A few writings you might want to peruse...
Episcopalians, Christians, and Scripture. Religion Today. March 25 - 31, 2007. Paul V.M. Flesher. "All Scripture is sacred, but it is not all relevant. All forms of Christianity pick and choose, in a reverent manner to be sure, which biblical guidelines apply to them and which do not."
A short Diatribe on Anglican Biblical Interpretation The Rev. Michael Russell .... so-called “orthodox Anglicans.” are fond of rallying around the “plain truth” of the Scriptures without apparently having any depth of knowledge in the plain truth of 400+ years of Anglican heritage with respect to careful Biblical Interpretation. We who disagree with the violence they thus do to Scripture have no further to look than the Elizabethan Divine and foundational theologian of Anglicanism, Richard Hooker.
Why ‘Via Media’ What does it mean, and what are we about?
Sermon by Archbishop Desmond Tutu at Southwark Cathedral "To discriminate against our sisters and brothers who are lesbian or gay on grounds of their sexual orientation for me is as totally unacceptable and unjust as Apartheid ever was.” Sermon at Southwark Cathedral, Sunday 1 February 2004 - 11.00am Choral Eucharist.
March 25 - 31, 2007
Episcopalians, Christians, and Scripture
Paul V.M. Flesher
At their recent meeting in Tangiers, the Anglican Communion delivered its American member, officially called The Episcopal Church, an ultimatum. Stop blessing homosexual unions and ordaining gay clergy, or else! The official reason for this position is the argument that the American church has forsaken the Bible and its instructions about homosexuality. The ultimatum by the other Anglican provinces calls for the Episcopalians to return to their biblical roots.
This international squabble over Scripture and its applicability is only the most recent instance of the problems Christians face when they try to hold the Bible and modernity together. All Scripture is sacred, but it is not all relevant. All forms of Christianity pick and choose, in a reverent manner to be sure, which biblical guidelines apply to them and which do not.
Why is this? The Bible is a large book; it is a library of books written at different times, by different people, in different languages, for different purposes. As in any library, its contents often provide contradictory rules. Take divorce, for example. Some Bible passages permit it, some do not. The Episcopalian, Methodist, and many other Protestant churches follow the former, while the Catholic Church follows the latter.
But Scriptural rules are often rejected for other reasons. Sometimes rejection comes when biblical principles are applied in new ways. Take slavery for example. The Bible lays out rules for the practice of slavery in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, slavery is not only sanctioned, but Paul tells slaves to remain satisfied with their condition and to accept as sufficient their spiritual freedom in Christ. Despite the clear biblical passages that accept slavery, the Christian world turned against slavery and ultimately outlawed it, believing that it violated the principle of loving one's neighbor as oneself.
William Wilberforce, an evangelical Anglican whose drive to outlaw slavery in Britain is portrayed in the recent film "Amazing Grace," denied the relevance of explicit biblical statements about slavery. The same is true of the American anti-slavery movement of the 19th century. Today nearly all American Christians agree that the biblical passages about slavery are not only wrong, they are immoral.
Other times, scriptural rules are rejected because society has changed. Sometimes these changes are even led by Christians. In the 19th century, American Christian women were ardent supporters of evangelizing the world for Christianity. They successfully created and ran large organizations to send out missionaries and support them.
In the United States itself, women formed organizations pursing temperance, legal rights, and the vote. Through these activities, women discovered that they could have a successful life outside the home. This transformed American society. By the second half of the 20th century, women were active in all levels of society. From the company boardroom to the university classroom, from blue collar to white collar, from business to medicine to science, women are now seen has having the same rights and same abilities as men.
In this world, many Christian denominations left behind the biblical strictures against women talking in church and becoming religious leaders. Many churches ordained women as pastors and clergy, and even made them bishops. Even in evangelical denominations where ordination did not take place, women became teachers. They lead not only missions and Sunday schools but large meetings, camps, and retreats, as the Oscar-nominated documentary "Jesus Camp" makes clear. Again, this has all taken place against the explicit rules of the Bible.
Since it is clear that the Bible can be set aside if people so choose, the question is whether or not they choose to do so. To return to the Anglicans and Episcopalians, it is obvious that the American Episcopalian church has transformed itself in ways that side with equal treatment of all humans but go against explicit scriptural statements.
In the dispute with the worldwide Anglican Communion, the countries whose church is most angry against the Americans are those that have not set aside the biblical rules against female participation in public worship; they have no female priests. Ironically, this includes all the African churches who agree that slavery is immoral and have rejected the biblical passages supporting it. In their calls for adherence to the Bible, they overlook their own rejection of Scripture. The debate over gays in the Anglican church is thus primarily about how Christians should treat their fellow human beings and only then about whether Scripture is relevant to that question.
Flesher is director of UW's Religious Studies Program.
More information about the program, as well as past columns, can be found on the Web at www.uwyo.edu/relstds/index.htm.
A short Diatribe on Anglican Biblical Interpretation
The Rev. Michael Russell
Holy Scriptures are being bandied about a great deal in this current conflict, especially by people who claim to be traditionalists and so-called “orthodox Anglicans.” Homosexuality is wrong because the Bible says its wrong and that’s it, goes their pronouncements. They stab their fingers at Leviticus 18, 20, and Romans 1 crying, “See, See!” In actuality their manner of using the Bible and the authority they suppose they give to it are far more akin to the Calvinism Mr. Hooker opposed, than to anything ever Anglican.
They are fond of rallying around the “plain truth” of the Scriptures without apparently having any depth of knowledge in the plain truth of 400+ years of Anglican heritage with respect to careful Biblical Interpretation. We who disagree with the violence they thus do to Scripture have no further to look than the Elizabethan Divine and foundational theologian of Anglicanism, Richard Hooker.
Hooker addressed the Calvinists of his day, usually called Presbyterians or Puritans, denying repeatedly in the course of the Laws their claim that the entire rule of one’s life and of Church polity must be found in Scripture and thus anything not positively commanded by God was sin. He not only says that they are wrong in that claim, but they do not actually believe or practice it themselves. Moreover, he is quite comfortable with The Law of Reason, written into our human flesh, functioning very highly in the arena of knowing between good and evil.
In Chapter 8 of Book II he comes to discuss the truth in the matter. In essence he says this:
- 1) Scripture is perfect for the purpose for which it was created: to teach us those things necessary for salvation;
- 2) People ( Rome ) err when they narrow this perfection of Scripture by suggesting that Church Traditions must be added to scripture in order for people to discover that is necessary for salvation.
- 3) But other people err in widening too far the scope of Scripture’s purpose by arguing that it contains ALL necessary things and that ALL things in scripture are necessary for salvation. This assertion he will dismember in books III and IV. He concludes book II:
“…so we must likewise take great heed, lest in attributing unto Scripture more than it can have, the incredibility of that do cause even those things which indeed it hath most abundantly to be less reverently esteemed.”
Book III goes on to carefully parse through the Calvinists assertions. But most interesting to this are chapters X and XI, which deal with the mutability of God’s laws and the capacity of the church to change or add to them. He writes, “The nature of every law must be judged of by the end for which it was made, and by the aptness of things therein prescribed unto the same end.” (III.X.1)
For a law to continue to be in force its original end must still be possible and the means to that end must still be effective to achieve it. If either of those no longer pertains, then laws may be changed. He goes on further in Book X to make a distinction between the moral, ceremonial, and judicial laws of the Hebrew Scriptures, acknowledging the perpetual authority of the moral laws, but the mutability of the ceremonial and judicial.
“Aha!” cry the Calvinists, “Our point exactly.” Except for the fact that Mr. Hooker confines the category of moral law to the 10 Commandments, all the rest in the Torah being ceremonial or judicial. In Chapter X section 6 he lays out the reason they are different and in X.9 gives the narrow end of the ceremonial and judicial laws, “Unto their (the Jewish people) so long safety, for two things it was necessary to provide; namely, the preservation of their state against foreign resistance, and the continuance of their peace within themselves.”
And thus the Levitical injunctions against homosexuality, which the Calvinists would have us believe were chiseled in the same stone as the 10 Commandments, aren’t. In fact they were created for the end described in the paragraph above and that end, no longer pertaining means that we are no longer bound by those laws except insofar as our capacity to Reason leads us to believe that they would be for the good. And about that there is obvious disagreement, but not authoritative Scriptural injunction.
This distinction, between the moral and ceremonial and judicial laws is included in Article VII of the 39 Articles. Moral laws we must keep the other we may observe or not as Reason teaches. The Right Reverend Gilbert Burnet in his early 18th century “Exposition of the 39 Articles of the Church of England” acknowledges the same distinction in his discussion of Article VII. Bishop Burnet would expand the moral laws to include derived corollaries (he is quite firm for example that divorce is perpetually forbidden) he nevertheless continues the interpretive framework established by Mr. Hooker. He writes:
There are two orders of moral precepts; some relate to things that are of their own nature are inflexibly good or evil, such and truth or falsehood; whereas other things by a variety of circumstances may so change their nature, that they may be either morally good or evil:… (p. 130)
Now I suspect that as a man of his time and from reading the passage around this quotation Bishop Burnet would have shared the opinion of our Calvinists on homosexuality. Yet he maintains even here the distinction found in Mr. Hooker, which makes this an issue for reasoned judgment of time and circumstances rather than solemn pronouncement that a perpetual evil is at hand. Burnet’s “Exposition,” by the way was the text on the 39 Articles that The Most Reverend William White included in the curriculum for Theological Studies adopted at the General Convention of 1803.
In sum then, our present crop of Calvinists continue to trouble the church as they always have these 403 years since the death of Mr. Hooker by attributing too much to the scope of Scripture. And just as Mr. Hooker did then we must do now, which is to rejoice in the hermeneutic he developed and learn again from him how to discern what kind of things things are, what are the ends for which they were created and what are the apt means for achieving them. In doing this we can further agree with Mr. Hooker in his Learned Discourse on Justification, that the foundation of faith, that which is necessary for salvation, is the simple affirmation that Jesus is Lord that we made on 2 Epiphany when reading I Corinthians 12:3.
Please share this as you see fit.
Michael Russell, Rector
All Souls, San Diego
(The greatest shame of our nodding our hats to modernism is that we stopped making Mr. Hooker basic reading in seminaries long about the 1920’s: before the Folger Edition began being published in the 1980s and my company republished the Keble edition in 1994 there has not been a major edition available in the U.S. since the Everyman edition in 1925.)
Albany Via Media has had some requests to explain what "Via Media" means. Our November 5 Statement following the consecration of the Right Reverend Gene Robinson as a Bishop in the Episcopal Church was intended to model the Via Media approach. This brief companion statement of theology is intended to provide some elucidation to the Anglican approach called the "Via Media", Latin for the "Middle Way."
The Via Media, "In historic terms . . . was John Donne’s phrase . . . whose heritage dates back to Aristotle’s "golden mean." The Anglican term Via Media is the "label often adopted in characterizing Anglican approaches to matters of morality and ethics" (Theodore McConnell, p. 141, The Anglican Moral Choice).
To quote Henry McAdoo in McConnell’s essay, The Via Media as Theological Method,
Perhaps the most important thing about Hooker is that he wrote no Summa and composed no Institutes, for what he did was to outline method. What is distinctly Anglican is then not a theology but a theological method (The Anglican Moral Choice, Paul Elmen, Ed., p. 142).
Richard Hooker understood that an Anglican Church maintains as broad, inclusive, and non-judgmental a church polity and religious affirmation as possible by resisting temptation to judge and exclude those whose opinions and practices differ from ours in important but non- essential matters. The Via Media as theological method, therefore, incarnates a Godly way of treating those with whom each of us disagree. A Via Media method recognizes that the truth of one generation might be understood differently in the next. In humility, Anglicans give their theological opponents the respect that comes from reading history, knowing that one ideology’s devil is another movement’s martyr. In so doing we create room for each other, learning from each other, in communion around God’s table. We hope to keep this vision of the Via Media method alive in the Diocese of Albany and in the Episcopal Church.
A Via Media approach to the interpretation of Holy Scripture will hold that faithful Christians everywhere will interpret identical passages differently, with respect to place, history, culture, experience, education and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Differences within interpretation of Holy Scripture and the right to dialogue about those differences was won with the blood of Anglican martyrs like Cranmer, Ridley and Lattimer in the early years of the English Reformation. They read Aristotle, applying the concept of the Golden Mean that, while certainty is attainable in mathematics, it is less likely in philosophy or theology. That is why Richard Hooker held that tradition, reason and experience were so critical in Biblical interpretation: the level of hermeneutical (interpretive) certainty is reduced by our humanity. Even enhanced by the Imago Dei in each of us, we still, when trying to discern the nature of God and his will for us, "See through a glass darkly" as our first theologian, St. Paul, reminded us. We believe that God’s desire is for his church to remain in communion and dialogue, in times of conflict and disagreement over his will for us in his kingdom on earth.
O God of truth and peace, who raised up your servant Richard Hooker in a day of bitter controversy to defend with sound reasoning and great charity the catholic and reformed religion: Grant that we may maintain that middle way, not as a compromise for the sake of peace, but as a comprehension for the sake of truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Richard Hooker, English theologian, is celebrated on November 3 this year.
[ACNS source: Southwark Cathedral]
“To discriminate against our sisters and brothers who are lesbian or gay on grounds of their sexual orientation for me is as totally unacceptable and unjust as Apartheid ever was.”
The Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple
Sunday 1 February 2004 - 11.00am Choral Eucharist
Long, long ago, very clever people decided that the human body, flesh, all material things, that all of these were in and of themselves, evil, intrinsically, inherently and always. So there was no way that the good, the pure, the sublime and, by definition, the perfectly good spirit could be united with the material. For these people, the dualists, the incarnation, God, pure spirit, becoming a human being was totally and in principle, and always, out of the question. What people thought was God become flesh in Jesus Christ, well, that was all just playacting, a charade. Could you imagine God the all-powerful, God the eternal, dying? Oh come off it! Get real! When this one was crucified, it was not really Jesus - God - dying. You and I may pooh-pooh all this superiorly and say, "How odd, flying in the face of facts" but aren't so many of us really closet dualists or worse, have we not sometimes been embarrassed with our physicality, when we have found it attractive to engage in the familiar dichotomies as between the sacred and the secular, the profane and the holy? When we have thought that Original Sin, must somehow have had to do with the facts of life, we snigger a little bit, wink, wink, as if when God said to Adam and Eve, "Be fruitful and multiply", God meant that they would do so by perhaps looking into each others' eyes!
And have we not heard so many, many times: "Don't mix religion with politics", so very much the philosophical position of dualists. And just look at the tangle we have got into about human sexuality, about gays and lesbians, etc. Now what follows is really in parenthesis. I hope so very much that you have got over the anguish of last summer and may I salute Canon Jeffrey John who acted with so much dignity and selfless generosity.
The Jesus I worship is not likely to collaborate with those who vilify and persecute an already oppressed minority. I myself could not have opposed the injustice of penalizing people for something about which they could do nothing - their race - and then have kept quiet as women were being penalized for something they could do nothing about - their gender, and hence my support inter alia, for the ordination of women to the priesthood and the episcopate.
And equally, I could not myself keep quiet whilst people were being penalized for something about which they could do nothing, their sexuality. For it is so improbable that any sane, normal person would deliberately choose a lifestyle exposing him or her to so much vilification, opprobrium and physical abuse, even death. To discriminate against our sisters and brothers who are lesbian or gay on grounds of their sexual orientation for me is as totally unacceptable and unjust as Apartheid ever was.
The God we worship has taken our physical material selves seriously because God declared about everything that God had created - matter and spirit, everything, not just that it was good, God said it was "very good". That is why we say in the Nicene Creed: 'maker of all there is, visible and invisible'. That matter is not recalcitrant, hostile and antagonistic to the spirit and so God could and did become a real human being, a real baby, belonging to a particular couple who have names, who lived in a real, a particular village, Nazareth, in an actual, real part of the world God created, belonging to an actual, real community with particular and specific laws, rules and customs.
So this baby's parents obeyed the law and brought the baby to be redeemed as the first-born male who belonged therefore to God. God took human history seriously and so fulfilled promises God had made earlier to a Simon and to a faithful widow, Anna. God became a real human being; God took on our humanity - why? Other clever people said God became a human being so that we could become God. The epistle of St Peter speaks daringly of us as partakers of the divine nature. In this Eucharist, we will mix water and wine in the chalice and the President prays a remarkable prayer: 'Oh God, who didst wonderfully create and wonderfully renew the dignity of man's nature, grant that by the mystery of this water and wine, we may be made partakers of His divinity, who shared our humanity.'
Here God uses everyday, mundane, material things to communicate the very life of God, making Christianity, as Archbishop William Temple used to say "the most materialistic of all the great religions." Yes, we are made partakers of the divine nature, God became a human being so that we could become as God. The Orthodox Church makes far more of our so-called 'deification' than we and you might recall how in the epistle to the Ephesians, the author speaks of us as being those who are going to be filled with the fullness of God - yes, we have been created in the image of God, that is our destiny, our destiny to be God-like, God-like so that we are perfect, even as our heavenly father is perfect.
So in the Old Testament, God exalts God's people to be holy, "even as I your God am holy" and though this injunction occurs in the book Leviticus, which spends a great deal of time over the minutiae of cultic, ritual things, it turns out that this holiness that God requires of God's people has nothing to do - or very little to do - with cultic purity. No, it is to reflect the divine compassion and concern for the weak and the hungry and so the assertion is when you are harvesting, don't take up everything, leave some, leave some for the poor, be kind to the alien, for you see you were aliens in Egypt . How apt as we contemplate ever more stringent requirements for asylum-seekers and refugees. When you worship this God, if it does not make you see and feel like God, then that worship is a cult and for God it is an abomination, however elaborate it might be.
God will not heed your worship, your beseeching, for your hands are full of blood, the blood of your sisters and brothers killed in wars that were avoidable. Demonstrate your repentance by how you treat the most vulnerable: the orphan, the widow, the alien. When you are king over this people, and this God gives you God's righteousness, it is so that prosperity will prevail, will prevail because as king, you judge rightly, you judge rightly especially the poor with equity, you give justice to the poor, you deliver the needy when they cry and the poor man who has no helper. You will pity the helpless and needy and save the lives of the poor. How many of our governments would pass this stringent test: "how did you deal with the poor?"
And when God's spirit anoints you, it is so that you may preach the Good News, especially again to the poor, to preach the release of the imprisoned ones and to announce the year of the Lord's favour, the year of jubilee, the year of release, the year of the cancellation of debt - of heavy, un-payable, draining international debt.
To be partakers of the divine nature means we become more and more God-like, treating all with an even-handedness, even those we regard as evil. For you know, even the most evil, the Shipmans, the Saddam Husseins, Bin Ladens - we may not like it - but they remain God's children. This God, who lets God's sun shine on good and bad alike; who makes God's rain fall on all, for all, and we, who want to be God-like, are asked to forgive, even as God has forgiven us in Christ, forgive even that which we consider to be unforgivable.
To be like this God, who gives up on no-one, who loves us, not because we are loveable but that we become loveable only because God loves us, God loves us with a love that will not let us go, a love that loved us before we were created, a love that loves us now, a love that will love us forever, world without end. A love that says of each single one of us: "I love you, you are precious and special to me, I love you as if you were the only human being on earth, I love you and there is nothing you can do to make me love you more because I already love you perfectly."
How incredibly, wonderfully, it is that God says to you, to me: "There is nothing you can do to make me love you less. I take you, I take you very seriously, I take you - you - body and soul, you the visible and the invisible of you, I love you, I love you, I love you."
[Archbishop Desmond Tutu is the retired Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town ]