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Katharine Jefferts Schori's Abandonment of Traditional Sexual Morality

Katharine Jefferts Schori's Abandonment of Traditional Sexual Morality
Presiding Bishop Misrepresents Jewish Society in the Bible

By Sarah Frances Ives
Special to Virtueonline
February 10, 2012

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori seeks to change the Episcopal Church into multi-faith centers practicing blended spiritualities.

To accomplish this, in her book The Heartbeat of God (Skylight Paths Publishing, 2011), she espouses new interpretations of the Bible, dismisses traditional law on sexual practices, and advocates the end of what she calls the "veneer of righteousness." (pp198). She offers the lofty claim that we will be at "home" if we do this.

Of course if we take away our witness of the Jewish law as well as Christian testimony, we will be in human chaos and nothingness. Let us carefully re-trace her thinking in a context of scholarly research.

Jefferts Schori's Claims

Jefferts Schori does not want a mature, interior righteousness that Jesus fulfills in human hearts but instead a new world where traditional Christian understandings are abandoned. In this book with its many stereotypes and half-truths, one stands out in particular: she misrepresents the role of women in Jewish society. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori writes, "In Jesus' day, there were no jobs or economic possibilities for poor women without male relatives-except, of course, for 'the oldest profession.'"(pp32) She concludes that the Jewish society was one in which the "widow was kept poor by a religious and political system of exploitation." (pp33) Jefferts Schori presents a skewed perspective on women as forced to sell themselves in prostitution.

What is particularly startling about this pronouncement is that she offers no academic support for her idea. Indeed, I can find no scholar who supports this vision of a society forcing all poor women without male relatives into prostitution.

If Jefferts Schori has such a source in objective scholarship, she should be citing this. In good scholarship, she would also let the reader know that differences of opinion exist about her cited scholar. Yet in The Heartbeat of God, she does not quote her source or write a source in the bibliography. To use scholars without citing them is already opposed to the APA and some other academic styles.

She writes this with an eye to justify the current situation in the Episcopal Church which does indeed destroy traditional sexual understandings of sexuality found in the Hebrew law. On this false foundation, Jefferts Schori grounds the Episcopal Church's current acceptance of post-modern sexual norms.

Scholars who analyze both Jewish law and contemporaneous historical documents agree that Jewish women in the time of Jesus actually frequently worked for financial reward. These scholars have engaged with the difficult historical work of understanding what work women engaged in and how they lived.

Has Jefferts Schori never read the gospels? Two examples of working women occur in the passage of Peter's denial of Jesus from Matthew 26: 69-73. "Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. And a maid came up to him, and said, 'You also were with Jesus the Galilean.' But he denied it before them all, saying, 'I do not know what you mean.' And when he went out to the porch, another maid saw him, and she said to the bystanders, 'This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.' And again he denied it with an oath."

As documented by the gospels and scholars, poor women frequently worked as maids in this society. These maids were respected enough to confront Peter, be heard by a community, and answered by this disciple. The maids' words were included in the gospels as important to the history of Christ.

Jefferts Schori presents many Hebrew leaders in a negative light. She states that the great Jewish matriarchs Naomi and Ruth were part of the sex trade, instead of the honorable profession of matchmaking and gleaning. She writes, "Naomi tells Ruth 'Go get gussied up, then get yourself over to the barnyard, hang around, and show yourself off. Don't make yourself known to him until after dinner, but find out where he sleeps.'" Jefferts Schori refers to this as an X-rated story (pp30) and refers to prostitution as a form of "creative survival." (pp30)

She also propagates the misconception that the woman who was a sinner in Luke 7:36-50 is a prostitute, even though this is not in the Bible and clearly no one knows what her sins were.

Jefferts Schori even dismisses the great king of Israel, David. She criticizes him in a short phrase saying, "When David doesn't pan out so well." (pp31) In an inconsistency, after Jefferts Schori condemns David for adultery (who repented for this), she tells us not to judge prostitution. Having this double standard for men and women lacks logical fairness.

Jefferts Schori compares honorable work of athletes and the military with the corruption of prostitution as she writes, "Many young people are being raised in a system that says they have value only for the ways in which they can be used-by tricks on the corner or by athletic teams or by the military." (pp33)

She concludes "God is at work in all this 'inappropriate sexual behavior.'"(31)

Women's Roles in the Bible

Scholars offer substantial biblical evidence that women actually exercised power in Jewish society and were not forced into prostitution. For example in Ruth 1:8, Naomi tells Ruth to return to the house of her mother. Ruth also seems to have inherited the money of her deceased husband. Martha, the friend of Jesus, was the busy head of a household. Though not as common as male-led households, matriarchs were accepted as the head of a household, whose members could number hundreds of people.

Scholar Tal Ilan, PhD, in Jewish Women in Greco-Roman Palestine asserts, "Ordinary women pursued their daily affairs in the market place." ((Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1996, 129) Single women worked as servants as seen throughout the Bible. They also had roles known as witches, which could mean occult sorcery or even exercising some healing powers. Of course some women did work as prostitutes, a practice which was against the Jewish law.

Dr. Ilan sees the expansion of freedom in the early church and concludes that women "play an important, unconventional role in the New Testament." (32)

Scholar Loretta Dornisch, PhD also concludes that women actively played many roles in the society at the time of Jesus. The large agricultural market needed workers and poor women frequently had jobs collecting olives and caring for the trees. Women also collected water in their jars (such as the Samaritan woman Jesus talked to at the well). Women organized wedding celebrations and Dornisch suggests that possibly Mary was doing that when Jesus turned the water into wine. In the book of Acts, Lydia was a dealer in purple cloth when she helped the Apostle Paul with his ministry.

Dr. Dornisch also states that women's work included the passionate act of praise, such as Miriam, Hannah, Ruth, Elizabeth and Mary. Women were expected to love God and show this in creative energy of divine praise.

According to Miriam Vanosh, in Women at the Time of the Bible, women worked as gleaners, shopkeepers, herding the sheep, selling property, cultivator (Song of Solomon), grinding stones, weaving, and matchmakers.

Gail Labovitz in "The Scholarly Life-the Laboring Wife: Gender, Torah and the Family Economy in Rabbinic Culture" writes that "common Western stereotypes" assign women to family homemaking and men to earning the livelihood. She says that "rabbinic texts depict women in a variety of wage-earning tasks" including "women appear as workers in multiple areas of the productive, retail and service economies." These included jobs as wet-nurses, shopkeepers, merchants, weavers, hairdressers, innkeepers, and professional mourners.

The question arises why it is important to Jefferts Schori to cast the Jewish society of Jesus' time in such a negative light. Indeed, to cast such unfair aspersions against the Jewish society raises the possibilities of anti-Semitism.

Her negativity about Jewish heritage though might be a way of dismissing the Law about prostitution, homosexuality and other sexual practices so that the Episcopal Church can continue in its attempts to destroy traditional understandings of human sexuality. This is seen in her description of the Jewish society as "a religious and political system of exploitation."

Don't judge prostitution, Jefferts Schori seems to be saying, because "God works through inappropriate sexual behavior" and they were forced into this role anyway. So is Jefferts Schori misrepresenting Biblical culture out of pure ignorance or willful misrepresentation?

The very plan behind electing Katharine Jefferts Schori as Presiding Bishop was to link the cause of female and gay populations. Leaders in the House of Bishops have long sought to blend together the identity of homosexual priests with female priests to the great dismay of female priests who do not support homosexual ordination. If they blended together these two distinctly different ordinations, they believed that homosexual ordinations would be accepted.

Jim Naughton in his Episcopal Café blog declared this immediately after Jefferts Schori's election. On June 19, 2006, Naughton writes, "It now becomes clear that attacking the Church that deals fairly with gays and lesbians also means attacking the Church that deals fairly with women. The cause of the small, vulnerable gay population is now linked to the large and much less vulnerable female population."

Jefferts Shori's plan in The Heartbeat of God might be to stereotype the Jewish law as anti-female and wait for this to be accepted. Once people believe this, then soon they will overlook the Jewish laws about homosexuality.

Application of Her Stereotype to Our Post-Modern Era

The misrepresentation of life lived in the gospels is a serious offence that can hide the truth in the Biblical stories. Jefferts Schori is attempting to distance the Episcopal Church from the Law and the scriptures as fast as she can.

To compound this error, Jefferts Schori also draws implications for our 21st century from this stereotype of Jewish society and rejection of the Jewish law.

Her intention appears to be the creation of a church and a world in which any sexual behaviors-including the sex trade-is looked upon with accepting eyes because, according to her, we should see it as a necessary business choice.

Jefferts Schori seems to see those who reject traditional sexuality as somehow enlightened beyond the Jewish law. She writes, "Not a few Episcopalians still fervently hold traditional views about human sexuality." (pp167) Continuing in this dismissal of traditional sexual practices, she writes, "The scorn that some are willing to heap on those who are judged to have loved excessively or inappropriately is still pretty common."(198) Jefferts Schori works to stop these fervently-held traditional beliefs, while accepting those who are involved with inappropriate sexual behavior. This is most clearly seen in her ordination of the active sexual predator the Rev. Bede Parry. (For more on this, see David Virtue's articles at www.virtueonline.org.)

What a desolate understanding of the power of God Jefferts Schori presents. She presents no idea of the possibility of God's deliverance in these inappropriate sexual situations that are not allowed by the Jewish law.

Of course we understand with prayerful sorrow that some children and adults have been and currently are indeed forced into prostitution. We do not judge the individual men and women involved with the sex trade but we do let them know about the redemption of Christ that may lead them out of this dangerous life. Instead, Jefferts Schori seems to advocate that they be left in this life.

Is her plan to ridicule Jewish society so that we now reject the responsibility and wisdom of the Jewish law? In this vein of thinking, the next victim could be the dismissal of the Ten Commandments. In her theology, she creates a life void of hope and redemption.

Jefferts Schori makes a lengthy statement about the legalized prostitution in the state of Nevada without taking a stand against this practice. She writes, "I come from a notorious place-the city of Las Vegas. Gambling and prostitution are legal in Nevada ... A story quietly circulated when I was bishop there, about a priest who encouraged the local madams and their employees to visit the churches he served. One congregation made a warm enough welcome that the women of the night returned frequently. Other congregations acted more like Jesus' fellow dinner guests did when a woman of ill repute showed up, as told in Luke 7:36-50: "Who let her in here?" The women didn't return to those dinner tables." (196)

Jefferts Schori calls prostitution a creative survival. Her motto seems to be "Do what it takes," and don't judge with critical and simplistic standards, i.e. the Jewish law. In making such pronouncements, we have dismissed our Christian heritage of the Jewish law and the prophets.

To accomplish this new society where prostitution is accepted, Jefferts Schori says we all have a "fearful veneer of righteousness" (pp198) that we must peel off in order to "rejoin the family" and find home. She makes this in direct reference to Luke 7:36-50 and hence she states that Jewish society should also have peeled off the veneer of righteousness. She makes no mention of the necessity of the interior spiritual law; she also mistakenly interprets Paul as rejecting the law. She entirely misses the Christian fulfillment of the law. John Calvin captures the necessity of the Law when he writes, "It was proved that in the Law human life is instructed not merely in outward decency, but in inward spiritual righteousness." (Institutes of the Christian Religion, Eerdmanns, 1989, pp.320).

If we tear off this veneer of righteousness without maturing into the inward righteousness that Jesus preached, human society will fall into violence and nothingness. In prostitution women and men are exposed to disease, violence, murder and sometimes the despair over what they are doing leads to suicide. For example, in 2010 in Washington DC a middle school principal Brian Betts met teenage boys on a telephone sex chat line. Later, they murdered him in his home. Of course we can judge the actions involved with prostitution without rejecting the individuals involved.

Jefferts Schori takes her idiosyncratic Biblical interpretation and justifies the sins of our post-modern society. One wonders if she is going to advocate for the legalization of prostitution because she surely she did not speak out against it.

To destroy the Jewish law is to destroy much of what we understand about Christ who came to fulfill the law, not to destroy it. She is drawing implications for the Episcopal Church and the world from faulty or nonexistent scholarship on Jewish society.

Academics Explore Post-Modern Sexuality

Recent scholarship explores the underworld of the postmodern world of sexual encounters. In this world sexuality no longer flows from the expressed love of two people but now through the titillation of anonymous pictures flying through cyber space. Academic research increasingly reveals the prevalence of pornography and sexual addiction in our culture.

Some terms academics use to describe the culture since the 1990s reveal our problems. "Generation Porn" (Siggelkow and Büscher, 2008); "Porno-democratic societies" (Millett, 2002); "Striptease culture" (McNair, 2002); "Porno Pop" (Metelmann, 2005); the "sexualization of culture" (Attwood, 2006); German scholar Jörg Metelmann says pornography supports the fiction that sex exists without any social connections.

Some academics use the journals of the avant-garde German poet Rolf Dieter Brinkmann (1940-1975) who wrote about his own sexual experiments with pornography and prostitutes. In 1971 he wrote, "I don't see this woman. But what do I see???//" (quoted in Metelmann, "Dialectic of Pornographic Enlightenment", Theology & Sexuality, 2009). Brinkmann sought pleasure but later said this led to a psychosomatic death. Paradoxically his own purchased sexual encounters led to the loss of sensuality. Bound, trapped, his increasing sense of imprisonment enveloped him. Brinkmann speaks honestly about not seeing the woman who he is paying for a sexual encounter.

In 2008 Siggelkow and Büscher wrote Germany's Sexual Tragedy: If children do not learn what love is. Kids looked at pornography, sucked in their identity and then by age 13-14, had already had up to 200 lovers.

Isn't it time that we too courageously write our own United State's Sexual Tragedy; If children do not learn what love is.

To tear down all Biblical understandings of sexuality is to lead humanity into a nightmare of confusion and chaos. Yet the last decade in the Episcopal Church has seen a continual and increasing destruction of the traditional standards for sexual behavior. Do we even see the woman and men involved with the sex industry? Do we care enough to speak and tell them of our Savior who longs to redeem their lives? We deny Christ if we hide His powers to search for and save everyone. After our denial, then the least of these, a servant watching the door, will confront us.

The recipe for Jefferts Schori's power is a simple one. Jefferts Schori is running with the culture that accepts much of the billion dollar sex industry. To justify this, she criticizes much of the Jewish society, including dismissing David and the Jewish matriarchs, Naomi and Ruth. She promulgates a stereotype that the Jewish society unilaterally forced women into prostitution. She writes of the legalized Nevada sex trade without a note of sorrow at the vast human destruction accomplished through its corruption. Her thinking leads to the ordination of a known sexual predator, Bede Parry. Sadly, Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori seems to have become the public face in the United States for accepting our own tragic Striptease culture and our own Generation Porn.

Sarah Frances Ives is a regular contributor to Virtueonline. She lives in Washington DC with her husband and two children

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