The Bishop Candidates: The Reverend David. F. O. Thompson

The Reverend David F. O. Thompson is Rector of St. Bartholomew’s, North Augusta, South Carolina. He has been part of the Diocese of Upper South Carolina since his arrival at St. Bartholomew’s and during his long ministry there St. Bartholomew’s has grown into a solid, mature Christian ministry. [Full disclosure: I have known Fr. Thompson for a number of years, and though we are not close, I have always found him to be thoughtful, kind and ready to engage a challenge, spiritually and intellectually.]

His faith story is one familiar to many Episcopalians: he never had a “Damascus Road” experience, he never had to get lost in order to get found by God. His “innate faith was strengthened and enlarged by hearing the faith stories of others.” The narrative of faith and the shared story of God’s people are themes throughout his responses. He writes theologically, almost too carefully, with an eye to the long arc of Christian history, and without dogmatic or partisan rancor.

He describes his management and leadership styles as “open and cooperative” with a goal of creating shared vision among the laity and the governing board (the vestry). He has a very healthy view of the dynamics of organizational governance, even envisioning a Diocesan Executive Council (the governing body of the Diocese) being transformed into “a board that helps develop and reviews the strategy thus becoming more a part of the creative process and not just a repository for reports.” He does not, he says, shy away from conflict, but sees it as “a source of opportunity and fertile ground for the work of the Holy Spirit.”

Fr. Thompson’s response to the third question, on the blessing of same-sex relationships, acknowledges the painful and difficult place in which the Episcopal Church finds itself. Theologically, the work around sexuality is unfinished, and we live in an almost, but not-yet state of inclusion for gay and lesbian people in the Church. Because General Convention has not authorized the blessings of same-sex unions, Fr. Thompson would not permit them. Though in the previous answer he wrote that “ministry is not about engaging in safe activities, for the Church is called to take risks.” Same-sex blessings are not one of the risks Fr. Thompson would embrace.

He is quite firm, however, that “the same-gender issue is not an issue of salvation and should not be at the center of the diocese’s focus or ministry” and that people do not “choose” their sexual orientation. He also expects that, eventually, General Convention will authorize same-sex blessings and when that happens, “I would consult with the leadership of the Diocese and do what is best for all concerned.”

Since Fr. Thompson has not written or spoken widely about same-gender issues, we only have his response to this question to gauge his pastoral theology. He is essentially a conservative, unwilling to go beyond the councils of the Church, concerned more with mission than with issue-driven politics. If Fr. Thompson is elected Bishop, one would expect a continuity with the policies of Bishop Henderson: no non-celibate, unmarried persons would be ordained and same-sex blessings would not be permitted. Though the Search Committee has pegged Fr. Thompson as one of the two “moderate to liberal” candidates, he is not a liberal by any reasonable definition of the term.

It is not my intent to endorse any of the candidates, but instead to explore who they are and try to discern how they might lead based on a careful analysis of their answers. My reading of Fr. Thompson is that he would lead carefully and pastorally, and not take the Diocese too far to the either the right or the left. In fact, each time he describes his theology, it is as “Trinitarian,” which would, one hopes, go without saying for any minister of the Gospel. One might wish for a little more Jesus here, a little more passion, a little more justice. But the Trinity is a theology of community, and David Thompson cares more for community than controversy. In a time of extremes, he is a conservative centrist.

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