Episcopalians to Condemn Bible for oppression?
By Hans Zeiger
COLUMBUS, OHIO (6/17/06)-The Bible is a tool of oppression, according to the Episcopal Church's House of Deputies Education Committee, and interpretation of the Bible should be done non-oppressively in the future. The Houses of Deputies and Bishops will consider the proposal sometime in the next several days. The original resolution was much longer, and included the condemnation of "literalistic approaches that have oppressed/marginalized certain groups." The first draft specifically identified those certain groups as "persons of color, persons from different faith traditions, women and (at this time especially) gay and lesbian persons."
Don Spencer, an alternate from Illinois, explained that his objection to the resolution was its vagueness about literalism. "It's extremely vague...I might have a literalistic reading of a certain passage of Scripture and not have a literalistic reading of another passage of Scripture. We want to do everything we can to increase knowledge and love of Scripture...but if we say let's steer away from literalism then we'll have to say let's interpret everything allegorically." Other witnesses echoed Spencer.
Members of the Education Committee revised the resolution, removing the "literalistic" language while generalizing about the Bible's oppressive use.
The new wording states, "Resolved, the House of Deputies concurring, That the 75th General Convention of the Episcopal, recognizing that the Bible has sometimes been used to justify oppressive institutions and practices, supports efforts to foster methods of biblical interpretation which do not lend support to oppressive systems."
The resolution also recognizes the anniversaries of the abolition of slavery in Great Britain and the state of Vermont, suggesting that the Bible has been used to justify slavery in the past.
But the language of the resolution is broader than condemning slavery. Any institution or practice perceived as being "oppressive" is condemned by the resolution. These institutions or practices presumably include any variety of things that cause religious persecution, hurt feelings, or guilty consciences.
Charles E. Bennison, the Bishop of Pennsylvania has gone on recrod saying "the church wrote the Bible,the church can change the bible."
According to Canon Kendall Harmon, a member of the Education Committee, "There's a subjectivity that enters in. The Bible oppresses me all the time, and that's a good thing...The problem is with me." Kendall said that Resolution C040 is problematic because "it automatically ties certain ways of interpreting Scripture with a certain feeling."
The Rev. Don Perschall, rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Mt. Vernon, Illinois and deputy from the Diocese of Springfield, said that he was "very alarmed" and "disturbed" by language about the Bible oppressing groups of people. "We do in fact have a theology and it's enshrined in our Book of Common Prayer. What this in effect does is it changes what's in our Book of Common Prayer."
Perschall referred specifically to the second chapter of the Book of the Common Prayer which explains how Christians can recognize the truths of the Holy Spirit. The answer: "We are measured by Scripture. We don't measure. We are held up to the light of Scripture in everything we do and say, not the other way around...The impact of what you're saying here is we're going to rewrite our theology, our understanding of God. And we don't have that right."
But according to Dr. Anita George, vice chair of the Education Committee from the Diocese of Mississippi, who spoke with VirtueOnline, the real standard of progress in the deliberation will be dialogue. "My position is to continue to look at the language we use so it is very clear what we're saying...I'm just all in favor of continuing to define and continuing to have dialogue...to bring together the language and intent of the resolution as best we can."
George said that more dialogue is in order before the resolution passes. "We need to continue the dialogue. I can see the word 'reconcile.' I can see the word 'dialogue.' I can see 'eloquent listening.' I want to see those words come into some of our legislative action."
According to George, the Bible continues to inspire oppression, as it did in the case of slavery. "I like the idea that slavery was held up as an example of how Scripture has been and may be used for the purposes of oppression. Present-day examples of oppression include gender issues and all the –isms."
Of the Episcopal Church's position on homosexuals, Dr. George said, "I see us not being very clear. I think we're grappling with that as a church. We're examining have we indeed oppressed the gay and lesbian."
As for the reliability of the Bible, George replied, "I believe it's the inspired Word of God." George attended both an Episcopal Church and a Baptist Church as a child, given the different backgrounds of her parents, and she says that she chose to remain in the Episcopal Church "because I learned about the way we mediate Scripture, tradition, and reason."
"I try real hard to project that I do not have the answer," George said.
The truth is, sinners do and should feel oppressed by the Bible, it is precisely why we need the salvation God offers.
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