Mollie, perhaps the newspapers share the same view of alleged demonic or diabolic activity as evinced in this sermon by the Presiding Bishop of The Anglican Church, Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, whereby when in Acts 16, St. Paul cast out a demon from the possessed slave girl, it was because “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. …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.”
Naturally, if demonic possession is a beautiful, holy gift of awareness, it’s very bad manners at the least to exorcise the demon.
What in the world is she talking about? Well, Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church gave a sermon in Venezuela recently that you can read in its entirety here. It’s actually fascinating that it resulted in no mainstream media coverage during the same week that every media outlet in the world found it dramatically newsworthy that a head of a Christian church body actually talks like Jesus when it comes to Satan. I still don’t quite get how that’s news, but that Jefferts Schori’s sermon wasn’t news is particularly captivating.
It did get tons of media attention outside the mainstream press. You might recognize the byline on this piece from Anglican Ink that begins:
The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church has denounced the Apostle Paul as mean-spirited and bigoted for having released a slave girl from demonic bondage as reported in Acts 16:16-34 .
In her sermon delivered at All Saints Church in Curaçao in the diocese of Venezuela, Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori condemned those who did not share her views as enemies of the Holy Spirit.
To call Bishop Jefferts Schori’s exegesis of Acts 16 “strained” or “eccentric” is too mild. It is utterly bizarre. But others have done an adequate job fisking the sermon. I’m going to cut right to what seems to me a rather larger and more fundamental issue, which is the duty of all Christians, but particularly those in ordained leadership, to operate from within the tradition, as an insider looking out, and not from a critical distance, as an outsider looking in. The Christian tradition (a term I use in what I think is an Eastern Orthodox sense, inclusive of scripture, liturgy, ascesis, and the mainstream of theology) is certainly an appropriate object of critical inquiry by detached outsiders, whether sympathetic or hostile. But such critical inquiry is not in the remit of a bishop; in fact, bishops pretty much surrender the option of engaging in that sort of work the moment they are consecrated. A bishop is, by definition, by job description, thoroughly a conservative, operating as a custodian of the tradition and articulating an insider’s point of view. Is there room on the margins for prophetic voices that challenge the establishment, speaking words of truth and justice? Yes, there certainly is room for those voices. But they are not the voices of bishops. It is, rather, the job of bishops, speaking as consummate insiders, to equip the baptized faithful to listen to the voices from the margins and discern between true prophets and false ones.
But why is it newsworthy that Pope Francis talks about Satan and exorcism in the manner that Christians have traditionally done so and not newsworthy what the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church is doing here? Normally we expect quite a bit of media coverage of The Episcopal Church, as this blog has seen over the years. Why is this exegetical innovation not newsworthy?
A Hall & Oates bonus from Tim Graham: