Florida bishop-elect responds to concerns over positions on race, sexuality

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The Rev. Charlie Holt, whose election as bishop coadjutor in the Diocese of Florida has been challenged on procedural and ideological grounds, responded to concerns raised by some Episcopalians about his positions on race, sexuality and church polity in a June 16 video message to members of the diocese and The Episcopal Church. Holt apologized for what he described as poor word choices and defended his record on engaging across cultures as a priest in the video, which comes after General Convention deputies filed a proposed resolution expressing concern about his election.

Holt’s May 14 election had immediately drawn criticism from some Episcopalians on social media over statements he made during diocesan Q&A events that they interpreted as insensitive or insulting to Black and LGBTQ+ people. The criticism grew to include a few past statements and his involvement with the American Anglican Council. On May 25, the Diocese of Florida announced that a formal objection to the election had been filed by delegates to the special election convention, alleging that the election was invalid due to last-minute rule changes and technical problems.

Resolution D097, filed on June 6 by three lay deputies from the dioceses of Central New York, the Central Gulf Coast and Delaware, refers specifically to the election process and indirectly to Holt’s statements. It “expresse[s] concern over the disputed election practices for the episcopal election in the Diocese of Florida specifically the disparity between accommodations made for clergy delegates to participate in remote voting that were not made for lay delegates who were required to vote in person only.”

It also proposes “that the 80th General Convention of the Episcopal Church finds the Rev. Charlie Holt’s public writings and comments concerning race incompatible with the teaching on racism of the Episcopal Church.” It does not specify which writings and comments, but “asks all diocesan standing committees to prayerfully pause, reflect, and review all available letters by those concerned and the writing and video responses of the Rev. Charlie Holt made available in the public domain.”

The resolution has been referred to the House of Deputies Ministry Committee and is scheduled to receive a public hearing on June 22.

General Convention, however, is not a part of the objection process, nor the usual consent process that the objection has disrupted. As required by church canons, the Diocese of Florida sent the objection to Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, who has indicated that he will refer the objection to the churchwide Court of Review on July 1. The court then has 30 days to write a report about the case and send it to all diocesan standing committees and bishops with jurisdiction. Then, within 120 days, a majority of each group must issue consent for a bishop-elect to be consecrated.

In the June 16 video, Holt did not address the election objection and has previously declined to comment on it, as he was not involved in organizing the election. The 7-and-a-half-minute video addresses the topics of race and sexuality, which he had previously discussed in a letter to the diocese the week after the election, and the diocese’s relationship with The Episcopal Church. It responds to the specific points raised by the leadership of the House of Deputies LGBTQ+ Caucus in a May 25 memo to its members and the General Convention Office expressing “grave concern” about his election.

“I greet you with excitement and gratitude for my recent election as bishop coadjutor in the Diocese of Florida,” Holt said, “but also with a sense of personal accountability and contrition for the concerns raised about some of my comments made during the election process.”

Some of the comments that the caucus leadership and others had objected to dealt with events that followed the 2012 shooting of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida. Holt was then serving as rector of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church and School in nearby Lake Mary, one of the closest churches to the site of the shooting. After Martin’s killing, Holt and a Black pastor started an interracial group dedicated to racial reconciliation. One of their ministries was to be “pastoral observers” at the trial of George Zimmerman, who killed Martin.

“I was seeking to express how humbled I was by the hospitality and welcome that I received as we came together as Black and white clergy, a level of welcome that did indeed challenge my implicit racial biases at the time,” Holt said in the video. “The experience was one of tremendous personal and spiritual growth. In expressing this, my words were clumsy. If any of you experienced my words as hurtful and less than Christ-like, I ask for your forgiveness.

“A larger message intended to be an example of inclusion was reduced to a soundbite suggesting that I support exclusion,” he continued. “This is false, but more importantly, it’s harmful, as it pushes us further from our shared goals of justice and reconciliation.”

Along with the video, the diocese shared a link to a series of letters written by four Black pastors in the Sanford area. Dated in late May and early June and addressed to the bishops and standing committees of The Episcopal Church, the letters defend Holt against allegations of racism and support his election as bishop.

Holt reiterated previous responses to concerns about his stance on LGBTQ+ acceptance in the church, saying that “parishes and rectors in the Diocese of Florida that choose to offer same-sex marriages will have them. Potential ordinands and employment candidates will be welcomed into discernment and calling processes based on their gifts and call to ministry, without discrimination.”

He also stressed that he would “abide by our shared polity,” respect theological differences and not pursue any schism with The Episcopal Church. He rejected the claim in the LGBTQ+ Caucus memo that he was a founding director of the American Anglican Council, which was formed in 1996 to oppose The Episcopal Church’s liberal positions on sexuality and other issues. The AAC was involved in the creation of the Anglican Church in North America; the leaders of several Episcopal dioceses left The Episcopal Church to join ACNA, taking churches and congregations with them. Holt said he served on the board of the Central Florida chapter of the AAC, but left the group when it “became legally adversarial to the diocese and sought to alienate their own congregations from The Episcopal Church.

“I have no desire to be, nor will I be part of a church that legalistically and systematically pursues doctrinal purity through division. I pray we do not become that and I am and will remain loyal to our church, as I hope each of us will,” he said.

Because of the objection process, Holt cannot consecrated on Oct. 8, as the diocese had originally scheduled. If he does eventually receive the required consents, his consecration would likely take place in early 2023.