On Sunday, January 11 Presiding Bishop Katharine Schori visited my old parish for a one-hour question-and-answer session as part of her visit to the diocese of Mississippi. The day before, she had visited Greenwood’s Church of the Nativity for a similar Q&A forum.
You can view the video of Stand Firm president The Rev. George Woodliff’s question at the Greenwood session concerning Schori’s TIME magazine interview, and Schori’s response, here, by going to 34:10 into the video (use the counter on the bottom left). Note that in response to Woodliff’s question, which references this quote:
Time: Is belief in Jesus the only way to get to heaven?
KJS: We who practice the Christian tradition understand him as our vehicle to the divine. But for us to assume that God could not act in other ways is, I think, to put God in an awfully small box.
Schori claims she was not quoted accurately, and ducks Woodliff’s real question.
In Jackson Sunday, Bishop Duncan Gray introduced Schori as someone he believes has been “called by God to lead this church at this time.” Schori’s patter was a carbon-copy of what she said in Greenwood - the remark about most of us in Mississippi being related is one example; her characterization of TEC’s openness regarding communion as “y’all come” is another.
The first questioner was a lady who informed the presiding bishop that she was, in her own words, “grieved” at the way, during Schori’s tenure, the church had begun to disintegrate, the authority of Scripture was challenged, and there increasingly seemed to be no room left for people who held traditional Christian beliefs. Schori responded by re-phrasing the lady’s question, which came out something like this: “So… you’re disturbed… that some people have a different interpretation about Scripture?”
After that followed a lengthy and frankly weird exchange between Schori and several attendees attacking the Roman Catholic church for its stance on communion. Noting that Episcopalians offered communion to “all baptized Christians” (but failing to note that open communion to the un-baptized is a widespread practice), she characterized the policy of the Roman Catholic church of not offering communion to non-Roman Catholics as, and I quote, “a great scandal.”
A few attendees echoed this in their questions and comments, and the incessant tut-tutting of Roman Catholic policy as a way of patting themselves on the back for what they perceived as their own openness and inclusion amounted to a pretty embarrassing display of ignorance and hypocrisy on the part of both the attendees and the presiding bishop. Setting the bar for exclusion at “all baptized Christians” as opposed to “all Roman Catholics” may be more “open,” but it is only a matter of degree; the fact remains that, officially at least, the Episcopal Church excludes non-baptized Christians from communion as a matter of official policy. But even that is misleading, because in a large percentage of Episcopal churches, offering communion to non-baptized Christians is not only practiced, but embraced as an act of “radical inclusion,” a “justice” issue. Add to that the fact that St. Phillip’s itself, the very parish in which the presiding bishop was speaking, routinely practices open communion, and you have a situation of such incoherence as to make bemused laughter the only rational response.
About 35 minutes into the session, I asked my question, part of which is in the video below. It began this way:
“You have been, both personally and in your office, very supportive of homosexuality in the church, especially the blessings of same-sex marriage. There are parents in this church right now, and all over the country, who are very uneasy with the prospect of explaining to their children that while the Bible condemns homosexual behavior as sinful, the Episcopal Church wants to confer its blessings on it. If you were asked, for example, to lead the youth group class here tonight, what are the precise words you would use to explain to teenagers how it is that the Bible says homosexual behavior is a sin, but our church should confer its blessings on it?”
Let’s just pause for a moment and savor this little moment of surrealism: Katharine Schori actually gave me - ME - the “shellfish” and “cult prostitution” lines. Priceless.
I was able to make two brief follow-up questions. The first was:
“So, it sounds like you’re saying that for the last 2,000 years, all of Christianity has gotten this very important question completely wrong, and only in the last 30 or 40 years have a few Episcopalians gotten it right.” The response was more boilerplate about interpretation.
Second follow-up was:
“But you, yourself, have authorized same-sex blessings in your diocese of Nevada…”
Schori cut me off to clarify that what she had done was to allow those parishes that wished to perform same-sex blessings, to do so. There was some mention of discernment by the congregation, but when she was through explaining, there was nothing to indicate that the sum of the situation was anything other than: If you want to do it, go for it. How that differs from “authorizing,” she never explained.
Soon after, though, Schori began rambling about “ubuntu,” and it was like getting a root canal, so I left. The session ended, I’m told, with a question from a man in the very back of the nave about Leviticus 18:22. I was told Schori was visibly perturbed by the Leviticus question, to the point of her face turning red. So in contrast to the softball jamboree in Greenwood, the soiree in Jackson began with a lengthy and eloquent complaint, hit its stride with my questions about teaching teenagers that sodomy is a gift from God, and ended up with some classic OT. All in all, not a bad outing.
I want to point out to everyone that doing things like this - going and sitting in these miserable little forums, listening to all the nonsense, standing up and asking your question, opening yourself up for derision from your friends and fellow Episcopalians - is not pleasant. Yes, I get a little charge out of the confrontation - that’s just my personality - and I suspect there are more than a few of you out there who get a similar charge, but I suspect most of you do not. But doing things like this is important, and here’s why:
I estimate that there were probably 30 or 40 priests and deacons there. Almost all of them were either gung-ho revisionists or not terribly critical of the PB’s theology and agenda. There were another 30 or 40 lay people who were similarly either gung-ho or basically compliant. In the middle, though, there were probably 70 or 80 lay people who came to the event with little to no knowledge of the nature and depth of the crisis in the Episcopal Church, or Katharine Schori’s role in it. I can guarantee you most of them walked in there with no idea she had authorized same-sex blessings in her own diocese, or that she is a fierce proponent of doing so across the entire church. I can guarantee you most of them had no idea that there had been “challenges to the authority of Scripture” by leaders in the church. I won’t reveal the identity of the lady who asked the “challenges” question, but suffice it to say she is quite well-respected around the diocese, and her opinion carries enormous weight among other lay people of her generation and social set.
When we do things like this - show up on a Sunday afternoon and challenge the direction and “leadership” of revisionists in this church - we accomplish two important things:
The first is that we demonstrate to people like Katharine Schori and our diocesan bishops that there is disagreement out there in the pews, that it is real and it has a face, and that it’s willing to take a stand in public. It makes it impossible for them to claim that “all is well.”
The second is that we ensure that of those 70 or 80 people who walked in there with no idea of the nature or depth of the crisis in the church, some number of them - perhaps only a dozen or so, perhaps 30 or 40 - walk out of there having been alerted to the crisis, both in general and specific terms. They will return to their churches and homes, talk to each other, talk to their rectors, call their bishop, get on the web and do their own research, whatever… but what’s important is that they are now aware that there is a problem, and they are aware of the core issues of the problem. They leave with a hook, which, when cast out into the conversations of church communities and the web, grabs things in the form of information, allies, and a new awareness of what’s going on in their national church, their diocese, and their parish.
Also worth noting is that this was completely un-coordinated: This is what can happen when people who care simply show up of their own accord determined to get to the truth. Imagine what could happen when three or four people actually coordinate their attendance and their questions.
Sometimes, this is the way this battle has to be fought: A few people here, a few people there. It’s not glamorous, it’s not fun, it’s certainly not what I want to be doing on a crisp Sunday afternoon, but our failure to keep a check on this heresy and false teaching in decades past is what got us into this mess in the first place, and now we’re playing catch-up, which is never easy and rarely fun. For anyone doubting whether efforts like this are worth it, I would simply ask: Is the future of your own church - forget the national church - but is the future of your own parish and diocese, worth the trouble of showing up, voicing your dissent, and asking the hard questions of the people who would presume to lead you?