Saturday, September 12, 2009

Response to Anonymous re: Hermeneutics, etc.

Dear Anonymous,

    First, thank you for your thoughtful response – I will try to be faithful in responding to you. I tried to post this in response to your comment, but this was too long. Others should reference your comment to the previous posting on the Seven Bishops.

    I take responsibility for not be as clear as I should have been re: Bronze Membership. I was trying to make two points. First, the assertion by some conservatives that there is only one interpretation of a key part of the Bible is outside traditional Anglicanism. To take a few instances: Luke's account of the Virgin Birth is taken by Roman Catholics as literal and thus as core doctrine – many Episcopalians agree with that interpretation and many do not, preferring either to reference the meaning of Isaiah's prophesy in which the word Luke takes as "virgin" has a preferential meaning of "young maiden" or to treat this part of the birth narratives as metaphorical (retaining the sense of the passage as asserting God's initiative in the Incarnation while leaving open one or more literal meanings of the passage). I would also cite John 14.6, which most conservatives claim is the church's assertion that there is only one way to the Father and that is through belief in Jesus Christ. There are many reputable scholars who dispute that claim on a number of reasons (including Paul's argument in Romans 8-11). A third instance has to do with the Words of Institution of the sacrament of Holy Communion. The Roman Catholics insist on a literal meaning of the words couched in Aristotelian terms, while Episcopalians have settled on the Doctrine of the Real Presence, while allowing our people to believe the literal.

Why should orthodoxy be dependent upon one of several faithful interpretations of a key element of Scripture? As I understand it, through most of the history of our church we have allowed a certain level of ambiguity in our interpretation of Scripture, while ruling some things out of bounds. To put this another way, almost all religious language is metaphorical and even while dealing with metaphorical and other language we are dealing with different texts, both of the Hebrew and Greek versions of Jewish and Christian Scripture – and within the same ancient text we are dealing with historical and cultural influences in trying to derive an accurate translation. However, the point in all this is to honor Scripture as best we can (even in its complexity and ambiguity) and to remember that the end is faith in Jesus Christ.

My second point has to do with Tradition – especially with those parts of our tradition which have defined who is in and who is out. Our tradition, until recently, has included the treatment of women as property, the Jewish religion as dispensable, the support of human slavery and the exclusion of various minorities. Most of these have been overturned by a deeper reliance on the overall meaning of Scripture and by reason and experience -- but through all this the same arguments for keeping those parts of our tradition and for discarding them have been offered again and again. It is those arguments that dominate our discussions on the full inclusion of gay and lesbian people in the full ministry of the Church. I believe the liberals are using the same basis for their wanting to clarify or overturn this part of the tradition as was used in dealing with slavery, the full personhood of women and the status of Judaism. It seems to me that the conservatives want to beat the dead horse over and over again.

Regarding hermeneutics: we have not begun to engage one another on this issue. I believe the various sides are working in good faith. There are problems with the authority of the Law and of the Holiness and Purity codes. There are places in Scripture where Jesus refers to their on-going authority – and other places, primarily for me in the parables, where he clearly undercuts their authority. We are still struggling with the intent and authority of various parts of John's Gospel. As I have often argued, when conservatives and liberal are struggling over our Scriptural mandates, the former refer almost exclusively to John, the latter to the Synoptics. I hold that we cannot exclude one another on the basis of a preference for one Gospel tradition over another. Those who claim orthodoxy as their sole province make a different claim.

I hope this clarifies things – even if we continue to disagree. To be clear – are you saying there is only one reliable strain in these matters or only one interpretation that is faithful?

Tom Woodward

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Episcopal Institute to Meet with Seven Moderately Progressive Bishops

    The Episcopal Institute has announced its plan to meet with seven moderately progressive bishops of the Episcopal Church to respond to the current meeting between the Archbishop of Canterbury and seven American bishops who have publicly expressed their dissatisfaction with the democratic process in the Episcopal Church. Each bishop will be accompanied by four priests and seventeen lay people from the representative dioceses in order to reflect the full ministry and wisdom of the Episcopal Church.

    The two sites under active consideration for the upcoming meeting are the recently dedicated Athanasius Room at the recently reclaimed Diocesan House in Fort Worth and the Starbucks located across the street from the Trinity School for Ministry in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

    The agenda for the consultation is consideration of several alternatives to the rumored Canterbury proposal of a "two-tiered" Anglican community. A spokesperson for the Episcopal Institute noted that "The problem here is three-fold. First, the notion of 'two tiers' is more appropriate to a football stadium than an international worshiping community. Second, if the concept of tiers is really accepted, it will not be long before we have between thirty-five and forty-seven different tiers given the nuances of a multiplicity of issues (such as human sexuality, social justice, the authority of the laity and differing styles of ecclesiastical vesture). Third, the notion of a multi-tiered Christian group has been tried before – with women, racial minorities and others – and has always proven inadequate to maintaining status quos."

    A different and more subdued spokesperson for TEI revealed that at least two different orderings of the Anglican Communion will be proposed at the upcoming meetings. The first is to divide the Anglican Communion into three different groups: PLATINUM, GOLD and BRONZE. PLATINUM membership would be those who agree with The Episcopal Institute's goals, including the full inclusion of all Baptized members in all ministries of the church. GOLD members would include those who embrace most of TEI's goals while respecting their differences with TEI as part of Anglican Comprehensiveness. BRONZE membership will be reserved for those who insist on a single interpretation (their own) of key parts of the Bible and who regard all Tradition as absolutely binding, except the parts they don't like. There will also be an additional SILVER membership category for the lay people of the Communion who wonder what the problem is because the core doctrine of the historic creeds is not at issue. SILVER members will possess all the rights, responsibilities and regard as Gold or Platinum members.

    The second proposed ordering of the Anglican Communion, favored by older members of the Institute, is the radical notion of Comprehensiveness, with differing provinces respecting the differing experience of other provinces while considering the unity of the Communion as a common belief in Jesus Christ and the decision to share with one another in the Sacrament of Holy Communion.

    The Episcopal Institute has requested that attending bishops be accompanied by several clergy and lay people from their dioceses in recognition of the importance of the full ministry of the Episcopal Church.