Florida Episcopal bishop-elect faces mounting resistance from LGBT activists

The Rev. Charlie Holt of the Episcopal Diocese of Florida speaks in a video posted to YouTube on June 16, 2022. | YouTube/DioceseFL

LGBT activists and allies within The Episcopal Church object to the election of a bishop in the Episcopal Diocese of Florida, claiming that the process was tainted by discrimination.

The Rev. Charlie Holt has experienced much controversy over his election to the position of bishop coadjutor last year, with critics claiming that the electoral process was not fairly implemented.

The LGBTQ+ Caucus of The Episcopal Church released an open letter last week, citing a recent Court of Review investigation which concluded that "LGBTQ+ people and affirming clergy face an uphill battle in acquiring licensing, canonical residence, and even access to the ordination process under" Florida Bishop Samuel J. Howard.

"At least three clergy people were denied their right to canonical residence due to the disparate treatment of LGBTQ+ people and their allies under the current Bishop," stated the open letter.

"At the Second Special Election Convention, the Rev. Holt was declared to have received a majority in the clergy order by one vote. Therefore, three votes could have changed the result of the election."

While the LGBT caucus admitted that they "cannot say whether these votes would have caused a fundamental change in the result," they "firmly agree with the Court of Review that such voter disenfranchisement, whether purposeful or not, casts serious doubt on the integrity of the election."

"We fear that the Reverend Holt's election is the intended result of a system designed in the exclusion of LGBTQ+ voices and votes," the letter argues. 

"Furthermore, we are forced to wonder whether this culture would continue under a Bishop Holt due to his previous offensive comments on gender and sexuality."

The Deputies of Color, a group representing the four ethnic caucuses within the Episcopal Church House of Deputies, released their own letter Tuesday.

Addressed to the Diocesan Standing Committee and vishops of The Episcopal Church, the Deputies of Color said that "palpable pain" was present "in the Diocese of Florida and the wider church."

"We therefore contend that the time has come to tell the truth of this trauma inflicted on our LGBTQIA+ siblings and people of color so that we can repair the breach and make room for a time of healing in the Diocese," stated the group.

"We therefore urge you to use your influence and ask The Rev. Charlie Holt to withdraw his acceptance of the position as the bishop-elect, or alternatively not consent to his election."

The diocese's Standing Committee has disputed the Court of Review's report, saying in a letter last month that they believe the court "grossly overstepped its charge, committed a number of significant factual errors, shown canonical disregard throughout the objection processes, and operated in a way that intentionally attacks and disenfranchises the will of the majority of the Diocese of Florida."

"[T]he Court appears to have sought to ensure the failure of our legitimate election by soliciting anonymous witnesses and unfounded and undated allegations, and showing a persistent lack of regard for due process," added the committee.  

In May 2022, an election was held to determine the successor to Bishop Howard, who is planning to retire later this year. Holt was elected.

Following Holt's election, a group of 37 clergy and lay deputies argued that there had been last-minute changes to the voting process and other issues that rendered the vote invalid.

Last August, The Episcopal Church's Court of Review filed a report concluding that "irregularities" created "seeds of uncertainty that call into question the integrity of the process."

The diocese then held a second bishop coadjutor election last November, in which Holt defeated two other candidates, getting the votes of 56 clergy and 79 laity. The minimum needed to win the election was 56 clergy and 67 laity.

However, a group of 29 clergy and lay delegates involved in the election disputed the results, arguing that the process was "fundamentally unfair" and unfairly excluded certain delegates.

The 29 delegates protesting the second election held for bishop coadjutor passed the 25-delegate minimum required to file a formal objection against the results of the November vote.

In addition to the process of his election, some within the denomination have expressed concerns over how Holt, an opponent of gay marriage, will treat LGBT individuals within the diocese.

According to canon law, dioceses in The Episcopal Church must allow for the blessing of same-sex unions and the ordination of noncelibate homosexual clergy, with conscience protections given to clergy who may morally oppose performing such rites.

Holt released a statement last December promising to allow "each parish" to decide whether to bless same-sex unions, making it and ordination "a matter of conscience and context."  

"The pastoral conscience of clergy will be respected across theological difference. No one, progressive or traditional, will be forced, coerced or manipulated to hold or change a matter of conscience," stated Holt.

"We seek ministers who proclaim a life-changing gospel. Ordination will not be dependent on sexual orientation or political perspective but only on the church's canonical process of discernment of the mystery of God's call to sacred orders."  

Follow Michael Gryboski on Twitter or Facebook

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