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PB clarifies comment on ‘thick’ interpretion of General Convention

PB clarifies comment on ‘thick’ interpretion of General Convention

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said earlier this week that Executive Council members “can’t always take General Convention decisions literally.” Asked about this at a press conference today, she offered some clarification. From Episcopal News Service:

When Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori told the Episcopal Church’s Executive Council on Oct. 15 that the members “can’t always take General Convention decisions literally,” her comment caused a bit of a stir at least in the social-media world.

What she said was “Executive Council has a responsibility to make ‘thick’ interpretation of General Convention decisions and directives. We can’t always take General Convention decisions literally – in the same way we read Scripture and don’t take it literally.”

Today, she said she does believe that council’s “responsibility is to take the work that’s been done at General Convention and apply it during the coming triennium.”

“A very narrow interpretation or construal of what particular resolutions might say may not fit the context two years down the road,” she said. “In the same way we read the Bible given our current context, understand the context in which it was written and looking at how those things have changed, we have to use our reason as well as the tradition and I think you can look the resolutions of convention as a tradition. I’m expecting members of council to gather the best resources around them to respond to the needs of the church and the world.”


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One problem I see is that sometimes reading scripture literally is the correct approach. For example, when the Bible tells us that God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosever believeth in him should not perish, or that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, I believe it. I dare say there are also times when GC resolutions mean what they say. It’s not all open to interpretation – when GC says no one will be punished for their beliefs regarding SSBs, it meant just that, for example.

I was also taught that Biblical interpretation has to be done with the Church, not individually. Applying the same principle to GC resolutions, it seems a little risky to assume that EC represents the mind of the Church better than GC does.

Bill Dilworth

Derek Olsen

As a biblical scholar whose specialty is the history and practice of interpretation, I find this statement troubling on a number of levels… Are we now moving to a “reader-response” interpretation of the will of General Convention?

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