Monday, June 19, 2006

Presiding Bishop Jeffferts Schori

My Episcopal Church has elected a new presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori. I don't know much about her and won't pass judgment, but my initial reaction is not favorable. Here's why.

1. I would expect the new PB to be someone who supported the consecration of Eugene Robinson, Robinson is an openly gay man and his selection and the church's consent to it has created what may be an unbridgeable gap between the American Church and the other churches on the Anglican Communion, all of which (except Canada) still opposed it. Staying with the Anglican Communion will require patience and humility. The African churches have been leading the negative reaction to Bishop Robinson's consecration. It will require listening to people that we think don't know as much as we do. Here's Jeffert Schori's first attempt at that.

When a reporter asked how the "average Anglican who is a black woman under 30, earns two dollars a day and is evangelical," might react to news of her consecration and to her consent to Gene Robinson's consecration, she responded: "If the average Anglican is as you describe, she is dealing with hunger, inadequate housing, unclean water and unavailability of education. Those are the places I would start. The issue of sexuality comes along much higher on the hierarchy of needs."

Apart from being less than obviously true on its own terms, this seems densely arrogant. This poor African, she says, is too benighted to know what she should think. She ought to just shut up and accept our generosity. We certainly don't need to try and understand what she thinks and why. Her material needs are more important than her perception of what God requires.

2. She seems focused on imminentizing the eschaton. This makes conservatives nervous. She sees the role of the church as bringing about Isiah's reign of God in which "The poor are fed, the good news is preached, those who are ostracized and in prison are set free, the blind receive sight." That's all good and we should work toward all of that, but, in the context of the Episcopal Church, lots of talk about social justice makes me wonder about our prior commitment to faithfulness. Our denomination needs to return to that in order to nurture a more thoughtful commitment to social justice. Professional church people like to proclaim a commitment to justice, but they don't like to think too hard about what is most likely to bring justice about. They seem to think that it is all a matter of good intentions and something that we need only choose. Perhaps if they spent more time with foundational Christianity, they'd appreciate the implications of our fallen nature and the need to be effective as well as empathetic.

3. She has been a priest for only 12 years. She became a bishop only seven years after her ordination. This suggests that she is more a politico than a priest. I think we need the latter more than the former.

As an aside, I am sure that we will fall all over ourselves in self-congratulation over the historic selection of a woman. I am a huge proponent of female ordination, but dancing in the streets over the PB's gender is boring.


Anonymous said...

As a fellow Episcopalian, I watch the homosexual ordination issue with reserve and misgiving. I believe that the question is not homosexuality, but a clergyman--a bishop--who lives an openly and unrepentantly sinful life, having sex outside of marriage. Of even deeper concern to me is what this issue represents for the future of the church. Left-wing politics, with all of the errors and injustices which it entails, now dominates the church hierarchy. If the church has become a club for leftist activists, where do we go to find peace with God? It feels to me as if the Episcopal Church has been hijacked, and the rest of us are no longer welcome.

Rick Esenberg said...

I don't actually care much about the gay bishop (although, from what I know of him, I wouldn't want him as my bishop for other reasons) and I have no patience for people who are upset by female ordination. But when these things become the defining issues - particularily the gay ordinations and same-sex blessings - and threaten to plit the church, I am a bit nervous about who is going to leave and who will be left. When I hear Jefferts Schori invited Spong to her diocese, I get worried. Very worried.