October 22, 2020

Riffs: Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church Jefferts-Schori Stirs The Pot

kfsWe should always be ears up when The Episcopal Church speaks of heresy. Here’s the presiding bishop of the TEC coming out swinging at the recent general convention.

The crisis of this moment has several parts, and like Episcopalians, particularly ones in Mississippi, they’re all related. The overarching connection in all of these crises has to do with the great Western heresy – that we can be saved as individuals, that any of us alone can be in right relationship with God. It’s caricatured in some quarters by insisting that salvation depends on reciting a specific verbal formula about Jesus. That individualist focus is a form of idolatry, for it puts me and my words in the place that only God can occupy, at the center of existence, as the ground of all being. That heresy is one reason for the theme of this Convention.

Not being a confessional church, this sort of thing isn’t quite as surprising as it would be if a Baptist said it, but it still underlines why the rifts in the Anglican Communion are about truly significant issues. I can spin these words to where they are better or worse, but what’s actually being said here? Let me suggest it’s something like: “Those of you forming the ACNA are no longer real Anglicans. You’ve become fundamentalist revivalists.”

You can read the whole address here.

My lowest of the low ecclesiology has the following essentials: 1) Keep the truth about Jesus safe, especially from smart Christians. 2) Constantly encourage me to be a Jesus follower in my sphere, not your church. 3) Assist me in those aspects of following Jesus that can’t be done alone, like baptism and the Lord’s Supper. 4) Know your place in God’s missional playbook and don’t act like you’re the whole show. 5) Don’t make stuff up to justify what you’re doing, then carp at me for not buying it.

Discuss amongst yourselves.


  1. Will,

    You say, and I agree, that “If we don’t accept Scripture as truth and applicable to our own lives, then we will not accept what it tells us of our sin and a need for a Saviour, and then we have “a different gospel- which is really no gospel at all.”

    But could you respond, from your own church’s perspective, tothe questions I asked in my last response:

    “What about condoning divorce, or usury? Both are also in clear breach of the Scriptures, but somehow almost every church, including mine, has managed to ignore or rationalize these prohibitions when they became inconvenient or out-moded.”

    “Or what about “Love your enemies; do good to those who hate you?” Is there a church in the world, except maybe the Quakers, which insists that its members pay any attention to that command when a war arises?”

    Now, for me, the issue of “full inclusion” of gay people in the church hurts my brain, in part because I’m torn between two Scriptural commands, both of them “the authoritative Word of God.” Paul’s blunt and clear rejection of homosexual activity is one of them. The other is Jesus’, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” When the smart-alec clerics of His day asked “Who is my neighbor?” He told them, and He chose for His example the most despised group of people in His time and place: the Samaritans. OK, I ask myself, who is MY neighbor? Isn’t it the gay person, whom the church leaders despise and reject?

    Beats me, my friend.

  2. After reading this whole thread, the PB’s address, and mulling it over for awhile, at the end of the day what I find unfortunate about her comments is that they serve no real purpose that I can discern. It seems as if you could omit that whole paragraph and not change the meaning in the slightest. If that’s true, then why make such a provocative and potentially alienating comment? Politics? A base play to some constituency within TEC that might be disappointed by subsequent actions by the Convention? I have no idea.

    As one who has gone from opposition, to ambivalence, to support for full inclusion of gay people in the church, I can say that there is a theological rationale. It has been puzzling to me for a long time that General Convention, the PB (this one, and the previous one) do not lead front and center with their theological reasoning.

    As for me, my own evolution in thinking about this topic comes from 1) knowing godly gay people in real life situations, 2) reading scholarship that takes a close look at the verses in scripture that are alleged to condemn homosexuality and deconstructs some of the assumptions we bring to those verses, and 3) making the choice about which is more important if it comes down to it, the Communion or full inclusion?

  3. This is really confusing to me.

    “The overarching connection in all of these crises has to do with the great Western heresy – that we can be saved as individuals, that any of us alone can be in right relationship with God.”

    I realize one can’t just repeat a prayer and become a Christian, but are you saying we need to be saved corporately, i.e., as part of a church or group, or just that we need to be part of a group as a fellowship?

    Could someone please clarify this for me?

  4. Joe, I think what the PB is calling “salvation” in this context is a comprehensive term that includes what others might divide out as salvation, sanctification, discipleship, reconciliation, mission, communion, etc.

    That’s how I read it at the time, anyway. It’s pretty common in mainline protestantism to not narrowly define salvation as just “getting to heaven” but to see it more holistically as anything that can improve you, your relationship to God, and your relationship to the entire creation.

  5. I was reading the article The Role of Scripture in the Episcopal Church this morning. I thought this excerpt helps put the PB’s comment on “heresy” into context:

    The interpretive reasoning process takes place among the people who form the community that is God’s church. God does not call us as individuals to live in isolation, but as part of the worldwide community of people who struggle together to live the implications of an evolving revelation. The Scripture is read by the “us” of the gathered community, not by the “I” of a lone individual seeking understanding. The moment Jesus spoke, his words were interpreted and given application to the situation at hand. By the time the words of Jesus were written down and shared as the authoritative revelation of God, the Church’s reasoned interpretation already was accepted as an integral part of the revelation. That organic process continues in every generation. The Word of God is not static. It lives. And the incarnation of God in Christ proclaims this fact to the world.

    No small irony here, since one of the issues at hand within the Anglican Communion could be understood as concentric circles of community, and different community readings coming into sharp conflict. When different communities come into conflict, how can the conflict be reconciled?