When Tom Wright gets it totally wrong…

Bishop Tom Wright of Durham is a smart man, much smarter than me. But that doesn’t always mean he’s right. He’s written an op-ed piece in the Times of London that is full of falsehoods, half truths, and distortions. Maybe he didn’t pay enough attention to the Episcopal Church recently? Or maybe he’s trying to sell a particular point of view? He’s clearly intelligent enough to have gotten it right, so I’m baffled.

I encourage you to go read the whole piece. Allow me, here on 7WD, to make a few comments and corrections:

The House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church (TEC) in the United States has voted decisively to allow in principle the appointment, to all orders of ministry, of persons in active same-sex relationship.

No, actually. If you read resolution D025 carefully, it says no such thing. We do not have “appointment” to holy orders in this church. We have “discernment” and “call” to holy orders. D025, through our Constitution & Canons, provides plenty of opportunity for people to be challenged in their expressed call to ordained ministry. More to the point, and somewhat disappointing to me, resolution 2006-B033 (the call for restraint on bishops in same-sex partnered relationship) is not explicitly overturned here. So we have both the admission that God will call those whom God chooses (2009-D025), and a remaining call for restraint (2006-B033).

This marks a clear break with the rest of the Anglican Communion.

Not really. If people in your church, Bishop Wright, were honest, you would see that you have many, many GLBT clergy (in all three orders) now serving your church. We have merely been honest, shining the light of truth on ourselves and the whole world. This is, I believe, a Gospel value. If honesty were a break with the rest of the Anglican Communion, I’d stand with honesty. Fortunately, I know from conversations with lay leaders and priests around the Communion, there are a wide constellation of views. Most people (even from some well-known conservative strongholds) with whom I have spoken do not wish to see a break, and they at least respect the openness and honesty of the Episcopal Church, even when they do not share our views on human sexuality. It is only some bishops, eager to be globetrotting speakers and booksellers, who continue to broadcast the idea that there is an inevitable tear in the Communion.

They were telling the Archbishop of Canterbury and the other “instruments of communion” that they were ignoring their plea for a moratorium on consecrating practising homosexuals as bishops. They were rejecting the two things the Archbishop of Canterbury has named as the pathway to the future — the Windsor Report (2004) and the proposed Covenant (whose aim is to provide a modus operandi for the Anglican Communion).

Interesting claim, that. If you study carefully, you will note that there are three moratoria in the Windsor Report. A very good case can be made that the Episcopal Church is one of the only “Windsor Compliant” provinces in the Anglican Communion. The Akinolites and Duncanites have systematically violated the moratorium on parallel jurisdictions, and they have also ignored the Lambeth Conference pleas for a listening process, called for in 1978, 1988, and 1998. Meanwhile, the Episcopal Church has refrained from ordaining further bishops in same-sex partnered relationships since the ordination of Gene Robinson in 2003 (before the Windsor Report was written, by the way).

In Windsor’s language, they have chosen to “walk apart”.

Again, this is breathtaking. It is, in fact, Archbishop Peter Akinola and friends who have done so. They alone have excommunicated themselves from the Archbishop of Canterbury by refusing to share Eucharist with him and others at recent Primates’ Meetings. Many of them have refused to attend the Lambeth Conference. I wish they had not chosen to separate themselves from us, but that is what they have done, especially in creating parallel jurisdictions. And, my English friends, make no mistake about it: soon they will set up parallel jurisdictions in England as well.

Granted, the TEC resolution indicates a strong willingness to remain within the Anglican Communion. But saying “we want to stay in, but we insist on rewriting the rules” is cynical double-think. We should not be fooled.

No, this is neither cynical nor is it double-think. I for one do wish to preserve close relations with my sisters and brothers throughout the Anglican Communion. At the same time, we have a mandate to respond pastorally to the needs of our context. This is not unlike the situation in the Church of England, where thousands upon thousands of same-sex blessings have taken place in churches as clergy have offered pastoral care to their congregations. Some estimates place the number of same-sex blessings in London Diocese alone much higher than the total number of same-sex blessings in the US. (I am hoping to see solid figures here at some point!)

Of course, matters didn’t begin with the consecration of Gene Robinson. The floodgates opened several years before, particularly in 1996 when a church court acquitted a bishop who had ordained active homosexuals.

No, the floodgates of Anglican sects began much earlier, when some people decided they could not abide prayer book revision or women’s ordination. Starting with the Reformed Episcopal Church in the 19th century, people have been breaking off to form their own fiefdoms. Gene Robinson is a convenient excuse for modern schism. Cynical observers think that part of the motivation is so that conservative priests can be created as bishops. I’m not sure I buy that, but one does wonder why this alphabet soup of “Anglican” Christians need so very many bishops.

But Jewish, Christian and Muslim teachers have always insisted that lifelong man-plus-woman marriage is the proper context for sexual intercourse.

Whaaa? One begins to wonder if Bishop Wright ever read the bits before Matthew in his Bible. Or if he is aware of the practice of polygamy in Muslim cultures. Sure, Medieval Christianity decided that lifelong marriage between one man and one woman was the ideal, but those same Christians taught clerical celibacy. I encourage Bishop Wright to read his Hebrew Scriptures before he says that Jewish and Christian teachers have “always” taught his view of marriage. I wonder if he still adheres to Jesus’ teachings on, say, divorce? If you want to look more broadly, I wonder if Bishop Wright sold all his possessions and gave the money to the poor when he became a follower of Christ? Mostly, I’m astounded at anyone who cites a “Biblical view of marriage” as if that settles it. It’s all much more complicated than that. It’s about love, fidelity, and faithfulness, mostly.

Justice never means “treating everybody the same way”, but “treating people appropriately”, which involves making distinctions between different people and situations.

So I guess that would make racism or slavery A-OK. Both racism and slavery are very Biblical, by the way. No, I’m afraid Jesus didn’t put any asterisks on the Great Commandment. It is not “love SOME neighbors” but love all neighbors. I find it fascinating that Bishop Wright here argues for contextual or situational ethics and then pretends to cite timeless cross-cultural values in another sentence.

Ways must be found for all in America who want to be loyal to it, and to scripture, tradition and Jesus, to have that loyalty recognised and affirmed at the highest level.

Ah, now the punchline. This was all a justification for supporting the supposed conservative victims. The problem with the fiction of pastoral provision for conservatives is that they are not, in fact victims. No one has ever asked them to leave. No one has said women priests or straight priests have to be in every congregation. Congregations are free to call lesbians or WASPy men, as God guides them. No one will have to perform same-sex blessings. Seminarians can go to Nashotah House or EDS.

But it’s much more convenient to justify schism if one plays the victim card.

Let’s all be clear about two things. First, the Episcopal Church is (imperfectly, to be sure) trying to answer God’s mission imperatives in this place and in this time. Second, we are committed to our bonds of affection with our sisters and brothers overseas. To say otherwise is to distort the truth and to refuse to listen to what our General Convention and our Presiding Bishop have repeatedly said.

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68 Responses

  1. patzerdog says:

    Wright got it essentially right. There are only two sources for a transcendent moral order available to people. One is scriptural and the other is the western tradition of natural law that starts essentially with Plato and Aristotle. Both of these are unanimous about the nature of sexuality and Wright’s explanation of them is correct. Together, they form an enormous obstacle to what the Episcopal Church has done. Anyone can claim to be on the cutting edge, out there with the Holy Ghost, getting the latest amendments to scripture or human biology. But if I had to bet on who is right, I’ll go with Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics, Jesus, Paul, Augustine, Aquinas, all the Popes, N. T. Wright instead of the House of Deputies and the bishops down in Disneyland. dolgwan is right. You can bless anything you want to–that doesn’t mean God will bless it.

  2. Todd says:

    Reading this as someone from outside both the TEC and the Anglican traditions I find it very intriguing and perplexing. I do not know enough withiin this tradition to respond to comments related to specific church ecclesiology.

    However, this rebuttal has highlighted some issues that I still wad in their mystery.

    Many people have indicated what the rub is with the issue at hand. To some the crux of the matter is “Does God consider same-gender sex sinful?”. To others it is as simple a matter as “What does scripture teach regarding this subject?” For others it is about love and not harming the community at large. I am sure that there may be others that I have missed or others that have not been shared.

    After reading these responses the question at hand for me, relates to epistimology. How does one know truth? How in the world can we really know what God believes regarding sexual preference? Well intended and bright theologians can argue their position scripturally. So, where does that leave us. It leaves me with this nagging epistimological question. Can two people living in the way of Christ see scripture differently on this particular issue? If so, what does one do with it? Why must it be reconciled? If not, then why even care about keeping communion with others who are not following Christ….This all seems foolish.

    Communal epistimology must place each others interests over the other to hear the voice of the other. Are people from either viewpoint willing to suspend their perspective long enough to listen to the voice of the other? And if so, will they place the interest of the other person above their own interest. So, what happens when a community of people learning to follow in the way of Christ place others’ interests over their own?
    What happens to a community where one side submits to the needs of the other but the other doesn’t? Can both parties really be living in the way of Jesus and not place the interest of the other ahead of their own needs?

  3. Steve L.- says:

    It strikes me that what D025 intends will allow the PB to circumvent B033, which she obviously doesn’t respect. Calling down the ABC is not very Christian but that is the direction TEC is going. Scott, I hope your pension is secure because if you think the rush to the lifeboats was noticable it will become a flood.

    U.S. bishops affirm openness of ordination process
    Jerald Hyche and Pat McCaughan
    Episcopal News Service
    Jul 15, 2009
    Anaheim, Calif.
    After more than two hours of discussion and with a standing-room-only crowd watching, the House of Bishops on July 13 adopted an amended version of Resolution D025, which affirms the openness of “any ordained ministry” to gay and lesbian people.

    Bishops voted 99-45, with two abstentions, for the revised resolution, which goes to the House of Deputies world mission legislative committee. The committee must make a recommendation to the full house about whether to concur in the amended resolution, amend it further, or defeat it, according to Deputy Sally Johnson (Minnesota).

    The bishops amended the fourth resolve, which originally read “that the 76th General Convention affirm that God has called and may call such individuals, to any ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church which call is tested through our discernment processes acting in accordance with the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church.” They inserted the words “and that God’s call to the ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church is a mystery which the church attempts to discern for all people” after the words “to any ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church” and deleted “which call is tested.”

    The House of Deputies was the house of initial action for D025, widely considered a response to Resolution B033, which was adopted by the last General Convention. B033 urged restraint in consenting to the consecration of bishops whose “manner of life” challenged the rest of the Anglican Communion. That challenge was widely understood to refer to gay bishops in partnered unions.

    Bishop Geralyn Wolf of Rhode Island, chair of the World Mission legislative committee which crafted resolution D025, had advised bishops to reject the measure because it could threaten a proposed Anglican covenant and undermine “mission at home and abroad because it presumes a theological understanding that we have not in fact established.”

    But Bishop Mark Hollingsworth of Ohio, who authored the amendment, and other supporters said the vote is “an honest reflection of who we are as a church and where we are. B033 was about moratoria and about restraint, and I think it remains to be seen if this affects those two.”

    Bishop Henry Parsley of Alabama and others who voted “no” said passage of the resolution would not be well-received by some members of the Anglican Communion.

    “I long for us to be an inclusive church, but not a polarized church,” he said. “We need to be a part of the larger Anglican Communion in what we do in this matter. I think it will be interpreted internationally as a rejection of B033. I actually think it’s more nuanced and subtle than that.

    “I think it can be understood that B033 still has some effect among us in terms of exercising restraint as we act under the constitution and canons of our church.”

    One of the 300 or so onlookers included the Rev. Susan Russell, president of Integrity USA, a GLBT Episcopal advocacy group. She said she was confident that the vote “moves us beyond B033. Today we told the truth about who we are. It was a vote for both unity and mission. This is a church that is ready to move on. It was a clear vote for mission for this church.”

    Among other things, D025 reaffirms participation and commitment of the Episcopal Church within the Anglican Communion and also acknowledges the ministerial gifts of gays and lesbians.

    Bishop Stacy Sauls of Lexington (Kentucky), who voted yes, said D025 and B033 together offer “a true picture of where our church stands at the moment: That our canonical process is open to all people, including gay and lesbian people. We are concerned about our relations in the communion, and we have asked people to exercise restraint while we get that worked out.

    “I think that’s probably an advance, and I think people will know we’re through exercising restraint when we’ve stopped doing it.”

    Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, at the heart of the issue because he is in a long-term relationship with a male partner, urged his fellow bishops to support the measure, saying once again that “it’s time for us to stand up and be the church God is calling us to be.”

    (The Rev. Jerald Hyche is associate rector of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church, Houston. The Rev. Pat McCaughan is Episcopal Life Media correspondent for Provinces VII and VIII and the House of Bishops.)

  4. Jaime B says:

    Well done! A beautiful witness!

    And yet, witnessing to the truth in Anglicanism has always been a fraught process, because Anglicanism is far from being a confessional entity. As long as there have been Anglicans, there has been disagreement; but there has also been the commitment to keep the Church inclusive of sometimes very diverse points of view. What we have today is a group of very vocal bishops, mostly of rather literalist Evangelical stripe (not the widest band in Anglicanism), who want to abrogate the spirit of the Anglican Settlement of our de facto foundress, Elizabeth I.

    Where is the “big tent”? When did we abolish confessional diversity in Anglicanism? The theological issues behind disagreements on homosexuality in Anglicanism have very deep roots. In a modern context, they call us to a much better hermeneutic than taking seven or eight passages of Scripture, divorcing them from their context, and acting as if the New Testament dispensation never happened. I have no doubts about the piety and sincerity of those on the other side of the question, but I do have some reservations about the way they read Scripture.

    I have looked at the Scriptural passages which allegedly make a blanket condemnation of same-sex acts and have found that in good conscience (and taking each one in its own context and in the context of the whole message of the Gospel), I cannot take them as saying what these other readers purport them to define. For one thing, the translations of some of them in commonly used English versions distort their original meaning and ignore their contexts.

    That these understandings had become commonplace in some circles, and been given such inordinate prominence over other, overarching indications in Scripture is something that the Evangelicals will have to justify to me before I accept their readings.

    If the four Gospels are the light in which we understand the rest of Scripture, why are they completely silent on an issue so important that it threatens to divide the Church?

    I will continue to believe that God is a God of love and mercy, and not of judgment and retribution; I refuse to accept that God could be as small-minded and mean as the prejudices of mankind. For me, in the light of the Gospel as I see it, the blasphemy is making of God the idol of one’s own fears.

    Perhaps it is to help us avoid this blasphemy that we are called in the Gospel to examine our own faults, and leave those of others to those who live with and struggle with them in order to find a way to live closer to God in the truth of our own hearts.

  5. Judith F H says:

    Brilliant – well done!

  6. bookguybaltmd says:

    I agree (in general) with GJT’s assessment, which seems to be a common one; but I worry that this is “the long way around” the question at hand. It seems to me that it is not only not necessary to abandon scriptural literalness to the “fundamentalists” on this question, it is outright counterproductive to do so.

    Todd’s question seems central to me: “Can two people living in the way of Christ see scripture differently on this particular issue….”

    It might seem possible for two such persons to “agree to disagree.” Contrary to assertions by Wright and others, this is very far from a question of core doctrine in the Christian religion. Certainly there are absolutely no grounds AT ALL for the irresponsible (and outright false) assertion that TEC has “abandoned Christianity.”

    As Jamie B points out (far more gently than would I), Patzerdog and others seem to simply be misinformed as to what scripture actually has to say on this subject.

    For a Christian, interpreting scripture in the light of Christ’s message (and in light of the church’s core doctrines as defined by the only 7 councils that were ever truly ecumenical), there simply are NOT two ways to interpret scripture. There simply is NO condemnation of long-term, loving and monogamous homosexuality in scripture.

    There ARE condemnations of homosexual rape (as there are of heterosexual rape); there ARE condemnations of reversion to pagan cults and practices that may include (but are not exclusively defined by) homosexual activities. But there is NOWHERE an outright condemnation of the situation we are discussing here: talking about the best way to minister to the legitimate pastoral needs of our fellow himan beings.

    This sort of distortion and misinterpretation of Scripture IS one that has been frequent in the past. One might even say that it is a “traditional” misinterpretation. That “tradition does not make it any more correct than the previous and now completely discredited misinterpretations that were used to justify slavery, miscegenation, and a host of other political theories gone bad.

    When one looks closely and carefully at what scripture actually contains, especially when one looks at scripture in light of the gospels, and particularly in light of the core message of our lord, there simply are NOT two ways for a genuine Christian to interpret scripture on this subject.

    When there appears to be a direct conflict between a text proofing “interpretation” assering a “condemnation” on one hand and the clear commandments of our lord on theother hand, it is our lord’s message that must prevail. That is what it means to be Christian. When an interpretation of scripture creates an injustice that directly and immediately causes a person or a group of people an injury, as this one does, the proof of any condemnation MUST be incontrovertible and above the slightest possible dispute. In this case, this particular misinterpretation does not come even close to that standard.

    Absent any condemnation (clear or even remotely interpretable in this case), the answer a Christian must give is the one that TEC has, in fact, given in both 033 and 025: we MUST address, openly discuss, and, if possible, meet the legitimate pastoral needs of even the least of these; this is true even when those legitimate pastoral needs may be manifest as a vocation to ordination or marriage. This is especially true in the case of making sure the sacraments are open to ALL of the baptised.

    So, to answer Todd’s question: No, two people living in the way of Christ can not see scripture differently on this particular issue.” There may be legitimate differences of interpretation on other parts of scripture. But on this question there is only one way for a Christian to interpret our duty to our fellows (Christian, Samaritan, or otherwise). “Love the lord your God with all your heart and all your mind and all your soul…” and: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

    In this context, Scott is absolutely correct to question Wright’s manipulation and falsification of both TEC’s statements AND his (presumed) manipulation and falsification of scripture.

  7. bookguybaltmd says:

    Um… as I read over this it seems to me that some could misinterpret what I wrote above as casting doubt on Wright’s (or anyone elses for that matter) core credentials as a Christian.

    Please understand that I am in absolutely no doubt that he (and most of those in the secessionist camp) adhere to the core doctrines of the church as expressed in the Gospels and the only 7 councils that are acceptable to the orthodox as ecumenical.

    I do, however, think that he, in this instance particular, and the secessionists in general, have been sadly misinformed and signifigantly mislead by their emotions as to the true import of scripture, intent of TEC, and doctrinal signifigance of this issue. They, overall, are clearly Christians. Their interpretation of scripture has been distorted by their emotions into one that is not christian. In other words, they are just wrong in this particular instance.

    This, of course, is a direct contrast to the habits of a number of the secessionists (like Kendal Harmon) who do not seem to hesitate to say that TEC has ceased to be Christian at all.

  8. Jeanne Finan says:

    This is excellent. I would be interested to have Tom Wright read this and respond.

  9. bookguybaltmd says:

    I’m not, necessarily, smarter thank Wright, generally, just actually looking for truth in the plain text of scripture FOR MYSELF; I’m not taking someone else’s reading as true without studying the issue for myself. We all make mistakes. It’s abundantly clear to anyone who reads a decent translation of the scriptures for themselves that Wright has made a BIG error here. The Greek texts of the New Testament and Epistles, and particularly of Romans, is abundantly clear in not supporting Wright’s position.

  10. Ray says:

    Scott and others,

    You continue to do what our African brothers and sisters, in particular, are driven crazy by. You use words as if they had a flexibility in their plain meaning so as to create an impression that you declare is true when it is demonstrably false. Once again, this is precisely what TEC has done in their breathtaking use of postmodern language in D025 and all Tom Wright did was call them and you on it using the Word of God as historically understood for milennia. The plain outcome intended by TEC is certainly just as Integrity has read it–that gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgendered persons who practice a form of sexuality proscribed in all of scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, will be ordained. That they are now in England and America and Canada is not an argument that can stand. We obviously ordain adulterers, thieves, child molestors, and gossips. No one justifies this as a qualification or a redressing of “rights.” Certainly there will be a discernment process as Scott points out and certainly not everyone who applies will be chosen, but if such unrepentant and declared unsinful behavior is not a barrier, why pass D025 at all? Simply because TEC says it does not want to separate from the Anglican Communion, and folks like Scott and others affirm that is true, the plain message to the Communion and to rejecting the ABC’s clear in-person pleas for backing away from this decison (only the latest request added to those from all corners of Anglicanism and its established bodiesin years past) was “we’re not listening to anyone but our own counsel. Everyone else is wrong and we’re right but we still want communion.” If that is not cynical in its plain meaning I don’t know what is. Somehow TEC has taken “honesty” about their sin to mean integrity, wholeness, when what is occurring is to call sin a “holy act” as Gene Robinson does and to call a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as heresy as Katherine Schori did in her opening speech. The big error my good friends is TEC saying to God and the world that nothing has changed. In some ways, that is true, but in an official, conciliar decision it is patently false and what has been sown will be reaped in a whirlwind. We all stand in need of grace, and I more than anyone, but God help us when we will not avail ourselves of grace, teach the opposite of truth, bar the door to men and women who need God’s grace by our untruths in teaching, and call it all holy. Thank God there are those in TEC who remain faithful and it is they who will sign the covenant while TEC continues to hope it will all go away. Since the Word of God stands forever, that will be a long time indeed.

  11. SteveP says:

    Wright deconstructed your resolution. You desconstructed Wright’s deconstruction. You admire deconstruction? Episcopalianism deconstructs itself. Its efforts can be summarized in a single proper noun: Frank Lombard.

    Your organization is meaningless.

  12. Kurt Hill says:

    Hey, SteveP. Why don’t you crawl back under the con evo rock that you came from?

  13. bookguybaltmd says:

    @ Ray. I am sorry that you and others prefer to rely on your emotions rather than actually read scripture for yourselves. The plain text of scripture simply does not support your contentions. The plain text of our religious history as a faith does not support your claim of a tradition that is actually longer than the 1920s.

    In this case, it is you and SOME African prelates who are demonstrably wrong, are acting directly counter to scripture and to the import of Christ’s commandments. It is you who are claiming something that is demonstrably false and twisting scripture without regard to truth.

    The complete lack of logic in what you have written above is almost proof enough against your contentions. You claim that it is because you and others have claimed it is so.

    Please set your emotional reaction against the truth aside and read the scriptures for yourself.

  14. Scott Gunn says:

    Dear Steve P.,

    “Wright deconstructed your resolution. You desconstructed Wright’s deconstruction. You admire deconstruction? Episcopalianism deconstructs itself.”

    I officially deconstruct your deconstruction of my deconstruction of Wright’s deconstruction of the Episcopal Church.


  15. John says:

    The body of your entry here certainly proves your first sentence.

  16. Kurt Hill says:

    Really, John? I thought it certainly proves Fr. Scott’s second sentence.

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    […] debate seems to be causing a Web 2.0 fire. From the New York Times to The Globe and Mail and now to this dude who thinks he’s smarter the Bishop of Durham.  This montrous debate is a sign of a much […]

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