Saturday, April 28, 2007

Calling it what it is--condescension

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In this week's interview with The Boston Globe, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori stated:

“Where the protesters [against same-sex blessings] are, in some parts of Africa or in other parts of the Anglican Communion today, is where this church and this society we live in was 50 years ago, and for us to assume that people can move that distance in a year or in a relatively instantaneous manner is perhaps faithless,” she said. “That kind of movement and development has taken us a good deal of pain and energy over 40 or 50 years, and I think we have to make some space so that others can make that journey as well.”

Al Mohler insightfully characterized her comments in this way:

In other words, Jefferts Schori argues that time is on her side. The African churches will simply have to grow up and learn to play the game. They will have to learn to replace the authority of the Bible with the authority of modern therapeutic ideologies. They will have to learn to jettison biblical morality in favor of modern sexual “lifestyles.” They will have to learn to use interpretive techniques in order to make the Bible “mean” the opposite of what it states. They will have to get over their strange notion that the Creator has a design for human sexuality. They will have to denounce chastity and embrace sexual liberation.

Give these churches time, the Bishop suggests. After all, one can’t expect the Global South churches to go through this revolution in a day. Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori’s statement is a classic form of condescension. Allow those backward churches some time, she chides, in order that they will “make that journey as well.”

You can listen to Mohler's radio program on the topic. Of course, her statement is (unfortunately) totally in line with those of her predecessor, as noted in my blog entry on the New Dark Ages.


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Your instincts a year ago were correct, Timothy. You should have followed them then - and now.

The Bible has been wrong about a lot of things - the shape of the earth, the cause of epilepsy, the belief that illness - like blindness - was a curse for the "sins of the father," that women are 'unclean' when in the natural process of a menstrual cycle - I could go on and on.

The point is that, in time, when our eyes are opened to scientific evidence, we see "the truth" of scripture in a different light.

That doesn't change the validity of scripture. It's that our understanding of it deepens and clarifies as time passes.

The so-called "developing nations" of the Global South will need the same time we needed to come to see scripture in a different light.

Even St. Paul says, "When I was a child . . ."

That's not arrogance, Timothy. That's just the way it is in te world.

That's what our Primate and Presiding Bishop was trying to say.

You are fully entitled to disagree with her - and me, or anyone - thelogically, doctrinally, philosophically or in any other way you choose.

Here's the thing: As my grandmother would say, "You never make yourself good by making others look bad."

Fr Timothy Matkin said...

The comment about the Bible being wrong about a lot of things would be a good subject to deal with more fully in a separate blog entry at a future date. Many people have heard the false idea that the flat earth theory comes from the Bible, for example, and just haven't heard otherwise. There are other common misconceptions. I thought I would address some that you mentioned.

Belief in a spherical earth predates the New Testament, and one of the earliest known writings to reflect that concept is the book of Job. While the Bible is not written to be a scientific book, many of the things it describes reflect the insights of modern science, while others do not.

Epilepsy was a well-known disease in the ancient world, though its causes were uncertain. Because of its characteristics, Greeks referred to it as a sacred sickness. The Bible does not have anything to say about the cause of epilepsy. Mark 9:14-29 describes an epileptic boy who experiences what fits the description of a grand mal seizure. The story is also told in Matthew 17 and Luke 9. While Mark does say that he was also possessed by a demon and that the evil spirit used his disease to torture the boy, there is no explicit statement that the disease was caused by a demon. Indeed, the reference to the disease going back to early childhood may indicate that it predates his spiritual affliction. In any case, it would be incorrect to infer that the Bible says all epileptics are demon-possessed from this one example.

The only other time that epilepsy is specifically mentioned in the gospels is in Matthew 4:24, when both epileptics and those who are possessed by demons are among people in the crowd coming to Jesus for healing. Of course, there are many other examples of demonic possession in the New Testament, but they are not epileptics. As the rubric on exorcisms from the Book of Occasional Services puts it, "The practice of expelling evil spirits by means of prayer and set formulas derives its authority from the Lord himself who identified these acts as signs of his messiahship."

The story of the healing of the man born blind in John 9 should dispel any idea that the Bible says one is stricken with blindness because of the sins of his or her parents. In response to the inquiry about the cause of one man's blindness, Jesus responds, "It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him." Jesus is not denying the reality of divine judgment, nor that there are some sins which are unfairly "visited" upon future generations (like alchoholism, poor relationship skills, gambling, etc). But he is correcting their interpretation that there is always a one-to-one connection between sin and suffering.

The distinction of "clean and unclean" in the Old Testament is often something that confuses many people. "Clean and unclean" are descriptions of the order and chaos in creation. Behavior is sometimes included in the description. So sinful actions are always unclean, that is, not in accordance with God's design. But the reverse is not true; not every unclean thing is sinful.

Creatures that have features that overlap natural categories are unclean (like hoofed animals with the beginnings of a claw or crawling animals that live in the ocean) even though they are created by God to be the way they are. Blood flowing in the body is clean; it is in accordance with its regular function in the body. Blood flowing out of the body is unclean, either in the case of wounds, or in the case of menstruation (see Leviticus 15). It is unclean, but that does not mean it is sinful.

It is important to remember that even though Mary was unclean, she remained sinless. Jesus also was made unclean in the birth process (and was definitely unclean by all his bleeding at the crucifixion). The proper offerings were made for Mary and the child Jesus according to the Law of Moses. They were unclean and then then ritually cleansed, but they both remained sinless before, during, and after.

I don't agree with you, Elizabeth, that the Bible is really understood best once we hold it up to the light of our own intelligence. Neither does the Church. Rather, I think that approach has added fuel to great tragedies in Christian history, such as the eugenics movement in the early 1900s. I would say rather that our knowledge is improved by holding it up to God's light. I would not discount the importance of reason; I would simply argue that the light of the mind is outshined by the light of eternal Mind. We especially need that light when it comes to moral decisions.

I would also note that "developing nations" is a term that relates to economics, not to moral theology. While they may have some growing to do in terms of building modern economies, stable governments, and utilizing efficient techniques, they do not lack an anything required to know right from wrong or to see Jesus as the source of human salvation.

One thing that I do heartily agree with you about, Elizabeth, is your grandmother's advice: "You never make yourself good by making others look bad." It is a message that our Presiding Bishop needs to hear, because a condescending attitude toward our brothers and sisters in Christ is something that often makes our whole church look bad as well and takes away the impact of our voice in the world.

Fr Timothy Matkin said...

No further comments?