Anyone who expected to see an ogre in action at the diocesan meetings with Katharine Jefferts Schori this past weekend went away disappointed. She is Miss Congeniality - a formidably able woman of charm and intelligence to whom many responded with enthusiasm. Moreover, as far as I could tell, she is that rare bird, a liberal who believes in tolerance and diversity. My impression is that she believes adequate provision should be made for those who use the 1928 Prayer Book and for those who have theological reservations about the ordination of women. If these impressions are right – major caveat - then we do not have to fear much from her on those particular matters.
Nonetheless I went away from this meeting sad and sorry. For this very personable and intelligent woman lacks something critical to any Christian, but certainly to one holding public office in the church - an adequate understanding of the Christian faith, a commitment to upholding it, and an interest in engaging in rational discussion with those who do. It is not that she is not theologically educated: she dazzled the crowd with knowing references to the Athanasian Creed and the doctrine of perichoresis. But she employs such language only to evacuate it of its content - as theological baubles brought down from the attic to ornament a theological perspective that can only be called sub-credal, for it falls below the level of what the Constitution of the Episcopal Church speaks of as “the historic Faith and Order as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer”. In so doing she perpetuates the illusion that the Church can be united as a spiritual community without coherent doctrine.
Let me illustrate. At her meeting with the clergy, she asked us to meditate on Mark 1:11, “You are my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased”, the words spoken by “a voice from heaven” to Jesus at his baptism in Jordan. We were to apply this text directly to ourselves, and to ponder what it meant to be assured of God’s unconditional love and approval. To judge from the responses, the assembled clergy loved this exercise, and in the discussion that followed the conventional themes of inclusiveness emerged - although a few did acknowledge a nagging sense that God might not be altogether “well-pleased” with them.