Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Presiding Bishop on Varied Understandings

Much of the controversy in the Anglican Communion is at its core about how we interpret Scripture. There are some who believe that the only acceptable interpretations are what Gray Temple calls "canoical interpretations," interpretations that have been given the authority of Scripture itself. Listening to different voices, appreciating how sisters and brother look at Scripture different lenses is challenging, but I believe that is what God is calling us to do.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, addresses this challenge in Varied understandings: Different lenses provide different views of Scripture.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Have We Made an Idol of the Anglican Communion?

This was written in 2005. I was prompted to post it because of a post and comments at Mark Harris's blog, Preludium, How important is it to belong to the Anglican Communion? Although some water has gone under the bridge since 2005 and I might put things differently now, this is still a good representation of my thought on this matter. I remain committed to staying within the Anglican Communion because I think we need one another, but I still see the danger of idolatry and the possibility that I might one day find that I could not in conscience and in good faith remain in the Communion.

F. D. Maurice, in a sermon preached on November 30, 1856, spoke of being preserved “from all idolatry of any outward things whatever, whether they be the elements of bread and wine, or anything else that is sacred because it is God’s creature, and accursed when it is made into a God.” The Anglican Communion is just such a creature, holy because it is God’s creature, but sadly in danger of being made into a god and, thus, accursed.

The communiqué from the February 2005 meeting of the Primates of the Anglican Communion confirmed for me what I had feared since reading the Windsor Report: the price of remaining in the Anglican Communion would be the repudiation of the action of General Convention in confirming the election of Gene Robinson.

There has always been some tension for me in being an Anglican. I disagree with the convictions of many prominent Anglicans in this country and elsewhere and remaining in communion with them has always been a challenge. Anglicans have held and continue to hold conflicting convictions on a number of important matters, e.g., abortion, capital punishment, remarriage after divorce, the use of military force, polygamy, and the ordination of women. Somehow we have managed to live with these disagreements, as Episcopalians did in the mid-nineteenth century in avoiding schism over the issue of slavery. But when the question at hand is the place of gays and lesbians in the Church it seems that it is no longer permissible for Anglicans to have differing convictions.

The Primates and others have taken the position that being an advocate for what Gray Temple in Gay Unions calls “sacramental equality for gays and lesbians” is not possible within the Anglican Communion. We either agree with their convictions about homosexuality or run the risk of expulsion from the Communion. The Primates’ request that “the Episcopal Church (USA) and the Anglican Church of Canada voluntarily withdraw their members from the Anglican Consultative Council” for the next three years may not be a threat of expulsion, but it comes very close.

In pressing for uniformity on this issue, “traditionalists” have tried to frame the debate as one between those who accept the authority of Scripture and those who don’t. Ignoring the work of scholars such as Robin Scroggs (The New Testament and Homosexuality) and Victor Paul Furnish (The Moral Teaching of Paul), “traditionalists” have claimed that disagreement with their interpretation of Scripture is a rejection of the authority of Scripture. I grant that Christians are free to reject the interpretations laid out by Scroggs and Furnish and others, but I would argue against the contention that accepting these interpretations is a rejection of the authority of Scripture. As a pacifist I have always assumed that Christians with whom I disagree on the use of military force are as committed to the authority of Scripture as I am.

To remain in the Anglican Communion on the terms that I believe are being offered by the Primates is for me impossible and would, in my view, make an idol of the Communion. Unless a way can be found that allows for the same diversity of convictions on this issue as we have enjoyed on other issues, there seems to be little hope for those of us who support sacramental equality for gays and lesbians to remain within the Anglican Communion. Leaving would be painful. We have friends with whom we would no longer be in communion. Relationships that are already strained might well be broken. But those are costs that we may have to bear for the sake of our faithfulness to what we believe to have been the calling of God at the General Convention.

I hope that I am wrong and that I will be able to stay within a Communion that has been a gift and a blessing to me for nearly sixty years. I hope that I will not be forced out for believing in sacramental equality for gays and lesbians. But if that happens, I will accept expulsion, reluctantly and with sadness. But I know that I will not be alone.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Crisis in Zimbabwe

Over at the Episcopalians for Gloral Reconciliation blog What One Can Do there is a posting by David Lane of about the crisis in Zimbabwe. He includes a link to's call for support of the African Union as a guarantor of the new unity government in Zimbabwe.
The Archbishops of Canterbury and York have issued a plea for fasting and prayer for Zimbabwe.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Subversive Texts

A discussion at Jan Nunley's blog was still rattling around in my head as I prepared to preach on Genesis 1:20-2:4a. One verse jumped out at me, "So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them." In a patriarchal society, what a wonder it must have been - and still is - to hear this affirmation that not only men but women are created in God's image. One verse of Psalm 8, the psalm appointed in the lectionary, makes a similar subversive affirmation, "Out of the mouths of infants and children your majesty is praised above the heavens." Children and infants, persons with almost no standing in Israel, are graced with the opportunity to praise God.

These verses, like so many others in Scripture, are subversive, acting to erode the societal conventions that subordinate women to men and children to adults. God's people often - maybe even usually - resist that subversion, preferring to conform to the world's standards, the world's patterns of domination and oppression. God, however, is not content to leave us in our resistance. God speaks to us through these subversive texts, calling us to a life free from the world's oppressive systems.

Sunday, February 1, 2009


The people who sell things and the people who help them sell things know that a respected brand is important. We don't usually think this way about Churches, but maybe we should. A question that has been asked around our parish recently is "How do our neighbors think of us?" Are we thought of us just those crazy Episcopalians who seem to be arguing about sex all the time? Or are we, as friend of mine told me recently, seen as the most welcoming Church in town?

I suspect that neither answer really captures how our parish is seen in this village, but hearing both of them is important. Episcopalians have argued about sexuality a lot in recent years, and although those discussions have been important, there is a lot more going on that is also important. My friend Ian Douglas, a professor at Episcopal Divinity School, reminded me recently that the resolution on homosexuality was not the only resolution passed at the 1998 Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops. There were other resolutions adopted, and two that are often overlooked, but have proved to be very important, were Resolution I.15, International Debt and Economic, and V.2, On International Debt Cancellation and the Alleviation of Poverty. These resolutions challenged Anglicans to advocate for debt relief for the poorest nations and to provide funds for international development programs. In the United States, Episcopalians were instrumental in getting legislation passed that cancelled one billion dollars in bilateral debt. That legislation became the framework for international agreements that leveraged an estimated twenty-seven billion dollars in debt relief.

Another friend told me recently about how a parish to which she once belonged had established its brand with a sign at the entrance that quoted Bishop Edmond Browning, the Presiding Bishop at that time: "There will be no outcasts in this church." Our parish has had the sanctuary open for prayer pretty much all the time for the past seven years and a sign on the front door tells people that we are "Open for prayer." From time to time I hear from people who have responded to that invitation and found a place to pray at 2 A.M. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, said in a sermon at the meeting of the Communion's Primates, "I remember a signboard outside a church that was filled with activities and I couldn't help but wonder if they had left any space for God."

What is the brand of our parish in this small western New York village? Are we seen by our neighbors as part of a Church that works for debt relief, a Church committed to the poor? Are we seen as a Church committed to prayer and to providing sacred space for others to pray? I hope so.