Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Mother Jesus Sermon

Presiding Bishop-ELECT.
June 21, 2006

Last Sunday morning, I woke very early but it was still dark. I must have been thinking about something. I wanted to go for a run, but had to wait for enough light to see. Ran by back of Hyatt. The men working by the dumpster were startled.

I saw a man from convention center and we said a quiet good morning. Then I found a quiet green park in the middle of this city. There was a man standing there, in an orange reflective vest standing by orange cones. I said good morning; he responded in kind. Then there was the bleary-eyed fellow with several bags. Said good morning to him, too but when past him on street, not the sidewalk.

A rabbit was hopping along the sidewalk. It looked at me and we shared a moment of greeting. A woman delivering Sunday papers, getting out of the car and delivering the paper to doorsteps. She didn’t get out of the car until I was well past her.

On the other side of the freeway, I found two guys, just going to work. They, too, looked weary.

There was some degree of weariness in all of them. Trying to greet each other, but the sense of relationship, whether out of fear, or caution, meant that we had a long way to go.

Can we dream of a world where all creatures, human and not, can greet each other without fear? Christ said his kingdom was “not of this world.” His willingness to go to the cross is so radical that fear has no import. The love that he invites us to imitate has no possibility of reactive or violent response. His followers didn’t fight back.

He calls us friends not agents of fear.

If we are going to grow to full statute of Christ, our growing will need to be rooted in a soil of internal peace, confidant and planted in the overwhelming love of God. Given so abundant, so profligate, that we are caught in similar abandonment. The full measure of God, cast down and overflowing, drives out our , self-interest. That is what fear is. A reaction; an unconscious response. As if we are saying, “that’s mine and I can’t go on living without it.”

Whether its my bank account or my sense of control. Unless we can make sense of the blood of the cross, we will live in fear. That bloody cross brings new life into the world. That sweaty, bloody, tear-stained cross bears life. Our mother Jesus gives new birth to a new creation and we are his children.

We have to give up fear. What did the godly messengers say when they turned up to the shepherds: fear not. You are God’s beloved and he is well pleased with you. When we know ourselves beloved of God, we can respond in less fearful ways. When we realize this, we can response to the homeless man; seek and reach beyond the defenses of others.

Our job as we go out from this convention is to go out without fear and lay down our sword and shield; fill the hungry and set the prisoners free. Lay down our self-control and serve God’s image of the beloved in the weakest, poorest and least included. Not to squabble over our heritage.

But to share that name of the beloved with the whole world. AMEN

I did not hear this sermon when it was delivered, and I came to it now hoping I missed out on some contextual point that might make the reference to 'mother Jesus' palatable. Seeing the context now, I must admit to confusion. That paragraph has some superficially strong cross language -- but the more I contemplate it, the more it looks like a deliberate connection of the cross with childbirth -- bloody, sweaty, tear-stained, etc. She's bypassing the redemptive virtue in Christ's blood and calling it creative instead?

So the next question to be asked, regardless of the orthodoxy of her reinterpretation, is, Why would +Jefferts Schori say this, particularly at this moment to this audience (Gen. Convention the day after her election)? Why would she only mention Jesus once, and that in the context of a radically feminist re-interpretation of the merit of the crucifixion? I can only surmise that she put it here because she's honest, and this is her own theology which she wanted to share with everyone, letting them know who she is and what she believes. +Jefferts Schori has shown herself to be not un-mindful of political dynamics in the church -- is she speaking here directly to the orthodox (who, incedentally, were mostly attending the alternative mass down the street), saying we should not fear her or the future -- if so, why throw in this obviously challenging re-imaging? Was she speaking to the progressives, telling them they need not fear -- what, winning? ostricization by the Communion? Maybe the collective wisdom of Whitehall's readers can unravel this mystery.


Jody said...

I've been thinking about this, and have to say that outside of the "mother Jesus" comment, her statment about the cross could fit well with the sort of organic imagery that has long been associated with it, exemplified by such things as the "flowering of the cross" in many churches on Easter. That being said, I do not believe her understanding of the new creation, the redeemed creation is sound, and given her responses to questions regarding the purpose of the Church, it seems she is firmly entrenched in the liberal protestant desire to bring about the kingdom through our own devices, devoid of the power of the cross that she speaks about. I can only draw two possible conclusions from her sex-confused Jesus. Either she was foolish and did not know that such an expression would be like rubbing salt in a wound or red in front of a bull for many conservatives and she just couldn't keep her own feminist theology covered long enough or she did it as a deliberate provocation--perhaps not even caring what reactions might come.

father wb said...

Fr. Thorpus and Jody,

I agree with both of you. To be perfectly honest, I kind of liked the connection she drew between our Lord's passion and childbirth. I don't think its particularly heterodox -- unless of course it is making the Holy Cross purely creative RATHER THAN redepmtive -- i.e. as opposed to Creative (and re-creative) and redemptive all at once, etc. A denial of his very real masculinity and filiation, rather than an ascription of maternity or something. Its a favorite tactic of liberals to apply feminine predicates to God in order to tear down patriarchy, and when met with protest, then to cite John of the Cross, Teresa of Avilla, et alia, as a kind of "orthodox" trump card. The difference is: when the saints (and even Scripture occasionally) use feminine talk for God, they do it constructively. Feminists nowadays more often than not do the same thing but deconstructively. They seek to oppose and tear apart what they see as systemic oppression. That wasn't on the agenda of the mystics, as far as I know.

The real question is, as you both point out, why one earth would Ms. Schori say something like that? It could only have been in order to be provocative, I think. Either she knew it would bother and offend many of the orthodox, or she didn't. If she didn't, she's an idiot. If she did, then she was callously and maliciously rubbing salt in an already painful wound -- she was, in other words, engaging in the tearing-down process, in deconstructing.

I don't think she's an idiot.

But so much for the outgoing PB's perpetually trumpeted "reconciling love."

Seppuku Kid said...

Thorpus, Jody, and WB,
It seems that what I read from all of you is that the imagery is not necessarily heterodox, but it might be. It also seems that the concern about the metaphor's orthodoxy is that it might come at the expense of other, perhaps more valuable, theologies of atonement. But what theology of atonement did she offer? She certainly didn't offer some Abelardian moral influence model, so prominent among many liberal Christians; there is no mention of following the good example of Christ as he hung on the cross. (By the way, I strongly disagree that there is any shadow of a "desire to bring about the kingdom through our own devices, devoid of the power of the cross that she speaks about." The entire point of the sermon is that the method by which one renounces one's self is by "that bloody That sweaty, bloody, tear-stained cross.") The suffering of Christ certainly has some real effect for the Church, not just a moral example. It is impossible to tell from the sermon itself whether she holds an Arminian-Grotian governmental or an Anselmian satisfaction view of atonment, but I'm not sure either would put one in the poor graces of orthodox Anglicanism. In either case, it seems that she actually used feminism right; she used feminine imagery to present an orthodox view atonement. The fact that she uses "creative" language does not mean that she "bypasses" redemptive lanugage. Would anyone deny that the redemption of Christ is a creative experience (cf. 2 Cor. 5:17)?
The objection that using such feminine imagery would rile conservatives seems to be directed at the wrong target. Are conservatives prepared to throw the baby out with the bathwater and prejudge any use of feminine imagery in reference to God or Christ to be inappropriate? Is there no room for feminism, even when done right, within conservatism? Why not judge the bishop's sermon on its own merits rather than attempting to make ecclesio-political points based on a misrepresentation of the sermon? There are plenty of places for criticism in the leadership of TEC, the PB elect included, without inventing them where they aren't.

father wb said...


You know an awful lot about theories of atonement! But I don't think I missrepresented Schori's sermon. I didn't even represent it. I even said I liked the part everyone got so upset about.

Look, to rehash more formally, a disjunctive syllogism expressing my critique of Ms. Schori -- a critique which, you will notice, has nothing to do with theology:

Either she knew calling our Lord "Mother Jesus" would offend convervatives or she didn't.

If she didn't know, then she's an idiot.

She's not an idiot.

Therefore she knew it would offend conservatives.

Its a sound argument. With all the turmoil and hooplah, with half the Anglican world furious at ECUSA for all of its monkeying around with gender and sexuality, why in the world did she have to go and say something that could only make matters worse? What could she have meant by it? It certainly wasn't NECESSARY to call our Lord "Mother Jesus". If she just HAD to feminize Jesus, she could have used a simile -- "Jesus is LIKE a mother in the following respects..." etc. That alone would have ameliorated the offense enough to bleed off much opposition. But she didn't. She blazed right ahead. WHY? There can only be one answer. She was aiming to offend, to cause a stink.

Furthermore, its just not nice. Its bad politics. Its not the least conciliatory. Etc. Etc. Its certainly not what ECUSA (liberal or conservative) needs right now. And I don't think its what ECUSA needs in a Presiding Bishop.

Seppuku Kid said...

Since we agree that there is no theological problem with the Bp. Schori's metaphor, let me offer my analysis of the political implications of its use. Here is the syllogism that I might construct:

Either Schori knew that pretty much whatever she said would be used out of context to make political hay by some conservatives, or she's an idiot.

She is not an idiot.

Therefore, given that her words are bound to be misconstrued no matter what she says, she must either say nothing; or she should water down what she thinks and her ways of expressing what she thinks in an attempt to avoid giving her detractors an opportunity to criticize her; or she could see the attacks as unavoidable and move on.

Obviously the first option is impossible, given that she is the PB-Elect. The second option is that which most American politicians have gone, and it has led to lots of talk with no real substance (not something that I'd like to see in an ecclesial body). So she went for option three.

Do you think that conservatives are too stupid to be able to differentiate acceptable and unacceptable feminine divine imagery? Do you think Schori should assume that they are? I see the entire conservative reaction to these two little words (especially using them alongside the PCUSA "Mother, Child, Womb, as examples of feminine theology gone awry) as thoroughly disingenuous. I find especially troubling the rumors that I've heard concerning many conservative bishops voting for Schori in an attempt to push TEC into oblivion. If these rumors are true (and I sincerely hope that they aren't) I have no doubt that those feigning offense are the same who voted for her specifically so they could feign offense at whatever that she might say that might be misconstrued.
To hold Schori responsible for this misconstrual is to say, "You should have known that I was going to take your words out of context and use them to make political points."

father thorpus said...

I think there are other options to characterize Bp. Jefferts-Schori's approach here. Check out her interview with Time magazine,9171,1211587,00.html

She could actually be an idiot -- no, I don't really mean that, but rather a version of that hypothesis -- she could actually think there's a 'consensus' opinion in TEC that favors feminist theology, especially if (and someone from her diocese would need to confirm this) there just aren't many outspoken conservatives in her diocese. She could be sheltered and think that the conservative faction out there consists of David Virtue and the CT-6, for a grand total of 7. That's hyperbole, of course, but the point is she COULD think that whatever conservatives there are out there who would be offended at this are just a few rabble-rousing radicals who are on their way out anyway, such that the vast bulk of TEC supports her brand of feminist liberation theology and really wanted to hear that image. I think she believes that this is just where our church is, that what we really, really need right now is a hardcore feminist/liberation theologian to lead us charging into the gospel of social activism, and that helping people is surely something people from all walks of Anglican theology can rally around until we forget those silly little doctrinal issues and get on with mission.

father thorpus said...

Sorry that URL didn't materialize. Just google "Time Jefferts Schori" and you'll get it.

father thorpus said...

Thanks for the conversation about the orthodoxy of the metaphor. My problem with it is right along WB's lines -- technically, it's acceptable, even valuable, but in the context of radical heterodoxy from the feminist movement (which is not to suggest that all feminists are radically heterodox), it rankles.

Was the Via Dolorosa masculine to start with? is there something inherently masculine about the crucifixion, such that women just can't understand it without thinking of childbirth? If she hadn't said, "mother Jesus", she would have maintained maximum communication potential -- those who find thinking of the cross in the usual way helpful would have done so and those who would like to explore the childbirth metaphor could have done so; plus it wouldn't have overtly offended so many people. That begs the question of motive, as we've discussed.

There's also a good point that C.S. Lewis brought up in his essay on Priestesses in the Church
( , link to "Important Documents"), which is essentially that God's own use of masculine imagery in His self-revelation is significant and even formative for the Church. To have a church, or a sermon, that gives priority to images of God not divinely revealed (regardless of the images' gender preference) risks looking "not near so much like the Church". It's a good read.

Seppuku Kid said...

It seems that we have quite different ideas of what constitutes "hardcore feminist/liberation" theology. I would certainly label the PCUSA's "Mother, Child, and Womb" as "hardcore" feminist, but, as I've noted above, I don't believe that Schori's "Mother Jesus" metaphor is comparable. In regard to her "liberation" theology, she seems to adopt those aspects of liberation theology that are actually appropriate, the social and political responsibility of Christians toward the poor and outcast, without adopting the Marxist language that so corrupted the movement.
It seems that the major issue at stake is that she believes in the full inclusion of sexually active gay and lesbian persons into both the clergy and the laity. Given that this is indeed the opinion of the majority of the dioceses over which she will soon preside, this is not surprising. What is surprising, to me at least, is that so many conservatives refuse to allow the debate to be one about this issue, rather than misconstruing the PB-Elect's words to paint her as some sort of radical in other regards.

Seppuku Kid said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
father wb said...


What are you saying? That it would have been totally unreasonable to expect her not to use stridently feminist theological language in first sermon as PB elect? Horse hockey.

I don't grant that "her words are bound to be misconstrued no matter what she says." That simply isn't true. She could easily have gotten across her point that our Lord's passion is akin in some ways to childbirth, in ways more palatable to those of us who are wary of feminist theologies or theologies exclusively cognizant of social activism.

I think you're being captious, SK. The fact is, there is a significant minority within ECUSA that thinks ECUSA has been hijacked by feminists and social activists. And judging from the resolutions General Convetion passed and DIDN'T pass, I'd say their fears are justifid.

Its not the PB-elect's "words," per se, that are the problem. I stand by my point: she didn't have to put it the way she put it. Feminine talk about God may be LICIT, and it may sometimes be helpful, but its certainly never an imperative, and it certainly was not helpful in the context of Gen Con 2006. There are a thousand and one things she could have talked about, and a thousand and one alternative ways of talking about what she DID talk about.

Seppuku Kid said...

I don't see how you can deny that no matter what she said, conservatives would find a way to paint her as some sort of radical. The AAC's reaction ( to the election of Mark Andrus by the diocese of California, one of the most conservative candidates on the ballot, along with allegations that Schori's election was in part engineered by conservatives who wanted to make it clear that TEC was "hell-bent" ( have made it abundantly clear that there is a large block of conservatives who are looking for any opportunity to paint TEC in a bad light with the ultimate goal of eliminating the body rather than reforming it. The fact that she is a feminist and a social activist is no secret. Does anyone conservative or otherwise believe that either of those positions is inherently heretical? Given that everyone already knew what she was, why not look at the way that she breaks that stereotype in this very sermon? The focus on the atoning death of Christ in the transformation of the individual shines brightly through the feminist language that she holds so dear. In my opinion, she expressed the doctrine of the transformative atoning work of Christ, often overlooked in some episcopal congregations, in words that reflect her own theological background. She certainly didn't subjugate any doctrine of atonement to her own personal feminist/social activist inclinations, but she allowed it to serve as the frame for a message of redemption.
Instead of trying to understand what she was trying to say, however, conservatives deliberately chose to misrepresent what she said in order to make political points. I don't think that conservatives are too stupid to distinguish between good feminism and bad feminism, but you seem to think that she should assume that they are.

Brother Philip said...

As disingenuous as I believe SK is in this debate, I do think he makes one valid point. I really believe that she represents the opinion of most Episcopalians--as she was "democratically" elected by your processes.

Come Home To Rome!!

father wb said...


First, I can't believe you think David Virtue is a credible reporter.

Second, conservatives don't need to look for opportunities to paint ECUSA in a bad light. Liberals do it for them. Cf. Schori's sermon.

Third, calling the excommunication (or something -- what do you mean exactly?) of ECUSA "eliminating the body" is a bit odd. Do you mean that TEC is THE Body of Christ? I would think it more akin to the amputation of a grangrenous toe. Or maybe a more Biblical image for the expulsion of ECUSA would be of THE Body vomiting. It is, after all, positively FILLED with the neither hot nor cold.

Fourth, you say

"The fact that she is a feminist and a social activist is no secret. Does anyone conservative or otherwise believe that either of those positions is inherently heretical?"

Good Lord, SK. For one who goes on and on about misconstruing what people are saying, you sure are good at it. The problem, as I have said, isn't being a feminist / social activist. The problem is being MERELY a feminist and social activist.

Fifth, I suppose if Christ died to atone for our fear, then this sermon is spot on, 100%, rock-solid orthodox. But all this time I was thinking that he atoned for sins...?

Seppuku Kid said...


1. I only took David Virtue at his word because Thorpus confirmed it in two different posts here at Whitehall:
I trust Thorpus, and I assumed that you did as well, since you allowed him to post here.

2. You beg the question. I am arguing that Schori's sermon itself was perfectly acceptable but was deliberately misconstrued by conservatives. There are, however, plenty of embarrassing things that liberal episcopalians do. I'm not sure what this has to do with conservatives intentionally piling on at any opportunity, however.

3. By "the body" I merely mean the ecclesiastical body that is TEC, in the same way that any other organization of members is a body. Your comments indicate that you would rather see it dissolved rather than reformed, as I mentioned above. I see it as disingenuous for someone to believe that TEC should not exist but to continue to attend GC without any intention of abiding by its decisions. I see it as especially underhanded for someone to attend GC and cast votes with the intention of hastening the destruction of TEC.

4. My point all along has been that Schori's sermon did not MERELY present a feminist and social activist theology but a theology of redemption with aspects of both feminism and social activism. It seems that the problem of many conservatives (not necessarily you) is that the fact that her sermon included any feminism or social activism AT ALL made it offensive.

5. I'm not sure that atonement from sin and elimination of fear are as separate as you seem to claim. In Romans 8 Paul attributes the elimination of fear specifically to the atonement from sin. I would assume (perhaps wrongly) that most of the bishops at GC would be familiar enough with the book of Romans to make the connection.

father wb said...

I withdraw my criticism. Ms. Schori, and her sermon, are paragons of orthodox catholicity. Its a relief finally to realize that she and St. Paul teach the same faith.