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Jefferts-Schori is So Last Year


In 2006 the bishops of the Episcopal Church elected a woman president.

They must have felt they were being so, so liberal; prophetic even.

In the face of so much opposition to women priests from Catholics and Protestants, the bishops picked the best woman they could find, +Katharine Jefferts-Schori, Bishop of Nevada.

She’s a scientist with a Ph.D. in marine biology. She’s soft-spoken, so she’s easy to hear in the quietness that surrounds God. She would prove to be, the bishops hoped, a healing balm amidst the raucous confusion of the Anglican Communion.

But she hasn’t worked out quite as hoped.

I applaud the bishops’ revolutionary decision, but maybe they should have chosen +Cate instead. She isn’t prominent in the House of Bishops, but the laypeople like her. She’s cruising along with an 85% approval rating.

(I just made that up, but I wouldn’t be surprised. She has done exactly what you’d want a first woman bishop to do: to ease through the transition, accustom people to the new normal, and take the initiative with new programs. When teenagers walk up to her for confirmation, they’re as scared as I was facing John P. Craine. That’s an Episcopal bishop!)

+Cate didn’t authorize me to write a word of this, but isn’t she lovely? I so wish my mother had lived to see a woman on the throne in Indianapolis, running a big corporation.


Catherine Waynick, Bishop of Indianapolis.

Cate knows how to lead; Katharine does not. She’s a horrible communicator, incapable of spreading the Gospel of Christ.

She’s a nice person, but she’s shy, and shy doesn’t win any headlines.

She’s cold, but warmth makes friends.

If the bishops really wanted to be revolutionary, they should have chosen +Gene Robinson. But they didn’t have the guts.

Everywhere he goes, he proclaims the Gospel; he’s warm, and people warm up to him, even though he’s Gay. He knows how to make friends.

Theologically he’s conservative; he believes Jesus really did rise from the dead, and really did feed the 5000, and really did touch Desmond Tutu to help free South Africa from apartheid—surely a miracle in our own time!

Gene has no problem at all telling people why they should pay attention to this Jesus fellow, while Katharine has a great deal of trouble with that.

She does proclaim Jesus in her way, but she’s hesitant and halting, a post-Christian bishop for a pre-Christian age.

She’s not willing to claim that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life; she seems to believe in him, but not by any of the old formulas. She thinks he’s one Way, even the best Way, but not the only Way.

And she’s not entirely wrong; proclaiming Jesus in 2009 does require a great deal of sensitivity to other cultures and worldviews. Sledgehammer Jesus doesn’t work any more.

But neither does Kid-Glove Jesus, her default position. She leaves people wondering whether she really believes in Christ at all. And that’s an unacceptable position for a Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church.

As a woman she’s constantly scrutinized; what’s her theology, her taste in clothes? Where’s Hillary Clinton’s hemline these days? Any action with her cleavage?

Bless her heart, Katharine hasn’t given us that controversy. It may be the only one she hasn’t.

Her taste in clothes is frankly poor, like a marine biologist’s. But most folks are willing to forgive that, because, after all, she’s a woman thrust into an impossible position, trying to preside over the Episcopal Church as it breaks up over whether God loves Gay people or hates their freakin’ guts.

I do appreciate her willingness to serve in this very fraught time of crisis. I think most Episcopalians agree she’s doing the best she possibly can in service to her Lord, and that’s no small thing. It’s something to be proud of and to thank her for.

But I don’t appreciate her constant equivocation regarding the Christian faith, including the absolute imperative that God hates no one and loves Gay people.

Katharine’s unwilling to say that, so she doesn’t even know Good News. She’s a politician, just what the House of Bishops ordered; just what serves our Church the least.

Meanwhile Gene’s someone to rely on; he knows the Good News and he doesn’t hesitate, he doesn’t equivocate, even as he conveys the Gospel in the most culturally-sensitive ways he can think of.

I assume God had a plan in mind in not making Gene presiding bishop; this frees up Gene to be himself, to state his truth as best he knows how before large groups of non-believers. I bet +Jon Bruno envies the crowds Gene can draw.

(Jon Bruno, Bishop of Los Angeles, is an ex-cop who killed a man in the line of duty. You don’t want to mess with Jon. What a tribute it is to God’s redeeming power that he called Jon to ministry and the episcopate, drawing the people of L.A. to the Prince of Peace.)

We are seeing in Katharine Jefferts-Schori a failed presidency, I think, though not without honor; she’s done the best she could, but Lord, she’s so last year.

Her mild voice didn’t keep a single homophobe inside the Episcopal Church; nor did it drive one out.

We have to be very careful about driving people out; this isn’t the Church’s purpose. We need the warm bodies, we need their financial contributions, we need their acts of faith. We don’t need a church that’s all of one mind about anything.

But it does sometimes happen that worldviews clash, and regrettable as it may be, there comes a time to stop tolerating intolerance. Sometimes you’ve just got to boot a guy out.

The Episcopal Church has learned, through trial and error, that God loves Gay people as much as anybody else, and therefore approves their human loves like all other loves. This is what we’ve learned.

We know this means that people who don’t love homosexual love, who think it’s anathema and abomination, will walk apart. We don’t like that but it is what it is. We pray we all stay on the Way, even if our paths are different.

We’re all just trying to follow the Way here. But yes, the paths diverge.

All hail our Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts-Schori. She has tried to keep us on the path.

I don’t think she’s very good at it, but she’s done what she can. I’m sure we’ll meet up again someday, and won’t that be fine?

Meanwhile I want to walk with Gene and Jon and Cate, Christian bishops who know Jesus fed the 5000. I know we’ll get there eventually, and theirs is a pretty good path.

We never know where we’re going, but whoever leads to the One is my bishop.++


(Hartford Courant)

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