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DAR2007: Crossing boundaries is the new doctrinal absolute

DAR2007: Crossing boundaries is the new doctrinal absolute

By Canon Gary L'Hommedieu in Dar es Salaam

As the saying goes, things are seldom what they seem. Then again, sometimes things are exactly what they seem, only more so.

The Episcopal spin machine, the principle financier of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC), is showing its hand by the fervor with which it holds it to its chest. Little pieces slip out. Here too much is made of too little, and there too little made of too much.

First, too little is made of the scandalous actions of the North American jurisdictions of the Anglican Communion over the past four years: the legislation of same sex unions by the Diocese of New Westminster, Canada, and the bullying of those who objected to or even noticed the novelty and scandal of this action. Second, the election, approval and consecration of the Rev. V. Gene Robinson to the episcopate in New Hampshire, following the American Presiding Bishop's signature on a document acknowledging the schismatic character of such a novel and unilateral action.

The Rev. Canon Gregory Cameron, Deputy Secretary General of the ACC, seemed to emphasize the importance of these actions for the opening portions of the Primates' Meeting today in Dar es Salaam. Indeed, following his detailed review of the background of these actions, along with the scant mention of any additional business before the Primates this week, it would appear that the Primates' Meeting was "about" the North American scene once again.

By the end of the press meeting, led by Canon Cameron and Archbishop Phillip Aspinall of Australia, a concept of parity had surfaced in questions by some of the press - a parity of the grievous nature of the North American Churches' actions, alongside the equally grievous actions of numerous Global South Primates who had crossed diocesan boundaries without authorization of diocesan bishops to perform Episcopal functions, including the creation of mission congregations where once there had been Episcopal congregations. One questioner was quite emphatic that such infractions should receive equally scrupulous review by the Primates this week.

The strategy of the North American Churches' jurisdictions clearly is to redefine schism as the crossing of boundaries -- a violation of canon law - whereas the spurning of biblical doctrine - not only the doctrine of "human sexuality" but the biblical doctrine of human personhood - is a matter of "hermeneutics" - the manner in which a given Bible interpreter defines the context, and thus the meaning, of the text.

These two "violations" taken in order, first doctrine, second canon law, must be placed on an equal footing. Both must be seen first and foremost as violations on paper. They are being pre-spun as "serious" perhaps, but not worthy of breaking communion.

Then, since they are "mere technicalities", it is of little consequence that the doctrine of human sexuality is changed here or there, depending on the local context and the hermeneutic appropriate to it.

The next stage will be the surprise: the principle that becomes decisive is the "technicality" regarding border crossings, which by then will have been upgraded from paper to stone tablets. Hermeneutics is the theory of the interpretation of texts, is a more highly developed form of "listening". The hermeneutic that is unfolding in Dar es Salaam is designed to come down on the side of property over historic content, and schism will be redefined exclusively in terms of the church as an institution. What was once a "mere technicality", and no more significant than three thousand years of unbroken interpretative tradition, will now be seen as Absolute.

For the last century we modern Christians had been led to believe that Absolutes were a thing of the past.

---The Rev. Canon J. Gary L'Hommedieu is Canon for Pastoral Care at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke, Orlando, Florida, and a regular columnist for VirtueOnline.

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