Monday, 20 May 2013

Mrs Jefferts-Schori does it again

If only to remind us that her career discipline is oceanography, Katherine Jefferts-Schori puts her foot in it again - big time!
Report from Anglican Ink [full story and comment here if you can face it]
 We live with the continuing tension between holier impulses that encourage us to see the image of God in all human beings and the reality that some of us choose not to see that glimpse of the divine, and instead use other people as means to an end.  We’re seeing something similar right now in the changing attitudes and laws about same-sex relationships, as many people come to recognize that different is not the same thing as wrong.  For many people, it can be difficult to see God at work in the world around us, particularly if God is doing something unexpected.
There are some remarkable examples of that kind of blindness in the readings we heard this morning, and slavery is wrapped up in a lot of it.  Paul is annoyed at the slave girl who keeps pursuing him, telling the world that he and his companions are slaves of God.  She is quite right.  She’s telling the same truth Paul and others claim for themselves. But Paul is annoyed, perhaps for being put in his place, and he responds by depriving her of her gift of spiritual awareness.  Paul can’t abide something he won’t see as beautiful or holy, so he tries to destroy it.  It gets him thrown in prison.  That’s pretty much where he’s put himself by his own refusal to recognize that she, too, shares in God’s nature, just as much as he does – maybe more so!  The amazing thing is that during that long night in jail he remembers that he might find God there – so he and his cellmates spend the night praying and singing hymns.
An earthquake opens the doors and sets them free, and now Paul and his friends most definitely discern the presence of God.  The jailer doesn’t – he thinks his end is at hand.  This time, Paul remembers who he is and that all his neighbors are reflections of God, and he reaches out to his frightened captor.  This time Paul acts with compassion rather than annoyance, and as a result the company of Jesus’ friends expands to include a whole new household.  It makes me wonder what would have happened to that slave girl if Paul had seen the spirit of God in her..."
Full text [here]
So, a big slap on the wrist for St Paul, then, clearly not signed up sufficiently to the equality and diversity programme as applied to those suffering from demonic possession, not to mention his gross interference with the property rights of those who traffic in slaves and employ forced labour - see, we can all be up-to-date if we try.... even if we don't all make a fetish out of the UN Millennium Development Goals.

As we have come to expect from this particular quarter (this latest address of KJS might even elicit a yawn were it not so execrably theologically illiterate) it's not exactly what one might call an orthodox exegesis ..... setting one's self up as judge over the example and witness of the apostles seldom achieves that end. 
The first rule of homiletics is that if you have to twist a text in order to make it fit your preconceived argument, then choose another text...

Hilariously, the TEC 'Presiding Bishop's' address was given in Curaçao; had she been drinking some beforehand, I wonder? That would be a charitable explanation...
All this, of course,  will help the ecumenical process no end; I would love to be a fly on the wall when they come across reports of her sermon in the Moscow Patriarchate....

But back to Chapter 16 of the Acts of the Apostles: I much prefer this interpretation:; it's a good retelling of the story, and it doesn't do violence to the Scriptural text, or to the Faith itself. 


  1. Joseph Golightly21 May 2013 at 08:09

    A question. Is the Church of England in communion with this lady? I really would love to know the answer please

    1. Ha! If anyone is able to answer that without resorting to the standard 'it depends what you mean by...' line, please let me know.

  2. The text of Acts 16.16-18 is quite clear that Paul waited a number of days before he – in annoyance or petulance – eventually cast out the spirit that led the girl to be shouting out the truth about himself and Silas. If this were just a matter of casting out a spirit, he would have done it straight away, but surely this is Luke showing us how much Paul was prey to his ill-temper. It seems from the Greek that the spirit the girl had was one that had some relation to the Delphic Oracle – not seen universally in the early Church as being necessarily a source of evil – so I think the PB is offering a perfectly acceptable exegesis.

    Having read the whole of her address by following your link, I fail to recognise the object of your invective in such passages as:

    “What would the world be like if we could love not only our lovers, but every human being with that kind of starry-eyed passion? The glory is there to see in all of us. Certainly God sees that glory. Most of us have eyes that can see that glory in one or a few other human beings. Learning to see that glory all around us is a good part of what the Christian life is all about. Slavery, war, and discrimination are only possible when we fail to see the glory in those people. Why does Jesus tell us to pray for our enemies, except to begin to discern their glory?”

    Perhaps Paul is not the only one who is prone to ill-humour ☺

    Oh – and, Mr Golightly, the Church of England, and the Church in Wales, are in communion with the Episcopal Church.

    1. An acceptable exegesis? I'm not sure I agree; yes, it's very clear from the text that Paul acts out of anger or annoyance (or at least, from the Greek, that he is greatly troubled by the girl's actions)yet the the impetus for his 'exorcism' seems to be that the girl is hampering his apostolic mission by following him and his companions around and constantly crying out; at the very least one can say the girl was in need of liberation from a spirit which was inimical to the apostle's proclamation of Christ.
      Paul has no claims to be a magician or a magus, the power he displays doesn't come from within him - he can only be a channel for the power and mercy of Christ, so when he commands that the spirit leave the girl - and it does - how else can he be acting than in accordance with God's will?

      And, of course, my 'invective' (I won't argue with the description!) wasn't directed at the fairly unexceptional passage you quote, but towards the highly contentious point in terms of the Christian tradition which she was making earlier and then attempting to use this particular passage from Acts to illustrate and support...

    2. Good God!

    3. I also think that your exegesis is entirely acceptable. The fact that you don't come to the same conclusions doesn't mean that they are illegitimate merely on the basis of a reading of this passage.

      I see that the link has changed to take us to the gloss on her address rather than directly to the address itself. Here the invective is even worse, and all based on one small element while she is very clearly making a far broader point concerning the celebration of difference.

    4. It will come as no surprise to you that I don't follow your logic on the equal acceptability of my own and KJS' exegesis of Acts 16; I still maintain it is exegetical sleight of hand to interpret the story the way she does in order to support a radical departure from the Christian moral tradition. We're not going to agree on that, but I do think we have to be careful within contemporary Anglicanism that we are not seen to confer equal validity to contradictory and irreconcilable (?) versions of the Gospel.
      No, I'm not sure how the link to her sermon has changed - it hasn't been altered from this end: in fact, I think the whole address (certainly in its reasoning and a priori assumptions) is rather more supportive than not of the view I have taken of it

  3. Joseph Golightly21 May 2013 at 16:10

    Thank you Abervicar. So that means that Forward in Faith types and the Society of Wilfred and Hilda are in communion with the lady. I would love to hear from them if they are (or are not) - I guess a deathly silence will come upon us as they would not want to upset anybody!

    1. "I would love to hear from them if they are (or are not)"

      So would I; indeed, so would I -- and I'd also like to hear from them on what grounds they can possibly believe, or affect to believe, that they can somehow escape the fate of their "orthodox integrity" or "orthodox opposition" (if they intend to be seriously "oppositional") brethren in the Scandinavian churches, especially that of Sweden -- to be at first coddled, then spoken against, then marginalized and condemned for "oppressing women clergy" by their mere protected presence, and finally, once they have no supporters in the episcopate, to see all opponent sof WO banned from ordination.

    2. Dr Tighe, thank you for these comments; they are much appreciated. As you know, my own analysis of the long-term prospects facing us is not that different from yours.
      Where I would respectfully disagree is that I'm far from sure that we should walk away. Clearly, I need to elaborate: we know that those clergy who have done so have taken very few of the Anglican laity with them; there are all kinds of reasons for this, mainly I have to admit, because of a complete lack of awareness of the real issues and, sadly, to our shame, inadequate teaching over the last few generations.
      Personally, and I will make no judgement about those who have bravely followed their theology and their conscience and done otherwise, I am not ready to abandon my position without a last stand and a final defeat. It's nothing to do with giving up a comfortable security (our fate may well be worse than those who have left, if the revisionists live up to their rhetoric) but it seems - and I know this is probably both illogical,sentimental, and even quixotic - somehow 'necessary' to go down fighting, as this is a battle which is not confined to those ecclesial bodies owing their (separate) existence to the unhappy events of the sixteenth century.
      The task for some of us is here, not elsewhere, whatever the result. I appreciate the clear risk of bolstering the revisionists' position by our giving the appearance that nothing has changed. No one, I think could legitimately accuse us of pretending that is the case.
      As for the clergy, we are not ordained for ourselves but for the flock to which we minister - whether they appreciate, theologically or ecclesially, those ministrations or not. Or should we cut our losses now and just try to save ourselves?
      To try to answer your point honestly and directly: no, I don't think we will escape the fate of the 'orthodox' in Scandinavia, but I'm not sure that is now the aim of our resistance.

    3. I hope that nothing of what I wrote in my comment above will be taken as a disparagement of your integrity or your witness, or that of those of like minds with you.

      I don't know what to think about, or to conclude from, the "stolidity" (or unresponsiveness) of so large a proportion of the laity, even of those who have been long-term members of congregations with an orthodox Anglo-Catholic tradition. "Inadequate teaching" may be part of it; perhaps also a kind of unspoken practical "congregationalism" (if it's "not in my back yard," it's not important to me). What I do know for sure is that the same phenomenon is, or has been, just as widespread in orthodox parochial enclaves in the Episcopal Church here in the States and in Sweden, Norway and Denmark (especially Denmark, where the phenomenon of valgmeinigheter, or "choice congregations," whereby groups representing different "theological" preferences or "churchmanship" styles can actually secure recognition as parochial churches if the local bishop is convinced of their financial sustainability and "legitimacy" within a broadly-interpreted Lutheran framework; unfortunately, the creation of such parish congregations based on a stanc eof opposition to WO had not been permitted) -- and in all of these, in the longer run, such a stolid passivity on the part of the laity has enabled the slow decline of such parishes, and the eventual replacement of "orthodox" Anglo-Catholic by "ritualists" of no clear theological views, and eventually by the local versions of "affirming" Catholics.

      I am sentimentally in complete accord with what you write, "I am not ready to abandon my position without a last stand and a final defeat ... it seems ... somehow 'necessary' to go down fighting, as this is a battle which is not confined to those ecclesial bodies owing their (separate) existence to the unhappy events of the sixteenth century." Nor do I think you should "cut (y)our losses now and just try to save (y)ourselves." I do hope, though, that those in your position and of a like mind are doing and will do all they can to prevent the souls committed to their charge assuming "the ostrich position" about ongoing "developments" inimical to the future of any sort of orthodox witness in their church bodies, or at the least, if they must needs "play the ostrich," making it as uncomfortable as possible for them to do so.

    4. Mr Golightly: I have given up trying to understand the variety of attitudes and practices found among opponents of female ordination. Some won't come to their bishop's Chrism Mass; some won't receive communion from him; some won't receive communion from him when there's an ordained woman present; some won't accept a chalice from an ordained woman but will from a female chalice assistant; some will do any or all of these things in a quiet Mass but not in a large function; some will not have their bishop to carry out any sacramental function in their parishes - the list goes on!

      What it proves is that you shouldn't expect Anglicans to have the same rigid idea of communion as R/Cs or Orthodox. This has been the fallacy of much Anglican ecclesiology since the 1970s. So I don't see the issue with Fr Gollop being in communion with the PB; though he may not like or agree with very much of what she is and what she stands for, they are both within the Anglican Communion, and I wouldn't want to excommunicate either of them.

  4. I think the variety of attitudes and practices of those opposed to the ordination of women reflects, among other things, a large degree of bewilderment and confusion on the part of a group which, having always held a high view of episcopacy, finds itself confronted with episcopal advocacy of an innovation which they believe runs contrary to the very apostolic tradition the bishops claim to have inherited. Actually I'm amazed there is not more confusion than there is.
    Now how one would define my own degree of communion with the Presiding Bishop of the TEC is a moot point; 'impaired' certainly, even if the province in which I serve is 'in full communion' with TEC - yet is it with the women bishops of that Church? As things stand, it can't be ...
    Increasing, my view of Anglican ecclesiology is that it would be a very good idea ....


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