I read with interest the interview in last week’s NY Times with Katharine Jefferts-Schori, the new Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in America. I had refrained from commenting on this truly embarrassing interview, for frankly I do not have a horse in this race. The ECUSA is on a somewhat different trajectory than I am on. Additional information on KJ-S coming to light, however, causes me to offer up an opinion anyway.
I find three of her answers deeply troubling:
Q: How many members of the Episcopal Church are there in this country?
A: About 2.2 million. It used to be larger percentagewise, but Episcopalians tend to be better-educated and tend to reproduce at lower rates than some other denominations. Roman Catholics and Mormons both have theological reasons for producing lots of children.
I recall a saying from either one of the Desert Fathers, or perhaps from the Philokalia that one will never get in trouble for saying too little, or remaining silent. [S-P, help me out here!] Let's examine her answer. The newspaper asked a straightforward question. The correct answer (if indeed it is that many) was “about 2.2 million.” STOP. But KJ-S continued, noting that they “tend to be better-educated.” (While certainly true in the past, less so today and totally beside the point.) She concluded, somehow, that reproducing was somewhat lower-class behavior, or at least a under-educated thing to do. And then for good measure, she took a swipe at those rutting, breeding Catholics and Mormons. Considered alone, the last sentence is almost neutral, but within the context of her total answer, it was highly insulting. Why would one say those words, and particulary to a reporter of the nation's newspaper of record??? Can you say Elitist?
Q: Episcopalians aren’t interested in replenishing their ranks by having children?
A: No. It’s probably the opposite. We encourage people to pay attention to the stewardship of the earth and not use more than their portion.
This answer completely floors me! Yes, it is true that for the most part, higher-income and better educated people do have smaller families. But that is not the question. The question was “aren’t Episcopalians interested in having children (new little Episcopalians)?” KJ-S answers flat-out: No. And then, true to form, she goes on. In her view, being a good steward of the earth is a greater good than procreating (since when did it become either/or?). The last religious group I am familiar with that actively discouraged families and children were the Shakers. Met any Shakers lately?
Q: He [Pope Benedict] became embroiled in controversy this fall after suggesting that Muslims have a history of violence.
A: So do Christians! They have a terrible history. Look at history in the Dark Ages. Charlemagne converted whole tribes by the sword. I think Muslims are poorly understood by the West, and it is easy to latch onto that which we do not understand and demonize it.
Oh, dear. Where to begin: a cheap, moral-equivalizing, milksop cop-out, coupled with an appalling ignorance of history! No one seriously tries to whitewash Christian history these days—far from it. But KJ-S seems eager to spotlight our "terrible history,” as if this were some novel insight on her part. Yes, we tend to view the “Dark Ages” (a simplistic misnomer if there ever was one) as a rather bleak period of history. Bad things happened and terrible conditions persisted (as viewed from our modern perspective.) And yet, this is a western European concept that totally ignores the Christian East, where conditions were much different. And the thing to remember is that, by and large, the barbarity of the age was in spite of the Christian influence, not because of it. As Western Europe was coming out of barbarism (when things were really rotten), imagine how much worse conditions would have been (and had been) without Christianity. And the bottom line is that violence, the “convert or die” mentality, was never a tenet of the faith, was never institutionalized into the very fabric of belief, regardless of the brutality of the age. Even in the worse excesses of European Christian expansionism (the Spanish in Latin America, for example), the authentic Christian witness was always there as well. Such cannot be said for the violent, forced imposition of Islam across much of the known world, as decreed by Mohammed, the Koran and the hadiths. And yes, Islam is often misunderstood, but just because something is uncomfortable, or is an inconvenient truth does not mean that it is misunderstood. It seems the demonizing is largely not of our making. KJ-S would be better informed if she were to read the account of a recent symposium, here.
Even more disturbing is the story concerning KJ-S's mother, a convert to the Orthodox faith, and the behavior of KJ-S after her death. Ochlophobist has investigated and has the full story, here.