By Douglas LeBlanc
Two dioceses — Florida and Ohio — elected bishop coadjutors November 19. Both dioceses presented three-member slates. Florida elected in one ballot, though it took four hours because of repeated procedural protests. Ohio elected in two ballots.
But in Florida, the Rev. Charlie Holt is likely to face a formal challenge rooted both in canonical procedures and in disagreements about same-sex marriage.
Ohio elected the Rev. Anne B. Jolly of the neighboring Diocese of Chicago. As president of the Standing Committee, Jolly walked that diocese through a long interim period between Bishop Paula Clark’s election and her consecration.
In the Diocese of Ohio, no published questions asked candidates to address same-sex marriage. One candidate, the Rev. Diana L. Wilcox, mentioned her wife’s death from cancer in 2006, but did not make any larger points about marriage.
The profile Ohio issued for the election of its 12th bishop alluded to same-sex marriage only twice: “God loves you. No exceptions” is one of two taglines identifying the diocese’s core values, and it affirms “Outreach and inclusion ministries to BIPOC, LGBTQIA, and other marginalized communities.”
Holt has a conservative record on same-sex marriage, and that record haunts the discussions of his now being elected twice by a majority of clergy and lay delegates. Holt has promised to abide by General Convention’s Resolution B012, which requires that bishops make provisions for same-sex weddings. He has also pledged not to discriminate in deployment of clergy or in ordination discernment processes based on sexual orientation.
In the Jacksonville-based Diocese of Florida, proponents of same-sex marriage express alienation from their bishop (the Rt. Rev. Samuel Johnson Howard) and from Holt. They also cite an ever-growing list of procedural objections, challenging the legality of the diocese’s second election (which re-elected Holt in one ballot).
Holt’s opponents in Florida chose a two-pronged strategy after he was first elected on May 14: turning to a church court for procedural questions, but also telegraphing to bishops and standing committees that they objected to Holt on theological and cultural grounds. They prevailed in the church court, and Holt withdrew his acceptance of the election results.
On October 26, objectors published a 13-page letter to Howard and to members of the Standing Committee that surveys the many objections they have raised to the second election.
They wrote, in part:
“We hope you will reach the conclusion we have reached: The Diocese of Florida is not able to have an election at this time. First, because the diocese is not following its own rules for this upcoming election. Next, because the landscape of trust, transparency and fundamental fairness has been so adversely scarred that no election — regardless of who is elected — will have integrity. And finally because a veritable ‘official endorsement’ of one candidate to the exclusion of all others has been unfolding for the past several months.
“We are not requesting nor expecting ‘perfection’ in any election. We don’t feel that’s reasonably possible. Many dioceses have had hiccups and irregularities in following canons and elections. The difference is that in most cases, trust, transparency, and the perception of fairness creates the bridge between failure and success. That bridge is, sadly, missing in Florida.”
The diocese addressed various points raised by the objectors in a series of videos and through an email announcement sent November 21.
“We hope the guidance from Mr. Tim Wynn, our independent parliamentarian, and [the] Very Rev. Timothy Kimbrough, Professor of Canon Law at Duke University, among others, provided you with the clarity and confidence it gave us in our procedural processes,” the diocesan message said. “Both have verified the election’s procedural validity, per our Canons and Robert’s Rules of Order.”
“I was in regular touch with Todd Ousley and the Presiding Bishop’s Office,” said the Rev. Joe Gibbes, president of the Standing Committee, in an interview with TLC. “I would say I was in touch with [Ousley] more often” for the second election.
“He did not give advice that would be considered legal advice related to canonical interpretation. He simply gave insight from his experience, and the canons were sometimes the context for our conversations. Bishop Ousley was always a great help, but he was neutral and unbiased toward any particular end for us.”
The Rev. Matt Marino of Trinity Church in St. Augustine served on the search committee and helped promote the second election through Let Florida Decide, a response to those seeking postponement of the second election.
“It’s 2022, and apparently it’s not just the right wing that has trouble accepting that they’ve lost an election,” Marino told TLC. “This is an attempt by 30 percent of the diocese to overthrow the will of the 70 percent.”
Marino readily mentions that he served with Holt for about a year at Church of St. John the Divine in Houston. On the staff of that large congregation, Holt “was like Mr. Rogers with a stole,” Marino said.
Marino believes Holt will be confirmed by a majority of bishops and standing committees.
“We had three great candidates, and we were going to elect one of them, and we have done that twice,” he said.
Holt released a letter through the diocese, dated November 21, that called all parties to remember their love for one another as Christians.
“My prayer for our diocese is that we would find our gathering place in the gracious arms of Jesus who reaches out to all of us with his unconditional love and pulls us in toward one another by wrapping us in the royal clothing of his holy and renewing Spirit,” Holt wrote. “Beloved, let us love one another. You are redeemed children of God, brothers and sisters in the family of God, co-heirs with Christ, and the kingdom of God belongs to you.”
Holt praised his fellow candidates, the Rev. Canon Miguel Rosada and the Rev. Canon Beth Tjoflat, as “my colleagues and partners in the Gospel,” and adding: “I have grown to love and appreciate them as not only co-presbyters but as friends.”