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BY Simcha Fisher
You may remember The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. When she took office in 2006, she was interviewed by the New York Times, and had the following exchange:
Q: How many members of the Episcopal Church are there in this country?
A: About 2.2 million. It used to be larger percentagewise, but Episcopalians tend to be better-educated and tend to reproduce at lower rates than some other denominations. Roman Catholics and Mormons both have theological reasons for producing lots of children
So right away, we learn two important things about Bishop Jefferts Schori: first, that despite her talk about inclusiveness and tolerance, she is not in it to make friends. And second, she doesn't know the first damn thing about Catholic sex. (Mormons, you're on your own here.)
But I'm going to put that aside for now. She had just gotten the job; maybe she had the new girl jitters. So I read through the rest of the interview several times (it's short). I don't know if it was heavily edited or if she was heavily sedated, but it makes about as much sense as the last conversation I had with my daughter, who is 18 months old and only knows how to say "cheese," "fish," "banana," and "you go clean up." Here's another little excerpt (and you'll notice no ellipses. This is the full text of what she said):
Q: What do you make of Ted Haggard, who just stepped down as the head of the National Association of Evangelicals, after he was accused of cavorting with a gay escort?
A: I think it’s very sad. We’re always surprised when we see people’s clay feet. Our culture seems to delight in exposing them. I think we have a prurient interest in other people’s failings.
Q: You can’t blame the Haggard case on the culture or the media. It isn’t a story about sex so much as the disturbing hypocrisy of a church leader.
A: But we’re all hypocrites. All of us.
Q: You’re very forgiving.
A: I like the word “shalom.” I use it in my correspondence, I use it in my sermons, and that’s how I sign my e-mails — “shalom.” To me it is a concrete reminder of what it is we’re all supposed to be about.
Q: Because it means peace in Hebrew?
A: It means far more than peace. I think it’s a vision of the human community. Those great visions of Isaiah — every person fed, no more strife, the ill are healed, prisoners are released.
Q: You were previously bishop of Nevada, but your new position requires you to live in New York City. Do you and your husband like it here?
A: He is actually in Nevada. He is a retired mathematician. He will be here in New York when it makes sense.
If I were Mr. Bishop Jefferts Schori, I think I'd find lots of retired mathematician work to do in Nevada, too. Anyway, here it is a good seven years later, and our pisky friend has had plenty of time to settle into her role. Surely she's learned, when she opens her mouth, to make a little more sense?
Mmmmnope. She's resurfaced in what one suffering Espisopalian called "the worst sermon ever," in which she debuts an astonishingly original interpretation of St. Paul's encounter with the slave girl possessed by a demon. She says,
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.
Well, to be fair to Paul, it is annoying when someone who is possessed by a demon keeps following you around (see above, 18-month-old child). But generally, when one is a Christian bishop, one recognizes that the demon is -- 'ow do you say -- the bad guy, here, and not Paul.
Okay, but let's play along and assume that Paul was somehow being a jerk by exorcising the demon from her. In Bishop Schori's account, it was his closed-minded disregard for the girl's gifts that is somehow what gets him thrown in jail because . . . her captors were actually feminists, who saw through him? Or something? Then the Bishop says this:
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.
So God is mad at him for messing with the slave girl who "shares in God's Nature" (boy, the Holy Trinity is just branching out all over the place these days), but still busts him out of jail in a really spectacular fashion because God . . . wasn't focusing? He forgot if He was mad at Paul or not? In fairness, this interpretation of the Bible is rather intricate. Lotta ins, lotta outs.
Oh, I'm almost out of room, and I haven't even gotten to the part where she talks about how accepting diversity is "the only road to the kingdom of God." Not accepting Jesus Christ, mind you. Accepting diversity. And I didn't get to the part where the main point of Revelations 22 is PARRRRRR-TAY! Everybody's welcome! Be they dogs, or be they fornicators, or be they whatever, John wants to them to come on down!
But seriously. The best we can possibly hope for here is that the bishop got caught up in something all to familiar to many of us: somebody gave her a bottle of first rate tequila, she forgot to read the material, and then in the morning, she just had to wing it. And this is how it turned out. Bet you five bucks she hustled out of there after the service and went to throw up in the nearest bush.
If that's not what happened, then there's something much, much worse going on: the Episcopal Church is being headed by someone who refers to demonic possession as "spiritual awareness." Which is apparently, according to her, much the same as being gay, or something, because diversity.
Episcopalians: get out now. Your church is bonkers.
I'm not even kidding. If you read your bishop's sermon and a cold horror came creeping over your mind, please remember: the Catholic Church is here. We will always be here. We will always be waiting. We have a couple of insane bishops, too, but they hardly ever get interviewed by the New York Times, and many of them are actually decent scholars, and faithful and courageous guys. And I guarantee you, none of them sign their letters with "Shalom" because they think it means "community." I mean.