The presiding heretic speaks

At her opening address at the Episcopal Church convention, Katharine Schori outdoes herself with her strangest pronouncement yet:

The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church called the evangelical notion that individuals can be right with God a “great Western heresy” that is behind many problems facing the church and the wider society.

Describing a United States church in crisis, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori told delegates to the group’s triennial meeting July 8 in Anaheim, Calif., that the overarching connection to problems facing Episcopalians has to do with “the great Western heresy — that we can be saved as individuals, that any of us alone can be in right relationship with God.”

“It’s caricatured in some quarters by insisting that salvation depends on reciting a specific verbal formula about Jesus,” Jefferts Schori, the first woman to be elected as a primate in the worldwide Anglican Communion three years ago, said. “That individualist focus is a form of idolatry, for it puts me and my words in the place that only God can occupy, at the center of existence, as the ground of being.”

I can’t claim that I actually understand what she is talking about (and reading the full text of her address doesn’t help), but I’m gobsmacked by her statement that none “of us alone can be in right relationship with God,” and to claim otherwise is the “great Western heresy.”

Here’s one of many things that Paul (the great Western heretic) had to say on the subject (Romans 10:9-11):

If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.

Paul here describes salvation as an individual matter, brought about (now that Jesus’s redemptive work is done) by my own heart and my own mouth.

In the parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13), Jesus (another great Western heretic) makes it clear that we are not admitted to the kingdom of heaven as a community. He tells of ten virgins, five of whom were admitted to the wedding banquet and five of whom were turned away, based on their individual choices.

Measured against these teachings are the scripture references that Schori cited in her address:


That’s right, not a since scripture reference in her entire address. She accused the Western world of a highly dubious heresy, without citing a single line of scripture to support her case.

Now, if she wanted to emphasize the importance of community and unity, she could be on solid footing. I would suggest that if she wants to build Christian community, a good way to start would be to stop suing other Christians. (Paul has some thoughts on the matter of his own, in 1 Corinthinians 6:1-8.)

POSTSCRIPT: The “individual salvation is heresy” line is the one getting the most attention, but I think it’s worth noting another line as well:

We Christians often think the only important part of the Jerusalem story is Calvary, and, yes, suffering and killing in that place still seem to be the loudest news. But Calvary was a waypoint in the larger arc of God’s dream – it’s on the way to Jerusalem, it is not in Jerusalem.

Here too, I don’t actually understand what she means, but it sounds like she’s minimizing the importance of the crucifixion, and likening it to modern-day bloodshed in Jerusalem. It’s true that the bible ends in a New Jerusalem, and perhaps that’s what she’s getting at. But the crucifixion, by purchasing our salvation, is the single key event that allows mankind to have anything to do with that happy ending.

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