Two days before Thanksgiving, the Episcopal Church’s Disciplinary Board for Bishops met by conference call to decide whether the Bishop of South Carolina should face trial in the House of Bishops. Six days later, the president of the disciplinary board announced the decision: Case dismissed.
What allegations against Bishop Mark J. Lawrence were so grave that they required discussion two days before a widely cherished national holiday? These were the two most serious points: The bishop did not file a property-rights lawsuit against a thriving congregation that left the diocese; and the bishop received one of his sons, Chad E. Lawrence, from the Anglican Church in North America into the Episcopal Church’s priesthood, after his son took the oath of conformity.
Other items presented as damning evidence by the bishop’s still anonymous accusers — that his name was mentioned at a weekend ACNA gathering across the continent in California, and that the diocese’s annual convention condemned the Episcopal Church’s support of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice — were too ham-fisted to merit serious discussion.
We are grateful that Bishop Lawrence’s Kafkaesque ordeal is now over. We are troubled that General Convention’s sweeping revisions to church canon made this sideshow possible. We pray that this test of the church’s comprehensiveness will inspire further discussion at General Convention next summer about the wisdom of reckless canonical revision.
Whatever Bishop Lawrence’s accusers hoped to achieve through their brickbat strategy, we ask that they meditate on three truths:
- The wisdom of filing property lawsuits is not yet core doctrine in the Episcopal Church.
- If the accusers are to rid themselves of the troublesome Bishop of South Carolina, they should not ask the House of Bishops to do the dirty work. True justice requires more than that.
- Serious Christians try to resolve their differences face to face and exhaust every chance of reconciliation. And even then, they think better of swinging the cudgel of lawsuits.