The Annotated Mark Lawrence
by Lionel E. Deimel
Episcopalians continue to discuss consents for the consecration of the
Very Rev. Mark Lawrence as the next Bishop of South Carolina. The latest
round of commentary was initiated by the
posting, on Thinking Anglicans, of
a set of questions and answers written by Fr. Lawrence in response to
various inquires from bishops with jurisdiction and from standing
committees. Bloggers have commented on the Lawrence Q & A, which, at
least on Thinking Anglicans, was labeled “Mark Lawrence Answers.”
Perhaps “Answers” was not intended to be a public, but, by now, Episcopal News Service has
even published a
story about it. Lawrence is quoted in the story, so that any question as
to whether “Answers” is genuine has certainly been resolved.
Since my essay “No
Consents: A Crucial Test for The Episcopal Church” seems to have
been the first and most extensive plea for denying consent for the
consecration of Mark Lawrence, I feel a certain obligation to respond to
“Answers,” which, I should say, still leaves me unconvinced that
Lawrence should be made an Episcopal bishop. I find “Answers” less than
candid, though I admire the South Carolina bishop-elect for not simply
writing what his critics might want to hear. He has made it clear what
we will get if he becomes a bishop. What that is, however, is neither
what The Episcopal Church needs nor what most Episcopalians want in one
of their bishops.
Rather than write another essay, I have chosen merely to annotate
Lawrence’s Q & A. Although this yields a less focused document than “No
Consents,” it has the advantage of pointing out precisely why Lawrence’s
views are problematic for many Episcopalians. Not everyone will agree
with my analysis, but no one will have trouble relating it to Lawrence’s
own words. Readers are urged to read “No Consents” if they have not
already, as I have tried to avoid repeating the arguments I made in that earlier essay.
“The Annotated Mark Lawrence,” as I have called this project,
includes a brief introduction to what follows, which is “Answers” with
my comments added in footnotes. Admittedly, reading a footnoted document
can be tedious, but, reading on-line, links can make it easy to jump between
the text and the footnotes. (Click on footnote numbers to go back and
forth.) For this reason, I recommend reading “The
Annotated Mark Lawrence” on-line, where it is available as a
Web page or a
PDF file, either of which
may be printed and read off-line, if desired.
I cannot summarize all my reactions to “Answers” here, but it is worthwhile to list a few ideas
that I think the reader should take away
from “The Annotated Mark Lawrence”:
- Lawrence has taken pains to be truthful, but, on questions where
his views are likely to alarm mainstream Episcopalians, he is not
above employing obfuscation or avoiding a question.
- Lawrence seems put out by having to answer questions in general,
and questions about his and South Carolina’s commitment to The
Episcopal Church, in particular.
- Ironically, Lawrence and I agree that dioceses do not have a
categorical right to the bishop of their choice. We disagree on
appropriate criteria for episcopal suitability.
- Lawrence has a passion for theology, but this theology seems
decidedly un-Anglican in its emphasis on enforcing correct doctrine
and on not tolerating viewpoints distinguishable from his own (such
as those of the new Presiding Bishop, for example).
- Lawrence fails to reassure us that he will not lead the Diocese
of South Carolina out of The Episcopal Church.
- Lawrence disparages the polity of The Episcopal
Church—especially its autonomy—and insists that “globalization”
requires new ecclesiastical structures to assure uniformity of
belief and to preserve “traditional” doctrine. He would
subordinate all voices to what is deemed “traditional,” which could
preclude responding effectively or innovatively to a complex,
troubled, and increasingly interconnected world.
- Lawrence views alternative primatial oversight as a way of
bypassing a Presiding Bishop who, although she does not agree with
his opinion on certain matters, has made it clear that she will
represent them faithfully and fairly.
- Lawrence touts his past good behavior as evidence that he
deserves our trust, but he gives us many reasons to expect that his
past behavior may not be a good predictor of his future actions. He
hedges on his commitment to vows to uphold the “Doctrine, Discipline
and Worship” of The Episcopal Church, and he suggests, like other
Network bishops, that he may minimize his participation in the House
- Lawrence offers a defective marriage analogy to explain
his view of the disputes within The Episcopal Church. His analysis
is one-sided and self-serving. It follows a pattern in which the
bishop-elect’s self-reflection and self-criticism are difficult to
discern alongside his severe judgment of others, particularly of the
majority of Episcopalians.
In the end, one has to wonder why Mark Lawrence even wants to be part
of The Episcopal Church, much less one of its leaders. The answer
appears to be that he does not expect to be either for very long. If
this is a misreading of his intentions, he has only to issue a
categorical denial of any intention to leave The Episcopal Church,
pledge not to subvert its polity, and promise that, should he ever feel
the need to leave The Episcopal Church, he will do so without taking any
church property—including, but not limited to, real property—with him.
Read “The Annotated Mark Lawrence” (Web page
or PDF file) for yourself and make up your own
— LED, 12/13/2006
Postscript: The process of obtaining
consents for Mark Lawrence to become Bishop of South Carolina is
reviewed in my blog post “The
Consents Question, Again” (2/17/2007).
formatting changes were made to this page 10/7/2011. On 7/30/2014, the
link to the ENS story referred to in the first paragraph was changed to
reflect the current location of the story.