Skip to comments.To Set Our Hope on Christ: ECUSA's Hermeneutical Shift
Posted on 07/25/2005 6:10:57 PM PDT by sionnsar
Special to VirtueOnline
To Set Our Hope on Christ was produced under the authority of the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church of the United States (ECUSA) and distributed by ECUSA's Office of Communications. It seeks to answer the Anglican Communion's Windsor Report question as to how ECUSA used Scripture, tradition, and reason to conclude that a person in a same gender relationship was eligible to lead a "flock of Christ." ECUSA's apology makes use of a hermeneutical shift in regards to the principle of truth.
The traditional interpretation of the hermeneutical principle of truth, meaning the ultimate reality or conformity to fact, has been under assault for much of the twentieth century. Western culture has increasingly conformed the traditional principle of truth to the principle of relativism. ECUSA began such a cultural transition in earnest during the turbulent 1960's. It is essential for all readers to understand that ECUSA' s To Set Our Hope on Christ fully adopts this new cultural reality.
This fundamental shift in the hermeneutical principle of truth begins with Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold's opening statement that: The Episcopal Church has been seeking to answer this question for nearly 40 years and at the same time has been addressing a more fundamental question, namely: how can the holiness and faithfulness to which God calls us all be made manifest in human intimacy? (Hope, Forward)
Using the Church's former hermeneutic of truth, as conforming to fact, one could assume that ECUSA has been seeking an answer to the essence of the Windsor Report's question 40 years before it was asked! Of course, this was not the case, but Griswold's statement seems to find its truth in a 1967 General Convention resolution initiating a study.
This resolution is buried in the General Convention Journal on pages 492-494, but it does instruct the Executive Counsel to study "attitudes" in ECUSA related to human intimacy. Griswold's truth understands this study as naturally leading to the answer that a divorced practicing homosexual should become a bishop. For Griswold, his analysis is not a stretching of the truth as much as it is the truth. It is his truth.
The hermeneutical shift of relative truth is found from start to finish in To Set Our Hope on Christ. This shift even encompasses the Appendix. For example, Pamela Darling states that: "From its earliest beginnings, the Episcopal Church has struggled to define what kinds of intimate relationships are permissible." (Hope, p.64) Pamela Darling believes her statement to be true by using a hermeneutical principle of relative truth. Many could describe the statements by Griswold and Darling as false, but using the hermeneutical principle of relative truth their opinions on the subject cannot be false. As a result, it is absolutely necessary for readers of To Set Our Hope on Christ to understand that stated facts may not conform to a hermeneutic of truth containing an ultimate reality.
Griswold regularly uses the expression "pluriform truth." Pluriform truth means that there is more than one truth. Although "your" truth maybe different from "my" truth, it does not mean either are false. Rather, it actually means that both of our understandings of "truth" are in fact "true." Through the employment of a new hermeneutic principle for "truth" ECUSA hopes that the Anglican Communion will accept its conclusions or at least continue the dialogue.
The hermeneutical understanding of truth being relative or pluriform has been growing in western culture and is being taken very seriously by the church catholic. For example, just days before being elected Pope, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger warned the Church that relativism was becoming "the only attitude acceptable to today's standards."
Thus, "Having a clear faith, based on the creed of the church, is often labeled today as fundamentalism." (AP Vatican City, April 18, 2005) The word "fundamentalism" is often a label used within ECUSA concerning those who humbly disagree with the majority's acceptance of a hermeneutical shift towards a pluriform relative truth.
What is sought by ECUSA beyond the presenting issue of sexuality is acceptance of this new hermeneutic. Acceptance for ECUSA is found through dialogue and a discernment process that accepts differing opinions concerning truth as being valid. ECUSA's hope is that through "dialogue" and "discernment" the acceptance of differing opinions of Scripture, tradition, and reason will become normative with no ultimate judgments of what is right or wrong.
This is precisely how To Set Our Hope on Christ concludes: Accountability to others in communion with them is "expressed by openness to dialogue, by attentiveness to the particularity of people, times and places, by acceptance of interdependence... and by honoring plurality and diversity as gifts of God" (Virginia Report 5.18).
The Episcopal election in New Hampshire is offered up to the whole church for its consideration in this very spirit of communion by which the Anglican churches have always been bound together in diversity. We recognize our disagreements here but walk together in love, in hope that the processes of discernment might be furthered thereby, for the sake of our common mission to bring God's love to the world. (Hope, p.55)
If the Anglican Communion acknowledges ECUSA's hermeneutical shift through continued inclusion as a Province or through lesser ties of friendship, then the Anglican Communion will tacitly be conforming itself to a hermeneutic of pluriform relative truth that seeks no clear standard of what is true. The Anglican Communion needs to take the assault on the traditional hermeneutic of truth more seriously. ECUSA's actions and statements, including its apology, encourage a hermeneutic where truth can be different for individuals, dioceses, and provinces.
ECUSA's enlightened hermeneutic permits individuals, dioceses, and provinces to do whatever they believe to be true despite what other individuals, dioceses, and provinces may believe to be false. Such acceptance would begin eroding centuries of understanding that are essential to membership in the one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
Many faithful creedal Christians in ECUSA already know where ECUSA's relative pluriform truth leads. It leads to an assault on the very nature of the person and divinity of Jesus Christ. Rather than Jesus Christ being the way, the life, and the truth, Jesus becomes one of many ways, many life-styles, and many truths.
Should ECUSA's hermeneutical shift be encouraged either through communion or friendship within the Anglican Communion, then ECUSA's truth will have found what it craves most: acceptance and dialogue which is the soil and water allowing pluriform truth to be discerned and made manifest.
Three of the four instruments of unity in the Anglican Communion have determined that what ECUSA did in "truth" was wrong. The world awaits the decision of Anglicanism fourth instrument of Anglican unity.
That fourth instrument is in the person of Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury. If Williams' position is not stated with clarity in the near term, then it will be expressed by which bishops he invites to attend the 2008 Lambeth Conference. The bishops invited to Lambeth 2008 will be considered by this fourth instrument of unity as faithful Anglican bishops in good standing.
Will Williams accept ECUSA's claim that the Holy Spirit led it to change in 40 years what has been true for 4,000 years in Jewish/Christian standards for sexual ethics, marriage, and the nature of priestly vocations? The fact is that from ECUSA's standpoint it is being faithful to the truth. ECUSA's "truth" conforms to a hermeneutic of relativity, which begs not for guidance, but for correction.
We have already heard many warnings throughout the Church catholic including the new Pope. Whatever decision Williams makes the greatest of ironies in this painful and difficult process is not lost on Anglicans. The Anglican Communion has long prided itself on not conforming to one person's edict, but ironically that is exactly what the Anglican Communion is waiting on: one man to make a decision. This one person, the final instrument of Anglican unity, has yet to make a definitive statement by either word or deed of which hermeneutical principle of truth the Communion should follow.
Whatever decision he makes will be a fundamental in determining if, in fact, the Anglican Communion's hope is in Christ - who is the Truth.
--The Rev. Dr. Brother George N. Gray Jr. is Rector of Saint Christopher's Church in Spartanburg, SC. His e-mail is: firstname.lastname@example.org
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