After a big news event, reporters will sometimes reconstruct the timeline of events that led up to it. This is called the “tick tock.” (You can see an example of it in this reporting on the announcement of the Paul Ryan selection in August.) Sometimes, the tick tock is only to satisfy the truly voracious news hounds. Other times, it can be revealing.
As I’ve been sitting with the news of the inhibition of Mark Lawrence, the bishop of South Carolina, I’ve been puzzled by the timeline of events that led up to it. So I thought I’d try to reconstruct it and see if we can learn anything from it. Here’s what I’ve come up with, based on publicly-available documents.
September 18: The Disciplinary Board of Bishops writes a letter saying they’ve concluded Bishop Lawrence has abandoned the Episcopal Church.
September 18: The Standing Committee of the Diocese of South Carolina meets. The bishop is apparently asked a series of questions by the standing committee.
October 2: The Standing Committee of the Diocese of South Carolina passes a motion that they will disassociate with the Episcopal Church if anything happens to their bishop. This, apparently, is based on answers to their questions they received from the bishop.
October 3: The Presiding Bishop, Bishop Lawrence, and Bishop Andrew Waldo of the Diocese of Upper South Carolina meet to discuss their differences and seek some sort of workable plan for the future.
October 10: The Presiding Bishop is notified—via a letter in the mail—of the Disciplinary Board of Bishops’ decision.
October 15: The Presiding Bishop calls Bishop Lawrence and tells him he’s being inhibited.
October 17: Everything becomes public. The rest of us find out.
What is unclear to me is the meeting on October 3. Did Bishop Lawrence know that his Standing Committee had passed the automatic withdrawal motion? (Presumably he was at the meeting: there’s been nothing to indicate otherwise.) Did the Presiding Bishop know of the Disciplinary Board of Bishops’ decision in that meeting? (For that matter, when the Standing Committee passed the motion did they know of the Disciplinary Board of Bishops’ decision?)
Although I want to take everyone at their word, it strains credulity to think given this age of instant, always-on communication, not to mention the magnitude of the charges the Disciplinary Board of Bishops was preparing to make public, that at the October 3 meeting, neither the Presiding Bishop nor Bishop Lawrence had a hint of what was coming.
The resulting picture of that meeting is not that pretty. The Presiding Bishop and Bishop Lawrence get together to seek reconciliation. At least one—Bishop Lawrence—if not both have in their back pocket an “out” card. If this doesn’t go my way, each could say, I have the means to end this conversation, either by quitting the church or inhibiting. It’s like two gunfighters circling each other, each saying to the other, “Go ahead: make my day.”
And that, needless to say, is not how reconciliation works.