Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

In a pastoral letter to the Anglican Communion , Episcopal Church presiding bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori seems to be saying that the Holy Spirit is either a moral and cultural relativist or a “colonialist”:

The Spirit does seem to be saying to many within The Episcopal Church that gay and lesbian persons are God’s good creation, that an aspect of good creation is the possibility of lifelong, faithful partnership, and that such persons may indeed be good and healthy exemplars of gifted leadership within the Church, as baptized leaders and ordained ones. The Spirit also seems to be saying the same thing in other parts of the Anglican Communion, and among some of our Christian partners, including Lutheran churches in North America and Europe, the Old Catholic churches of Europe, and a number of others.

That growing awareness does not deny the reality that many Anglicans and not a few Episcopalians still fervently hold traditional views about human sexuality. This Episcopal Church is a broad and inclusive enough tent to hold that variety . . . . Above all, it recognizes that the Spirit may be speaking to all of us, in ways that do not at present seem to cohere or agree.

[ . . . ]

The Episcopal Church recognizes that these decisions are problematic to a number of other Anglicans. We have not made these decisions lightly. We recognize that the Spirit has not been widely heard in the same way in other parts of the Communion. In all humility, we recognize that we may be wrong, yet we have proceeded in the belief that the Spirit permeates our decisions.

We also recognize that the attempts to impose a singular understanding in such matters represent the same kind of cultural excesses practiced by many of our colonial forebears in their missionizing activity. Native Hawaiians were forced to abandon their traditional dress in favor of missionaries’ standards of modesty. Native Americans were forced to abandon many of their cultural practices, even though they were fully congruent with orthodox Christianity, because the missionaries did not understand or consider those practices exemplary of the Spirit. The uniformity imposed at the Synod of Whitby did similar violence to a developing, contextual Christianity in the British Isles. In their search for uniformity, our forebears in the faith have repeatedly done much spiritual violence in the name of Christianity.

I realize I may be expressing latent colonialist tendencies and committing spiritual violence by imposing a singular understanding of basic logic on Bishop Schori, but it appears that she is forcing us to choose between two alternatives:

#1. The Holy Spirit is telling some people that gays and lesbians can be ordained ministers while telling other people that such a move is contrary to God’s will. Ergo, the Spirit is a relativist who imposes moral requirements based on cultural norms rather than on a fixed, knowable standard.

#2. The Holy Spirit is consistent and has expressed his will on this issue to one group; the other group is mistaken in believing that the Spirit has spoken to them. The group that he has spoken to are therefore justified in attempting to apply this standard consistently throughout the communion.

Schori seems to be implying that #1 is true, but what I think she really believes is #2. Assuming that she really cares what God thinks about the matter, she likely believes that she and other advocates for homosexuality are hearing the true Word from the Spirit. They are part of the small vanguard that is being told by the Spirit that, despite what he may have told millions of other Christians throughout history, God considers engaging in act of homosexual sodomy to be good and healthy (in certain situations) and in no way disqualifies one from being a minister.

The problem for Schori is that the implications of this claim conflicts with other parts of the liberal orthodoxy. If the Spirit has truly made such a revelation and clearly expressed his will, then why would they not push for it to be applied consistently throughout the communion? What about the gay couple that wants to serve as Anglican priests but is forbidden because it conflicts with cultural norms? Wouldn’t justice demand that people should be able to follow the true word of God despite the objections of a culturally backward leadership?

That is likely the preference of Schori and others. Divine justice should trump the inhibiting and destructive cultural norms set by unenlightened peoples. But, of course, if liberal Episcopalians disregard the native cultural sensibilities by apply the Spirit’s will that would mean they (and the Holy Spirit) are guilty of committing acts of colonialism.

So which claim do liberal Episcopalians believe to be true: Is God a relativist or is he a colonialist?

Show 0 comments

Tags

Loading...

Filter First Thoughts Posts

Related Articles