Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Perhaps Wright Is Not Wrong; Just Misinformed

I’ve been reading Thinking Anglicans again. Today there is a highlight of an interview with N. T. Wright, Bishop of Durham of the Church of England, and noted Biblical scholar. It’s worth the time to read.

I, of course, have some reflections from what I read. I have no doubt that Bishop Wright is a far finer Biblical scholar than I. I have no doubt that he is no "scholar" of the difficulties facing the Anglican Communion and (as he notes, among others) The Episcopal Church.

First, Bishop Wright says,

“The more sharp-edged question is who is seen to be speaking for the American evangelicals. Rowan has invited to Dar Es Salaam two of the leading Windsor bishops, the ones holding the ground around the Windsor report, who are not seceding and going to Nigeria but who are not going to waver in the terms that Ecusa [sic, and presumably the responsibility of Ms. Gledhill] got it wrong and it is still getting it wrong and needs to be called to order.”

To equate Bishop Duncan and Bishop MacPherson in their commitment to The Episcopal Church is simply inaccurate. Bishop Duncan has expressed his willingness to leave the institution of The Episcopal Church, and has by his statements and by his support of actions changing the canons of his diocese has amply demonstrated it. Bishop MacPherson may be "Windsor-compliant" in the terms of the Camp Allen meetings; but by his acceptance of election as Chair of the Presiding Bishop's Council of Advice he has demonstrated his readiness to continue in The Episcopal Church. When he says later, “We are not talking here about dissident conservatives. These are people who are not dissidents,” he is only half right.

Second, I reviewed this paper linked from the interview, to explicate Bishop Wright’s statement on “doctrinal indifferentism.” I found this definition:
"doctrinal indifferentism -- that attitude which regards the individual’s or church’s experience of Christ as essentially separable from, more important than, or even opposed to, a clear understanding of his person and work...."

Surely Bishop Wright has been listening to Neo-Separatists and not to any of the progressive bishops or scholars. It is precisely the ministry of Jesus, and the commitment to his statement, "I have not lost any of those you gave me," that is central to acceptance of homosexual persons into the full life of the Church. It is acceptance of the word of the Risen Christ to Peter, "What I have cleansed you shall not call unclean," that has called us to this point. It is conviction that God meant it when he said through Amos, “Let justice roll down like waters.” We are not at all indifferent to the person and the work of Christ. We are committed to the idea that his person continues among us and his work still goes on.

Nor are we indifferent to the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. We do indeed believe that the Spirit is and continues to be “the Lord, the Giver of Life,” leading the “one holy catholic and apostolic Church.” We remain committed to the faith that there is “one baptism for the forgiveness of sins,” and that thus salvation does not depend on our righteousness. We are not indifferent to doctrine. Neither are we indifferent to the natural theology tradition in Anglicanism, which allows us to seek where God is in new learning, and where the Spirit might lead with new experiences. With all that, the work has been precisely to see experience in light of the continuing person and work of Christ, and not separable from it.

Perhaps this is his misunderstanding: he says, “All that has happened subsequently [to the consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson] is the rest of the Communion saying we really hope you did not mean that but if you did, have you thought through the consequences?” Indeed, we had thought the consequences for a generation. As has been noted, that process of “thinking through” was incumbent on all Provinces of the Communion from the 1978 Lambeth Conference. That ours was among the few that actually did that work seems something of which Bishop Wright seems unaware.

I appreciate his belief that no one will, as it were, push Archbishop Williams around. I appreciate, too, that he makes no specific prediction of Tanzania. I share with him his prediction of difference and difficulty still ahead.

I appreciate his comments about the Windsor Report, although I disagree with his description of its import, and even its content. From its publication Bishop Griswold changed his participation in formal “councils of the Communion;” and if Bishop Wright is not satisfied by the presentations of the American Church at the last Anglican Consultative Council meeting, surely he recognizes the entirely voluntary decision to step back from participation. As for participation in Lambeth: there have been in these past few years significant retirements and new elections within The Episcopal Church. It remains to be seen just how great is the “problem” of bishops who participated in Bishop Robinson’s consecration. In any case, the rejection among the Neo-Separatists of certain parts of the Windsor Report - those acknowledging that provincial autonomy, even if not absolute, has been normative within the Anglican Communion; that The Episcopal Church made decisions within its own Constitution and Canons; that violation of provincial boundaries is as clearly an innovation in the Anglican tradition as full acceptance of homosexuals; and that the purpose of the Windsor Report itself was to maintain communion and not to excommunicate – makes his hope for it quixotic at best, and near-sighted at worst.

Now, I do not appreciate the title of the Gledhill article, "Primates: Schismatics to be "pruned from the branch." It bears little meaningful relation to the interview. Bishop Wright spoke of "pruning," but made no specific prediction, much less suggesting that he had either heard such an assumption from the Primates or that he might give such instruction to the Primates. On the other hand, that’s the kind of provocative remark that sells papers, and that I have seen before from Ms. Gledhill.

But that is not the fault, I imagine, of Bishop Wright. He is not responsible for it. What he should be responsible for is accurate information on The Episcopal Church, and on the hard theological and doctrinal work that brought the Episcopal Church to the decisions of the past few years. I respect him enough to believe he would acknowledge what he knew. So, I can only assume he’s been misinformed.

1 comment:

jsd said...

Thank You for your thoughtful response.