By Douglas LeBlanc
A new public letter in the Diocese of Florida urges the diocese to proceed with its plans for a second episcopal election to elect the successor to the Rt. Rev. Samuel Johnson Howard. The letter appears at letfldecide.com, but the Rev. Matt Marino said Let Florida Decide is a list of signatories, not an organization.
Marino served on the diocese’s search committee, and has signed the Let Florida Decide letter, as has the Rev. Curt Benham, his associate rector at Trinity Episcopal Church in St. Augustine.
In the diocese’s first election on May 14, the Rev. Charlie Holt was chosen on the third ballot.
Nine days later, an objection signed by 37 delegates challenged the propriety of allowing some clergy to vote through the internet.
Holt, like Howard, opposes same-sex marriage. He has pledged to abide by the 2018 General Convention’s Resolution B012, in which a bishop who opposes same-sex marriage asks another bishop to oversee requests for same-sex weddings. Opponents of Holt’s election have also argued that he is both a racist and a homophobe.
A church court found that the election violated diocesan canons. Holt withdrew his name and said he was open to standing for election again. He was hired to join the diocesan staff, and is now one of three nominees, all of whom stood in the first election, who are standing again in the second election, scheduled for November 19.
The diocese’s Standing Committee has stressed its determination to hold the second election. It has, to date, released two videos and three documents that address frequent questions about the elections.
Critics of the first and second elections post regularly on God Is Love, an “unofficial [Facebook] group relating to the Episcopal Diocese of Florida.” Their letter to the diocese’s Standing Committee appears as a post on the God Is Love page.
Let Florida Decide has more signatures among the laity, to date. The God Is Love letter has 20 clergy (plus one non-canonical priest), and Let Florida Decide has 18. God Is Love has 98 lay signatures, including 14 from delegates and 2 from alternate delegates. Let Florida Decide has 146 lay signatures, including 30 from delegates.
Not every post on God Is Love relates to the letter asking the Standing Committee to postpone the second election. Indeed, Let Florida Decide announced its petition on the God Is Love page.
An unnamed God Is Love representative responded via email to interview requests by The Living Church: “The letter that was sent to the Bishop and Standing Committee is not one with any centralized leadership; some supporters were involved in the earlier objection to the first election, and most were not. There is only some shared concern about the growing division and lack of leadership in the Diocese of Florida.”
The anonymous writer added: “Our focus is on the challenges, and canonical deficiencies, presented by the upcoming scheduled election, and that is where we are focusing our prayers and attention.”
TLC asked more questions, and requested a name of the writer, but received no response to those requests.
Marino and Benham spoke with TLC by phone.
“Our canons are really simple: the bishop calls for an election, the Standing Committee gives consent, and there’s an election,” Marino said.
Benham, who joined the staff at Marino’s parish two years ago, challenged the God Is Love letter’s description of the Diocese of Florida as lacking trust. “I see an amiable, working together, really healthy diocese,” he said. “I don’t see much division.”
Marino said he expects the God Is Love correspondents to challenge Holt again if he is elected a second time, but that does not mean he has signed on for a protracted conflict.
“Generally, I trust the Episcopal Church,” he said. “We have a system, and we’re just asking for the system to play out.”