From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane Questions Scriptural Authority on

From Worldwide Faith News <>
Date 06 Feb 2000 20:07:21


Canon James Rosenthal
  - Director of Communications for the Anglican Communion
Anglican Communion Office
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Tel: [44] (0)207 620-1110
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More than any other issue of our time homosexuality illustrates differences
within the Anglican Church world-wide, according to Southern Africa's
Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane.

Addressing a conference in Berkeley California (20/1/200) on Anglicanism and
the scriptures, he referred to a Lambeth Conference decision two years ago
at which, after heated debate among bishops, it was decided not to ordain
practising homosexuals or to bless same-sex unions.

"Some are pleased that the church has taken a strong stand against
homosexuality. Others feel that an injustice has been perpetrated. More than
any other issue of our time this one has served to illustrate the wide
differences between us in theology, in theological method, in the use of
scripture, in our response to authority and how that authority is defined."
He emphasised, however, that homosexuality is not the only divisive issue.
"The debates at Lambeth in regard, for example, to inter-faith dialogue have
similarly exposed our very different approaches."

Underlying these differences was the unspoken, but ever present challenge to
examine what is exactly meant by authority (of bishops) in our post modern

"I am not suggesting a movement into anarchic anti-authoritarianism but a
critical questioning ...... of fixed foundations of truth giving rise to one
voice. We are coming to recognise more and more that institutional authority
is never independent of those who invest a person or body with authority.
"To put it bluntly, bishops are authoritative in the church as long as the
members of the church allow this."

The Archbishop decried the tendency to quote scriptures out of context in
order to prove a point. It also has to be noted that there were fundamental
questions relating to scripture, its authority and its interpretation. Even
among Christians this was debated.

"For example what is the position of the Apocryphal writings and those not
even included in the latter. Is the Gospel of Mary, with its alternative
interpretative frameworks scripture?"

Elaborating in broad terms on the three major approaches, he said some
viewed scripture as the only authority. Others placed scripture alongside
experience, reason, culture, faith and tradition. Then there were those who
do not view scripture as the authoritative source at all.

"Some Christians outside the Western world regard scripture as no more
authoritative than other religious myths, gods/goddesses and legends."
The Archbishop warned that the church would have to recognise an essential
and continuing tension between "the witness of scripture" and "the church's
context, life and teaching".

"The African living in poverty gives different meaning to that provided by
an affluent believer in the USA. The meaning does not reside simply in the
text but in the reader's view of the text. Is one more correct than the

Referring to condemnation of homosexuality through scripture, he said:
"Given that the scriptures were written 20 centuries ago, before the advent
and development of our current medical, psychological and sociological
studies, this attitude towards scripture might validly be accused of being
simply a way to support a particular prejudice."

The Lambeth debate, he added, reflected an embarrassing refusal to listen to
the stories of homosexual persons. He was also concerned at the assumption
that the Lambeth Council had the authority to rule on the issue of how
homosexual persons should be received within the church.

"There was no consultation with the wider church, no engaging in debate with
local congregations on their experiences."

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