It’s time for a quick update from the Anglican/Episcopal wars in northern Virginia.
No, this doesn’t have anything to do with the lawyers for the churches or the national Episcopal Church establishment. This has to do with the other major player in this battle — The Washington Post.
As I mentioned the other day, it does appear that some people at the Post now grasp that the battles between Anglican conservatives around the world and the liberal Episcopal Church establishment here in North America didn’t start a few years ago with the consecration of one noncelibate gay bishop in New Hampshire. The fighting has been going on for decades and focuses on some very basic issues — which is that whole “tmatt trio” thing again. (Drinking game alert!) Here is a short version of those questions again:
(1) Are biblical accounts of the resurrection of Jesus accurate? Did this event really happen?
(2) Is salvation found through Jesus Christ, alone? Was Jesus being literal when he said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6)?
(3) Is sex outside of marriage a sin?
And then there is my Episcopal bonus question: “Should churches in the Anglican Communion ban the worship, by name, of other gods at their altars?”
You can see echoes of the first three questions in a story late last week — “Praying for Answers” was the headline — by reporter Michelle Boorstein.
So here we have the latest draft of a crucial element of this controversy, which is how the Post explains or doesn’t explain what the fighting is all about. This story focuses on a parish in tiny Heathsville, Va., that was, more than any other in Virginia’s dispute, divided by the vote to leave the Episcopal Church. The vote was 33 to remain in TEC and 99 to affiliate with the Church of Nigeria.
So what is the fight about, other than who gets to use the sanctuary?
Tensions at St. Stephen’s, as at the other eight churches, had been building for years over a question roiling the Episcopal Church, the U.S. branch of the global Anglican community: What does it mean to live according to scripture? Those who voted to leave think the Bible should be read literally, on the story of Jesus’s resurrection and on issues such as homosexuality and salvation. Those who voted to stay believe there can be more than one way to interpret scripture.
For starters, I am not sure that there was supposed to be a comma after the key words “read literally.” The sentence makes more sense without it.
The key here appears to be that the Anglicans who are fighting the Episcopal Church are biblical literalists — at least on the issues cited. It is hard to argue against that statement, although it is crucial to note that most newspaper articles that use this kind of biblical literalism language do so in order to link the believers in question to Christian fundamentalism. That’s why the comma is so important in that sentence. It is very rare to find Anglicans — liberal or traditionalist — who “think the Bible should be read literally” and that’s that. Period.
However, this battle is not about whether the Bible should be read literally — period — but whether the ancient Christian creeds should be read literally. And then there is the lovely Book of Common Prayer itself, with those oh-so-picky 39 Articles of Religion, including this one:
IV. Of the Resurrection of Christ.
Christ did truly rise again from death, and took again his body, with flesh, bones, and all things appertaining to the perfection of Man’s nature; wherewith he ascended into Heaven, and there sitteth, until he return to judge all Men at the last day.
Still, we can see that the Post team is making progress. There is more to this story than sex. There is also more to this than biblical literalism, in the sense that most newspaper people use that loaded term.
Perhaps it is best to say that this is a showdown between Anglican doctrinal literalism and Episcopal church property-law literalism. Which side wins, in a clash between the property laws and the Articles of Religion? The Anglican right is saying that the Bible, the creeds and the Prayer Book veto the church’s laws on buildings, pensions and the rights of bishops. The Episcopal left is calling for legal literalism and doctrinal mushiness. What a world.