A Pro-LGBT Priest Pleads the Case for His Bishop-Elect

Justin Yawn speaks on Charlie Holt’s behalf in a video released with a one-page letter. | YouTube screen shot

By Douglas LeBlanc

As the rector of a church in an upscale planned community known as Nocatee, the Rev. Justin Yawn could easily keep his head down while leaders of the Diocese of Florida ask for approval of Bishop-elect Charlie Holt. As one who differs from Holt on same-sex marriage and liturgical piety — Yawn is an Anglo-Catholic — he might gain a more simpatico bishop if he lets this debate proceed without his voice.

But Yawn, rector of St. Francis in the Field, Ponte Vedra, has a higher priority: “I really believe in relationships. My whole just cause is bringing people of differing opinions into the middle.”

Holt must receive consent from a majority of bishops and a majority of standing committees in order to become Bishop of Florida. There are reports of some dioceses in which the bishop and standing committee have voted differently.

While Holt has opposed same-sex marriage in past years, he has pledged to abide by General Convention’s Resolution B012, which requires bishops to provide for same-sex couples seeking the church’s blessing of their marriage.

On June 12, Yawn sent a message to every bishop and standing committee of the Episcopal Church, asking for them to consent to Holt’s election, or to reverse themselves if they’ve already declined consent. Bishops and standing committees have until July 20 to make their decisions.

“One of the defining strengths of the Episcopal Church is its ‘big tent’ mentality, which is succinctly stated in our baptismal call to seek and serve Christ in all persons and respect the dignity of every human being,” says the one-page letter, which is followed by 23 pages listing the 1,000 names and affiliations of people in the diocese who support Holt’s confirmation.

“It is our fear that this guiding principle is being forgotten during this consent process. Our congregations are rich with diversity of theological opinions and backgrounds, which is a defining part of our life in the Diocese of Florida. No matter the outcome, we are working with individuals who are feeling disenfranchised because sides are being created and the tent is crumbling.”

In a brief video supplementing the letter, Yawn stands behind a baptismal font, reinforcing the emphasis on the baptismal pledge to respect the dignity of every human being.

Yawn said the idea of circulating the letter occurred to him while attending a meeting in which Holt gave an update to clergy and wardens. At the time, Yawn said, the prospect looked grim, with 55 standing committees withholding consent.

The letter and video also emerge from Yawn coming to know Holt. Yawn is persuaded that Holt believes in “a God of reconciliation and of love.”

“He has been instrumental in seeking the healing of the diocese,” he said.

Yawn knows his plea faces a steep climb, and that there’s ample pain in the diocese. But he’s also convinced that part of his ministry as a priest is to serve the people of the Diocese of Florida, and he believes the people have spoken clearly through votes in the lay order, in which Holt twice prevailed by a wider margin than in the clergy order.

“We come and go,” he said about clergy. “If we’re honest, we come and go.”

While recognizing pain in the diocese, Yawn believes it’s a mistake for that pain to determine what whether Holt receives enough consents.

“To make a decision based on the bishop who is retiring is not to look to the future and not to listen,” he said. “I would look to the future and not to the past.”


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