Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Anglican detente, obedience, and the conservative parlor game

Reading Jordan Hylden can often be a perplexing experience. The former junior fellow at the prestigious First Things journal, is one of the few remaining orthodox Anglicans within the mainline Episcopal Church (ECUSA, TEC, or whatever its acronym happens to be this week) who still believes that dying carcass can be resuscitated from within. He is no fan of the current "Presiding Bishop" and, in a recent post at On the Square, takes her to task for apparent inconsistencies in two of her recent "sermons." In the course of his critique, however, he makes the following curious observation.
If conservative Anglicans are ever to come to a détente with liberals over the issue of homosexuality—perhaps not to agree with them, but at least to come to terms with them—it would have to involve understanding that revisionists on this issue have genuinely grappled with the authoritative text of Holy Scripture. Their persistent concern is that liberals do not do this, but rather regard Scripture as outdated and no longer authoritative for Christian faith and life in the modern world. Conservatives often fear that liberals simply pick and choose the bits of the Bible they like, and leave the rest behind.

Now, one might come to the conclusion after grappling with the authoritative biblical text that same-sex blessings may be warranted. The noted Episcopal biblical scholar Ellen Davis is one such figure, arguing in the summer 2008 issue of the Anglican Theological Review that it’s quite possible for conservatives and liberals to disagree on the matter, precisely while working from the assumption that “no individual or church community can in good faith reach a position on this issue without reckoning seriously with Scripture.” One might disagree with Davis that Scripture is as indeterminate on the issue as she thinks; she herself acknowledges that her Duke colleague Richard Hays would think so, along with many figures in the Anglican world, such as former Ugandan archbishop Henry Luke Orombi in the pages of First Things. But most Anglicans are likely to agree that Davis is a careful reader of Holy Scripture, someone who works very hard to listen for the Word of God in its pages. For several years now, she has traveled regularly to teach the Bible to seminary students of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan. In her teaching, Davis’ Sudanese students can recognize someone who seeks to be faithfully obedient to the Scriptures, even if they disagree with her on the shape of that obedience.
Hylden's desire for a "détente" between "conservatives" and "liberals" exposes the fatal weakness of the inside strategy for Anglican renewal. As long as the Anglican Communion remains of two minds, not merely on an ancillary issue like homosexuality, but on the key issue of what it means to be obedient to the Scriptures, it will be impaired in its obedience to Jesus's command to proclaim the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

For many of us who ventured out, from various mainline bodies, into the wider Anglican Diaspora, the bigger push came not from those "liberals" who play fast and loose with the authority of Scripture, but from those "conservatives" for whom theological navel-gazing has become a favorite parlor game.