The current schism within the Episcopal Church clearly illustrates the problems that will invariably arise when reasonable contemporary biblical interpretation is challenged by the whims of political correctness and vagaries of societal trends.
Using the famous passage from Matthew 18:9 as the timeworn example, any sensible person will believe that it’s not really necessary to pluck out an eye if it is drawn by the temptation of sin. The Bible is full of metaphors and parables, and it’s perfectly reasonable to assume that Matthew and Jesus would be horrified by anyone plucking his own eye out for any reason, and that the better solution would be to pluck the thought (if possible) that prompted the eye to wander in the first place.
And yet the promulgation of God’s word and law, in combination with what would be considered societal “norms,” might understandably raise concerns about what’s going on with the Episcopal Church these days. Because where exactly does one draw the line separating what should be an ongoing search for meaning in the Bible from trendy revisions that risk becoming more self-serving than God-serving? And if the Bible is interpreted in a manner that is more self-serving, do we not risk undermining the word of God?
This brings to mind the joke about the fellow who was asked if he took the Bible literally.
“Yes,” he said. “I take the literal parts literally, the metaphorical parts metaphorically, and the historical parts historically.”
The case for the overall immutable word of God, however, was voiced in the opinion of the authors of the Thirty-nine articles (now relegated to the historical documents section in the back of the new Book of Common Prayer, but nonetheless considered by many to be an absolutely essential part of Anglicanism).
Article VII, for example, says, “... Although the Law given from God by Moses, as touching ceremonies and rites, do not bind Christian men, nor the Civil precepts thereof ought of necessity to be received in any commonwealth; yet notwithstanding, no Christian man whatsoever is free from the obedience of the Commandments which are called moral.”
In other words, obey God’s law. The most sensitive issue involving the church, of course, was Gene Robinson’s election to bishop in the state of New Hampshire in 2003. Robinson was the first priest in a blessed and openly gay relationship to be ordained bishop in a major denomination believing in the historic episcopate (the collective body of all bishops of a church).
This is such a difficult conundrum, because reasonable people believe that we’re all God’s children, that no one chooses to be gay, and that no one who is gay would be excluded from heaven simply for being such. Although acceptance of this is, or at least should be, a no-brainer, there is evidence in both the Old and New Testaments clearly suggesting that gay relations are in violation of the word. By ignoring this when it comes to promoting individuals to positions of authority, whom are we trying to please: ourselves or God?
As I say, a difficult situation, and only the tip of the iceberg as far as the evolution of the Episcopal Church is concerned over the past 40 years or so, considered by many to have gone too far.
A statement released by the Rev. Dr. Kendall S. Harmon, Canon Theologian of the Diocese of South Carolina, offers further insight and reads (in part):
“The Episcopal Church (TEC) has made an attack against our Bishop and Diocese. ... For many years the diocese of SC has opposed the primary theological direction of the national Episcopal Church (which) has moved away from the claim of Jesus’ uniqueness, the authority of Holy Scripture, the meaning of marriage and the nature of what it means to be human. (We) have had to be more steadfast in our defense of these truths, and more vocal and strong in our opposition to TEC’s disavowal of them.
“In the past few years, this conflict has escalated to the point where, in 2011, charges were brought against Bishop Mark Lawrence (and later voted down in Committee), and where the 2012 General Convention put an unbiblical doctrine of humanity into the Canons of the Church. The doctrine, discipline and worship of TEC were all fundamentally changed in a fashion most of our clergy cannot and will not comply with.
“As a result of TEC’s attack against our Bishop, the diocese of SC is disassociated from TEC; that is, its accession to the TEC Constitution and its membership in TEC have been withdrawn. We will now have a special Diocesan Convention on November 17th to iron out our Canons and Constitution, and begin to discern the best way forward into a new Anglican future.”
Shocking and sad, all of it. But, in my opinion anyway, predictable and understandable.
Edward M. Gilbreth is a Charleston physician. Reach him at edwardgilbreth@ comcast.net.