I first heard N.T. Wright in 1993, at a conference of Episcopalians called Shaping Our Future. (The Rev. J. Stephen Freeman, whose essay of the same title prompted the conference, edited a collection of essays from that conference before converting to Orthodoxy.)
Wright lectured on the gods of the left and the right, and in such an even-handed and manner that I had no trouble agreeing with his assertion that the right worships Mars and Mammon. (I already agreed that the left worships Venus.)
Since then, Wright has passed through posts as dean of Litchfield Cathedral and canon theologian at Westminster Abbey before becoming Bishop of Durham.
Wright’s lengthy interview with John L. Allen Jr. of the National Catholic Reporter is a feast for people who love Allen’s acclaimed religion coverage and Wright’s dynamic Anglican orthodoxy.
Here are a few appetizers:
On same-sex unions in antiquity
As a classicist, I have to say that when I read Plato’s Symposium, or when I read the accounts from the early Roman empire of the practice of homosexuality, then it seems to me they knew just as much about it as we do. In particular, a point which is often missed, they knew a great deal about what people today would regard as longer-term, reasonably stable relations between two people of the same gender. This is not a modern invention, it’s already there in Plato.
On Episcopalians’ independent streak
Of course, the American church has a long and noble tradition of jumping the gun on things. I understand that. The American nation grew out of a rejection of British imperial rule, and a desire to do it its own way. It’s very difficult psychologically [for Americans] to accept a decision reached in London, even if it is made by a global community.
On Baptist vs. Anglican ecclesiology (for my colleague Terry’s amusement)
I have friends in the Texas Baptists where every single church is autonomous. I’ve asked what Texas Baptists believe about this or that, and they say you just have to ask the individual church. It’s up to them. They guard that independence jealously. That is the other route you could go, but most Anglicans around the world have never seen their koinonia that loosely. They’ve seen it as very much a matter of tight, shared bonds, and mutual support that goes with that. For instance, when Desmond Tutu was standing up facing rioting mobs who wanted to kill people, the Archbishop of Canterbury would send a senior bishop physically to stand beside him, as a way of saying that Tutu is part of a larger thing, and we’re here supporting him.
On the crisis management of the Lambeth Commission
For me as a New Testament scholar, it’s very rare to find a new problem to work on. The New Testament is a small book, and every single verse has been fought over by somebody. It’s quite interesting theologically to find that we have not been this way before, so we have to set parameters so we can move forward. That’s what we’re doing. I wish it were not so sad and contentious and damaging an issue, because on many things it would be really exciting to do this kind of fresh theology together. But unfortunately we’re doing it with a gun to our heads, and that’s tough.