From The Living Church:
POSTED ON: December 16, 2009
By William Murchison
Sparks glowed and winked only momentarily on Dec. 12 when the Episcopal
Church's longest-serving evangelical bishop and its Presiding Bishop
discussed the Second Person of the Trinity.
With the Diocese of Dallas' two traditionalist bishops listening from the
front row, the Most Rev. Jefferts Schori and the Rt. Rev. William C. Frey
delivered modulated addresses on set topics: "Who is Christ for Me?" and
"Who is Christ for the World?"
Only in response to questions did the presiding bishop cause, a couple of
times, any considerable shaking of heads in an audience of more than 500 at
the Church of St. Michael & All Angels, for decades one of the Episcopal
Church's largest and wealthiest parishes.
One questioner sought her views on the value of protecting unborn life.
Bishop Jefferts Schori said the issue of abortion "raised the tragic
question of whose life and privileges" deserved to triumph, the mother's or
the unborn child's. She left the matter at that, philosophically speaking.
Another questioner brought up the bodily resurrection of Christ. Did she
believe there had been one? She had (clearly) not been there herself, she
said. The disciples believed it had happened. She went on: "The only
permanent healing is the Resurrection of Christ."
In one of her lectures she called Jesus' sacrificial death "a fully divine
participation in humanity, a making-holy (which is what sacrifice means) of
the meaning of his life, and all human life." Thus: "The resurrection is
sacramental fruit of sacrifice."
Bishop Frey, who was expelled from Guatemala by a military junta in 1971,
said the church's work is not limited to social engagement.
"[E]vangelism is our primary calling," Bishop Frey said. "It would sell
Jesus short to imply that he's simply an example for us to follow, or
another one of the world's moral teachers. He's a doer - the one who acts
with power to transform us from what we are to what we can become."
Differences of tone and language between Bishop Jefferts Schori, a usually
dispassionate former oceanographer, and Bishop Frey, a former radio
broadcaster and unabashed evangelical, were sometimes cathedral-sized. But
so far as Frey himself could tell, there had been "a great deal of
convergence between our presentations. We have the same basic theological
concepts. We just address them in different forms." Responding to another
question, he called his non-adversary's approach irenic. Small wonder that
only the tiniest sparks flew - and that those that did fly never fell in dry
Issues regnant in the life of the 21st century Episcopal Church arose only
briefly. The Anglican Covenant went without mention by either bishop. Nor
did either raise the matter of legal disputes in the church over title to
the property of parishes and dioceses that have recently departed the
Episcopal Church for other Anglican associations. "I pray for healing in our
church - our wounded church," Bishop Frey said at one point.
On a question about the election of the Rev. Canon Mary Glasspoool as a
suffragan bishop for the Diocese of Los Angeles, the presiding bishop
declared that "prayer and discernment" are the church's tasks in deciding
whether to confirm the bishop-elect, who lives in a same-sex partnership.
Bishop Jefferts Schori, speaking quietly, and more often than not in the
language of the professional theologian, called Jesus "the ultimate
sacrament of God in human flesh." She likewise affirmed intimate images of
him as elder brother and shepherd. She quoted some of orthodoxy's favorite
sons, including Augustine, Irenaeus, and Athanasius, and she shifted
delicately into semi-political mode.
Jesus, she said, was a healer - "unabashed in his willingness to share a
meal with the down-and-out, the wealthy, quislings and collaborators,
soldiers and priests. There was no priority at his table except hunger." His
"holy-making and healing work" was for the whole world, not just some.
Very quickly her remarks elided into an accounting of "familiar targets" who
sometimes become scapegoats, namely "Muslims and immigrants and gay people."
She called the congregation to resist "the violent urge - to power, to
control, to competition that deprives others of the goods of life." With
that resistance, the presiding bishop said, ought to come the challenge to
discover "the green savior," whom we encounter in community as we "begin to
discover our own interrelatedness with all that is." Choose "the larger
good," she counseled, "rather than our own more narrowly competitive
self-interest . [C]hoose life, abundant life, rather than violence, on
behalf of all creation."
Bishop Frey took up the imperative with which he is best identified, namely,
His rhetorical high point: "The church that doesn't evangelize will be
evangelized by the culture in which it finds itself." The bishop chose not
to venture further, leaving cultural matters generally in the presiding
Jefferts Schori and Frey were part of a prestigious lecture series sponsored
by St. Michael & All Angels. According to The Dallas Morning News, six local
priests had written to the Rt. Rev. James M. Stanton, Bishop of Dallas,
asking him to bar the presiding bishop from speaking, due to what they
called her attacks on the faith.
To the contrary, not only Bishop Stanton but also suffragan Bishop Paul E.
Lambert, Canon to the Ordinary Neal Michell, and other diocesan staff
occupied the first row on the Epistle side. The News quoted Bishop Stanton
as calling the dialogue constructive. The host bishop shook hands
courteously with both visiting bishops.
William Murchison, a veteran newspaper journalist, lives in Dallas.
h/t Fr. Dick Kim