You gotta hand it to the Episcopal Church: When it does dumb, it really doubles down.
And so it is with the Episcopal Diocese of Florida, which has scheduled a second attempt, to be held November 19, to elect a bishop coadjutor. This is much too early, and fails to address larger issues of wholeness and healing.
Under church canons, a bishop coadjutor becomes bishop diocesan upon the retirement of the previous bishop diocesan. In this case, current bishop Samuel Howard reaches mandatory retirement age in 2023.
The results of the previous election, in which controversial candidate Charlie Holt was elected, were thrown out by the national church following allegations that the diocese, at the last minute, changed the election rules to permit remote voting by clergy, while requiring in-person voting for laity.
This time, all voting will be in-person, and three of the five original candidates are on the ballot, including Charlie Holt.
In the meantime, diocesan officials are making no secret of their support for Holt, having hired him onto diocesan staff despite the original failed election.
Opponents believe Holt does not support same-sex marriage, and rumors abound that, much like Bishop Lawrence in South Carolina, Holt may attempt “realignment” of the diocese with conservative factions outside the church.
So, why is a second attempt at an election a dumb thing to do?
The first, and lesser, reason is that Holt should not be on the ticket. Simple as that.
The diocese needs healing, not division. The high-handed tactics coming from the diocese have made Holt a non-starter, and he and the diocese should have the grace to step aside.
The second, and larger reason, is that it is clear the diocese is not healthy right now. By its own admission, rumors are swirling about the election. While the standing committee has released a video purporting to address some of those issues, some answers appear to be weasel-worded.
Per the Episcopal News Service:
The 16-minute video that the diocese released Sept. 16 features the Rev. Joe Gibbes, standing committee president, answering several questions posed by Jackie Jones, a member of the standing committee.
“There have been a lot of questions and rumors and lots of things swirling around the upcoming election, how we reached that decision as a standing committee, and a lot of other things,” Gibbes said. Among the questions Gibbes sought to answer was why the diocese didn’t delay the May 14 convention when concerns were raised beforehand.
Diocesan leaders sincerely believed that the convention’s online component was in the best interest of the diocese, its members and the delegates who were participating in the election, Gibbes said. “In retrospect, it was a mistake. … The provision of the online option was our decision as a standing committee, and we accept that responsibility. I, as the president, accept that responsibility.”
Thus, Gibbs sidesteps the issue of why they did not listen to objections, while leaving open the possibility that — surprise, surprise — the part that the standing committee thought was in everyone’s best interest was the election of Charlie Holt. After all, he is the only one of the three candidates currently on diocesan staff.
Third, members of the diocese have asked for a delay. When this happens, you can be sure that those asking for a delay are not doing so for fun, or spite. If folks aren’t on board, they aren’t on board. That needs to be respected.
Anglican Watch believes that the better approach would be to forget about the election for now. Much like the question that arose with the consecration of Heather Cook, which is whether it is possible to stop a consecration train once it’s left the station, this looks like a situation where people have gotten so focused on electing a bishop that they have forgotten about caring for each other.
Far better to spend a year peacemaking, working towards health and wholeness, and reducing tension. If things get to where it makes sense to elect a bishop coadjutor prior to Howard’s retirement, so be it. If not, that’s fine too—get a bishop interim in and go from there.
Right now, the most important thing in the entire election is missing, which is trust. Rumors only “swirl” when there is a lack of trust, and when people feel disenfranchised. Having placed Holt on staff despite the problems with the prior election, the diocese is showing a profound lack of emotional IQ, and makes it look like it is, indeed, jamming Holt down everyone’s throat. And given Holt’s bio, in which he trumpets his peacemaking and reconciliation skills, he should be the first to spot this problem.
In other words, as things are currently postured, there is no good outcome. Perhaps Holt will have the integrity to step down between now and Saturday, but power is an aphrodisiac, and we doubt that Holt can or will back away. But unless that happens, there likely will be bruised feelings on all sides, even if Holt doesn’t win.
We sincerely hope all involved will take the high road and that diocesan officials will stop being manipulative. And if Holt really is the good guy some claim him to be, he’ll withdraw and seek a bishopric somewhere else, while supporting healing within the diocese.