It is rumored abroad that Bishop Mark Lawrence “abandoned the communion of the church” some time ago. Any reports that since that time, whenever that moment of self-destruction occurred, he was seen and heard within the communion of the church are, it would seem delusional. That which he achieved in his baptism, confirmation, that which he received in ordination, in a twinkling of an eye, evaporated. and what is more, he achieved the status of non-person by himself. In response, Episcopalians in South Carolina have pressed a button, and lo and behold, the rest of us have disappeared. We no longer exist, or at least exist in terms of the deepest spiritual unity possible, that of rejoicing in mutual fellowship in union with the Trinity. Make no mistake about it, there is no salvation outside the church. For this reason Jesus mourned when someone walked away and he set out to recover that which was straying and lost. In contrast, if we believe that someone has abandoned our fellowship, we blow the trumpet and announce the fact to the world and proceed with actions framed in terms easily translated as “Be off with you, and never darken our doors again.” Sounds Victorian? Well it is.
The abandonment of communion rules were devised in the first part of the Victorian years because the Bishop of North Carolina and some clergy announced that they had become Roman Catholics. Before the age of ecumenism such an act, technically termed ‘perversion’ was unforgivable at least for most Episcopalians who either regarded themselves as the one true church or the prototype for the union of evangelical churches, depending on whether one was High Church or Evangelical. Of course to declare the obvious achieved nothing. Deposing such people achieved nothing. But it probably made those who framed the process virtuous and delighted the lawyers. These people had forgotten that the rites which sustain and incorporate, baptism and the Eucharist, and the sacred ministry itself don’t belong to a church but to the church. A province of the church has disciplinary authority but it doesn’t have the power to exclude from the church.
Nowadays the whole process seems delusional. Thank God Richard Dawkins hasn’t discovered what we are up to. Notice that one doesn’t need to say one is leaving, doesn’t need to join another ecclesial body. One says or does something, and achieves church wide self-destruction. Few think this odd. Many think that telling someone to ‘bugger off’ in polite, ecclesiastical, legal tones is an exercise in virtue. There seems to be only one action one can take to self-destruct. If one is immoral in the wider sense of that term, one may face discipline within the church, but one remains in communion. If one gives communion to a non-Christian, nothing happens, if one runs for bishop under the Buddhist ticket one is merely excluded from the race, but state that you don’t intend to abide by a new law (canon) or a policy recently adopted, still largely untested, at least if one is a bishop, achieves notoriety and oblivion.
In response a diocese turns around -no turning the other cheek here – and says that although only a few self-important guardians have declared their bishop invisible, it can no longer see and share with thousands of Episcopalians who have not involved themselves in any way with the few committee members who have certified solemnly that Bishop Lawrence has departed. See how these Christians love one another.
What has been achieved is schism, but a curious form of schism. Rather than a group leaving the church and constructing their own communion of the like-minded, the abandonment canon has been used to actually create a schism, to invite a schism and to condone a schism. No doubt that once their creation is legally established, the TEC leadership will wring its hands, depose the clergy of the schism and unchurch its laity. Why? Because the offending Bishop and his diocese took TEC at its word and thus fended for itself.
Meanwhile nine active and retired bishops are to be ‘conciliated’ whatever that means. They too had the temerity to express in a document submitted to a secular court their views about TEC’s polity. Now there is a new rule that forbids such behavior. However the text of that rule doesn’t state that one may not express one’s opinion about TEC’s polity if it doesn’t conform to the views held by the leadership. The canonical text states clearly that no one may commit such a dreadful sin before secular courts. However those who have charged the offending bishops have themselves entered the secular courts and expressed their convictions about the nature of Episcopal Church polity!
I wish I could enter into the minds of those who have initiated such a daft process against Bishop Lawrence and the other bishops. Well, perhaps I don’t. What I do understand is that for many faithful Christians here and around the world, there seems to be exhibited a level of fanaticism normally associated with rather odd fringe sects and never with the rational, open, civilized Anglican world.
I have a suggestion. If +Mark Lawrence has “erred and strayed like a lost sheep” in fellowship with his diocese, if the nine other bishops need ‘conciliation’, then go search for them, find them and bring them home rejoicing.
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