Saturday, July 14, 2012

On Akasie on Episcopalian Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori

The Wall Street Journal has a really bad opinion article on the recent Episcopalian General Convention. We get shots like this:

Formally changing the structure of General Convention will most likely formalize the reality that many Episcopalians already know: a church in the grip of executive committees under the direct supervision of the church's secretive and authoritarian presiding bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori. They now set the agenda and decide well in advance what kind of legislation comes before the two houses.

Now, say what one will about the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, but "secret and authoritatian" seems a little doubtful, to say the least; if anything, she often seems frank enough when she does speak that it's probably a good thing she comes across generally as a rather quiet and unassuming person. At least, even her severest critics don't usually bring up "secretive and authoritarian" charges. Heretical, modernistic, even impatient, I have seen, but secretive and authoritarian are not really criticisms that even her critics usually bring up. And, as geoconger notes, it's not actually true that she or the executive committees set the agenda for the General Convention. The major fault, apparently, for which she gets these and other sinister labels throughout the article, is simply for insisting on Episcopalian canonical process when congregations decide to break communion. Yes, it's a controversial thing to do; it may be that there are better ways to do it than sue to retain ownership of Episcopalian property; but it hardly makes for a general character of secretive authoritarianism.

Schori herself is actually an interesting character. She originally intended to go into medicine, but also had an interest in marine science, and was turned off by the atmosphere of her pre-med program, which she felt was morally toxic. So she went into oceanography, and got her Ph.D. in that, then went on to focus on research. After graduate school she began to take a bit more interest in religion than she had during her studies, and became fascinated at the same time with the history of science. Much later she became an Episcopalian priest, after discovering to her surprise that there were kinds of teaching that she actually liked certain kinds of teaching. Far from being any sort of ruthless or dominating person, she seems mostly to be just an eminent representative of a kind of spirituality that's quite common, especially among Episcopalians -- exactly as you would expect. The Episcopalians are going through a rough patch right now, with lots of disagreements, and Katherine Jefferts Schori has made a number of controversial decisions in the midst of those disagreements; but this does not make someone "secretive or authoritarian," or any of the other things this article implies about her.

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