Episcopal LGBTQ+ leaders raise objections to Diocese of Florida bishop election

Posted Feb 23, 2023

[Episcopal News Service] A group of more than 100 Episcopalians who identify themselves as part of the Episcopal LGBTQ+ Caucus has issued a letter outlining their objections to the election the Rev. Charlie Holt as bishop coadjutor of the Diocese of Florida, and they are asking bishops and standing committees across the church to withhold the consents that Holt would need to become bishop.

The objections repeat some of the concerns raised after Holt was first elected in May 2022, when some of his statements on racial relations and same-sex marriage drew new scrutiny. The churchwide Court of Review found separate problems with the diocese’s election procedures, and the election was later invalidated when Holt withdrew his acceptance of the result.

Holt was declared winner again at a second election in November 2022, but new complaints prompted another investigation by the Court of Review. Its findings, released last week, cast doubt on the fairness of any election in the Diocese of Florida, given the evidence it gathered of a pattern of anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination in how retiring Bishop John Howard granted canonical residency for priests.

The following is the text of the letter from the LGBTQ+ Caucus. The full letter and list of signatories can be found here.

An Open Letter on the Findings of the Court of Review

Dear Bishops and Standing Committees across the Episcopal Church,

In May of 2022, members of the LGBTQ+ caucus for GC80 raised deep concerns about the Reverend Charlie Holt’s election as Bishop Coadjutor in the Diocese of Florida. Since then, two investigations by the Court of Review have found that the Diocese of Florida and the Standing Committee repeatedly manipulated the election improperly resulting in the Reverend Holt’s reported election. They further found that both the Diocese of Florida and its Bishop, the Rt. Reverend Samuel J. Howard, have discriminated against LGBTQ+ people and our allies for years in a way that likely materially changed the election results.

These wider cultural issues within the diocese are particularly distressing to us as LGBTQ+ Episcopalians and raise more serious concerns and questions about the Reverend Holt’s possible episcopacy.

Per the findings of the court, LGBTQ+ people and affirming clergy face an uphill battle in acquiring licensing, canonical residence, and even access to the ordination process under Bishop Howard. Denial to any of these processes based on marital status, sexuality, and gender is in direct violation of churchwide canon, Canon III.1.2. The court further found that individuals, lay or clergy, who spoke in opposition faced retaliation and intimidation from both the Bishop and the diocesan staff.

Wishing to not restate the court’s opinion in full, we will simply reiterate the facts:

  • 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
  • This denial of canonical residence violated both diocesan and churchwide canons
  • At the Second Special Election Convention, the Rev. Holt was declared to have received a majority in the clergy order by one vote. Therefore, three votes could have changed the result of the election.
  • The Court of Review has determined that these circumstances constitute a voting irregularity and cast doubt on the integrity of the election process.

Such voting irregularities were not limited to the clergy order. The Court of Review additionally found that at least 11 eligible lay delegates were denied their right to seat, voice, and vote at the Second Special Election Convention. It is our opinion that, through an unconstitutional determination process for the rights of delegates instituted between elections, the Diocese of Florida sought to manipulate and weaponize their canons against their own members and parishes. And while there is no indication that these delegates were treated disparately due to disagreement with the Bishop, denial of seat, voice, and vote to duly elected delegates is voter disenfranchisement, a clear irregularity.

We cannot say whether these votes would have caused a fundamental change in the result of the vote in the lay order. However, we firmly agree with the Court of Review that such voter disenfranchisement, whether purposeful or not, casts serious doubt on the integrity of the election.

Therefore, it is clear from the Court of Review that the Diocese of Florida intentionally and systemically excluded and marginalized LGBTQ+ clergy and laypeople. We fear that the Reverend Holt’s election is the intended result of a system designed in the exclusion of LGBTQ+ voices and votes. Furthermore, we are forced to wonder whether this culture would continue under a Bishop Holt due to his previous offensive comments on gender and sexuality.

Finally, the Reverend Holt made a number of racially insensitive comments both in the clips circulated on Twitter following the May elections as well as in his follow-up communications to the diocese. As the caucus previously stated,

“To suggest that the discontent over the murder of Trayvon Martin was primarily about unsolved cases and not about the senseless killing of unarmed African Americans is simply beyond the pale. Likewise, to declare in his letter that “I will encourage all of our congregations to build strong Christian ties with their nearest Black congregation neighbors in other Christian denominations” without requiring that predominantly white congregations do their own anti-racism work first, is to invite both an undue burden upon Black congregations and fails to understand the impact of racism in our own systems.”

We believe that should he make good on this promise, it will likely cause more harm than good, thus endangering the work of racial healing and justice across the church. Therefore, we maintain the caucus’ endorsement of General Convention Resolution 2022-D097 and all that lies within it despite the House of Bishops voting to take no further action.

The Reverend Holt has had nine months to respond to these concerns and has done little beyond promising what is canonically required of him.

In fact, the Reverend Holt has made no public apology, reckoning, or amends regarding his offensive comments about race, sexuality, or gender as of February 21, 2023. Furthermore, he has made no significant visible effort to atone for his long history of causing pain to the LGBTQ+ community despite having every opportunity to do so. Worst of all, he has made no effort to heal the wounds he has caused to the LGBTQ+ community in the Diocese of Florida.

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.