Lessons From Upper South Carolina: A Few Notes About How TEC Bishop Elections Work
One thing that has been quite interesting over the past several months of my watching this process in Upper South Carolina is to get an idea of how Episcopal elections have worked over the past 30 years—and how they have changed.
Here are a few notes for your insight and review as you approach Episcopal elections—for every defeat and every victory is an opportunity for learning.
—In the old days, the laity had very very few connections outside of their parish. Few within the diocese, fewer still within other dioceses. So it was difficult to discover much about bishop candidates, either from sources within those candidates’ dioceses or from their writings and other information. Obviously, that has changed drastically for the better. Laity are now afforded massive amounts of excellent-quality information if they have the knowledge and means to seek it. Unfortunately—as is apparent today—it is often the case that laypeople do not have that knowledge or means. This means that they must depend on their clergy for information.
—The rise and escalation of informal lay networks and the Internet, with access to emails and blogs, leads to inevitable attempts at control and decrying of such networks and blogs by clergy to their laity. Laity are often told not to read the blogs—of course, those blogs are ill-informed and not to be trusted. It is made a spiritual matter when clergy piously announce that they are not reading blogs and others shouldn’t either. But that’s all about control of communication channels, and little to do with spirituality—although certainly clergy are willing to claim spiritual reasons for their self-serving goals. I should add that, for all of the decrial of “the internets” by our Clerical Baghdad Bob’s, a group of some 15 clergy in this diocese had a lovely private FaceBook page.
—In the old days, clergy organized amongst themselves, spreading information to one another in networks via phone and conversations and visits. They were the ones with the privileged information—and the laity were dependent on them for that information or what little was given to them. Blogging and social networks greatly threaten that old monopoly of communication that clergy once owned.
—In the old days, a responsible committed layperson went to walkabouts, and went away thinking mainly about personality “fit” for the diocese. It was difficult to get real information about the theology of the candidates through the walkabout system—how did one even know what to ask when one was unaware of the clergy records—and all that one was left with was “he seemed like a nice enough fellow” or “he seemed somewhat testy or cold.”
—In the present day, laypeople are far more aware of what they have gotten in a new bishop and much much earlier too. A good chunk of laity in this diocese—30% or more is my estimate based on the ballots—are crystal clear about the revisionist theology and stances of Andrew Waldo. In the old days, one would have had to wait until at least the next General Convention and be “surprised and shocked” by the stance of the bishop, or just permanently confused and muddled until “clarity” of insight about the bishop’s theology was received over a decade or more of experience.
Now there is great clarity in communication about the stances in advance of the arrival of a new bishop. In all three of the last episcopal elections in Southern dioceses, large chunks of laity won’t be caught by surprise—they know already what their bishop believes.
As a result, Episcopal elections are now much more “divisive”—to use a favorite word of revisionists when describing the clarity that comes from knowledge of facts and belief. People don’t go into elections thinking “one’s as good as another” or “if I don’t get my guy, it’s no big deal.” Now, to be true, that hasn’t been the case for revisionists for 20 something years. Though they may have pretended ease and calm and unconcern in the public eye, every election was and is of vital importance to them, as it serves to either advance or hinder their agenda. The only difference is that it’s now true for informed traditionalists in The Episcopal Church as well.
—It’s interesting. The move, logistically, by diocesan staff and other authorities is to attempt to “slow down” elections. I heard from one old-timer who attended the election of our previous bishop—they had a new bishop by about 3.30 and had gone through five ballots.
Even without the logistical irritations of yesterday [only one ballot taken by lunch in the midst of some unfortunate lengthy frills and furbelows], the schedulers had planned for only two ballots to be taken by 12.30 p.m. and then a lunch break. This is a pattern of many Episcopal elections now in TEC—and the only thing I can think is that they want to get people to throw up their hands and just “go ahead and agree on somebody” to beat the traffic and weather. In the case of DUSC they didn’t have to do that—Think of this as the Rowan Williams tactic as well—recall that in most of his important meetings he attempts to put off the important decisions—as with Dar and Lambeth to name only two—until the very last day or two, such that “discussion and decision time” run out and people are in haste to catch their planes and get home.
—Many revisionist clergy lie—a lot—so desperate are they to counter certain bishop candidates that they find threatening. I don’t know if that’s the way it was 30 years ago—I wasn’t around.
But here’s a few examples of bald-faced lies told consistently by some revisionist clergy in this diocese.
1) Concerning an interview with Neal Michell in which he states something along the lines of “we traditionalists should be willing to stay in TEC even if we are ashamed—shame is not the end of the world—after all, Hosea was shamed by Gomer and yet was commanded by God to stay with her.”
I literally received an email with a link to that interview with a line that said that Neal Michell wants to take the diocese out of TEC.
Of course, Neal Michell wants the opposite—he wants people to stay in TEC. And the article itself said the precise same thing—he hopes people will stay in TEC.
But the people sending that email and spreading that word were lying. And it’s hard to beat lies.
2) Desperate to counter Smith’s strength in Louisiana, revisionists spread the word that Smith’s wife was literally going to refuse to move to Louisiana if Smith was elected. As a result, the moment that rumors were started here in this diocese that Michell’s wife did not wish to move to South Carolina, all of us recognized the pattern of The Deliberate Lie.
3) Lies about both Burwell and Michell, stating that they did not support women’s ordination.
Burwell has a female clergy member on his staff, has sponsored two women for ordination to the Commission on Ministry, has served on the Standing Committee and voted to approve female clergy, and has laid hands on women [the clergy are invited to do that in that diocese].
Neal Michell recruited the diocese’s Canon for Church Planting, who is a female priest. He placed an interim priest who is a woman in a parish—and helped the parish decide to keep her as their permanent rector just recently. He voted for plenty of women who have come through the Commission on Ministry. He sponsored one woman for the priesthood himself. He has frequently recommended women on a regular basis to help them with deployment.
But still, despite the truth and the facts, the revisionist clergy continued to lie over and over and over and over and over.
Most perniciously, one female associate rector in a large parish in the Diocese of Dallas—who clearly had to know Neal’s record regarding women’s ordination—took it upon herself to contact numerous clergy in this diocese and lie to them herself, claiming that Neil did not support women’s ordination. I won’t name her in this post—but anyone from Dallas who wishes to know may email me and I will be glad to share her name, as it’s important for you to know what kind of priest you have in that diocese.
Ironically, their support for women’s ordination and for staying in TEC has earned them the ire of other conservative Episcopalians and Anglicans.
This last point about clergy lying—deliberately and malevolently in order to cause others not to vote for the candidates which they fear—is a hard one for me to stomach. Revisionist heresies are one thing. Major character flaws are another.
But I will have to now acknowledge that if you are speaking with a revisionist clergyperson in TEC, and something that he is saying is helpful to his own goals, you need to recognize that he or she may simply be . . . lying. I would lay it 50% odds, now, knowing what I now know after the past several months of watching emails fly through cyberspace and hearing from laypeople and clergy.
Understand, many revisionists are honorable people, however wrong in their theology, and have excellent character. But I think now I’ll have to grant that the percentage of Episcopal revisionists who will blatantly and unashamedly lie is remarkably high. We need to remember that not only with bishops and clergy but with all the various press releases and communications issued by Episcopal news organizations, political activist groups like Integrity, and various other revisionist Episcopal groups and associations. They could simply be straightforwardly lying. If a revisionist states even the most basic of facts—like “we have 20,000 members”—it’s best to look that up before responding.
One just never knows.
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