Saturday, April 01, 2006

Selective Literalism 101

I've been trying to take my own advice not to give up epiphanies for Lent and I guess it's working because I had what I think might qualify as an epiphany today: selective literalists are not selective in their selective literalism.

The same folks who profess to receive the Bible as the inerrant words of God -- except for the part about dashing babies heads against rocks, the parts where slaves are supposed to obey their masters and not complain about their lot and (in some dioceses) the parts where women are supposed to cover their heads and not speak in church -- read other things the same way!

The Constitution, for example really offers "equal protection" -- except when it comes to the equal protection of gay and lesbian families.

The Windsor Report is authoritative -- except when it comes to bishops violating diocesan boundaries.

Resolutions from the Lambeth Conference are definitive -- except for the part about listening to the witness of gay and lesbian Christians. And on it goes.

This "aha" moment came to me while re-reading some of the commentary on the recently published letter to the Anglican Primates by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. Here's the quote that got all the "play" in the conservative blogosphere: "I do not hear much enthusiasm for revisiting in 2008 the last Lambeth Conference's resolution on this matter. In my judgment, we cannot properly or usefully re-open the discussion as if Resolution 1.10 of Lambeth 1998 did not continue to represent the general mind of the Communion" leading several pundits to declare that ECUSA's "To Set Our Hope On Christ" response to the Windsor Report was now officially "dead in the water."


As part of the team that presented ECUSA's response to the Communion in Nottingham it was abundantly clear that what we were offering ACKNOWLEDGED that our theological perspective does not represent "the general mind of the Communion." The point of "To Set Our Hope On Christ" was to present our perspective TO the Communion toward the stated Windsor Report goal of finding a way to STAY in communion with those who hold differing positions.

Pulling one sentence out of +Canterbury's letter and declaring it "the end of the conversation" is consistent with pulling one verse from Leviticus and declaring that one has sole access to the mind of God on issues of human sexuality.

Consistent, but not particularly helpful -- not to mention, not particularly Anglican.


Anonymous said...

"... not particularly ... faithful to classical Anglicanism." I'm a relatively new (< 10 years) Episcopalian and a refugee from the Southern Baptist's conservative takeover, so perhaps I can't comment on classical Anglicanism. I do, however, feel competent to comment on the issue of 'faithfulness'. I've been reading Gaustad's biography of Roger Williams - the 'classical Baptist', if you will - and am struck by how UNfaithful today's Baptists and other evangelicals are to such foundational beliefs as the separation of church and state. It is clear to me that the conservative movement throughout the church is 'faithful' to their historical antecedents - not to mention to scripture - only when it is convenient to their real aims. Where I was raised, that's called 'giving lip service to ...', NOT 'being faithful'.

Anonymous said...

I don't believe most traditionalists would say the Bible is "inerrant" as you suggest. It is however the Word of God written, and interpreted by the 2000 year old universal Tradition (capital T) of the Church.

The fact of the matter is that neither the Bible nor the Tradition of the Church has anything positive to say about sexual relations outside of marriage--gay or straight.

Anonymous said...

Susan, could it be that your understanding of the word "Anglican" is the result of some fond notion of Claremont's Mary June Nestler, who hardly qualifies as a world-recognized authority about anything? The word "Anglican" does not describe a branch of Christian theology, nor any particular style or approach to Christian theology; there has never been an "Anglican" magisterium; "Anglican" describes only the global Communion of churches who (1) have descended from the Church of England and make use of standard liturgical forms in the tradition of the original Book of Common Prayer, (2) esteem the canon of Holy Scripture to contain all things necessary to salvation; (3) continue to respect the Apostolic Succession embodied in the Historic Episcopate and, (4) are in all good graces with the Archbishop of Canterbury, so far as invitations to Lambeth Conferences go.



Actually my "understanding" of what it is to be Anglican comes not from Mary June Nestler but from Urban T. Holmes ... see the March 8, 2006 post on this blog:

Catherine said...

Rev Susan, may God continue to grant you the clarity of thought and spirit as reflected in your blogs and ministry. Talk about a breath of ever so fresh air!

Anonymous said...

Susan, simply because Terry Holmes may have coined the word "Anglicanism" and provided his explanation of it does not establish the legitimacy of the word "Anglicanism" for the Anglican Communion. The Chicago Quadrilateral of the late Victorian age has not been supplanted by any Lambeth Conference since.