George Herbert: "Whitsunday"
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Most Peculiar Biblical Exegesis Ever?

This has been getting quite a bit of commentary on blogs and Facebook for a couple of days, so maybe you've already seen it. I generally avoid picking on the Episcopal Church: it feels a bit unsporting, because it's such a soft target if you're looking for heretical/apostate Christians, and because in spite of all that there are still a number of people in it who believe something close to the historical faith.

But a recent sermon by presiding bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori is too tempting. Surely her interpretation of Acts 16 is one of the strangest and most un- or anti-Christian ever advanced. In a nutshell, she asserts that Paul's exorcism of a young slave girl is an act of aggressive intolerance:

Paul is annoyed at the slave girl who keeps pursuing him, telling the world that he and his companions are slaves of God.  She is quite right.  She’s telling the same truth Paul and others claim for themselves.  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.  It gets him thrown in prison.  That’s pretty much where he’s put himself by his own refusal to recognize that she, too, shares in God’s nature, just as much as he does – maybe more so!

Read the whole thing, so you can't be accused of taking her out of context. This story is being circulated with titles such as "Presiding Bishop Says Diversity Saves, Not Jesus." That's not quite fair. But it's not all that unfair, either: apart from the Acts 16 analysis, most of what she says consists of banalities about openness that are at best half true from the Christian point of view.

I admit I have always found that exorcism story a bit puzzling, since the girl is testifying to the authority of Paul and his companions. Perhaps it was the relentless compulsive behavior, not the words themselves, that worried Paul.


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That is pretty bizarre. A reading inspired by ecumenism with the hasidó di brua?

The passage in Mark 1:21-28 about Jesus casting out an unclean spirit in very similar circumstances is suggestive about how this should be read.

But to answer your question: it's a toss-up between this and the explanation I once heard about the Nephilim in Genesis 6 being dinosaurs. I incline to thinking this is less peculiar, but it's a very tough call.

"hasidó di brua"--is that something along the lines of "witch doctor"?

That is a pretty bizarre idea about the Nephilim. But did its proponent bear the title of bishop?

The providers of Obeah on Curaçao. So, yes, basically.

You do have something of a point about this being someone bearing the title of bishop. That does ratchet it up a notch or two.

We do have a certain brand of very Protestant denomination here in which "bishop" is appropriated more or less at will by anyone who leads a congregation. But, setting aside the Catholic view of Schori's ordination, Anglican orders as understood by Anglicans are supposed to carry considerable historical authority and are not given out like potato chips. So I would think the at-least-putative gravity of the office adds to her weirdness score.

First thing I wondered after reading this post was whether she is a friend/admirer of Bishop Spong. A quick search found this at an orthodox Anglican website:

On August 30, 2003, Spong, the former Bishop of Newark, gave a public lecture "God and Beyond Theism" in the Diocese of Nevada, the diocesan home of Jefferts Schori. Later, he gave a lecture at Trinity Episcopal Church in Reno entitled "Jesus Beyond Incarnation." At the invitation of Mrs. Schori, he addressed the clergy of the Diocese of Nevada at a retreat in Lake Tahoe.

I think you can push that weirdness score up another notch.

Spong is beyond the reach of satire. I recall way back in the late '80s getting a mailer advertising various works of his, and realizing that the list of titles amounted to a semi-systematic denial of every principal Christian doctrine. I know it was in the '80s, because I can remember standing in the kitchen laughing about it with my wife, and we moved out of that house early in 1990. And he was an active bishop at the time.

I mean, what can you say of a denomination--its leadership, at any rate--that listens to a bishop say "Basically I think this whole Christianity bit is pernicious nonsense" and responds "hmm, well, yes, hmm...interesting bit extreme...worth reflecting upon...diversity of opinion...respect for differences...blah blah blah"?

Here's a fairly dispassionate critique from my young pastor, Fr. Matthew Venuti, a graduate of an Episcopal seminary.

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