Thursday, April 8, 2010

From Concerned of New York

Back in March Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori felt it important to write to her fellow primates around the Communion concerning the consents given to the election of Mary Glasspool, " a woman in a partnered same-sex relationship", as bishop. I had not seen a copy of the letter but Episcopal Cafe now posts it - but note it omits a paragraph from the fuller version over there in East Tennessee. Here are a couple of paragraphs:

"It may help you to know that our House of Bishops will continue to discuss these issues at our meeting later this month. The papers we discuss will be available publicly following that meeting, and we will endeavor to see that you receive copies. I would encourage you to engage in conversation any bishops whom you know in this Church, particularly those you came to know at Lambeth, whether in Bible study or Indaba groups.

Know that this is not the decision of one person, or a small group of people. It represents the mind of a majority of elected leaders in The Episcopal Church, lay, clergy, and bishops, who have carefully considered the opinions and feelings of other members of the Anglican Communion as well as the decades-long conversations within this Church. It represents a prayerful and thoughtful decision, made in good faith that this Church is ‘working out its salvation in fear and trembling, believing that God is at work in us’ (Philippians 2:12-13)."

This is curious, is it not? TEC's House of Bishops "will continue to discuss these issues" yet the decision to consecrate "represents the mind of a majority of elected leaders in The Episcopal Church, lay, clergy, and bishops, who have carefully considered the opinions and feelings of other members of the Anglican Communion as well as the decades-long conversations within this Church". What is there to discuss?

Also intriguing is this sentence:

"It represents a prayerful and thoughtful decision, made in good faith that this Church is ‘working out its salvation in fear and trembling, believing that God is at work in us’ (Philippians 2:12-13)."

Here then is a robust response to those who argue that Christians are not free to overturn God's prohibition of same sex sexual relationships because it is a matter of salvation (especially on the basis of 1 Corinthians 6:9-10). Via the pathway of approving for the episcopacy people in declared same sex partnerships (i.e. Gene Robinson, Mary Glasspool), TEC in its majority, is also, effectively, declaring God's prohibition is overturned as a matter of salvation.

Curiosity remains: if God is at work in TEC on this matter at this time, how can TEC be sure what God is saying since the matter is a continuing discussion in one part of their life together? In respect of the consent decision, how can God be saying one thing to TEC (according to its majority) and another to the Communion (according to its majority)? Is God's voice contradictory? Has God been misheard? Who will make a judgement call on this? (How can a judgement call be made without some body within the life of the Communion functioning as a 'magisterium'?)

If nothing else, this letter highlights difference between TEC and the Communion at this time.

PS I cannot spot which translation of Scripture the PB is citing. Can anyone help with identification?

16 comments:

Howard Pilgrim said...

Hello Peter, and thank you for pointing us to KJS's letter, which I think is very good. Sorry you found it confusing at a couple of points - perhaps I can help you out :)

1. What is left for TEC bishops to discuss? Plenty, I would have thought, including ...
a. the unfolding implications of a major new decision taken in principle.
b. ongoing discussion between the majority of bishops who supported this decision and their peers who opposed it and whose loyal oppostion must still be heard.
c. negotiations regarding the rights and obligations of different parts of TEC as the situation develops.

In general, major policy decisions can be validly made without all the consequences being foreseen and negotiated in advance. Within the church, we are called to trust in the Spirit's guidance, which includes trusting in the ongoing illumination of those we disagree with, and being open to the possibility that they still may have something to teach us! Hence, the TEC bishops need to keep talking to one another and to the rest of the Anglican world. This is especially so when the underlying decision in this case is that TEC is not bound by the approval or disapproval of other provinces.

2. The point of her quote from Philippians, as I read it, is that at that point in his letter Paul was declining to exercise a detailed magisterium over his disciples at Philippi. He trusted that, with all they already knew of his life and teachings, they were now ready to take responsibility for finding their own way forward in mission, led by the Spirit. As long as they continued to fear God, they would make it through. KJS is signalling her confidence in the Spirit's guidance in its recent decision approving the election of new bishops, and her conviction that TEC, like all other provinces, is accountable to God above all. A grown up church, like the one in Philippi.
Trembling lest we get things wrong is one thing, but waiting for everyone else to agree with us is another, and sometimes comes from timidity, not one of Paul's failings. Should TEC tremble any less before God if the majority of Anglican provinces agreed with them on this matter?

3. A robust response, yes, but not necessarily one that dares to revise God's conditions for salvation. Just one that would not place such a construct on 1 Cor.6:9-10, as I have argued previously on one of your blogs. Questioning what we have previously thought to be the mind of God is actually a responsibility we cannot avoid as we engage in mission in new contexts. In framing this objection as coming from "those who argue that ..." you seem to allow yourself some distance from that objection. Are you among those with that opinion, Peter?
I am looking forward to hearing Paul Trebilco's take on 1 Cor.6 at the June hermeneutics hui. Doctorvaters must count for something!

Sorry I can't help with identifying her translation - could it be a KJS special?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Howard

Some points in (friendly) response:

The bishops' specific ongoing discussion, however, is about the theology of same sex partnerships.

Should 'major policy decisions' be made via consent processes rather than General Synod/Convention processes?

Of course we tremble before God, whether in the majority or in the minority. But here the invocation of the Spirit's guidance, via the church 'working out its salvation', is in respect of reversing teaching of Scripture upheld in the tradition of the church, and still upheld by the majority of churches the world over. Your comment fails to tackle how we discern the Spirit to be at work in the specific situation where we earnestly and sincerely believe the Spirit is leading us against the teaching of Scripture!

I agree that 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 is a tricky text in respect of same sex sexual intercourse, and other sins, in respect of 'salvation'/'entering the kingdom of God' - the trickiness being the clear and agreed meanings of the two Greek words used, malakoi and arsenokoites. But that lack of clarity does not mean we should be as confident as TEC appears to be that we can policy-direct-ourselves away from the general sense of the text!

Anonymous said...

#1: Nothing, and no snowstorm of words and paper, can conceal the fact that Tec is acting in an uncatholic, sectarian way that repudiates the apostolic teaching of the New Testament. Hermeneutical gymnastics, allied to basic biblical illiteracy, can make a text "mean" anything one wants it to. All you have to do is claim you are "led by the Spirit", just as the Montanists did (though they were a good deal more orthodox than Tec). This is such tired 1960s talk that even one of today's (brighter) teenagers could see through it (well, maybe not...).
The main thing that Tec bishops discuss these days is court actions to claim property and depositions of orthodox clergy.
Outis

Anonymous said...

"how can God be saying one thing to TEC (according to its majority) and another to the Communion (according to its majority)? Is God's voice contradictory? Has God been misheard? Who will make a judgement call on this?"

This is a primary Christian question.

How can God be saying one thing to Catholics and another to Anglicans? How can God be saying one thing to Baptists and another to Presbyterians?

How can God be saying "adult baptism only" to some Christians and "baptism for all" to others?

How can God be saying divorce and remarriage to some Christians and calling this adultery to others?

How can God be saying abortion is fine to some Christians and calling this murder to others?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Anonymous @10.50am,

It is possible that God is saying to (say) Catholics and Anglicans, "You have both misheard me!"

It is noticeable that some differences in understanding in the course of history have led to differentiation in organisation: Baptists are not Anglicans; Lutherans are not Reformed; and so forth. It is possible that, for Anglicans, this is a time of differentiation.

It is also (arguable) that some differences reflect ambiguity in Scripture and some do not. Anglicans and Presbyterians (for example) seem to be able to recognise the scriptural groundedness of each other's systems of church governance, without declaring the other to be heretics. One question at this time is whether differences re same sex partnerships reflect ambiguity in Scripture or not; and, if the latter, on what grounds is the theological case for development of the Christian doctrine of marriage being advanced.

But you are correct: it is a primary question why Christians can claim to hear the voice of God and what is heard is different.

Teri said...

Hi Peter, translation looks like NIV or TNIV to me.

Howard Pilgrim said...

Peter, I am not sure whether the #1 in front of Outis' comment means that his remarks are in response to my comment, or to KJS's letter, so I will proceed with caution on the assumption that it invites a reply from me.

The main thing that strikes me about what Outis has to say is the extraordinary self-assurance behind the vocabulary used to condemn TEC and its supporters - "uncatholic", "sectarian", "hermeneutical gymnastics", "basic biblical illiteracy", "(the Montanists) more orthodox than TEC", "tired 60's talk" and so on.

So where were you in the 60's, Outis? Not yet breathing, or brain-dead already? The thing about the surety of your judgements on others is that such arrogance is excusable only in the very young, or to those whose ability to learn from life's lessons hardened long ago along with their arteries.

Or is it just your anonymity that makes you so bold?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Teri
No, its not NIV or TNIV!

Rosemary said...

And .. "The thing about the surety of [a personal attack on another person by referring to them as 'brain dead'] is that such arrogance [rudeness] is excusable only in the very young, or to [in] those whose ability to learn from life's lessons hardened long ago along with their arteries.

Peter Carrell said...

Good point, Rosemary. I should not have let that 'ad hominem' attack through.

Anonymous said...

κύριον δὲ τὸν Χριστὸν ἁγιάσατε ἐν ταῖς καρδίαις ὑμῶν, ἕτοιμοι ἀεὶ πρὸς ἀπολογίαν παντὶ τῷ αἰτοῦντι ὑμᾶς λόγον περὶ τῆς ἐν ὑμῖν ἐλπίδος, ἀλλὰ μετὰ πραΰτητος καὶ φόβου, συνείδησιν ἔχοντες ἀγαθήν,ἵνα ἐν ᾧ καταλαλεῖσθε καταισχυνθῶσιν οἱ ἐπηρεάζοντες ὑμῶν τὴν ἀγαθὴν ἐν Χριστῷ ἀναστροφήν.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Anonymous,
Fluent Greek speakers are welcome here!
1 Peter 3:15-16 for those not so fluent.

Howard Pilgrim said...

I accept your rebukes, Peter, Rosemary, and Anonymous 9:33, and heap this further one upon my own head, from the same place - μὴ ἀποδιδόντες κακὸν ἀντὶ κακοῦ ἢ λοιδορίαν ἀντὶ λοιδορίας, τοὐναντίον δὲ εὐλογοῦντες ὅτι εἰς τοῦτο ἐκλήθητε ἵνα εὐλογίαν κληρονομήσητε.

I should not have used the term "brain dead". However, in view of the emotive, judgemental terms I listed from Outis' comment, I think the remainder of my response deserves to stand.

My challenge remains: who is this "Outis" who dismisses TEC in such categorical terms? What depth of learning and experience lies behind his/her sweeping judgement?

Anonymous said...

“One question at this time is whether differences re same sex partnerships reflect ambiguity in Scripture or not”
Anyone paying even minimal attention over these many years to this discussion will realise that there is a spectrum of interpretation and responses to the biblical material on this that we will not see change significantly in our lifetime, just as there is, for example, to the creation stories. You have just chosen yours. Howard has chosen his.

“it is a primary question why Christians can claim to hear the voice of God and what is heard is different.”
The real question is about power. Why is this the issue, and not abortion, or divorce, or poverty, or climate change. Why not energy for what the Bible IS clear on? The energy is expended on what the Bible is not clear on.

Howard’s real insult is not to the anonymous Outis. Howard’s real insult is to young people who have wandered off long ago with Jesus and left people arguing about which is the better sieve to strain out the gnats.

Howard Pilgrim said...

"Howard’s real insult is not to the anonymous Outis." Well actually, it was, although I would prefer to call it a challenge. Outis launched into a barrage of disparaging epithets regarding TEC and its supporters, and I replied in kind, which I now regret.

What I don't regret is challenging those who make light of the learning and spiritual integrity of fellow Christians they disagree with, as Outis did with such abandon. If this happened because he/she is younger than those being so roundly dismissed, that is forgiveable, just to repeat myself. After all that sort of dismissive rejection of my elders is what I remember doing plenty of as a self-assured young man in the 60's.

Whether my challenge constitutes an insult to young people in general is a moot point. If Outis is speaking for a specific younger group of Christians who have "wondered off", then we might well ask in what sense they have done so "with Jesus". If the distinctive mark of such departures is a surety about which issues are crystal clear in scripture and which are not, then their wanderings will probably include some lessons in "the university of hard knocks" to which a venerable evangelical Anglican saint consigned me when I was bent on following what I took to be God's call with little respect for the Anglican establishment of the day.(Canon Orange, in the mid 60s, let the reader understand).

However, my own now-hardening arteries and fixed opinions have not kept me from all feelings of sympathy for young people, especially those who stand near our church doors asking whether our attitudes towards their sexuality, and that of their friends, will make them welcome in our midst. This is one of the defining issues for our mission in contemporary Western society, right alongside poverty, violence, and other gospel imperatives. This debate we must have, without neglecting the others.

Anonymous said...

“This debate we must have, without neglecting the others.”
Who is the “we” in that sentence? Where are the “young people” in that “we”? Elsewhere on this blog there is strong emphasis that the Anglican Church is a “church of bishops” – certainly no “young people” there!
You grew up when it was illegal to be gay. Discrimination against them was not only institutionalised it was reinforced by law. “Young people” grew up when it was illegal to discriminate against gays. There has been 180 degree u-turn between your and their generation. Except in the church. And “young people” know it. When you say young people “stand near our church doors asking whether our attitudes towards their sexuality, and that of their friends, will make them welcome in our midst” is that your ACTUAL experience or a metaphorical account of what you think young people would be doing if you were them? Because in my experience of real current young people they are not doing this, either actually or metaphorically. But happy to be corrected – point me to some young people’s sites where your expression is being discussed. Even just one – because I certainly don’t know any. A facebook group of young people grappling with this would do.