Thursday, February 01, 2007

Katharine's "Heresy"

A solid discussion has developed over at Preludium over our Presiding Bishop's soteriology and theology based on recent interviews in the press, her first sermon at General Convention this past summer (yes, the infamous "mother Jesus" one), and her view of the afterlife and justice for those in need. This stems from the just-released declaration (possibly responding to court order, no less) by some of the Network folk that she suffers a "manifestly defective Christology."

Sounds clinical. Have a giggle.

I've weighed in, but I commend the comments of some of the others, much more sound than mine, in response to accusations that end up stopping just short of equating Bishop Katharine with the "h" word.

These attacks on ++Katharine Jefferts Schori's faith have no real basis in fact, but, it seems to me, are an unfair projection of longstanding frustration and anxiety onto our new Presiding Bishop, little more. They require for their rational defense a distorted and most ungenerous reading of her interviews as well as a very selective understanding of Christian traditions and biblical texts.

I'm resisting the temptation to speculate on the true motivations behind these attacks -- our true motives, however well-intended, can be often a mystery, even to ourselves -- but it seems to me, these cutting accusations, however sincere, tell us a great more about the accusers than Bishop Katharine's theology, and even less about the Good News of God in Jesus Christ.

An appropriately brief response to any and all of these cries of "Heresy!" would be, "Me thinks thee dost protest too much."

It should be pointed out that Bishop Katharine has been elected for a scant seven months and in office as Presiding Bishop for barely three. Attacks on her theology are not only unwarranted and unfair but strike me as unabashedly ad hominem, and now, if I read Mark Harris' post correctly, are related to thinly veiled attempts to sabotage her relationship with the other Primates (many of whom she has yet to meet for the first time) and feed into an agenda that includes the formation of a new Anglican province in North America (ideally with The Episcopal Church being booted out of the Communion.)

Oops. It took me only a few sentences to give into temptation. But, seriously, you don't have to believe me. Let the record speak for itself.

These attacks on ++KJS and the wider antipathy surrounding them are fueling a lot of spending, a lot of ink flowing, taking up court time, and generally driving schism.

My hope is that most of the Primates will have the decency to see through all this.

Mark Harris suggests we laugh. . .or cry. I tend to do both, depending on what kind of mood I'm in at any given moment.

But who knows, we just might end up sticking around the Anglican Communion for awhile.

Sorry, +Bob Pittsburgh, to disappoint.


Ann said...

Bp. Mwamba of Botswana thinks the hysterical internet posting of Katharine as heretic are deliberate by some in the US who want TEC kicked out of the sandbox.

Anonymous said...

I hope it is not disrespectful to say that Bishop Jefferts Schori might have been a little clearer in her interviews about Jesus as "The way, the truth and the life". In answering the reporter's question with the idea that Jesus as the only way is "putting God "on a small box" it makes it clear that she is rejecting the idea that the only way to salvation is through Christianity exclusively. (I trust I am not being unfair to her in this summary - feel free to correct me.)
This leaves the possibility that she is responding along the lines of "Dominus Iesus', that there is the possibilty of a small number ofpeople brought into relationship with Jesus by the workings of the holy spirit.
Or she might be responding along the lines of John Hick's pluralism - that there are a number of valid ways to come to God and Jesus is one among many.
I want to respond to her charitably, and not put words in her mouth, but from the statements I have access to I can't distinguish between these two alternatives - and there may be more of course.
I guess the thing to do is just towait until she has ocasion to say some more, perhaps in Tanzania.

R said...


We probably shouldn't expect much from Tanzania. Most of the sessions will be closed to outside eyes and ears, as I understand it.

In re-reading the interview here, it struck me that ++KJS was most concerned about John 14:6-7 used as a "truth serum" in a narrow sense (exclusivist) demanding "conscious" assent to these verses, divorced from their original context, as objective truth for all time. She seems to be looking more for the experiential manifestation of Jesus as "way," "truth," and "life" as a path to God. In that, I would argue she is much closer to the biblical tradition, and the Christianity espoused in the Johannine community, if not the grand sweep of Christian traditions since then.

Back at the conversation at Preludium, we see some justification for this perspective by simply bringing other Johannine material to bear on the question.

It simply does no one any good to completely remove these verses from their context in John, where they appear not so much as universalizing statements of testing faith, but as loving, comforting ones (indeed inclusive) for Jesus' followers who are wrestling with his departure. In closest proximity to them, Jesus has just promised his disciples a place with him, and said that they know the way to that place. Thomas has asked Jesus, "How can we know the way?" Jesus, in his response is saying they have come to know the way through him. "No one comes to the Father. . ." could mean any number of "no ones" -- the disciples who have seen Jesus, or perhaps greater Israel (in line with the often anti-societal polemic of John).

But the greater universality we give these verses, the more we pull them out of context and run the risk of distorting their meaning intended in a particular setting -- amongst the followers of Jesus in the "narrative" (I use quotes, as narrative in John seems subjugated to a greater theological exploration); and amongst the early Church struggling with its identity as it distanced itself from its rootedness in Jewish traditions (the context in which John was apparently written).

In short, I think some are attempting to measure ++KJS' faith (orthodox or no?)on a scales (two verses from John's Gospel that, divorced from context, can be made to mean things they were not originally intended to mean) that will not bear the weight or give us a proper measurement.

To do so distorts the text and more than distorts (I would argue it does violence to) ++KJS' faithful witness in her life and ordained ministry.

I suggest the measure of her "orthodoxy" (if we must measure it) is to be found in a much more comprehensive approach to her writing, preaching, and practice.

Put another way, I very much imagine someone who was out to pin "heretic" on me could lift texts from my sermons and posts here and there, and string them together against various biblical verses to support a very coherent argument that I am indeed guilty of heresy. But would those proof-texts be a fair measure of my full faith? Or my practice as a Christian, for that matter?

This is the biggest problem I have with the way this whole argument is being framed. And perhaps it speaks to the demonization that is beneath a lot of the rhetoric and the reasoning behind schismatic actions as of late, if not the entire Current Unpleasantness.

And it is not merely tangentially related to the heterosexism, homophobia, and misogyny that is tangled up with a lot of this. All of these are dehumanizing mindsets and sociological phenomenon that divide communities and bring suffering. All of them demand a reduction of the person to a handful of behaviors, physical characteristics, or social categories. And we have theologies, sadly, that support them -- also dehumanizing, narrow, and dangerously dismissive of the full human person that Jesus Christ came to save.

As I said, these accusations say a great deal more about the accusers than about Bishop Katharine. And far less about the salvific acts of Jesus Christ in the fullness of our lives both as individuals and as a people in community.