Trust vs. Mistrust: Can we find a way through?

There is an interesting (slightly) controversy brewing over the election of a bishop for the Diocese of South Carolina (see Episcopal Life Online) In brief, the convention of the diocese has re-elected Mark Lawrence after his first election failed to garner the required approvals of a majority of standing committees and bishops exercising jurisdiction. In March of this year, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori declared the first election "null and void," saying that a number of the consent responses did not adhere to canonical requirements. His second election was unopposed.

In their defense, many dioceses claim to reject Lawrence because of his "right" leaning, conservative theology. In this day and age of parish splits, property disputes, flying bishops, and bishops violating the juridical authority of one another, the question on everybody's mind is (to badly quote The Clash) "will he stay or will he go?" Will Mark lead his diocese further into CANA, or will he remain faithful to the Episcopal Church?

Why do we even have to ask these questions? We are suffering from a serious trust issue in the Episcopal Church... and for good reason. This is not the first time that this issue has come up.

At the 210th Annual Council of the Diocese of Virginia (2005), what should have been a pro-forma approval of Parish Status for then-mission Church of the Word in Gainesville, VA turned into a heated debate due to the uncertainty of the intentions of the church and it's vicar, Robin Adams. Robin claimed that he had no "intention" of leading Church of the Word out of the Episcopal Church, and despite the many delegates who stood and voiced opposition to the change in status, the majority of council believed the emotional pleas and promises and voted to approve the move. (See The Virginia Episcopalian for more details).

I'm sure that you have already guessed, but in January of this year Robin lead Church of the Word out of the Episcopal Church and into the hands of CANA - against his pledges and promises otherwise. Apparently, when someone says that they have no "intention" of doing something, it probably means that they don't "want" to do it, but will do it if they "have" to. I suspect the same to be true here in the case of Mark Lawrence.

But that's the problem. I'm suspicious. I don't want to be. I want to give Mark and the Diocese of South Carolina the benefit of the doubt, just as the people of Virginia did with Robin and Church of the Word. But when people are lying through their teeth how can we believe each other? What does "mutual submission" (from the Windsor Report) mean when deceit and deception are more operative than fidelity and trust? Mark Lawrence may be the most trustworthy man in the Episcopal Church, and he really might be telling the truth, but it's too late - we've already headed well below the suspicion threshold.

I turn back to my freshman Psych 101 class - to the wisdom of Erik Erikson and Abraham Maslow.

Anyone who has ever seen or studied Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs knows that one of the most basic needs is that of safety and security. Likewise, Erikson claimed that the most basic dichotomy that systems have to conquer is "trust vs. mistrust". These two issues are similar in nature - trust and safety go hand-in-hand. The failure of the Episcopal Church, and here I include the dissident groups (CANA, AMiA, and the like) is to assume the "relationship" - meaning to assume that the relationship will continue despite our differences. The failure is akin to a marriage where the husband or wife threatens divorce every time the other bounces a check or forgets to pick up the dry cleaning. You can't assume that the relationship will continue under threats of schism, and without the assurance of relationship we are forced to be suspicious of the "other" for fear of being hurt. Safety, Security, Trust.

The response of the various dioceses and bishops to the first election of Mark Lawrence is symptomatic of our most basic needs, and we should not feel sorry for it.

It is my observation that the majority of Episcopalians would be willing to remain in relationship, no matter what. It isn’t because of some flaw in our theology, or because we value unity over orthodoxy. It’s because we recognize the importance of staying together and growing together in conversation. I don’t remember anything in the Gospel about conformity, and if you can point it out to me I’d be happy to see it. With all of the threats of divorce in the church, how can we have an honest conversation?

We can’t. And we won’t.

We must establish security before we can trust each other. Once we have established trust, we can begin to heal.

Assume the relationship.

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