Responding to Bishop Katharine Schori

I don’t blog much about the Episcopal Church. It’s messy, confusing and I usually don’t want to go there. Maybe I should, seeing as I attend one.

This week the newly elected bishop of the Episcopal Church of the U.S.A., Katharine Jefferts Schori, was intereviewed in Time magazine. Three items stuck me:

Is belief in Jesus the only way to get to heaven?
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.

It’s certainly not a new statement. But what struck me when I saw it this time around is that I wonder what the point of evangelism is if you think there are other ways to God? If my neighbor’s path to God is equally as valid as my own, then why should I bother to tell her about God? She’s already on her way, as far as I know. Obviously I disagree with Schori, but her approach, at least as far as I’m trying to logically apply it, seems so contrary to the words of Jesus in the great commission. I’ll admit that Christians need to be more open and understanding towards the faith of others, but this seems to much like relativism to me. And I’ve just never understood the logical appeal of that.

What is your prayer for the church today?
That we remember the centrality of our mission is to love each other. That means caring for our neighbors. And it does not mean bickering about fine points of doctrine.

Those words couldn’t be more pointed. But what I find so interesting is that she thinks we’re arguing over fine points of doctrine. Whether or not Jesus is the only way to heaven is not a fine point of doctrine. The argument over homosexuality, while that may be a fine point of doctrine, comes down to an understanding of how you view the Bible, which is not a fine point of doctrine.

Big issues are rocking the Episcopal Church, and to dismiss it all as an argument over fine points of doctrine is missing the point. A fine point of doctrine may have set off the explosions, but the bombs were already planted.

What will be your focus as head of the U.S. church?
Our focus needs to be on feeding people who go to bed hungry, on providing primary education to girls and boys, on healing people with AIDS, on addressing tuberculosis and malaria, on sustainable development. That ought to be the primary focus.

Ah, it’s that old familiar divide. The tradition I grew up in overemphasized the spiritual, to the exclusion of the here and now. It was the attitude of let’s save people and not worry about how messed up this world is. But Jesus told us to pray for his will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. That’s no pie-in-the-sky-when-we-die request. That’s asking God to change things here and now, it it means paying attention to everything Schori mentioned and more. That was the focus of Jesus’ ministry.

Of course the divide comes in that Schori didn’t mention Jesus. Bringing the kingdom of heaven to earth is great, but if Jesus isn’t a part of it, what’s the point? I think there always has to be balance. You can’t focus so much on life after death that you forget about life before death, and vice-versa.

To her credit, she may have been misquoted (I guarantee you Time asks a lot more questions and Schori talks a lot more than what shows up in the little ’10 Questions’ column), she may have said more and eventually did talk about telling people about Jesus. I hope that’s true. Her words ring empty otherwise. Providing primary education may be important, but it doesn’t strike me as the primary focus of the church. Jesus certainly spent a lot of time on physical needs, but he also focused on the soul.

2 thoughts on “Responding to Bishop Katharine Schori”

  1. Right on, Kevin! The point you make about balancing the church’s social initiatives with its spiritual initiatives is extremely, extremely important.

    I totally agree that a bunch of people sitting around in a big room thinking really hard and then doing nothing with that thought is pointless. My church growing up wasn’t quite to that extreme, but it leaned in that direction sometimes. I still struggle with being far too much a thinker and not enough of a doer.

    The other direction, one I’ve seen at Glide church in San Francisco, is that the church is really just a “wrapper organization” for several social outreach directives and political initiatives, and has almost nothing to do with Jesus, theology, right and wrong, or any such thing. We all just love each other a lot, everyone is perfect and OK, and we have very strong political beliefs. And that’s about it. Removing the idea of sin and forgiveness (or at least swinging the spotlight away from it) castrates the gospel. And that’s what they’ve done.

    Glad you can see through it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.