Those of us Protestants whose heritage is relatively congregational may sometimes find ourselves thinking things would be better if only we had bishops to provide the sort of guidance that gives the church theological direction in a world that constantly raises new and difficult questions. Such a longing may be moderated, however, simply by looking at the guidance bishops sometimes give. Allow me to puzzle over a case in point.
In early November 2006 (just after the midterm elections here in the United States), N.T. Wright, the well-known New Testament scholar and Anglican bishop of Durham, delivered a public lecture in Durham Cathedral asking, "Where is God in 'The War on Terror'?" Parts of the talk rehearse briefly Bishop Wright's reading of the story of Jesus, and he is always worth hearing on that subject. Parts of the talk engage in some philosophical reflection on what it might mean to think of God "intervening" in our world. I don't think this discussion goes very deep philosophically, and I pass over it here. But Bishop Wright's central aim in the lecture is to offer theological judgment--indeed, a critique that discerns God's own judgment--on the efforts (chiefly by the Bush administration) to oppose terrorists by waging war in Iraq and elsewhere.
It turns out that God is present in "the calling to account that has taken place in America" in the November elections. Indeed, it is, in Bishop Wright's judgment, "heavily ironic that, in the week which has seen a tyrant with rivers of blood on his hands [Saddam Hussein] condemned for the abuse of power, we have also seen the architects of a bloody, ill-thought-out and reckless war rebuked at the polls."
This kind of moral equivalence is given a theological ground by Bishop Wright s assertion that, contrary to the incredibly naive and shallow analysis of the problem of evil" that has been adopted by "the leaders of the western world," the deeper truth is that "the line between good and evil doesn't lie between 'us' and 'them,' but runs as a jagged line through each human being and each human society." This is quite true, of course. Before God we are all--simply and equally--sinners. It would be helpful, though, if Bishop Wright were to think more about Reinhold Niebuhr's suggestion that this equality of sin is compatible with an inequality of guilt--that some of us sinners have produced more injustice in the world than have others. And, we might add, that God also can make such...