What is Jefferts Schori teaching? Some more puzzle pieces

August 3, 2010

I have already written about how I believe that it is clear that TEC Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori has denied the resurrection and the divinity of Christ. I sometimes wonder at her words regarding the divinity of Christ where she seems to be following Jesus Seminar scholar Robert J. Miller (author of the book Born Divine) – see her words at the end of the Parabola interview.  This is a rather patchworky collection of pieces of information – I believe they mostly point to Marcus Borg as a source of Christology for +KJS, and confirm that it is more than unlikely that she holds to the doctrines of the resurrection or the divinity of Christ.  Another essay may be written later which is more orderly, but I provide the information here for anyone interested.

It has now come to my attention at least one place “where she might have picked it up” – or perhaps she was already a rather fervent fan of the Jesus Seminar. This comes form a little sleuth work in piecing together some of her statements.

I won’t go into detail just now, but may do so later; right now I’ll just provide the basic links. Anyone who’s a bit of a “Schori scholar” will be able to put the links together.

There is no “proof” here – only possibility – but quite a lot of circumstantial evidence, and I believe the vocabulary specifically chosen makes this evidence more than noteworthy.

KJS notes regarding her self-appellation as “Dean” of a “school of theology” –

“The Good Samaritan School of Theology was the then-rector’s term for all adult education programs, both internally and externally focused. They included … Lenten and Advent series; satellite downlink programs with discussion (begun in the days when ECTN and Trinity were doing so many effective ones);

(link – emphasis mine).

One of these ECTN satellite downlink programs – in 1996, one of the years that KJS was at Corvallis as pastoral associate – was “Jesus at 2000” (note that its date is 1996, to spare confusion for speed-readers). This was a kind of extension of the Jesus seminar with Marcus Borg, Dominic Crossan, N.T. Wright, and Luke Timothy Johnson.

At the time, I believe that Marcus Borg was at Oregon State University, Corvallis – he may have even been a parishoner at the church where KJS was a pastoral associate. The event itself was held in Corvallis. It seems to me, then, very likely that this was one of the satellite downlink programs to which KJS refers. More info on this program here: http://www.markgoodacre.org/xtalk/conversation.html and here.

Marcus Borg is one of the two individuals explicitly thanked in Jefferts Schori’s book A Wing and A Prayer as one “who opened the Bible to me in new ways.” The other person mentioned in this regard is Mary Timothy McHatten, OP. (also of note: +KJS provided a book blurb for a novel written by Borg about a young woman teaching at university who comes into conflict because of faith – actually, this might also help shed light on the phenomenon of apostasy and the first steps – challenge to faith, temptation toward bitterness, conflict with Christians, etc. etc.. – we must be open to insights regarding this phenomenon even amongst those with whom we may vehemently disagree. His book is called Putting Away Childish Things. It would be interesting to hear if any things are classified as “childish” – attitudes? specific teachings? bitterness? etc. etc..)

Another was held in 1994 – “The Jesus Summit: The Historical Jesus and Contemporary Faith.” This is also KJS’s first year as pastoral associate in Corvallis (I don’t know when her tenure began), and may have been broadcast before she began there. It included Borg, Crossan, and Burton Mack; Karen King moderated. Jenkins has this conference distributed by video; this article has it as another satellite downlink program. I have not read the sources linked here, only skimmed for relevant info, so I can not endorse their comments or meaningfully agree or disagree with them.

It is entirely possibly that the materials to which KJS entreated her adult education classes were other ECTN satellite downlink programs. I don’t know, however, if programs other than these were downlinked. I think it is safe to say though that the evidence of KJS’s language in the Parabola interview, her description of holding sessions of ENTS satellite downlink programs for her adult education classes, the placement of Borg in Corvallis and the hosting of the 1996 event in Corvallis significantly corroborate the theory that it is affiliated with the Jesus Seminar materials.

If you stumble by this, please note, this is not meant to “smear” KJS – my views that she denies the resurrection and the divinity of Christ are also not held with the intention of “smearing” her, I am rather pointing to the condition of a lack of appreciation in TEC for good Christology, and a widespread phenomenon which could perhaps be described as “apostasy” – not one in which I wish to point any fingers at any individuals in particular, but rather for which I believe all of us Anglicans to be corporately responsible. It is as a body that we need to deal with such matters, and those who are implicated are frequently, in multiple ways, victims themselves of apostasy as a general phenomenon.

Unfortunately, this kind of research is necessary since KJS uses such obfuscatory language from areas of discourse which don’t tend to be understood by many – both laymen and clergy.

[update: This is a “mini-review” based on excerpts of Dr. Borg’s book found at day1.org – the excerpt that I find most illustrative is the first, found here. From all accounts of reviews I’ve read, the main drama of the story occurs between Kate, teaching a college class about religion, and Erin, who is a member of “the Conservative Club” on campus called “The Way.” It seems that “The Way” stresses that its members should avoid contact with all other Christians who are not members of “The Way,” and members are also counselled not to listen to non “The Way” members about religious matters. It frankly sounds rather nutty in some of the details. “The Way” then would function as “the dark” which Borg talks about in his bit on mysticism (with figure Michel), supposedly, which seems like a kind of gnosticism contrasting enlightment/light with darkness/lack of enlightenment. Kate describes to her class how “The Englightenment” came to the conclusion that the Bible and church teachings did not come from God, but are the results of cultural contexts and perceptions. This is a rather “monolithic” assessment of “The Enlightenment,” and is essentially arguing about peoples and groups – i.e., “This group of very educated scholars called the Enlightenment held these views,” rather than talking about the arguments themselves and exposing them to critical light. More reasoning via academic peer pressure, like Spong, than with arguments that would hold the attention of anyone who has done a little reading on the matter. It’s also more than a little naive. In such a huge clash, of course sheltered, sectarian Erin has problems with Kate, who calls herself a Christian but yet is teaching that God does not reveal Himself to us in Scripture. Borg admits in his preface that the book is rather “didactic,” and it does indeed have a highly didactic tone. It will appeal to people who enjoy reading about the passions of terribly repressed, sheltered persons when exposed to people who believe themselves to be teachers of Christian “reality” but are not Trinitarian Christians, and read the Bible, but without knowing why they should read this book rather than any other book. You could perhaps call it the ecclesiastical equivalent of a bodice-ripper, where the pale, sheltered heroine is confronted with a dark, virile, intriguing figure and swoons in his arms – a lot of tension, but not much to think about when all is told.

I suppose that in many ways it is quite symptomatic of the ideals and fantasies of many contemporary Episcopalians. They are on a great crusade against something very dark and evil, against Fundamentalism … but since the real Christians they meet are so boring and hardly worth fighting, or functioning as the legitimate antagonist of the cause, such Christians must be imaginitively embellished – much as Edward Saïd describes the phenomenon of “Orientalism.” So Erin has been taught by her spiritual authorities never to listen to others outside of the sect.

Borg does not need to counsel his readers not to read other texts on the Enlightenment, because if they are already reading his novel, they are probably lazy readers and more interested in some pre-packaged description of what “The Enlightenment” was supposed to be than the whole era and clash of various ideologies that it really was. Borg’s readers would be in for a real shocker if they were to confront the “real” drama of the Enlightenment with all of its vivacity and color – including religious figures Hamann and Jacobi – and the tensions in Enlightenment thinking which live on with us to this day. It would also put aside many of the “myths” which Borg teaches us in the mouth of Kate.

Borg is not a philosopher or a historian of ideas, so there are mitigating circumstances regarding this didactic and simplistic notion of “The Enlightenment.” I do wonder if an actual reading of Enlightenment texts might disabuse him of his own notions of the enlightenment, and at the same time, perhaps even set aside some pride and some intellectual barriers to faith.

Anyone interested in a less “tame” and pre-packaged version of the Enlightenment can read Frederick Beiser’s book The Fate of Reason. Readers interested in this direction of inquiry should also peruse Charles Taylor’s book Sources of the Self ]

[ Update: here is an article by Katherine Jefferts Schori herself for The Living Church, March 3, 1996, about the conference: At Trinity Institute, Many Ways of Understanding Jesus – notable is the closing paragraph:

The institute was marked by a desire to open dialogue with conservative Christians and people of other faiths. Professors Segal, Cox and Smith made especially pointed pleas to reflect on what can be learned about the Christ of faith in dialogue with those of other theological persuasions. Several of the speakers pointed to the continuing usefulness of the ancient credal formulae in this age of great change and questioning.

Notice here of the conjunction between “conservative Christians and people of other faiths” and how these two are so effortlessly cojoined. Notice also the phrase “continuing usefulness of the ancient credal formulae.” ]

Suffice it to say – I believe that we are now at a stage at which, given the absence of any clear teaching of the bodily resurrection on the part of +KJS, and her formulations about which a very strong case can be made that she denies the resurrection and the divinity of Christ – that even if tomorrow she were to begin clearly teaching the bodily resurrection of Christ, it would seem quite inauthentic and as a kind of gesture merely for the purpose of forestalling consequences for the Episcopal Church within the Communion, or for the purpose of “smuggling” favorite teachings of The Episcopal Church into unsuspecting other churches by simply appearing Trinitarian. That at this point, little can be done for TEC besides thorough, genuine repentance, with programs set in place to address this program, with genuine “follow-up” occurring by third parties who have, to this date, not appeared to be proponents of the new course which TEC has been taking – preferentially, not “the Western provinces.” Of course, none of this is “my business,” but I think it is worth pointing out the damage done to the entire Communion and the difficulty there will be on TEC’s part of restoring confidence in its interest in good Christology. And that as such, we as a Communion have terribly let down the people of the Episcopal Church in having allowed this to happen; and above all, we have let down Christ in failing in such a practical way to acknowledge Him.



  1. It’s too bad that Schori couldn’t come down on the side of Wright in the debate surrounding Jesus. Instead, she followed Borg who himself is very much a child of the enlightenment and a product of modernism. I never met Schori, and I certainly could never discern her beliefs – they’re far too sketchy – but there is one thing I’ve noticed about her when I listened to her at a conference. She sounds like one of those people who are so intelligent that they are stupid. I mean the kind that is probably very book smart but not very wise. And that’s bad news for a presiding bishop.

  2. As I’m reflecting upon this situation, I feel the need to put things in perspective. God’s people often find themselves on the periphery, and that’s actually a good place for us to be. As true Christians in the Anglican communion find themselves awkwardly silenced and without power, we’re reminded of how Christ must have felt amid the religious establishment of his day. But we can take courage in the thought that the righteous will be established, and that the wicked will be uprooted. Some things have no place in God’s order. Such things most likely flee his presence anyway. Whatever is not creation is chaos. And what is not a part of God’s re-creation will be consigned to utter darkness.

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