Dioceses Have Rights, Too
By The Rev. Lauren Stanley

Ten names of bishops-elect have been put forward for consent by the General Convention from dioceses north and south, east and west. Nine of those bishops-elect will go forward with little discussion. The 10th, as we all know, is the subject of vociferous debate, here and abroad.

That debate focuses mainly on the issue of human sexuality, pitting the unity of the church vs. the cry for justice, the conservatism of the right vs. the liberalism of the left. But those arguments miss the point, which is, do dioceses have the right to choose the person they want to serve as their bishop in that time and place?

Our polity gives dioceses the right to make certain decisions, one of which is the election of a bishop, according to the churchís Constitution and Canons.

When such an election comes before the church for consent, the church is asked to ascertain whether the diocese acted appropriately to elect its new bishop.

If the General Convention were to refuse to consent to the election of a bishop ñ of any bishop ñ then the church would be telling an individual diocese that it both knows better than the people of that diocese and it is willing to deprive that diocese of its right to make its own canonical decisions.

The Convention only once before has refused consent to an election, way back in 1874. Even so, the Rev. George F. Seymour became a bishop four years later in another diocese. In 1989, when the Rev. Barbara Harris was elected bishop in Massachusetts , many said the church was not ready, but consent was given anyway, because the people of the diocese had spoken.

Even in 1988, when San Joaquin elected the Rev. John-David Schofield; in 1993, when Fort Worth elected the Rev. Jack L. Iker; and in 1994, when Quincy elected the Rev. Keith L. Ackerman, many said the church should not consent due to canonical objections to their stance on womenís ordination. But consent was given in each case anyway, because the people of the diocese had spoken.

The reality we face on ordination is that some priests are not acceptable to one diocese and still find access to ordination in another. Is that any less true for a bishop?

The Church needs to be clear, as it debates episcopal consents: We have no agreed-upon theology or clear doctrine on sexuality. As long as there are no canonical impediments, the Church should not to treat dioceses like children, incapable of making their own decisions, but rather should uphold the diocesesí right to choose for themselves the person they believe is appropriate for them, in that time, in that place.

Published by CENTER AISLE, A web service of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia

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5/7/04 -j