Conservative Anglicans Outraged Over Rejected Bishop Election

The recent move to invalidate the Very Rev. Mark Lawrence's election as bishop of South Carolina outraged some conservative Anglicans while others agreed with the decision.

"This is outrageous that a duly-elected priest, who clearly meets the Scriptural standards for church leadership, not to mention has gone out of his way to assure the rest of TEC (the Episcopal Church) that he will keep his vows and will not take the diocese out of the church, has been blocked from serving for no other reason than his orthodox views," said the Rev. Canon David Anderson, president and CEO of the traditional American Anglican Council (AAC), in a released statement.

Lawrence, a conservative, had reaffirmed last week that he had no plans to take the Diocese of South Carolina, which rejected the authority of Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori over theological differences, out of the Episcopal Church. He had given the same assurance in December.

Lawrence was elected to the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina on the first ballot last September. He received 57 "yes" votes, one more than the 56 required for election. Jefferts Schori took the rare step on Thursday of declaring his election "null and void," citing "canonical deficiencies" in the voting responses submitted, according to a letter by the Rev. J. Haden McCormick, president of the Standing Committee of the Diocese of South Carolina.

Some of the consenting votes were electronically submitted. Canon law requires consent with signatures and several votes had no signatures attached to their ballots, according to Jefferts Schori in a letter to the diocese. This is the first time in at least 60 years that a bishop's election was thrown out.

While some agree with the presiding bishop's decision, saying the signature requirement dates back to 1799, others expressed disappointment in the Episcopal head.

"Why she chose not to grant a simple extension of time to permit electronic consents to be converted to written consents conveyed by overnight mail is a mystery," said the Rev. Todd H. Wetzel, executive director of the Dallas-based conservative group Anglicans United and Latimer Press, according to Episcopal News Service. "A majority of consents was secured prior to the deadline, in spirit, albeit not in fact."

The denominational news service noted that the deadline had been extended from March 9 to March 12 to allow for postal delays.

Still, the Very Rev. William McKeachie, dean of South Carolina, called the decision "the latest outrage from the national church."

The Rev. Elizabeth Kaeton, president of the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Newark, which voted not to confirm, commented, "Despite my personal and theological differences with the man and the diocese, there is no doubt that this is a tragedy for Mark Lawrence, his wife and family, for the diocese of South Carolina, and for the church."

Anderson called the situation ironic.

"While a man living in a same-sex union - which is in clear contradiction to biblical guidelines for church leaders - can be elected, confirmed and consecrated a bishop in one state, a man of high integrity who meets the strict demands of leaders as laid out in Scripture is denied consent in another," the AAC president said in a statement.

The Episcopal Church had consecrated an openly gay bishop in 2003, which heightened controversy within the U.S. body and the Anglican Communion worldwide over theological differences, particularly over the issue of homosexuality.

"The discrepancy is obvious even to the casual observer," Anderson added. "TEC says 'all are welcome,' but that is simply not true based on their actions toward those with whom they disagree."

Acting Bishop Edward Salmon, who is retiring from the South Carolina post, will remain until a new bishop is elected. Meanwhile, McKeachie hopes Lawrence will not withdraw his name from a second search.