Thursday, June 6, 2013

Katharine Jefferts Schori's Demonic Exegesis

16 It happened that as we were going to the place of prayer, a slave-girl having a spirit of divination met us, who was bringing her masters much profit by fortune-telling.  
17 Following after Paul and us, she kept crying out, saying, "These men are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation."  
18 She continued doing this for many days.  But Paul was greatly annoyed, and turned and said to the spirit, "I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!"  And it came out at that very moment.
Acts 16.16-18

Last May the Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori, who is the Presiding Bishop and Primate of The Episcopal Church, preached a sermon in Venezuela in which she mentioned this scene from Acts 16.  Here is the relevant section:
We live with the continuing tension between holier impulses that encourage us to see the image of God in all human beings and the reality that some of us choose not to see that glimpse of the divine, and instead use other people as means to an end.  We’re seeing something similar right now in the changing attitudes and laws about same-sex relationships, as many people come to recognize that different is not the same thing as wrong.  For many people, it can be difficult to see God at work in the world around us, particularly if God is doing something unexpected.
There are some remarkable examples of that kind of blindness in the readings we heard this morning, and slavery is wrapped up in a lot of it.  Paul is annoyed at the slave girl who keeps pursuing him, telling the world that he and his companions are slaves of God.  She is quite right.  She’s telling the same truth Paul and others claim for themselves.  But Paul is annoyed, perhaps for being put in his place, and he responds by depriving her of her gift of spiritual awareness.  Paul can’t abide something he won’t see as beautiful or holy, so he tries to destroy it.  It gets him thrown in prison.  That’s pretty much where he’s put himself by his own refusal to recognize that she, too, shares in God’s nature, just as much as he does – maybe more so!  The amazing thing is that during that long night in jail he remembers that he might find God there – so he and his cellmates spend the night praying and singing hymns.
How bad does it have to be when the promoters of "same-sex relationships" have to not only debase the apostle Paul but also to praise evil spirits of divination!  Paul's problem, according to Jefferts Schori, is that he "can't abide something he won't see as beautiful or holy"-- namely the spirit of divination.  Paul is a bad guy--an abuser--because he "responds by depriving her of her gift of spiritual awareness."  This is not only sickening exegesis but also a little ironic.  As a woman Jefferts Schori might have been in a position to especially draw attention to the plight of this unnamed woman in Acts 16.  Here is a woman possessed by an evil spirit and, to add to the misery, is being pimped out for profit by men.  This tragic reality of women caught in miserable circumstances and then taken advantage of by greedy, unscrupulous men is repeated all over the world today.  There might have been some good applications to draw from Acts 16 for our contemporary needs.  Instead, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church chooses to castigate Paul, praise demon-inspired statements, and promote the cause of homosexuality.  No wonder that Michael Bird argues that this is a Good Candidate for Worst Sermon Ever.

Also, be sure to see Timothy George's commentary and evaluation of this sermon in his First Things article entitled A Tale of Two Demons.