The Elaborate Dance of Protesting

Today, the Anglican Church of Canada released its convoluted explanation as to why it’s now okay for same-sex unions to be theologically acceptable.

I left the Anglican Church several years ago, specifically because of things like this.

Because they’re trying to accept same-sex unions, you ask?  No, because they’re doing the same kind of thing that my young son did when he was trying to blame the cat for breaking the lamp with a green plastic light sabre.  Fantastical stories and explorations of loopholes are the work of five-year-olds.

To me, religion is quite simple, and I base my logic on one fact and one… well, it’s up to you whether you accept it as fact or fiction.

Fact:  Anglicans are Protestants.  When Henry VIII said, “Forget this” (and we followed him–because we were too scared to argue with him), breaking the ecclesiastical rules became an inherent part of who we are.  We can break any rule that doesn’t suit us.  As a religious society, I believe Anglicans have the obligation to blatantly break rules that we see as harmful to someone because we are Christians; we follow Christ (not Leviticus, not Paul, just Christ) and Christ…

Fact/Fiction: …nixed the Ten Commandments and gave us merely two to follow:

36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law? 37 Jesus said to him: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart and with thy whole soul and with thy whole mind. 38 This is the greatest and the first commandment. 39 And the second is like to this: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. 40 On these two commandments dependeth the whole law and the prophets.

To me, that second one is more important because I may not ever know if my god is impressed with my manner of love, but I’ll know if I’ve done something that I wouldn’t like done to me.

I wouldn’t like it if a group I belonged to decided that my life-style depended on a random rule from an old book that we carved up centuries ago.  And I wouldn’t like it if someone poked my reading lamp with a toy light sabre and then blamed it on the cat.

2 responses to “The Elaborate Dance of Protesting

  1. Three points: one a bit of historical pedantry (though related to the relevant issues); the other two a bit more substantive.

    Henry’s split with Rome was not in any theological sense a Protestant reformation: he remained committed to the shibboleths of Catholic theology, such as transubstantiation and communion with bread alone; under Henry it was solely a dispute concerning who the head of the church should be. The head of the church still retained the definitive interpretative say on matters theological: there was no freedom of conscience under Henry. Although Thomases Cromwell and Cranmer used the opportunity to try to advance certain Lutheran ideologies, later on in Henry’s reign (when he was on to wives numbers five and six) he actually enacted some harshly constraining laws effectively reasserting Catholicism in all but acknowledgement of the Pope. Edward VI was strongly protestant, but the Anglican church as such only really took its compromise form under Elizabeth, after the reverting to Catholicism under Mary.

    Secondly, certainly in their original form (and you have been making a historicist argument), Lutheranism and Calvinsim at least (the “magisterial” protestants as opposed to radicals like the anabaptists) did not endorse individual licence to interpret or dispute scripture anyway; and they certainly opposed the idea that the individual had freedom to disobey terrestrial powers according to their consciences. To both Luther and Calvin, it was not a matter of individual conscience: there was only one correct reading of scripture, it’s just they thought it was theirs not the Pope’s. Both were strong endorsers of hierarchical obedience, and routinely quoted Romans 13 to show that the ordinary people should be always obedient to the law. They sought (and succeeded to a large extent) to supplant papist rulers with rulers who followed their theology, but as far as the basic principle that the masses should do and believe as they are told was concerned, they were in entire accord with the Catholic church. In particular, Luther’s writings in the context of the Peasant’s War (especially Against the Murderous, Theiving Hordes of Peasants) made it absolutely clear that the masses were to remain submissive and obedient, and that it was actually a Christian duty on princes to violently suppress freedom of thought and action. Sola scriptura meant nothing in dogma that was not in scripture, it did not mean an interpretative free-for-all (they were also a little inconsistent on this matter, as both remained committed to infant baptism, despite there not being a word on that anywhere in the NT).

    Finally, I’d suggest that your quotation and interpretation of Matthew 22 illustrate exactly the problem with the individualist take on sola scriptura, and exactly why it didn’t mean for Luther a case of individual interpretation. You have chosen to read 22:38-39 as many people do, as having “nixed” the Decalogue (let alone the rest of the Law), yet the following verse, 22:40, could be read (and I would argue was intended) to indicate that the whole of the law (not just the Ten Commandments, but every exhortation and rule of the Pentateuch) remains in place, Jesus is merely illustrating that the rest of it depends on these two, not that it is revoked. Indeed, this is more explicitly set out elsewhere in Matthew (5:18): For verily I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.. Whose reading? Yours or mine? Only one can be what Jesus intended.

    Sola scriptura was not, then, originally intended by Luther or Calvin as a free-for-all of individual interpretation: it was merely the attempt to remove the Papist church as the definitive arbiter of Christian truth. Mainstream Protestantism extensively still held onto the idea of only one permissible interpretation; it’s just it was Luther’s, and not the Pope’s. It is a much later view, driven by anabaptists, puritans, and other radicals (who, of course, formed the first wave of European migrants to the new world precisely because even mainstream Protestantism would not tolerate them) that individuals can make their own judgments. It’s certainly not an Anglican one: Anglicanism may have reverted to a consilliar model of authority (placing the Synod above the Archbish of Cant), but it still expects to be able to define doctrine and have that accepted by its adherents.

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  2. I appreciate your thoughts on Protestantism–and disagree with none of them. My point, however, is that the Anglican church has no problem breaking with law or tradition. Even if one adheres to the ten commandments of the Old Testament rather than relying on Christ’s broader commandments, adultery is clearly prohibited; see Matthew 5:32 for New Testament opinions on adultery and divorce; the Anglican church changed canon in 1965 and 1967 to over-rule both Testaments regarding the subject. The Anglican church doesn’t dress their priests in any manner resembling the instructions in Exodus, and the instructions for dealing with the dead in Leviticus are ignored. If one has set precedent for doing one’s own thing even if it means ignoring scripture and changing canon, then it seems ridiculous to pretend that scripture is being followed.

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