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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.

The Very Rev. Mark Lawrence
The Very Rev. Mark Lawrence
Episcopal News Service Photo

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”:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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).
  5. Lawrence fails to reassure us that he will not lead the Diocese of South Carolina out of The Episcopal Church.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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 of Bishops.
  9.  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 mind.

— 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).

Minor 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.


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