Wednesday, June 29, 2011

"Discernment in Community": Self Fulfilling Prophecy

(Unidentified Person in Dog Collar)

In response to the recent legalization of gay marriage in New York, Bishop R. William Franklin of the Episcopal Diocese of Western New York is quoted as saying,
"Many Episcopalians believe that in community, we can discern with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, a way in which the letter of Scripture is compatible with a wider inclusion of the life of partner gay and lesbian people in our community. And that would apply, now, to the question of marriage." (From here)
h/t T19

Liberal churchmen continue to have a real problem in justifying same sex marriage. They really want Scripture to say that it is okay to endorse, and create blessings for these marriages, but as hard as they try, Scripture won't change. In the absence of clear direction to move forward, the next step for the revisionist bishop, priest, or layperson is to reinterpret Scripture to fit the desired result. In Episcobabble this is done through the process called "discernment in community."

Ask the right community to discern the Spirit and voila, a spirit will respond with the desired answer. Brilliant!

What happens in the Episcopal church when it gathers in community and tackles theology is not a true discernment process (as evidenced by the First Theological Council of Upper South Carolina, the repeated blunders of the General Convention, and by the continuing election of false teachers as Bishops). In most of these cases, Scripture is thrown under the bus in favor of feelings, personalities, and politics. If it is not ignored in the process, Scripture is reinterpreted until it becomes uninterpretable.

Recent actions by other denominations such as the ELCA and PCUSA are evidence that the misapplication of discernment by the community is not a problem unique to the Episcopal church and may indicate a deeper problem that will show up in any particular group considering any particular issue.

I think the problem may be that the first and most important requirement before "discernment in community" can take place is that there must be a "discerning community." What makes a community a discerning one? I believe it must be one that submits its will to the will of God, and it looks for the will of God not in the experience of loving human relationships, but in the witness of Scripture. From my experience, this submission to God's will, as seen through Biblical witness, is what has been lacking in the actions of the Episcopal church over the past 40+ years.

I honestly do not think that the majority in TEc sees a problem with its current methods of "discernment in community," but until we recognize the foolishness of our present ways of theological discernment, and humble ourselves before the Lord, the Episcopal church will continue its slow downward slide into oblivion.
"I say this so that no one may deceive you by specious arguments.
For even if I am absent in the flesh, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing as I observe your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.
So, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, walk in him,
rooted in him and built upon him and established in the faith as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
See to it that no one captivate you with an empty, seductive philosophy according to human tradition, according to the elemental powers of the world and not according to Christ.
For in him dwells the whole fullness of the deity bodily,
and you share in this fullness in him, who is the head of every principality and power." Colossians 2:4-10 (NAB)


  1. Anonymous10:17 AM

    Maybe the Holy Spirit is working through the General Convention of the Episcopal Church.

    If so, and the results of that work of the Spirit has been to shrink the Church by over a million members, then perhaps the will of the Lord is not exactly what the leadership of the Episcopal Church imagines it to be.

  2. I read this, and my mind is drawn to Alcee Hasting's now famous quote about "Making the rules as we go along". Too, I have to ask just what is being discerned, is it the will of the Almighty or the will of the community?

  3. Anon 1017,
    Excellent point. Does the Holy Spirit admonish as well as build up?

  4. Andy,

    Time should reveal the answer to your question, and I suspect time is answering it.

  5. "discerning community." Discerning Community is the discernment of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, not a stratified contemporary sample. The myopia of a select few is not generalizable.

  6. Anonymous12:43 PM

    The problem with this is that as soon as this "discerning community" - which is actually unbelievably tiny, and composed of only a small percentage of Christians from around the world - reaches their desired conclusion, they then want to have this tiny little 'discernment' of theirs made into absolute and binding dogma for all Christians for the rest of eternity! The Holy Spirit is then ordered to be totally mute on the subject for ever after.

  7. Anon 12:43,

    Good point. As long as the spirit drifts left, I guess we in TEc are in for a long ride.