Saturday, August 15, 2009

Keeping One's Vows

60 lbs more, twice as many weddings and bunches of stories later I still remember this event like it was yesterday. I remember how comfortable and excited I was making my ordination vows.

The Bishop says to the ordinand

Will you be loyal to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of Christ as this Church has received them? And will you, in accordance with the canons of this Church, obey your bishop and other ministers who may have authority over you and your work?


I am willing and ready to do so; and I solemnly declare that I do believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation; and I do solemnly engage to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church.

This comes to mind now because Bishop Lawrence of S.C. has concentrated on the same language in his appeal to the clergy of the Diocese of South Carolina to refrain from participating in leadership and decision making outside the diocese. Even worse he has presumed to be able to speak to all what the phrase means in a pastoral letter to be read from the pulpit in each congregation.

Perhaps he believes his withdrawal idea qualifies as something other than what Scofield and Duncan have attempted and therefore is more likely to succeed. I can't see that he has chosen to do anything really radical or creative. It just looks like another slowly-bleeding clergy led exit meant to publicly humiliate and then starve the impure remainder and to convince some judge somewhere that Team Lawrence is the true church worthy of state intervention.

What really bothers me is the presumption -- born of denial or ignorance or pious arrogance -- that there is an outcome available for the Bishop and his true believers other than the very same one that simply walking out the door and leaving the keys behind would attain. Claiming some affiliation beyond U.S. soil wins them NOTHING in any court, most especially courts of the State of South Carolina. Appearing polite and humble while they use assets and properties that they will go to great expense to attempt to possess or will eventually abandon without having maintained any proper future provisions for their care and upkeep gains them NO sympathy once the bills are due.

Bishop Lawrence tries to wedge himself and his minions into a niche for which there is NO canonical standard or description. What does he imagine will be the proper role for a diocese that resigns all of its appointments, votes on no legislation, and fails to join in the offerings that become the church's mission and ministry for those in need and THEN prematurely attempts to join itself extra-provincially to the Windsor covenant movement? Does Bishop Lawrence imagine this to be a sacrifice of power to show us that our inclusivity actually excludes a class of believers? Regardless of how you understand the legitimacy of her purported death bed baptism Simon Weil's self exclusion from communion really did indict the church's classism and exclusion. Surely Lawrence doesn't imagine we will understand his planned actions to be as significant as hers.

So, I'm left wondering just what Bishop understood the "doctrine, discipline and worship" to mean when he was ordained. And when did he begin to presume to possess an authority that allows him to claim himself as it's chief interpreter and to pronounce it's meaning?

That's not true, I'm not wondering. I am tired. I'm not tired of all the weddings, or sermons, or free meals, or of the doctrine, discipline and worship to which I promised to be loyal. I am tired of the presumptions that Bishops like Lawrence have partnered so well with a lust for power and a fear of impurity. I am tired of the false humility. I am tired of the routine.

Bishop Lawrence, I am tired of you and your sanctimonious crusade against the church who ordained you and, like me, to whom you pledged your loyalty. Forget the pastoral letter, forget about leveraging the misplaced loyalties of the priests of the Diocese of South Carolina, forget your end-run to Windsor protection, forget your piecemeal attack on the constitution and canons you once swore to obey. Keep your vows to the church that ordained you. Just do that. Change the routine and just do that.

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