Bishops share common commitment to remain biblical

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Archbishop David Moxon, co-presiding bishop in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, and bishop of Waikato.

Canterbury, England
Acknowledging that varying and often-clashing biblical interpretations about homosexuality have led to deep divisions, the world’s Anglican bishops on Wednesday began to look deeply at how they use the Bible in the hope of finding “a high common ground” on the way they approach scriptures.

Some people “find it hard to understand why there’s so much division in the Anglican Communion,” said Archbishop Phillip Aspinall, primate of the Anglican Church of Australia and official spokesperson of the conference. “A lot of it has to do with the Bible.”

It was the first time that Anglican bishops discussed the question of “how do we use the Bible?” said Archbishop David Moxon, co-presiding bishop in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, and bishop of Waikato.

He said that the bishops’ discussions around the theme “Living Under Scripture: The Bishop and the Bible in Mission” tried to seek responses around such questions as “What is (the Bible’s) value to us? Where does consensus lie?” He said that discussions would continue in the months ahead.

Conservative Anglicans strongly opposed to the consecration of a gay bishop in The Episcopal Church and same-sex blessings in the Vancouver-based diocese of New Westminster believe that the Bible prohibits homosexuality.

South African biblical scholar Gerald West said no matter the theological convictions, Anglicans should realize that they all “have a common commitment to be shaped by scripture” even if it’s stronger in some and weaker in others. Mr. West helped develop the Bible study sessions of the conference.

Mr. West said bishops were asked to look at the way they view details of scripture from various perspectives, including socio-historic and thematic. “Is there such a thing as homosexuality in the ancient world? Did it exist then?” he said, adding that this was an important detail to discern.

Bishops also discussed whether the theme of homosexuality is present in the Old and New Testaments in the same way that it exists for such issues as marriage, polygamy and rape.

They also looked at “the context in which scripture is engaged,” said Mr. West. “What aspect of our context should be employed?” He said that in most cases “what you think is important in your context shapes the way you see scripture.”

Asked whether the exercise meant that any biblical interpretation of homosexuality was now to be seen as equally legitimate or whether it pre-empted the resolution passed by the 1998 Lambeth Conference stating that homosexuality is “incompatible with scripture,” Archbishop Moxon said: “The study of the way we use the Bible is not meaning to suggest that at all.”

The intent is “to get an international set of principles that helps us to honour and respect the Bible as the written word that reveals God’s living word and Jesus Christ,” said Archbishop Moxon. “The exercise is not meant to pre-empt Lambeth 110.We’re simply asking, ‘What’s the high common ground when we approach the Bible?'”

Archbishop Aspinall said that in his letter of invitation the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams had made it clear that this conference won’t revisit Lambeth 110.”

More conservative bishops and primates have used Lambeth 110 to support their position calling for sanctions against the North American churches. The North American churches, for their part, have argued the use of said resolution as some kind of canon law or set of rules to which member provinces of the communion must abide by.

Mr. West said that it was the first time that “Anglicans together as a community (were) able to share where they are in their areas” in terms of the scriptures. “This has been a very valuable Lambeth to enable us to have that conversation.” He called it “a beginning of a process of understanding which should enable the church to open boundaries and be able to hear those of a different perspective.”

In response to a question, Mr. West said that he did not think that Anglicans differed widely in their view of biblical authority. “I don’t believe that it’s widely different as it’s claimed. Everybody in the Anglican Communion has got their own process of making sense of the Bible and equally claim that their way of making sense is taking the Bible more seriously than someone else,” he said. “I think it’s just trying to talk more loudly and stomping their foot more firmly. If we really interrogate how people use the Bible, you won’t see that much difference at all. I think there is a common commitment to place ourselves under scripture, to be shaped by it and to hear its voice with its own integrity and authenticity.”

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Marites N. Sison
Marites (Tess) Sison was editor of the Anglican Journal from August 2014 to July 2018, and senior staff writer from December 2003 to July 2014. An award-winning journalist, she has more that three decades of professional journalism experience in Canada and overseas. She has contributed to The Toronto Star and CBC Radio, and worked as a stringer for The New York Times.

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