Two Bishops Write their People

The Rt. Rev. Mark J. Lawrence writes to clergy in the Diocese of South Carolina:

The 77th General Convention embraced canonical changes and authorized rites that I, as bishop, felt I could not in good conscience embrace, assent to or pretend in the aftermath that a line had not been crossed. I believe it is important for you, the clergy of this diocese who are actively serving in parishes, to hear from me personally regarding this decision and particularly to know what I shared with the House of Bishops in our Private Session in Indianapolis on Wednesday afternoon July 11th. Certainly it is not for me to reveal what others may have said, as such matters are to be held as confidential. But I believe you are entitled to know what I shared in that session. These are demanding times within the life of the Episcopal Church and increasingly so for this Diocese of South Carolina. Therefore, I believe we need to meet — bishop and clergy to engage in pastoral conversation. I have scheduled a clergy day for this Wednesday, July 25th from 1:00-4:00 p.m. at St. Paul’s Summerville. Please make every effort to attend. I would not summon you on such short notice and during the summer if it were not of high importance. That does not mean, however, you should cancel your vacation plans.

An excerpt from a July 15 letter from Bishop Lawrence to all the diocese:

There are four resolutions which were adopted that bring distressing changes to the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Episcopal Church that every ordained person in this church has vowed “to engage to conform,” and which stand in direct conflict with the doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ as this church has received them.

First, let me mention resolution C029. While this was amended during the debates in a more temperate direction, it still moves the Church further down the road toward encouraging the communion of the unbaptized which departs from two thousand years of Christian practice. It also puts the undiscerning person in spiritual jeopardy. (I Corinthians 11:27-32)

Plainly, the resolution that has received the most publicity is A049 which authorizes rites for Same-Sex Blessings. This resolution goes into effect in Advent 2012, but only upon the authority of the bishop of each diocese. It hardly needs to be said, but for the record let me say clearly, I will not authorize the use of such rites in the Diocese of South Carolina. …

There is however an even more incoherent departure from the teaching of Holy Scripture and from our Episcopalian and Anglican Heritage to be found in the General Convention’s passage of resolutions D002 and D019. These changes to our Church’s canons mark an even further step into incoherency. They open the door to innumerable self-understandings of gender identity and gender expression within the Church; normalizing “transgender,” “bi-sexual,” “questioning,” and still yet to be named — self-understandings of individualized eros. …

Some have said to me, “But bishop the culture is accepting this. To continue to resist these innovations is to put ourselves on the wrong side of history.” I say to such thinking, you cannot be on the wrong side of History if you are on the right side of Reality. Archbishop William Temple was correct when he wrote over 70 years ago: the Church needs to be very clear in its public teaching so it can be very pastoral in its application.

The Rt. Rev. W. Andrew Waldo writes to members of the Diocese of Upper South Carolina:

Christian faith and belief have never been monolithic and the Church catholic has been diverse from the beginning. Unfortunately, the 80-page theological rationale for same-sex blessings does not adequately acknowledge the questions of those in opposition,

I voted “no” at General Convention because these questions ask those who would change the Church’s teachings to respect and respond to the received tradition, not with dismissiveness, but with rigor, discipline, respect and love.

… For those among us who reject same-sex blessings, passage of those blessings and the inclusion of “persons of different gender identity and expression” in the list of persons with non-discriminatory access to holy orders, tensions have been substantively ratcheted up. I spoke against this on the floor of the House of Bishops because of the confusion in church and culture about just what “transgender” and “gender identity” mean. Further, we haven’t even begun a conversion about this in the wider church. I was surprised and dismayed by this vote.

For those among us who are rejoicing in the passage of same-sex blessings and the gender identity resolutions, tensions have been substantively ratcheted up by my “no” vote on both.

… The times are tense. Our brothers and sisters in the Diocese of South Carolina are in deep pain struggling with the decisions of General Convention 2012. Their bishop, Mark Lawrence, and I are in direct conversation with each other as brothers in Christ and treasured colleagues in the House of Bishops. I ask your prayers for Mark and for the Diocese of South Carolina and for me and for this Diocese as we seek to discern God’s will for us, and his challenge to us as his disciples.


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