Short-circuiting discernment

In First Things, Jordan Hylden takes a despairing tone towards the Episcopal Church, saying essentially, “Oh, if only conservative Anglicans could see that Episcopalians are not completely disregarding the Bible in their flight into apostasy!”

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 Their persistent concern is that liberals do not do this, but rather regard Scripture as outdated and no longer authoritative for Christian faith and life in the modern world.

This is faux-pious sanctimony. Episcopalians have been doing precisely what Hylden calls for for the last decade—and it has been comprehensively denigrated and dismissed by people who disagree with the conclusions Episcopalians have come to.

At the Anglican Consultative Council meeting in 2005, the Episcopal Church was invited to make a presentation about its approach to Scripture and, specifically, how Episcopalians reconciled Scripture with the ordination of an openly gay man as bishop. That presentation was lengthy, detailed, nuanced, and showed a “genuine grappling” with “the authoritative text of Holy Scripture.” It appears no one was listening.

Hylden cites the Bible in the Life of the Church project, a similarly lengthy and nuanced effort to explore how the Bible is read across the Communion. When its report was issued at the 2012 ACC meeting, many breakaway Anglicans immediately dismissed it because it appeared to permit conclusions to be drawn that they would not like.

(Hylden also bemoans the fact that South Carolina Episcopalians who left the church were not invited to the General Convention. This ignores the fact that the diocese was part of the church at the time—and most representatives walked out of Convention early.)

I think Hylden and I would agree that the key to Christian living is a community gathered around the authoritative text of Scripture to discern where God is calling them. That is what I find in the Episcopal Church, though I have my own frustrations from time to time about parts that Episcopalians tend to over- and under-emphasize. And I particularly welcome the part in Hylden’s piece when he seems to suggest that faithful Christians can disagree about a particular issue—say, homosexuality—but still recognize each other as members of the same body of Christ.

But my real frustration is when this process of communal discernment is short-circuited by the implicit requirement that the discernment produce certain outcomes. That seems to defeat the purpose of discernment. When various people can’t get that guarantee, they tend to abandon the process and start going on about how Episcopalians have abandoned Scripture—when precisely the opposite is true.

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