George Will on Episcopal Church

Will writes:

It is not the secessionists such as Duncan who are, as critics charge, obsessed with homosexuality. The Episcopal Church’s leadership is latitudinarian — tolerant to the point of incoherence, Duncan and kindred spirits think — about clergy who deviate from traditional church teachings concerning such core doctrines as the divinity of Christ, the authority of scripture and the path to salvation. But the national church insists on the ordination of openly gay clergy and on blessing same-sex unions.

First of latitudinarian does not mean tolerant to the point of incoherence.  It means giving “latitude”–giving too much latitude to the point of incoherence is in fact no latitude at all but going plunging over the edge.  Now it can be argued whether or not such an event took place by ordaining Gene Robinson, but if one holds that it was in fact a heretical act, than latitude was not the issue.

Sidenote:  This deletrious mixing is what generally happens when you have somebody not well versed in a Church’s positions writing on the subject.  Latitudinarianism is in fact one of the three so-called stools of the Anglican leg:  tradition, reason, and Scripture–represented by the three flavors of Anglicanism, Anglo-Catholic, Liberal (Broad/Latitudinarian), and Evangelical respectively.  Liberal here means liberal in the classical Enlightenment sense–pushing for freedom, use of rationality, etc.  Will’s gloss on Robert Duncan’s comment is confusing Liberal in the modern/classical liberal sense with liberal in the post 60s sense.  Obviously the latter is something Will is not a huge fan of to put it mildly.  But it’s unfortunately bringing in US culture war categories to this debate, which is very unhelpful to the discussion.

Second and more importantly, notice the shift from the question about ordaining an openly gay man to “clergy who deviate from traditional church teachings concerning such core doctrines as the divinity of Christ, the authority of scripture and the path to salvation”. As if the two were somehow synonymous or at least of the same piece.  As if supporting blessings for same sex unions or ordaining openly gay (in committed relationship) bishops automatically meant one denies the Divinity of Christ.  I tire of this charge blithely thrown about by people who do not know about what they are talking (either inside or outside the Anglican Communion).  I can tell you Gene Robinson is as orthodox a believer in the Divinty of Christ as you will find.

It would also help immensely if one were to elaborate/definte exactly what is meant by “authority of Scripture.”

On that note it is important to point out that the Lambeth Quadrilateral a document meant to provide the basics of Anglicanism, the non-negotiables in ecumenical dialog, states the following:

1. The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the revealed Word of God.

2. The Nicene Creed as the sufficient statement of the Christian Faith.

The US Church as a National Body holds the Quadrilateral.  And you will search in vain in the Nicene Creed for discussion of gays and lesbians. The Anglican tradition holds that always the three stools are together–Scripture as interpreted through tradition and reason.

Professing the OT and NT are the revealed Word of God says quite a lot and actually very little.  Until of course one hashes out what “revealed” means and whether one has to hold not just to the article of belief in a confessional mode (I believe the Scriptures to be revealed by God–almost poetically, mythically) or whether one has to hold not just that but also a specific theory as to how the Scriptures are Revealed.

The latter point is representative of the Evangelical-Puritan movement, growing out of Calvin’s thought.  e.g. Namely that as the Westminster Confession an Evangelical document states (my emphasis):

VII. All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all:[15] yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.[16]

And again:

IX. The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.[23]

That has not been the historic teaching of the Anglican faith.  This is both the genius and the inevitable frustration that is being an Anglican.  It is built around common liturgical praxis and common creeds, not common enforced understanding of how Creeds are to be understood.  And yet not everything goes. This is at the root of the worldwide Anglican struggles since there is (rightly) no body that can enforce top-down like say the Vatican conformity on these matters.  They are always to be discussed, debated–the hermeneutic circle is in fact a circle, it never begins or ends.  We simply find ourselves in relationship and have to live with its joys and sorrows.

The Evangelical position I would argue begs the hermeneutical question because it leaves unanswered what are the exegetical criteria for deciding which other passages in Scripture are used to interpret otherwise unclear passagse in Scripture.  Also it begins with an assumption that the meaning of Scripture is one and then always finds such oneness in the text–and if the text is unclear or perhaps contradictory, the oneness is read through the offending text.

And what I would see in people like Duncan as Neo-Puritan in that sense.  In charity I can understand the desire for clarity and if you really believed that everyone else has gone heretical, the leadership itself, then of course you have to leave and stick to what you believe to be true.  But that side needs to own up to the fact that it is in fact the innovators in this scenario–on the Church polity front–whatever ther charges about the liberals having invented some new gospel/doctrine.

Will again:

Every 10 years there is a Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops, presided over by the archbishop of Canterbury. This year only 650 of the nearly 900 bishops attended — 150 of them representing only the tiny U.S communion. The bishops from three of the Anglican communion’s five largest provinces — Nigeria, Uganda and Kenya — boycotted.

As a matter of fact, some bishops from Kenya did go to the conference.  One of whom had to leave early because his family’s life was threatened for his attendance at the Conference.  Not to mention that there were bishops from Nigeria and Uganda who word is wanted to attend but were threatened with deposition (i.e. having their position as bishop stripped from them) for attending.  i.e. The authoritarian imposition of oneness “conformity” in the negative sense upon them by another.  Which is a break with the traditional Anglican and nay the entire Protestant heritage:  the freedom of the individual before God.  That is why I’m calling it a Neo-Puritanism.

Also from every bishop I’ve heard describe the gathering who attended (so far I’ve heard personal reflections from 3, read a few others), they all described it as a time of great grace and fellowship–in the midst of continued disagreement obviously over the current struggles in the Church.  But they focused first on their common beliefs (like faith in Jesus Christ), common struggles in pastoral leadership, as well as heard and tried to see the world from the eyes of one on a different side of these questions.

See what it is like to hear that positions about gay inclusion cause churches to be burned in places around the world.  Or have Bishop’s lives threatened.  And for them to hear what it is to live in a situation where civil gay marriage is already law (as here in Canada) and people come to your church already married.  Is the Church going to be in the business of breaking up marriages?  That wouldn’t exactly be pro-family now would it?   Scripture, reason, and tradition, all three always take place within a certain space and time.  A context.  Jesus was Incarnated in the 1st century Palestine as a Jewish man.  That matters. So does where and when and how we find ourselves today called to work in the Lord’s vineyard.

The URI to TrackBack this entry is:

RSS feed for comments on this post.

2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. […] may have been a little hard on The Westminster Confession in the previous post. For all you theological nerds out there, if interested, here is a paper I wrote on the Confession […]

  2. […] certification improve the credibility of the anonymous? … Chris Dierkes: George Will is wrong about the secessionists in the Episcopal Church. … Also, Dierkes takes the “down on […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: