Yesterday, the Court of Review of The Episcopal Church issued a report on the election of Charlie Holt to bishop of northeast Florida and events surrounding and contributing to the ongoing protest of his election. In true Anglican fashion, it’s highly-structured and has a got a chanting-the-psalter feel to it, with “These findings cast doubt on the integrity of the election process,” as the refrain. The diocese has responded , and there’s a few patterns and themes that emerge when the two are read together. The diocese has promised a more thorough defense, and I’d imagine it will be reflective of what is to come. The Court’s findings show that the bishop and diocese have employed denial, disenfranchisement, and disparagement to arrive at a predetermined outcome.
Denial: The Bishop and Diocese Denied Claims the Court Found True
According to yesterday’s diocesan response, the report is a hodgepodge of speculation, errors, and unreliable testimony by approximately a dozen priests/candidates for ordination. I’m not gonna’ lie, I’m very interested to see how they counter this with documented claims in their rebuttal. Quantity is not everything, but quantity and quality combine to form something hard to discredit. But, the diocese has been denying allegations – largely, not all, but largely – substantiated by the Court of Review.
For example, On Jan 5, 2023, the Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor of the Diocese sent a response to official inquiry, stating:
Then, on Jan 11, 2023, Bishop Howard denies in the strongest language possible that there is no LGBTQ discrimination afoot in his diocese:
The Court of Review, however, made just a wee bit of a different determination:
“We find that multiple clergy who were otherwise entitled to vote in the election were denied that right due to disparate treatment in the granting of canonical residence. This action constituted an irregularity in the election process which could have affected the outcome of the vote in the clergy order. Furthermore, our interviews suggest a pattern and practice of LGBTQ clergy and those who opposed the Bishop’s stated views not being treated equally with similarly situated clergy in the securing and exercising of their rights to ordination, licensing and the granting of canonical residency.” – The Report, p.14
I want to stop here, and drill down on five aspects of these two very different accounts.
- The Bishop and Diocese are asked if they “intentionally treat LGBQT clergy differently in making the decision about allowing them canonically residency.”
- Their response is an unequivocal “no” and to answer the question in entirety provide a list of priests who applied for residency. (The Report, p. 115-119). Look through the list, and you will not find the names of any identifiable “out” or allied priests. It looks like transparency, but it’s actually smoke and mirrors, because
- The Court determined the testimony of almost a dozen people reliable. Commonalities included:
- Bishop Howard would delay and/or reschedule meetings with LGBTQ and affirming priests concerning their residency
- Those face-to-face meetings allegedly include very, exceedingly right bishop not only denying them residency, but reminding them of his power, and emphasizing their need to be re-certified yearly. And
- Others in the bishop’s orbit reaffirmed the bishop’s position as de facto diocesan position. So,
- LGBTQ and allied priests were not able to petition the diocese for residency without fear of retribution. Therefore,
- The lack of the aforementioned priest’s names on the lists was in no way proof of the bishop or diocese’s innocence. It was a smokescreen for their guilt.
This is so sleazy it should make your skin crawl. A church wanting to hire an affirming priest couldn’t even get time with the bishop. He, and his enablers, put up a wall to keep out those they didn’t want. If they managed to sneak over, they were reminded they were on thin ice. The bishop denies in his statement that he demanded celibacy in exchange for residency, but 1) the Court disputes that and 2) such a requirement would be wholly consistent with his very public theological resistance to the Episcopal Church’s official affirming stance. I find his denial, like the others, nearly impossible to believe. But, I do believe in resurrection, so I’ll look forward to hearing his miraculously inconsistent (maybe new?) position on LGBTQ priests in which he says that he does not believe that celibacy is required of them to exercise ordained ministry.
Disenfranchisement: The Deck was Stacked
The Court also finds a series of moves made before elections that at least could have influenced the elections’ outcomes. The long running rejection of LGBTQ and affirming priests described above, “may also have contributed to and influenced the determination of which clergy were deemed eligible to vote at the Second Special Election Convention and, accordingly, its results.” They go on to point out “the bishop’s election was determined by the margin of a single vote.” (The Report, p.14, emphasis mine). Man, I can’t help but wonder if the votes of a dozen or so affirming priests might have made caused Rev. Holt – who is far from an advocate for LGBTQ ordination or marriage – to lose that first election…???
But, the disenfranchisement didn’t stop there. The diocese, whether by design or egregious mistake, was found to have changed the voting requirements in such a way that those changes again “may” have impacted the election. These changes were “fundamentally unfair,” as they stripped “duly elected delegates “of seat, voice, and vote” (The Report, p.25).
The diocese has responded that it will fight the Court’s findings to preserve “the will of the majority of the Diocese of Florida.” Again, we should stop to note that
- The majority was handcrafted by the discriminatory practices of the diocese, and
- While the preservation of majority is crucial, it must be preserved alongside the rights of the minority: rights to residency and to every delegate’s vote being counted.
In completely unrelated news, I set the following motion before my wife and two kids: “Adult men no longer have to do chores in the house.” Everyone with a driver’s license was allowed to vote, so the kids unfortunately couldn’t participate, and my wife couldn’t make the election I rescheduled for her busiest work day, so only I could vote. The motion passed unanimously, with 1 out of 1 votes cast in the affirmative.
Disparagement: The Diocese Plays the Victim while Casting Doubt on Victims and the Court
Rarely are books so well-researched and descriptive that they become de facto predictive, but Wade Mullen’s Something’s not Right, an excellent book on how abusive organizations use “impression management” to skirt accountability, is one of those books. His book, which was published in 2019, could have told you how the Diocese of Florida would respond to dissent and challenge in 2022-2023. Victimizers make a two-fold claim:
- We didn’t do anything wrong.
- “the goal of the Standing Committee will be to tell the truth to the glory of God, as has been our aim all along.”
- often in absolutist language: “All of your diocesan leaders have sought to comply with the requests of the Court at every step…it presents a danger to every bishop and diocese in the Episcopal Church.”
- and for the good of others, not themselves: “your Standing Committee will continue fighting to uphold your right to choose our next bishop.”
- In fact the people who caught us are the bad guys.
- Their investigation was too deep and wide: “ranging far beyond its mandate, [the Court of Review] speculated—based on a faulty grasp of diocesan policies and practices..
- They didn’t name the people we’ve scared the crap out of for the last decade: “a number of anonymous allegations—reported so vaguely they cannot be independently verified…”
- And it’s all because they had an ax to grind: “the Court appears to have sought to ensure the failure”
This is pretty textbook for toxic systems. (In addition to Mullen, you should also check out McKnight and Barringer’s A Church Called Tov where they go into to these immoral tactics as well.) They build themselves up while simultaneously tearing others down to try to convince others that they stand high above their opponents on a pillar of integrity. It’s what politicians and corporations do when they get busted. It should have no place in the church, and is antithetical to Jesus’ embodiment of truth, his warnings to the religious powers of his day, and his ministry to those who the powerful had harmed. At this point, this only ends in one of two ways. Holt gets seated, and has an ineffective bishopric or the diocese gets an interim, cleans house, and tries to sit a duly elected bishop with duly elected delegates. Either way, the denial, disenfranchising tactics, and disparagement of objectors employed by Bishop Howard and the Diocese of Florida should serve as a dire warning to anyone who would seek to callously use power and craft false narratives: what’s done in the darkness will be brought to the light. Like the diocese says, the truth is for the glory of God.
3 thoughts on “Whose Glory? The Tragedy Unfolding in the Diocese of Florida”
As a former member of thè Diocese of Florida (I was baptized, confirmed, ordained, married, and served at two different times there) I am appalled that this state of affairs exists. I pray for a resolution that is faithful and just.
I too was a canonically resident priest in the Diocese of Florida. In January 2016, our Bishop visited Holy Comforter in Tallahassee since there appeared to be some discrepancies going on. After speaking to both of us separately, I was told that my husband should be laicized, but my husband was retiring so Bishop decided not follow through. Six months later, my ex-husband was married in the same church that he and I served in. I was told by the Canon to the Ordinary that my ex-husband would never be standing behind a pulpit again, but he supplied in Quincy. When I wrote to the Bishop and the Canon to the Ordinary regarding my feelings on what transpired, they found a loophole, I was canonically resident in Albany, NY, and would not receive me back as a priest in Florida. I believe this is called ” brushing it all under the rug'”. I am appalled and hurt and have not actively served since 2016.
The United Methodist Church is no longer united and breaking into pieces now fighting over buildings and land while leaving pastors in limbo…SSDD