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Election of Florida Bishop met with further protests

03 March 2023

LGBTQ Christians and Deputies of Color call for appointment to be blocked


The Revd Charlie Holt

The Revd Charlie Holt

MORE than 100 LGBTQ Christians, and steering groups of ethnic caucuses in the Episcopal Church have urged bishops and standing committees in the Episcopal Church in the United States to block the appointment of the Revd Charlie Holt as Bishop Coadjutor of the diocese of Florida.

Open letters from LGBTQ Christians and an umbrella group known as the Deputies of Color were published this week. Last month, the Church’s Court of Review ruled that a longstanding pattern of discrimination against LGBTQ clergy by the serving bishop of Florida, the Rt Revd John Howard, had undermined the integrity of the election process for his replacement (News, 24 February).

The letter from LGBTQ Christians says: “At least three clergy people were denied their right to canonical residence due to the disparate treatment of LGBTQ+ people and their allies under the current Bishop”, and were therefore denied a vote in the election. As Mr Holt was elected by a majority of just one by clergy, the three votes “could have changed the course of the election”, it suggests.

The letter also criticises what it describes as “racially insensitive” statements from Mr Holt and his “long history of causing pain to the LGBTQ+ community.

“For those reasons, and in solidarity with the many across the diocese of Florida, particularly the LGBTQ+ Episcopalians there who have objected vociferously throughout the last year, we urge all dioceses and bishops to deny consent to this election,” the letter states. Every episcopal appointment in the US Episcopal Church has to be ratified nationally.

A second letter from the steering committees of the House of Deputies’ four ethnic caucuses — Asian/Pacific Islander Caucus, the Black Caucus, the Indigenous Caucus, and the Latino Caucus — has asked for the “truth of this trauma inflicted on our LGBTQIA+ siblings and people of color, so that we can repair the breach and make room for a time of healing in the Diocese of Florida”.

Their letter asks the wider Episcopal Church to urge Mr Holt to withdraw his acceptance of the position of bishop-elect, and urges the immediate retirement of Bishop Howard.

“The diocese’s pain reverberates throughout the entire Church,” it says.

The election of Mr Holt has been nullified once, and had to be re-run last November (News, 25 November 2022); but further objections were lodged immediately afterwards, resulting in the Court of Review’s investigation and judgment, which is not binding on the diocese. The diocese suggested last week that it would press ahead with obtaining consents from the wider Episcopal Church to allow Mr Holt’s appointment to go ahead.

Clergy who were denied canonical residence by Bishop Howard have spoken to the Episcopal News Service, saying that they were told that the diocese would not ordain people who were partnered and gay. The Revd Susan Gage, who is now ordained and married to her wife in the diocese of Georgia, said: “This whole situation is very sad.”

In 1994, the Episcopal Church prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation when the General Convention approved an addition to the canons on ministry, which says: “No one shall be denied access to the selection process for ordination in this Church because of race, color, ethnic origin, sex, national origin, marital status, sexual orientation, disabilities or age.

Bishop Howard’s conservative views on sexuality are well-known and recorded. In his speech to the diocesan convention after his election in 2004, recorded in the minutes, he said: “Let me be clear, I am a theological conservative.

“As bishop of this diocese, I will support and lift up the institution of marriage. And so long as I am bishop of this diocese, none in an active homosexual relationship — or any other sexual relationship outside of marriage — will be ordained or admitted into the process for ordination.’

Bishop Howard will reach the mandatory retirement age of 72 in September. The Bishop Coadjutor would then have taken over as diocesan bishop.

The diocese of Florida’s steering group released a letter to the diocese on Tuesday. It says: “Both the Standing Committee and the Rev. Charlie Holt are resolute in the decision to ask for consent to the November 19 election. However, given the circumstances we know we can’t just ask for consent in the usual way. We must find a way to make our case to the Standing Committees and Bishops of the Episcopal Church in a way that is clear, concise, confident, and canonically sound.

“They must understand our context and our challenges, and understand why the majority of the Diocese of Florida believes that the Rev. Charlie Holt is the priest God has called to lead us at this fractured time.

“We are ever mindful that we must make this request in such a way that will help the Diocese of Florida and the Episcopal Church begin to heal from the conflict of the last several months and move towards the peace that God intends for us.”

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