Ohio standing committee withholds consent to Florida bishop election

By Solange De Santis

Episcopal Journal and Cafe

The Diocese of Ohio announced on May 10 that its standing committee is withholding consent to the election of the Rev. Charlie Holt as bishop coadjutor (bishop with right of succession) in the Diocese of Florida.

According to Episcopal Church canons, a bishop-elect must receive approval from a majority of diocesan standing committees and bishops, usually a routine matter. It is highly unusual for a diocese to announce its standing committee decision during the process. In the Jacksonville-based Florida diocese, there were two elections at which Holt was elected, in May and November 2022, and the 120-day consent period ends July 20. If Holt’s election does not received the required consents, he cannot be consecrated diocesan bishop and the election is void.

In a statement, Ohio’s standing committee said it had “spent considerable time reading dozens of communications and documents regarding the election, each reflecting various perspectives and opinions.” It cited three main reasons for its decision:

  • The Diocese of Florida has a long history of discrimination and disenfranchisement of LGBTQ+ clergy and laity. Policies and practices put in place by the current bishop (the Rt. Rev. Samuel Johnson Howard) have made it inherently impossible for a truly fair and inclusive election to take place in the diocese.
  • The Rev. Charlie Holt’s understanding of and commitment to the Episcopal Church’s Becoming Beloved Community is not clear. On June 15, 2022, The Consultation (a collaboration of progressive organizations within The Episcopal Church) reflected on the House of Bishops Theology Committee’s report entitled White Supremacy, the Beloved Community, and Learning to Listen. The Consultation’s letter states: “We would like to be assured that all our diocesan bishops, as our primary teachers and pastors, have a better-than-average understanding of the theological teachings related to our church’s stated commitment to become Beloved Community. A bishop who can lead and teach on the issue of racism is critically important.” The Rev. Holt’s comments do not support his ability to do this hard work of leadership.
  • A cleric is not ordained solely as the bishop of a single diocese but rather as a bishop of the whole church. The roles of a bishop include pastor to all and unifier of the church. As recently as last year, the Rev. Holt has made statements that have been hurtful not only to the LGBTQ community but also to our communities of color. As a Standing Committee, we are charged with testifying that we know of no impediment to ordination. We cannot in good faith agree that someone who has caused such pain should now be ordained as bishop, pastor, and unifier of the wider church.

Ohio Standing Committee President Pam O’Halloran told The Living Church magazine that the committee made the public announcement because of the high level of interest within the Diocese of Ohio. Asked if the announcement was an attempt to persuade other bishops and standing committees, she said “that was not the intention. We were communicating with our diocese.”

The Rev. Charlie Holt is the Diocese of Florida’s bishop-elect. Photo/Diocese of Florida

Holt responded to the Ohio diocese’s actions in a message posted on the Diocese of Florida website.

“The Diocese of Ohio’s standing committee suggests that it could not consent to my election because the composition of the electorate has been corrupted by the diocese’s current bishop. How long must a diocese that finds itself in this situation go without a bishop before the electorate in the diocese is suitably reconstituted? What criteria will be used in judging when it is sufficiently reconstituted? How shall that diocese be governed in the meantime?” Holt wrote.

“The standing committee questions my commitment to racial justice based on a video edited and circulated online by opponents to my election but makes no mention of numerous publicly available sources testifying to my extensive effort to bring people together across racial divides in volatile situations to advance the cause of peace and justice. How will the church adjudicate situations in which future bishops-elect are subject to vigorous social media-based opposition based on partial and misleading information?” he added.

Florida Standing Committee President Joe Gibbes, who emphasized he was speaking only for himself, told The Living Church by email that “if the majority of the wider church is ultimately shown to be more aligned with the position of Ohio’s standing committee than with Florida’s faithful discernment about mission and ministry in our own context, we will certainly need the prayers, wisdom, and support of the wider church as we help the majority of our diocese come to terms with the fact that the Episcopal Church is unable to honor their discernment.”