they didn’t fully grasp the
change. There’s no going back to isolationism in the world or the church. I
believe the mantra of autonomy will prove to be a hindrance to the future which
the Anglican Communion, and The Episcopal Church, as a constituent member of
the Communion, is called to forge. When farmers in the San Joaquin Valley
decide whether or not to plant a cherry orchard they evaluate the market in
Japan. When a farmer decides about a crop of cotton he needs to know what’s
being grown in Turkey and Egypt, and the demand for fabric in China. Those of
you in the business world know a similar thing is true for you. This present
crisis in the Anglican Communion is a sign that among other things we have
entered into an ever-flattening world. We need to have an Anglican ecclesiology
that takes seriously this new era.
Alternative Primatial Oversight is a temporary gasp for air—necessary
perhaps, but temporary. 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. This is one of the things I believe the request for APO is trying to
communicate to the leadership of TEC, along with trying to keep those of us who
understand our baptismal and ordination vows to keep in step with apostolic
teaching and fellowship, and in covenant with the worldwide Anglican Communion.
Ironically, at this point the “conservatives” are being progressive, and the
“progressives” strike me as digging in their heels for the past. Time to move
ahead. The way the world works has changed and so should we. I hope we in The
Episcopal Church can catch up.,
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 as bishop of Nevada in condoning same
sex blessings, for which she has expressed no regret, put her in violation of
the Windsor Report
and, consequently, compromise her ability to function in primatial authority
This is not merely a consequence of her stated views, (which is one thing), but
her considered actions after the Primate’s Covenant in 2003, as well as
subsequent Primatial Communiqués, i.e. Dromantine, regarding the bonds of
How one parses the difference between elected Presiding Bishop and Primatial
representation is one of the ecclesial challenges that, to a greater or lesser
degree, those who have asked for APO must presently grapple.
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! One,
however, should be cognizant of the essential fact that this upholding of the
Doctrine, Discipline and Worship of the Episcopal Church includes the essential
fact of remaining
“…a constituent member of the Anglican Communion, a Fellowship within
the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church…propagating the historic Faith
and Order as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer….” (Preamble
to the Constitution)
Unfortunately, when this vow is looked at in it’s [sic] entirety, 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.,
8. Some further thoughts regarding our present predicament in The Episcopal
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 [sic]—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
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 [sic] time the
emperor reassess his reassessments”?