- The Washington Times - Friday, July 14, 2006

People were so riveted on the homosexual issue at the Episcopal Church’s June convention that other actions involving biblical teachings received little attention.

The most dramatic was approval of Barry Beisner as bishop of the Sacramento-based Diocese of Northern California. A minority of six on the committee handling nominations commended Mr. Beisner’s ministry, but objected because he is twice divorced and in a third marriage.

Thus, his consecration Sept. 30 will be precedent-setting. One delegate noted that in some dioceses, Mr. Beisner would be ineligible to be a priest, much less a bishop.

Until recently, Episcopalians, like fellow Anglicans in other nations, opposed remarriage while the original spouse is living, based on Jesus’ strict teaching (Matthew 5:31-32, 19:3-9; Mark 10:2-12; Luke 16:18), reaffirmed by Paul (1 Corinthians 7:10-11).

The committee minority quoted 1 Timothy 3:2, that a bishop must be “above reproach,” but delicately dropped the succeeding phrase saying he must be “the husband of one wife.”

The minority warned that Mr. Beisner’s elevation would appear to weaken the church’s “commitment to the lifelong sanctity of marriage” and cause Anglicans overseas to question the Americans’ commitment to biblical teaching. Episcopalians liberalized on divorce only in recent times.

In the mother Church of England, even with relaxed rules, Prince Charles (the church’s future supreme governor) couldn’t marry Camilla Parker Bowles in church while her first husband was living. After a civil wedding, the archbishop of Canterbury merely led a prayer service for the couple. In 1936, King Edward VIII famously had to surrender his throne to wed twice-divorced American Wallis Simpson.

Other biblical moments at the Episcopal convention:

• One resolution commissioned publications “to address anti-Jewish prejudice expressed in and stirred by portions of Christian Scriptures.”

• Another said “the Bible has sometimes been used to justify oppressive institutions and practices,” without listing particulars.

• With a statement about biblical authority to reassure fellow Anglicans, delegates dropped the key language that said, “Scripture is the church’s supreme authority” and “ought to be seen as a focus and means of unity.”

• The convention shelved a proposal to declare that Jesus is “the only name by which any person may be saved” on the basis of his statement that “no one comes to the Father, but by me” (John 14:6).

The divorce issue involves a classic dispute in New Testament interpretation. Mark and Luke have Jesus prohibiting divorce without exceptions, while the two texts in Matthew forbid it “except for unchastity.”

Roman Catholicism’s New American Bible translates that phrase as “unless the marriage is unlawful” and church commentators say this referred to cases in which Jewish law didn’t allow marriage, as with close relatives.

U.S. Lutheran exegete Mark Allan Powell agrees that the ambiguous Greek word in question probably means illicit or incestuous unions that should never have occurred. He also thinks the clause probably doesn’t refer to adultery because the God who expects people to forgive each other (citing Matthew 18:21-35) wouldn’t treat this one sin as intolerable.

However, the usual Protestant and Eastern Orthodox view is that Matthew allows divorce, and thus remarriage, if a spouse is unfaithful and that this is implicit in Mark and Luke. In this view, Jesus was endorsing the well-known opinion of Rabbi Shammai against Rabbi Hillel, who allowed divorce on broad grounds.

Historical note: King Henry VIII, who separated the Church of England from Rome because of marriage, never divorced. Of his six wives, two were eliminated by annulment and two by beheadings for reputed adultery, one died from childbirth, and one outlived him.

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