Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Anglican Separatists Appear to Share Deficient Scripture Interpretation Training

In a posting here on September 26, 2007, I noted how the bishops of the U.S. Episcopal Church had responded to demands made by the Anglican Primates about consecrating openly gay priests as bishops and formalizing prayers blessing same-sex unions.

The U.S. bishops said they would "exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion." They also pledged not to authorize public rites for same-gender blessings "until a broader consensus emerges in the Communion, or until General Convention takes further action."

It was unknown at the time if the Anglican bishops of the Global South, who fancy themselves the guardians of Anglican orthodoxy, would find the responses sufficient. However, Daniel Deng, the archbishop of Sudan, has made it quite clear that their answer is no.

At Lambeth yesterday in a written statement and press conference, Deng insisted that the only way the Global South bishops will remain in the Anglican Communion is for openly gay U.S. Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson to resign. He did not acknowledge that this demand went far beyond the primates' original requirements.

Archbishop Deng seems a nice enough man. At least that's how he comes across in the press conference. He did not attend the rump conference of Global South bishops in Jerusalem, even though he sent two other Sudanese bishops to listen and observe. Nor did he go along with the 300-plus bishops who attended the Jerusalem meeting and are now boycotting the Lambeth Conference. Yet he joins them in perpetuating the lie that scripture forbids ordaining gay bishops and blessing same-sex unions--and the assertion that the U.S. and Canadian Episcopal Churches do not have a right to interpret scripture in a way that allows those practices.

What comes across clearly when Archbishop Deng speaks about the controversies is that he was not well-trained in modern scriptural interpretation. He appears to believe that the Bible--as interpreted by Christian fundamentalists--speaks for itself on all matters, so that to add to it or subtract from it is treasonous to divine revelation. He believes that the Bible has changed African cultures that once might have tolerated homosexuality, and that there is no going back.

He seems not to grasp that scriptural texts must always be read with some interpretation, and that there are very many subject to multiple interpretations, especially as human experience and history move forward. Apparently he has never confronted the observation of several scriptural scholars that those who wrote the texts most cited as forbidding homosexual activity had absolutely no experience of gay people living in committed relationships.

I have noted in earlier posts that other Global South bishops share Archbishop Deng's theological affliction. I'm not sure how the Archbishop of Canterbury or other better-educated Anglican Bishops are supposed to deal with that constructively. Evidently the time for doing that was some decades ago. But it is certainly sad that so many of the Global South bishops have bought into deficient scripture scholarship and an understanding of biblical interpretation that cannot be sustained.

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