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U.S. Episcopal Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori (far left) is seen next to Episcopal Auxiliary Bishop Nerva Cot in this 2007 photo. (CNS)
The Anglican Ink site reports:

The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church has denounced the Apostle Paul as mean-spirited and bigoted for having released a slave girl from demonic bondage as reported in Acts 16:16-34 .

In her sermon delivered at All Saints Church in Curaçao in the diocese of Venezuela, Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori condemned those who did not share her views as enemies of the Holy Spirit.

The presiding bishop opened her remarks with an observation on the Dutch slave past. “The history of this place tells some tragic stories about the inability of some to see the beauty in other skin colors or the treasure of cultures they didn’t value or understand,” she said.

She continued stating: “Human beings have a long history of discounting and devaluing difference, finding it offensive or even evil.  That kind of blindness is what leads to oppression, slavery, and often, war.  Yet there remains a holier impulse in human life toward freedom, dignity, and the full flourishing of those who have been kept apart or on the margins of human communities.”

Schori then states:

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.

But if different is not the same thing as wrong, then how can views that are different from hers be wrong? Come to think of it, how can anything be wrong if it can simply be described as "different"? One might be taken aback at Schori's grasp of both epistemology and moral theology, but one is surely not impressed. The same holds for her exegetical skills, which are unleashed upon Acts 16:16ff:

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 strange that Schori ignores the elephant—well, the demon—in the room: ἔχουσαν πνεῦμα πύθωνα ("having a Pythian spirit", or "a spirit of a pythoness"). This was hardly a small matter, as Craig S. Keener notes, as this was "the same sort of spirit that stood behind the most famous of all Greek oracles, the Delphic oracle of Apollo whose priestess was called a pythoness..." (The IVP Bible Background Commentary: NT, 369). Luke Timothy Johnson notes that Paul, in addressing and casting out the evil spirit, is taking part "in still another turf-war", making further gains for the kingdom of God that the apostles and their companions had been proclaiming. Besides, the girl is not only oppressed by a demon, she is "being exploited by religious charlatans" (Sacra Pagina commentary, 297-8). Need it be pointed out that Jesus also confronted demons who correctly identified him, but who were still cast them out and rebuked by the Son of God?

Now when the sun was setting, all those who had any that were sick with various diseases brought them to him; and he laid his hands on every one of them and healed them. And demons also came out of many, crying, “You are the Son of God!” But he rebuked them, and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that he was the Christ. (Lk 4:40-41)

Schori apparently doesn't comprehend that a demonic confession is not to be confused with faith freely given. Nor does she appreciate the irony of the story—an irony that echoes similiar situations found in the Gospels: the demons acknowledge the true identity of Christ and his followers, but those who are intent on clinging to their power and position refuse to hear the message preached and, in fact, attack those proclaiming the kingdom. As Jesus said: "But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you" (Mt 12:28).

It makes much more sense to recognize that Paul knew that once he cast out the demon, he would be subjected to persecution or worse, and so he waited as long as could to confront the demon. He was willing to be attacked and imprisoned for confronting evil, for standing up to spiritual and temporal powers that rejected the Gospel, and for freeing a slave girl from both demonic and human oppression. Alas, Schori's attachment to the ideology of the present age and the fads of political correctness blind her to what should be obvious to someone professing to be a Christian.

 
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Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight.
 
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