By Michael Hunn 

In the first part of this series, I explained the role of bishops in the church and the function of the consent process. As I and my fellow bishops consider whether we should give consent to Charles Holt’s election as Bishop of Florida, we must keep these in mind. Throughout the concern is the unity and well-being of the church, not popular opinion or our political convictions. With that said, I now attempt to make my discernment visible, as I outline the reasons I’m inclined to withhold consent, as well as the reasons I’m inclined to give that consent.

Reasons for Withholding Consent

The first things that made me think I might withhold consent are the comments Father Holt made during the walkabouts. Bishops are called upon to speak often about questions that are thorny, tricky, nuanced, and difficult to discuss. We need bishops who do not speak “clumsily.” It was not just the particular words about sexuality and race but the attitude behind the sentiments that I still find objectionable.

Our church has room for people who take traditionalist views on Christian marriage, but in my view, and that of a good many in the Episcopal Church and beyond, in speaking of LGBTQ people, we are not “talking about sex,” but about identity. Hence, we are not talking about behavior, but about who people know themselves to be and accepting them as God made them, including supporting all people in their relationships with those they love. Bishops of our church today should realize these dynamics, even if they hold a different understanding. So, comparing the welcome owed to LGBTQ people to the welcome offered to a frat boy is not just clumsy.


When it comes to race, every bishop of the church today must understand why the death of Trayvon Martin might accurately be described as a modern-day lynching. Being part of the church today means having friends who are queer; it means knowing there is not a monolithic “Black church,” but many cultures of Anglicanism embodied by people of African descent. Asking “Who knows?” what a Black preacher might say in the pulpit is not the sort of thing a bishop of the church ought to say in private, let alone in public, let alone while in public discernment for episcopal ministry.

I imagine myself as a person of color or a queer person, and I wonder if I could ever see Father Holt as “my bishop.” We need bishops who joyfully embrace our God-given diversity, bishops who can say “all are welcome” without asterisks. Isn’t that what it means to “respect the dignity of every human being”? Bishops can and do say things that rub people the wrong way. What matters is what happens next. I wanted Father Holt to apologize without hedging, as he did in his most recent letter and video, when he implies that the hurt was partly caused by the editing of videos, rather than what he said. I have wanted him to meet with people of color in the Episcopal Church and to hear them. I have wanted him to meet with LGBTQ Episcopalians, and to do all of this publicly, because a bishop’s leadership is always public.

I was concerned when Father Holt was offered a job on the staff of the Bishop of Florida and even more concerned when he accepted it, especially as the Court of Review had not even formally examined the election. To me this was a clear error of judgment. It presumed that Father Holt would be a part of the life of the Diocese of Florida at a time when his election was not secured. It made the possibility of a fair second election remote.

I realize that clergy enter episcopal elections in their dioceses, and even while serving as canons to the ordinary they may succeed. But he was not on diocesan staff during the discernment before the election. He did not live in the diocese during the election. To take a job and a paycheck from a diocese where he had been elected but where the election was in doubt is the equivalent of moving into the White House before the election had been certified.

We need bishops who know what the right thing to do looks like and who know when something might be perceived as a conflict of interest. We need bishops who do the right thing, especially when it is difficult. It may be that Father Holt simply cannot be the bishop to unify the church in this moment because he has become a lightning rod.

If Father Holt has become a flashpoint that may not all be of his own doing, that is not the point. Leaders often have to act in the face of circumstances they did not create, but they must still speak and act for the good of the whole organization, and sometimes the best thing for the organization is for a leader to step aside.

Given all that has happened, and all the circumstances, is it actually fair to ask Father Holt to attempt to bring healing to a situation in which he has been so involved already? It may be that a bishop provisional or someone else might need to step in to lead us out of this current multilayered difficulty. If I withhold consent, these will be the reasons why.

Reasons for Giving Consent

The question before us is what might be done now to bring about the greatest possible healing and unity for the Diocese of Florida, its relationship with the rest of the Episcopal Church, and the relationship between the Episcopal Church and the rest of the Anglican Communion.

Perhaps Father Holt is exactly the person to unite the diocese and strengthen the ties between that diocese and the rest of us. I believe he is earnest and faithful. I am encouraged when he says he is a listener first, and when he says he wants to be the bishop for all the people of Florida. I believe him when he says he will abide by Resolution B012, when he says he does not intend to leave the Episcopal Church, and when he says he is willing to speak with anyone he has hurt.

While I might wish he knew more of what I think I know about racism and human sexuality, perhaps his views resonate with the people of Florida more than mine would. I can trust he will listen and learn from the listening process. Being in relationship changes who we are, and he may be just the person to strengthen the relationships that have been stressed during this process. I am relieved to hear that a formal process of listening and understanding, led by Bishop Mary Gray-Reeves, will be undertaken. If Father Holt was the person with the wisdom to call for that effort, that gives me confidence in his leadership.

Also, I know that being a bishop involves constant learning . If he is called by God and the church to be the Bishop of Florida, I have no doubt that God’s grace will make him the bishop he needs to be. I have no doubt about that because every day I watch as God makes the most of my imperfect words and actions. I am being molded into the bishop God needs me to be. We do not need to be perfect, either at the beginning or the end. But a bishop needs to be enough.

Consenting to this election might assure the Diocese of Florida, and those in the Anglican Communion, that there is room in our church for bishops who maintain a conservative view of Christian marriage. A great strength of the Episcopal Church now is that our church has made provision for those who disagree with the majority opinion. In matters of such seriousness, how much more so should those who were ordained before these changes were made continue to have a valued place among us. This is only right.

Consenting might also be the best thing for the unity of the Diocese of Florida and for its relationship with the Episcopal Church. It might strengthen our relationships with the rest of the Anglican Communion by showing that in spite of disagreements we walk together, not because we agree, but because God makes us one in Christ. And while practical consequences should not be weighted too heavily, I do worry about what will happen in and to the Diocese of Florida if this election does not stand. Would a provisional bishop be found who would be acceptable to the diocese? Who might that be? If the Standing Committee leads without a bishop for a period of years, would the next bishop, once ordained, care for a much smaller Diocese of Florida, or one bitterly opposed to the Episcopal Church?

We are a church that strives to ensure that all are welcome, a church in which our communion and our community are defined not by unanimous agreement in all things but the unity given to us by God in our common worship. We proclaim that our communion in Jesus Christ is a divine gift, and that in Jesus Christ we are made one people. These are not human achievements, but the action of God in Christ in our common baptism and in our participation in the Eucharist that makes the Church.

We do not mark the boundaries of our community ourselves; we let Jesus welcome everyone and we then do the hard work of figuring out how to love one another and live together, not as neighbors but as family. Finally, if the standard for consent is whether a candidate for bishop has said or taught anything contrary to Holy Scripture, the Creeds, or the doctrine of the Church, I do not see evidence that Father Holt has done so. If I give my consent, it will be because I think doing so will preserve the unity of the church, both in Florida and for the rest of us. It will be because I trust in the Holy Spirit to heal our wounds and make of all of us better, kinder people.

The final part of this essay will consider how we might improve our process to avoid painful situations like this in the future.

The Rt. Rev. Michael B. Hunn is Bishop of the Diocese of the Rio Grande.

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Ted Poppke
16 days ago

Hi, now do an analysis of how many Bishops and Priests were destroyed for being concerned about the election of Gene Robinson in 2003?

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x