Jefferts Schori (quietly) goes Pentecostal

What can one say about the Pentecostal slap-fest that is currently going on between Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and his counterpart here in the United States (his counterpart in every form of Anglican power that is meaningful, these days) Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori?

Let me make a few comments that strike me as rather obvious.

* First of all, the “Pentecost continues!” letter (full text here) from the presiding bishop is a huge story and the contents of this document have received next to nothing in terms of the news coverage that they deserve.

That is what makes the Religion News Service story by Daniel Burke so important. Other than a short piece by Reuters, the RNS piece is the only thing that is happening in the mainstream press. Here is the top of that Burke story:

Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has forcefully defended her church’s embrace of gays and lesbians, and firmly rejected efforts to centralize power or police uniformity in the Anglican Communion.

Anglicans should be led by local communities rather than powerful clerics, Jefferts Schori argued in a Wednesday (June 2) letter to her church’s 2 million members. And, after 50 years of debate, the Episcopal Church is convinced that gays and lesbians are “God’s good creation” and “good and healthy exemplars of gifted leadership within the church, as baptized leaders and ordained ones.”

* The RNS story notes, as it should, that the Pentecost letter is drawing cheers from the liberal Episcopal establishment, as she stands up to Canterbury’s timid calls for some vague form of creedal orthodoxy at the global level of this global communion. Thus, we read:

Liberal Episcopalians applauded Jefferts Schori’s letter, which was remarkable for its full-throated defense of Episcopal Church policies.

“It is an understated declaration of independence,” said Jim Naughton, editor of the blog Episcopal Cafe. “The presiding bishop is not going to allow the Archbishop of Canterbury to establish the terms of the debate anymore.”

However, anyone who follows the Anglican wars closely would know that, behind closed doors, Anglican traditionalists are also cheering Jefferts Schori for her candor and bluntness, just as, long ago, they cheered for Bishop Jack Spong of Newark. Every time he opened his mouth, he made their lives easier — in terms of giving them quotes to illustrate what the mainstream left advocated more quietly. The presiding bishop has her moments when she serves the same flag-waving purpose for folks on the left and right.

* Journalists should note that Jefferts Schori has done them a great favor in placing the Anglican wars in a broader context, in terns of history. In her actual letter, she proclaims:

The Episcopal Church has spent nearly 50 years listening to and for the Spirit in these matters. While it is clear that not all within this Church have heard the same message, the current developments do represent a widening understanding. Our canons reflected this shift as long ago as 1985, when sexual orientation was first protected from discrimination in access to the ordination process.

Now that’s a long timeline she has there — 50 years worth.

Meanwhile, most mainstream journalists continue to argue that the divisions in her church and the wider communion began with the ordination of you know who in New Hampshire. But this is old GetReligion territory. It’s great to have the presiding bishop make the point so strongly for journalists.

* As always, there are hints that the fight is about more than sex. In the case of this showdown, it is clear that Williams is frantically trying to hold the communion together on a wide range of doctrinal issues, with sex as the issue that, alas, always grabs the headlines. Jefferts Schori, meanwhile, sees this through the lens of Romeaphobia and claims that Canterbury is trying to enforce an anti-Anglican form of creedal orthodoxy, with Williams playing the role of pope.

The irony, of course, is that Williams has already established himself as a progressive on sexuality. Williams knows, however, that there are other doctrinal issues at play that matter far more to traditionalists around the world. What might those issues be?

* So, if this ongoing spirit of Pentecost is leading the Episcopal Church to edit and update centuries of Christian doctrine on sex and marriage, what other doctrines are being affected by these Winds Of Change? That’s the big question.

Would it be wrong for the communion to try to maintain doctrinal standards on other issues? What might those issues be that are causing tensions between the Episcopal establishment and the overwhelming majority of the world’s Anglicans? The real fighting isn’t, for example, about the ordination of women. Remember that bizarre story in The New Yorker?

Now think back a few years. What about that tiny media flareup about Jefferts Schori’s views on the uniqueness of Jesus Christ in salvation theology? That’s smoke from a real fire.

Thus, I am afraid that this all means that it’s time for another reference to the infamous “tmatt trio” of questions that journalists can use to sort out these kinds of disputes. When applied to Anglican conflicts, this becomes a quadrilateral. Here are those questions again:

(1) Are biblical accounts of the resurrection of Jesus accurate? Was this a real — even if mysterious — event in real time? Did it really happen?

(2) Is salvation found through Jesus Christ, alone? Is Jesus the Way or a way?

(3) Is sex outside of the Sacrament of Marriage a sin? The key word is sin.

(4) Should Anglican leaders ban the worship, by name, of other gods at their altars?

How are these issues affected by this new Pentecost? Just asking.

So, where is the coverage of this remarkable Pentecost letter? There are so many questions to ask and angles into this story. It’s a big one.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • http://www.opinionatedcatholic.blogspot.com jh

    “Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has forcefully defended her church’s embrace of gays and lesbians, and firmly rejected efforts to centralize power or police uniformity in the Anglican Communion.

    Anglicans should be led by local communities rather than powerful clerics, Jefferts Schori argued in a Wednesday”

    Yet she is ruling with a IRON fist in the USA Church. As one person who read this articel noted she is now Our lady of Litigation.

    I think that needs to be noted. In many ways for all her talk about “local Communities” she has made her postion and the TEC Conference much more powerful than anything the National Catholic Bishops Conference can be. Heck I think she assumes more powers than the Pope at times

    The only reason I bring that up is I think that should be noted in articles that talk about sayings on “local communities”

  • http://badvestments.blogspot.com Carl Vehse
  • Jon in the Nati

    Anglicans should be led by local communities rather than powerful clerics

    What exactly does Jefferts-Schori mean by this? It seems to me that she might actually be advocating the abolition (effectively, if not actually) of the episcopacy. Basically, she appears to be arguing for de-facto congregationalism in ECUSA.

    So how local is “local”? Will these “local communities” be at the diocesan level, or will authority be centered at the deanery or parish level, effectively removing power from the bishop and the provincial assembly?

    And I must ask, somewhat sarcastically: if the Episcopal Church becomes congregationalist in polity, will they change their name?

  • http://kingslynn.blogspot.com C. Wingate

    Jon, those are Diane Butler Bass’s words, not those of KJS. From a historical view the issue of locality actually works against her thesis, because locality is vested in dioceses and bishops (if not parishes), not national churches.

  • Martha

    I’ve already make snarky comments on another blog about her misuse of the Synod of Whitby, pitting a notional “Celtic Christianity” against a centralised “Roman Christianity”, but as an observer of the Anglican Wars, I am amused by the Presiding Bishop’s endorsement of local community leadership over a centralised uniformity of control.

    Seeing as how the various lawsuits in the courts are emphasising that TEC is a hierarchical church, that a parish can’t leave a diocese or a diocese can’t leave the national church, that the property belongs to the diocese rather than the individual congregations, etc. etc. etc., and the way that press releases an the official website quietly emphasise that the Episcopal Church has “2.4 million members in 16 countries and 110 dioceses”.

    And it always makes me smile to see, as in that photo, the Primatial Staff she carries – seeing again as how the emphasis on the ‘democratic polity’ of TEC includes that from the time of the foundation of the denomination, they specifically had a Presiding Bishop rather than a Primate or Archbishop.

    Saying one thing, doing another? ;-)

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    I read somewhere that the next issue to roil things in the Anglican Church in England is going to be the issue of consecrating divorced people as bishops.

  • Passing By

    From the Reuters article:

    Orthodox Anglicans, especially in Africa, vehemently reject pro-homosexual reforms as sinful and unbiblical. Several African churches have ordained orthodox U.S. bishops to lead …

    Interesting to use “orthodox” rather than “traditionalist”. That’s seems a bit of side-taking, does it not?

    However, notable in both stories is a lack of “orthodox” voices.

    It really would be interesting to see a good analysis of Archbishop Williams theological views on sexuality, his ecclesiastical views, and his actions as Archbishop of Canterbury. Specifically, how have his actions matched his stated aim of avoiding schism? Has he effectively taken sides in the on-going debate? There have been actions taken:

    http://www.aco.org/acns/news.cfm/2010/6/7/ACNS4707

    Are these a clear direction for the Anglican Communion?

  • Norman

    Another doctrinal issue hits the news:

    Divorced bishops to be permitted for first time by Church of England

    Divorced clergy are to be allowed to become Church of England bishops for the first time in a move which has been condemned by traditionalists.

    “Critics described the change in Church rules as “utterly unacceptable” and warned it would undermine the biblical teaching that marriage is for life.”

    Jonathan Wynne-Jones: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/religion/7805752/Divorced-bishops-to-be-permitted-for-first-time-by-Church-of-England.html

  • Norman

    Ah, Deacon John beat me to it.

  • Michael

    What Ms Schori does not admit that all of her positions are less about doctrine than they are about those old standbys, money and power. The Episcopal Church has been losing money for years, and with that much of their influence threatens to go as well. Much of PECUSA’s sway in the Anglican Communion was based on its deep pockets, and as those reserves shrink, she is put in the sadly absurd position of struggling to hang onto ramshackle, rapidly emptying old buildings so that she can at least maintain a pretense that all is well, and that she actually has some semblance of the old, powerful Church over which can claim control.

  • Kamal

    The title of this entry is misleading.

  • James

    To this quadrilateral, we can add the questions:

    Is Jesus God?

    Is God God?

    Or is “God” a word we merely use in order to persuade people to do the good things that the church teaches them that they should do (i.e., a dogmatic instrument free of underpinnings in reality), a kind of boogey monster / Santa Claus figure?

    Katherine Jefferts Schori’s open-minded approach and re-definition of the word “God” seems to favor the latter – http://anglicanecumenicalsociety.wordpress.com/2010/02/08/what-do-people-mean-when-they-say-that-presiding-bishop-schori-has-denied-the-resurrection-or-the-divinity-of-christ/

  • MarkP

    Every week, 90+% of Episcopal Churches pray prayers straight from the Book of Common Prayer, which give reasonably clear and obviously “orthodox” answers to all the questions you may ask. This book has been in use since the 70s, and never has a General Convention even begun the process of revising it. It is the prayer of our church. Like the first Queen Elizabeth, we do not want to make windows into people’s souls, though, and don’t require oaths of conformity on entrance — if you want to join us to pray the prayer of the church, welcome. The Episcopal Church is not the Roman Catholic church, and our leaders do not speak for us in the same way the Magisterium speaks for the Romans. The Presiding Bishop’s statements do not replace the theology of the Book of Common Prayer, however much I may respect her.

    Some Christians like to project all sorts of things onto Episcopalians so that they have someone to disdain, but on the whole I imagine most people in the pews say the Creeds because they believe the Creeds or are working on believing them — why else go to the effort of being there and saying them? It’s not like being an Episcopalian buys you a lot of status in 21st Century America.

  • Creighton

    Excellent piece. Thank you for reporting on serious matters to Anglican Christian and making it so plain.

  • Marion (Mael Muire)

    Mark P writes: “The Episcopal Church is not the Roman Catholic church, and our leaders do not speak for us in the same way the Magisterium speaks for the Romans.”

    I am not a “Roman.” I am an American member of the Catholic Church, or a “Catholic.”

    The qualifier “Roman” is an artifact of the English Reformation and is for that reason generally used only in the English-speaking world (which, hard as it may be to believe, is not the entire planet.) Throughout the non-English speaking world, the Catholic Church is known as simply “the Catholic Church.”

    Those Anglicans or Episcopalians who refer to (Roman) Catholics as “Romans”, should be referred to as “Canterburians,” even if they were born and have lived their entire lives in Queensland, or Praetoria, or San Antonio.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Folks:

    Back to journalism. If you want to argue about matters TEC, please give us some URLs and info that is available to JOURNALISTS who are covering this story.

  • Dave

    Williams is frantically trying to hold the communion together on a wide range of doctrinal issues, with sex as the issue that, alas, always grabs the headlines.

    Sex is one issue on which many current and former pew-sitters have walked away from traditional doctrine, so it both is a source of angst intramurally and grabs journalists’ attention first.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    DAVE:

    Why, “first”?

    What is your evidence that more have left over that issue than, say, Christology?

  • AmbroseR

    God bless Marion (Mael Muire), who FINALLY says: “I am not a ‘Roman.’ I am an American member of the Catholic Church, or a ‘Catholic.’The qualifier ‘Roman’ is an artifact of the English Reformation and is for that reason generally used only in the English-speaking world (which, hard as it may be to believe, is not the entire planet.) Throughout the non-English speaking world, the Catholic Church is known as simply ‘the Catholic Church.’” I have been saying this for years.

    Why are some groups obeyed quicker than the speed of light when they suggest a new nomenclature for them is in order (e.g. the many polite terms we have exhausted in the past fifty years to describe various racial groups without offending or the various redactions to the endless variety for relating to feminist agendas, etc.) and yet when the largest provider of charitable care on earth says repeatedly “we are simply the Catholic Church,” ears become closed! One thing alone makes the Church Catholic: it’s allegiance to the Pope. And let’s not engage in adolescent games about words sugesing that we are all catholic. We are only all catholic in the sense that we are all episcopal (for those who recognize bishops); or that we are all baptist (those who accept baptism); or that we are all the church of Christ, or disciples of Christ or any other appellation with which one can play around. Thank you.

  • AmbroseR

    I say, God bless Marion (Mael Muire), who FINALLY says: “I am not a ‘Roman.’ I am an American member of the Catholic Church, or a ‘Catholic.’The qualifier ‘Roman’ is an artifact of the English Reformation and is for that reason generally used only in the English-speaking world (which, hard as it may be to believe, is not the entire planet.) Throughout the non-English speaking world, the Catholic Church is known as simply ‘the Catholic Church.’” I have been saying this for years.

    Why are some groups obeyed quicker than the speed of light when they suggest a new nomenclature for them is in order (e.g. the many polite terms we have exhausted in the past fifty years to describe various racial groups without offending or the various redactions to the endless variety for relating to feminist agendas, etc.) and yet when the largest provider of charitable care on earth says repeatedly “we are simply the Catholic Church,” ears become closed! One thing alone makes the Church Catholic: it’s allegiance to the Pope. And let’s not engage in adolescent games about words sugesing that we are all catholic. We are only all catholic in the sense that we are all episcopal (for those who recognize bishops); or that we are all baptist (those who accept baptism); or that we are all the church of Christ, or disciples of Christ or any other appellation with which one can play around. Thank you.

  • Dave

    Terry, I said they had walked away from traditional doctrine, not that they had left the church. That’s why I said “current and former” pewsitters.

    One piece of evidence is contraception and abortion rates among Catholic women comparable to those of Protestant womem.

    Why “first”? Because journalists have reflex responses, innate and conditioned, like the rest of us.

  • Martha

    Taking a stab at one of the questions:

    “(1) Are biblical accounts of the resurrection of Jesus accurate? Was this a real — even if mysterious — event in real time? Did it really happen?”

    Well, according to at least one former Bishop of the Church of England, it’s absurd to think God would stoop to a “conjuring trick with bones” :-)

  • MarkP

    My apologies to Marion and Ambrose for using the qualifier “Roman” with “Catholic.” But I would be careful about jumping to conclusions about the motivations of people who use the phrase “Roman Catholic”. Google “Roman Catholic Diocese” and you will find page after page after page of diocesan web sites (Albany, Phoenix, Portland, Burlington, Pittsburgh, Brooklyn, and so on) that refer to themselves as “The Roman Catholic Diocese of” x. My guess is they mean no disrespect.

  • Milton

    Yes, the rainbow cope is awful enough. (At least she ditched the infamous oven mitt mitre of recent memory.) But as this article well reminds us, the wretched, divine and sole-Saviour Jesus denying “theology” of TEC and KJS is the real story. Her Scriptorture sounds like she has confused the church bulletin she seems to be preaching from for the Bible. Oh dear, perhaps I’ve stumbled upon the awful truth! ;)

  • Marion (Mael Muire)

    Mark writes: “My apologies to Marion and Ambrose for using the qualifier ‘Roman’ with ‘Catholic.’”

    With apologies for tmatt for once again venturing away from the topic of journalism: Unlike Ambrose, I don’t object to my Church being described as “Roman Catholic”; what I was objecting to is her members being called “Romans.”

    I’m not “a Roman.” I’m a Catholic. You can call me a “Roman Catholic”, if you insist upon doing so. I prefer Just Plain Catholic. I refuse to be called, however, a Just Plain “Roman.”

    End Off-topic.

  • George Conger

    TMatt is absolutely correct in stating that this letter is of tremendous importance within the Anglican world…. and it will make a splash in the specialist publications. I applaud Bishop Jefferts Schori for putting forth her views so clearly … and opening up the possibility of debate on this topic. However, I would be very surprised if any editor gave a green light to a story whose pitch was … Episcopal Church leader says God through the power of the Holy Spirit has given a special private revelation to some of its leaders that says being gay is ok. …

  • Peggy

    Toggling multiple windows, I lost a post. Briefly:

    –ABC finally takes a stand and excludes TEC folks from certain committees.

    http://www.seattlepi.com/national/1103ap_eu_britain_anglicans.html

    –Williams has not been calling any shots previously as KJS claims, I’d say. Now he faces an exodus to Rome at home and must draw some line in the sand finally.

    –Has TEC or the Communion as a whole abandoned traditional vestments according to a liturgical calendar?

    –I am always wary of any one who speaks of “the Spirit” but doesn’t say “Holy” which would emphasize that we’d be speaking of the Third Person of the Trinity. That would be a good Q5 for Tmatt’s Qs. Does this person speak of the “Holy Spirit” or “The Spirit”? W/o “Holy” I tend to sense that these folks speak of some vague spirit unbounded by any religious tradition or teaching and not necessarily the Third Person in the Trinity. That’s a hint of lack of orthodoxy. [It's not negative for a Christian to be called "orthodox."]

  • Larry the grump Rasczak

    “The Episcopal Church has spent nearly 50 years listening to and for the Spirit in these matters.”

    Obviously Bishop Jefferts Schori and her staff have confused the voice of the Ochs-Sulzberger family for that of the Holy Spirit.

  • Julia

    MarkP:

    What individual US parishes or dioceses use as their legal name may not have as much importance as you think.

    Some American states and the country of England require the Church to use the legal name “Roman Catholic Church”.

    Source (BTW author is obviously not a Catholic): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_Catholic_%28term%29

    Additionally, many Catholics use the term because they have heard it so much and do not know the history. And forms of various kinds with check-off boxes most often have “Roman Catholic” and not “Catholic” as a choice.

    The Church of Rome is most often a reference to the Diocese of Rome whose bishop is also the Pope.

  • CarlH

    George Conger and “Larry the grump Rasczak” have touched upon what, in my view, are significant religious/theological issues that no one has sought to address.

    For this outsider, the Presiding Bishop’s attempt to co-opt the Day of Pentecost in support of her position is a pretty bold coup in and of itself. (Did anyone even bother to read the account in the Book of Acts?)

    But even more significant, to my mind, are the questions about how the Presiding Bishop understands the way in which the Holy Spirit speaks to her in this context, and why it is speaking so clearly to her and her fellow PECUSA leaders referred to in her statement, why it appears to be so silent (or the hearers so deaf) in many other parts of the Anglican Communion (and particularly for the Archbishop of Canterbury).


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