Friday, May 24, 2013

Another Winner from the PB

It seems to be the program these days that a major sermon by a bishop or dean in a liberal diocese has to (a) be about same-sex marriageinclusivity, and therefore (b) make veiled asides about Evil Conservatives, but also (c) drop some theological howler into the mix, even if it doesn't fit with anything else. Apparently the PB missed her opportunity to cast doubt on the resurrection at Easter or on Low Sunday, so instead she took her message down to Venezuela, where she preached on the Acts 16:16-34 reading in which, among other things, Paul exorcizes a slave girl whose possessing spirits proved to be very annoying. Now it's not too terribly obvious that this whole passage is about liberation from the bondage of sin and of bad religion, but here we have KJS's take on it:
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.[1] 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.
So she's so intent on going down on Paul, archenemy of Integrity, that she doesn't notice that he, through the power of the Saving Name, has freed the poor woman from bondage to this spirit. She would much rather insinuate some sort of self-righteousness to the apostle, rather than admitting that having someone bellowing along behind them, even if they do bellow truth, is not necessarily conducive to transmission of the gospel.

But it is the following paragraph that really set orthodox believers on edge:

This time [after the earthquake in the prison], Paul remembers who he is and that all his neighbors are reflections of God, and he reaches out to his frightened captor. This time Paul acts with compassion rather than annoyance, and as a result the company of Jesus’ friends expands to include a whole new household. It makes me wonder what would have happened to that slave girl if Paul had seen the spirit of God in her.
It is hardly surprising that people took umbrage at the final sentence, with the implication that the divinatory spirit is also to be see as a divine spirit. To be fair, it doesn't precisely say such a thing, but then, that's really part of the problem too. Every time I read one of her sermons, I find myself having to choose between believing that her views are heterodox, or concluding that, if they are orthodox, she cannot express them so. Frank Griswold could be excessively veiled in his theological expressions; she more commonly comes out, at best, garbled. And so it is in this case. The actual sermon point comes before this, with the expression of her standard upper-middle-left-liberal views on economics and sexuality; but the problem, as far as I can tell, is that the actual text of the Acts is really quite uninterested in these notions. But that's what she feels she needs to preach on, and thus she needs a way to get to that point. So instead of the time-honored method of simply leaping across a non sequitur of sufficient span, she mangles the text.

Several people have defended her sermon to me in typical "big tent" language and have assailed her detractors as narrow-minded. If that's the general state of lay thinking in this church, we're in trouble. Look, the "big tent" language I don't take seriously: given how she keeps keeps coming up with these theological howlers, one could just as well conclude that she wouldn't mind getting rid of anyone with a commitment to orthodoxy, since that would make it easier to prevail in rendering church property safe for homosexuals. But more to the point, her primary job is religion, not social justice preaching. She can preach the latter, but she really needs to get the theology right as well.

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