Greetings from Oxford, England, where the climate is as hot as blazes — weather-wise and Anglican-wise. I am busy all week teaching at the Oxford Centre for Religion and Public Life, where a group of 16 journalists from all over the world (I am the only person from the United States) are presenting papers on “Freedom of the Press Versus Blasphemy in the Internet Age.”
However, I do have some Internet access at the old, old, but friendly St. Edmund Hall. Thus, I noticed that The Washington Post has mentioned in a local story that one of the most powerful priests in its circulation area has been elected as a bishop in Nigeria. That isn’t in the lead, but it did get into the newspaper. Did I miss an earlier reference chasing the much-debated Julia Duin report in The Washington Times?
The story by veteran Alan Cooperman focuses on fallout from the election of Nevada Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, an outspoken leader on the Anglican left, as the new presiding bishop (or archbishop) of The Episcopal Church. However, I think that this story may, for some readers, blur a key line in this already complicated conflict. Here’s the key information:
Although she will not take up her new role until November, six U.S. dioceses already have rejected her authority, and that number is rising. Many church leaders expect that by the time she takes office, about five more, for a total of 10 percent of the nation’s 111 Episcopal dioceses, will have joined the rejectionist camp.
Moreover, conservative Anglicans overseas have made no secret of their hope that the archbishop of Canterbury, the spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, will not invite Jefferts Schori to the next gathering of the heads of the 38 constituent churches in 2008.
Gender is only part of the reason that some conservatives in the church are unhappy about her election.
That last sentence — and some background material later in the report — is very important.
There are a few U.S. dioceses that still reject the ordination of women, period. There may be a few more that accept women in the episcopate, but, as a practical matter, wish the U.S. church had not elected a woman as presiding bishop at this time — since there are many Anglican leaders in the Third World who still follow the ancient Christian practice of an all-male priesthood. England has made up its mind about the priesthood, but is stalled at the switch on the episcopate.
So different Anglicans — here in the United States and abroad — are upset with Jefferts Schori for different reasons, and it is important to help readers know who is who in this church that tries to keep evangelicals, Anglo-Catholics and liberals (modern and postmodern) kneeling at the same altar.
The key in this case is not gender, but her enthusiasm about modernizing the Sacrament of Marriage for use in a world of pluriform sexuality.
And check out this quote from the Post article:
“All language is metaphorical, and if we insist that particular words have only one meaning and the way we understand those words is the only possible interpretation, we have elevated that text to an idol,” she said in a telephone interview. “I’m encouraging people to look beyond their favorite understandings.”
Jefferts Schori’s “all language is metaphorical” approach is a giant red flag to traditionalists at home and abroad who believe that the Episcopal Church is heading toward schism because it has departed from the plain words of the Bible.
However, the new presiding bishop’s theology is now normative in Episcopal seminaries and in the church’s House of Bishops. She represents the elite theology of this era in her church. She is normal. In many places, she has tenure. It is the traditional Anglicans who are, well, not very traditional in the here and now.
In America, the old-fashioned Anglicans are rebels. In the Third World, the traditionalists are normal Anglicans. And that clash is what this story is all about. This is a complex story, so it’s important to keep the lines clear between the various camps.