The Very Rev. Mark Lawrence was elected to succeed a retiring Episcopal bishop who opposes the ordination of gay clergy. By a majority vote, Lawrence was chosen to lead a South Carolina diocese that had stood at the brink of disassociation from the Episcopal Church.
Lawrence, rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Parish in Bakersfield, Calif., was elected on Sept. 16 to replace the Rt. Rev. Edward L. Salmon as the 14th bishop of South Carolina under which relationships have been strained by church actions over homosexuality. The diocese rejected the authority of the Episcopal Church's presiding bishop and requested for alternative primatial oversight.
The search process for the next bishop took months as some leaders called it an "extraordinarily difficult time to be a bishop." Lawrence was one of three nominees to replace the vocal opponent of homosexuality and was elected on the first ballot.
In an interview with the Anglican Communion Network, Lawrence said the fundamentals of the Christian ministry are key for church growth. His comment comes at a time when the homosexual issue is slowly eroding Episcopal membership with dioceses leaving the denomination.
Lawrence’s present diocese, San Joaquin, and South Carolina have both requested for a new overseer. They were two of eight dioceses so far that have made the request to the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, who acts as the “first among equals” in the worldwide Anglican Communion. In an article, Lawrence explained the request of his diocese, saying "it is because all due parliamentary procedure to convince The Episcopal Church that it has erred has proved fruitless."
"Like an addictive or dysfunctional family, this exclusive pursuit of 'cultural sensitivity' has led to destructive behavior," he added. "Underneath all the discussions of human sexuality, our message is this: The Episcopal Church, in its obsession to be what it has termed inclusive, has excluded the absolute priority of Holy Scripture and the historic continuity of the catholic faith."
After the Episcopal Church confirmed its first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, in 2003, the Diocese of South Carolina passed a resolution saying the national church exceeded its authority in ratifying Robinson's election and the national church policy allowing the blessing of same-sex “marriages” would have no effect in the parishes in the diocese.
Lawrence had served on the committee for the Consecration of Bishops at the 2003 General Convention. He wrote a minority report in opposition of Robinson’s consecration and explained, "It did not come from any animus toward gay or lesbian persons, but, rather, from convictions thought through while seeking to be faithful to scripture, tradition, reason, and pastoral experience," according to the Diocese of South Carolina.
Bishop-elect Lawrence will assume fulltime duties early next year.