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For TEC Bish, Diabolism Is Diversity

From the Book of Acts, Chapter 16:

16 Now it happened, as we went to prayer, that a certain slave girl possessed with a spirit of divination met us, who brought her masters much profit by fortune-telling. 17 This girl followed Paul and us, and cried out, saying, “These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation.” 18 And this she did for many days.

But Paul, greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And he came out that very hour. 19 But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to the authorities.

20 And they brought them to the magistrates, and said, “These men, being Jews, exceedingly trouble our city; 21 and they teach customs which are not lawful for us, being Romans, to receive or observe.”22 Then the multitude rose up together against them; and the magistrates tore off their clothes and commanded them to be beaten with rods. 23 And when they had laid many stripes on them, they threwthem into prison, commanding the jailer to keep them securely. 24 Having received such a charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.

So, St. Paul cast a demon out of a slave girl, freeing her from her masters, and was beaten badly for his trouble … and today, Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori says Paul had it coming for not recognizing the slave girl’s alternative spirituality. From her sermon:

For many people, it can be difficult to see God at work in the world around us, particularly if God is doing something unexpected.

There are some remarkable examples of that kind of blindness in the readings we heard this morning, and slavery is wrapped up in a lot of it.  Paul is annoyed at the slave girl who keeps pursuing him, telling the world that he and his companions are slaves of God.  She is quite right.  She’s telling the same truth Paul and others claim for themselves.  But Paul is annoyed, perhaps for being put in his place, and he responds by depriving her of her gift of spiritual awareness.  Paul can’t abide something he won’t see as beautiful or holy, so he tries to destroy it.  It gets him thrown in prison.  That’s pretty much where he’s put himself by his own refusal to recognize that she, too, shares in God’s nature, just as much as he does – maybe more so!

From a putatively Christian cleric, this is simply deranged. Would that she would meet St. Paul on the street. Some of that authentically Christian apostolic voodoo might set the PB free.

UPDATE: Excellent comment by Edward Hamilton:

What astonishes me most in this exegetical contortion is how it has to tap-dance around the economic exploitation of the slave girl, as though this is an irrelevant detail that distracts from the core message of religious pluralism. That’s not a smack-down of the religious right, that’s a betrayal of even her own theologically progressive heritage.

Here’s the bishop of a reliably liberal denomination, in a developing nation full of poverty and economic inequality. If there’s any element of liberal Western thought that should appeal to this audience, it’s the way in which being released from an evil spirit functions as a metaphor for economic liberation from oppressive hierarchical systems. This woman is being abused by her greedy masters. She’s the poster-child for a radical liberation theology!

And yet, so important is the imperative to discover feminist and pluralist interpretations of the Christian cultural mandate that the economic radicalism here — which ought to be waved around as a banner, to shock Ayn Rand-ish capitalist ideologues in the US evangelical world out of their own heresies — is instead something to be stuffed back into the closet. The PB is suppressing the most virtuous elements of the liberal/progressive theological tradition, in favor of fighting her own private culture war.

Liberating the poor just isn’t as important these days as putting rotten ol’ St Paul in his rightful place: jailed and tortured as the victim of mob violence. Serves him right! He belongs somewhere even lower along the spectrum of respect than the cynical slave-owners who are pimping this girl’s “spirituality” as a freak-show oddity for a few coins. Better to stand with the mob, the slavers, the torturers, and the perpetrators of economic injustice, than to set aside one jot or tittle of the higher law of cultural radicalism.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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