Preaching recently in Curaçao, Diocese of Venezuela, The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori demonstrated just how far she has travelled from anything resembling a biblical and apostolic faith.
Pushing the familiar agenda of inclusion and diversity (changing attitudes and laws about same-sex relationships remind us that different is not the same as wrong), she informs her hearers of a particular blind spot that Paul had in this regard. Schori refers to the incident involving a slave girl, recorded in Acts 16. According to the text itself (which is not actually quoted by Schori), this girl had
‘a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. This girl followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” She kept this up for many days.’
Paul, according to Schori, is the villain here. He is ‘annoyed, perhaps for being put in his place’, and consequently ‘deprives’ the girl of her ‘gift of spiritual awareness’. He ‘can’t abide something he won’t see as beautiful or holy, so he tries to destroy it.’
This is an arbitrary, amateurish, and opportunistic interpretation:-
- To ‘put someone in their place’ means to tell them an unwelcome truth about themselves: calling Paul and others ‘servants of the Most High God’ is hardly that.
- The clear implication of the text itself is that the ‘spirit’ from which the girl was delivered was not from God, but from the devil. Fortune-telling for money has no place among the spiritual gifts.
- And, if the girl was, on this occasion, telling the truth, then the same can be said of the demon-possessed men who recognised Jesus as ‘Son of God’ and showed awareness of their own impending doom (Matthew 8:29).
I agree with Roger Olson, when he calls this sermon ‘shocking’, saying that it ‘strays so far from anything recognizable as orthodox Christianity in so many ways that it makes the head spin.’ I wonder if any of Schori’s hearers thought the same; and, if so, what did they do about it?
I see from this article in the New York Times that Bishop Jefferts Schori has responded to her critics by claiming that elsewhere in the Bible, Paul appears to condone slavery. Her sermon was thus part of a necessary, continuing tradition of interpretation.
“If the church had never reinterpreted Scripture,” the bishop said, “we would still have slavery — legal slavery.” Scripture must be read “in our own time and our own context,” because prior generations had “a limited view,” she said.
Well, this is a Humpty Dumpty argument, if ever there was one.
‘When I use Scripture,’ Bishop Jefferts Schori said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’
‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make Scripture mean so many different things.’
‘The question is,’ said Bishop Jefferts Schori, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.’
(With apologies to Lewis Carroll)