Friday, June 25, 2004

Rites of Blessing in Vermont

Hugo recently posted about Bishop John Chane of Washington D.C. performing a same sex blessing. In the resulting comments, Jay offered a link to A Report to the Bishop and People of the Episcopal Diocese of Vermont
from the Task Force on the Blessing of Persons Living in Same-Gender Relationships.

This is an excellent resource. It includes, among other things, the text of trial liturgies. This is the first time I've seen such texts available online.

What really got my attention was Part IV, Theological Considerations. This is by far the best theological summary of why some of us Episcopalians see no way that we can alter our position on this issue.

I want to offer a few excerpts from the document.

Concerning the interpretation of scripture;

The Rt. Rev. Maurice Benitez, retired Bishop of Texas, was quoted in a March 14, 2004, press release from the American Anglican Council as saying, “We want to emphasize that the heart of the matter is not sexuality or sexual orientation but rather the authority of Holy Scripture in the life of the Church.” Bishop Benitez is among those who believe that scripture is unequivocal in its condemnation of same-sex sexual
behavior and that therefore the Church should not ordain or bless anyone who engages in such behavior. This group argues that their approach to scripture is the only acceptable approach. We acknowledge that this approach falls within the broad embrace of Anglican tradition, but we believe it is far from the only way to read scripture...

...The Holy Scriptures are “the Word of God” and “contain all things necessary to salvation,” but they are not the literal words of God, nor are all things in scripture necessary to salvation. As the writers of the biblical texts were inspired by God through the Holy Spirit, so is the church community inspired in its continual process of interpretation.

The Holy Scriptures represent a variety of forms of expression, written over an extensive period of time by a variety of authors. Each reflects its own cultural and historical context.

Jesus Christ is the incarnate Word of God to whom the New Testament bears witness. For Christians, the revelation of God in Christ is the key to the Church’s understanding of the scriptures as a whole. Individual texts must not, therefore, be isolated and made to mean something at odds with the tenor or trajectory of the scriptures as a whole.

For the Church’s judgment of the morality of actions and dispositions to be authoritative, it is insufficient simply to condemn those things that are condemned somewhere in scripture, or to approve those things that are somewhere approved.

Faithful interpretation requires the Church to use the gifts of “memory, reason, and skill” to find the sense of the scriptural text and to locate it in its time and place. The Church must then seek the text’s present signifi cance in light of the whole economy of salvation.

Chief among the guiding principles by which the Church interprets the sacred texts is the congruence of its interpretation with Christ’s summary of the law (Matthew 22:37-40), the new commandment (John 13:34) and the creeds.

Because the Church’s members are human, their reading of scripture is contingent and fallible, even in matters of faith and morals. In reading its scriptures, the historical Church remains always a wayfaring community using discernment, conversation, and argument to find its way.
This seems to me to be a solidly Anglican approach to the interpretation of scripture. I think it is critical that we hold on to this view, as it will be an essential tool when called to address future issues of morality and ethics which scripture and tradition seem to not address, or are unclear.

Regarding the Incarnation;

Anglican theology, as it has developed from its earliest expression in the first Book of Common Prayer, is deeply rooted in an incarnational image of God as known to us in Jesus Christ and in a trinitarian understanding of God as profoundly relational. Our prayers and collects speak of a deep intimacy with God through Jesus Christ and the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit.

Key to this incarnational and relational theology is the belief that all humans are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) and that this gives humankind a potential for relationship with, participation in, or union with God. This claim, however, raises the question, for the writers of Genesis to those of the present day, of how to explain human
imperfection, human sin. Genesis relates the story of “the fall” of the human creatures. St. Augustine’s notion of “original sin” became a dominant theme, and subsequent explanations focused on the degree to which original sin affects the image of God in humankind.

The major theologians of the continental Reformation and their followers in England—represented today by the evangelical strand in Anglicanism—tended to see original sin as virtually obliterating the image of God in humans, making us sinners by nature and inheritance, as well as by our deeds...
The influence of Augustine regarding our understanding of original sin, instead of some of the other Church fathers, such as Irenaeus, and the theological problems that have resulted from this Augustinian influence, is the point I was attempting to make in a previous post.

...The trend flowing from Richard Hooker was to see original sin as an obstacle to full realization of the image of God rather than the cause of its disappearance. And beginning with Whichcote in the seventeenth century, there is a shift away from the notion of original sin as historical fact and as something inherited through procreation. He saw the fall as symbolic. For some contemporary theologians, the explanation does not lie in an original sin—historical or symbolic—that separates humanity from divinity, but in the nature of creation itself, a creation that is finite and, in the case of humans, fallible, capable in their freedom of sin...

...The strand of the tradition that emphasizes the predominance of original sin tends to see a radical separation between humanity and divinity, between creation and redemption, to see God as wholly other and transcendent. It tends, in other words, towards the sort of dualism that separates embodiment from spirituality and locates sexuality in an embodiment that is the bearer of original sin. This strand is inclined to focus on issues of sexual purity and is most concerned to confi ne the expression of sexuality to the marital relationship, one it understands to be ordained by God. Procreation is understood as the primary purpose of marriage between a man and a woman, and any expression of
sexuality outside the bond of marriage is considered sinful. This is the strand of Anglican theological tradition that has found a home in many non-western parts of the Anglican Communion.

We believe the trend in western Anglican theology—beginning with Hooker—is away from dualisms and toward a theology that balances, and holds in unifying tension, notions of God as transcendent and God as immanent in the Incarnation, notions of creation and redemption, notions of body and spirit. The tendency is to describe the presence of
the image of God in human beings less as a quality of being than as a way of being—in other words, in dynamic terms. F.D. Maurice, for example, saw it as the power of related love. For him, as well as many others, this capacity for loving relatedness is key to their theologies of humanity and divinity.

In this view, sexuality can be understood as gift, as one means of expressing profound connection between two human beings. If it is given, in the words of the marriage service, “for mutual joy,” and not simply to permit procreation, then, we must ask, why should its expression be denied to two persons of the same gender who love one another?
I realize this is a lengthy post, with way too many quotes. I have placed it here for personal reasons (I want quick access to it) and for the benefit of others (to refute the charge that those who support same gender unions have abandoned the bible and have no theological basis for this position). I encourage you to go take a look at the complete document.


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