There’s a wrong-headed argument circulating in some quarters: the larger Episcopal Church should let the Diocese of Florida decide if it wants Charlie Holt as bishop coadjutor. That view tries the classic Episcopal trick of ignoring the canons.
Per Canon III. 11.4 (a), a majority of bishops diocesan and standing committees must consent to the election of any bishop. Period.
In other words, just taking a pass is inconsistent with the fiduciary obligations of bishops and standing committee members.
That raises the question: On what basis may bishops and standing committees withhold their consent? The answer is just about anything. The canons set no boundaries on this power, although there are exceptions.
For example, a person cannot be denied office in the church based on race, gender, or sexual orientation. (Not that it doesn’t happen all the time.)
The provision requiring church-wide consent is not new. And its practical effect involves the entire church selecting a bishop, thus promoting stability.
There’s also a sordid track record of what happens when bishops-elect make assurances to overcome misgivings by the larger church.
For example, in 2006, Mark Lawrence assured the larger church that he would not attempt to lead the Diocese of South Carolina out of TEC if they gave the needed consents. These were given and Lawrence approved as bishop. When he later tried to lead the diocese out of the larger denomination, it came out during litigation that he had been planning to do so even before his election.
In other words, Mark Lawrence lied.
Similarly, there were plenty of warning signs about Heather Cooke before her consecration, including posts on social media of her driving drunk following church events. Thus, a more cautious consent process might have avoided the ensuing disaster.
So, once bitten, twice shy.
Many have reservations about Charlie Holt, and we encourage the House of Bishops and the various standing committees to take a deliberate, careful approach.
We also reiterate: We don’t know whether Holt is an appropriate bishop. We don’t know enough about him to form an opinion. But the diocese appears to be playing various games to ensure that Holt wins, which alarms us.
Above all, it is essential that the church not play its usual game of following only those canons that it finds convenient. The church’s cafeteria approach to the canons inevitably results in disaster for the denomination. Yet when the predictable catastrophe hits, church officials far too often scratch their heads and wonder what went wrong.
Let’s make sure this is not one of those predictable disasters.