Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, the controversial top bishop who’s presided over her denomination’s schism and accelerated decline, almost gave a good sermon. Speaking in Kansas last Friday, she movingly extolled Christian martyrdom, citing early church father Ignatius and persecuted Christians in the Mideast of today.
Of Ignatius, Jefferts Schori recalled his affirmation of the Trinity and that Jesus “was fully human, rather than only appearing to be, and that he really died and rose from the dead.” Facing a brutal execution under Emperor Trajan, he sacrificially embraced his martyrdom: “I am God’s wheat, to be ground fine by the teeth of lions to become purest bread for Christ.”
Jefferts Schori noted the “challenge” today of being Christian as a small minority in Asia, facing social, familial and state hostility, citing Muslim women “arrested for the crime of apostasy for marrying Christian men” and “Christians who are being driven out of Syria today date their presence from the time of Ignatius.” She spoke of modern martyrs who risk death by helping victims of Ebola.
Then Jefferts Schori drove off the ecclesial tracks by linking martyrdom and faithfulness under a common baptism to the Episcopal Church’s current obsession with hyper diversity. “It can be painful, particularly when some people decide to leave because we’re not narrow enough,” she lamented, in a barely veiled reference to traditionalists who have quit her denomination. “A piece of our common life departs with them. Maybe we do seem peculiar to some when we say, ‘you’re welcome here, whoever you are, and we’ll hear your opinions, tell you ours, and together find ways to expand the conversation.’ ”
Many orthodox Anglicans, especially they whose sanctuaries were seized by the Episcopal Church under the direction of Jefferts Schori, don’t believe they were a “welcome” part of her “conversation.”
The Presiding Bishop also seemed to dilute the truly momentous reality of martyrdom by hailing modern supposed martyrs who simply stay married, found an urban children’s camp for children, or are just “friends who go to each other’s churches and learn and grow.”
Ignatius at about age 80 was torn apart by wild beasts in the coliseum as a bloodthirsty crowd and Caesar viewed his suffering as sport. As difficult as some Episcopal churches might be today, visiting them in exchange visits with friends to “learn and grow” somehow doesn’t seem comparable, or a martyrdom of any sort. In watered down Christianity, which strives not to expect too much, being nice is hailed as heroic.
Neither St. Ignatius, nor most modern Christians persecuted in the Mideast or Asia, would identify with Jefferts Schori’s spiritualized celebration of diversity and inclusive pluralism. Early Church Fathers like Ignatius instead wrote stark boundaries with their own blood between the Body of Christ and the surrounding pagan world. They aimed for holiness, not inclusiveness for its own sake.
Does Jefferts Schori possibly see herself as a martyr for steadfastly plowing her once great denomination so disastrously further into the snow banks of theological obfuscation? If so, she should ponder St. Ignatius’s warning against “those who hold heterodox opinions on the grace of Jesus Christ which has come to us, and see how contrary their opinions are to the mind of God.” Or would she consider that martyr “narrow” and unwelcoming because of his insistence, to the point of death, on Christian orthodoxy?