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Monday, June 26, 2006

Mother Jesus

Episcopal Presiding Bishop-elect Katherine Jefferts Schori has ... brass. Only days after her election, the London Times reports,

Dr Schori signalled her feminist credentials in a sermon that drew on the writings of the 14th-century Julian of Norwich. She said: “Mother Jesus gives birth to a new creation — and you and I are His children. If we’re going to keep on growing into Christ images for the world around us, we’re going to have to give up fear.”

The General Convention has been a parlous affair, its every painful moment reported in the international media, and she in now one of the very few female Anglican primates in a communion that still has great reservations about women priests. You might have thought her sermon would have been something straightforward and unexceptionable, on the order of "Jesus loves me, this I know /For the Bible tells me so." In the ears of many traditionalists, "Mother Jesus" is decidedly exceptionable language.

But should it be?

The Times adds:

Liberals in Britain and America defended her sermon as being in a long tradition of writings by women theologians that use the metaphor of Jesus as mother.

Certainly true -- and Dame Julian is certainly common coin in modern Anglican circles. But the maternal Jesus is not merely the province of female theologians. The same image is used often in medieval writing by men, especially Cistercian monks, and most especially St. Bernard of Clairvaux. Bernard is of such importance to the history of theology that he is sometimes called "the Last of the Fathers." There's a classic essay on how he used "Mother" as a term both for Jesus and for himself as abbot, by
Caroline Walker Bynum.

Nor did the tradition die with Bernard. The same images -- of Jesus and the parish pastor as "Mothers" -- were used repeatedly by John Donne, the Dean of St Paul's and a key figure in conservative, high-church Anglicanism of the 17th century. (There is a chapter on this in my STM thesis, available for publication if anybody is interested . . . ).

I saw Bishop Schori bashed a little (okay, a lot) for using this image on a blog today. Even when somebody pointed out the Biblical use of maternal imagery for God, the blogger just kept going. But I suspect he was a Baptist, and may have lacked a keen sense of tradition. Bishop Schori, as an Anglican, is expected to preach with the whole cloud of witnesses around her -- and in this case, she evidently did.

Alas, Poor Rowan

An English writer cheers the US Episcopal Church for refusing to be intimidated by other Anglican provinces, and -- more pointedly -- portrays the Archbishop of Canterbury as a man who has surrendered his ideals.

This may be an oversimplification. PECUSA is a mess right now, and it is hard to cheer much for a mess. And Archbishop Rowan Williams is attempting a task which seems frankly impossible: to hold both the CofE and the Anglican Communion together.

Still, Michael Hampson makes an interesting case. His brief piece includes some things I did not know, especially the Coelkin case (which is somewhere between Mother Angelica vs. Cardinal Mahoney and Lefebvre vs the Vatican). It is worth reading.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Spinning Clergy

So a couple of ministers make a movie about football. It gets a PG rating, which is about what they expected. Then, so far as we can tell, here's what happens:

The MPAA, which rates films, gives Facing the Giants a PG for "mature themes." These are pretty common in pictures about guys pounding the crap out of each other then getting naked and showering together. (See under: North Dallas Forty, or Cruising.)

But somehow, the religious themes of the movie also come up in conversation. So the producers decide that they got their rating based on religious bias, rather than the aforementioned pounding and showering. And they raise a big stink, and are joined by the usual crowd of thugs and morons, by which we mean the US House of Representatives.

Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., sent an angry letter to the MPAA. "If religion creates a warning for parents and kids and violence and bad language don't, this thing appears to me to be heading in the wrong direction, and I think most Americans would agree," Blunt said.

Can you smell the spin here, people? An indie flick about football is pretty ho-hum stuff; but an indie flick about football that's been censored by the evil ratings bureaucracy and defended by a few stalwart people of faith -- well, heck, that's a cause celebre. (Or would be, if Republicans could read French). It's all a crock, of course. That's not why they got the rating. But wouldn't it be cool if it were? Think of the tickets they'd sell, the church-group DVDs, the Hollywood offers. So even though it isn't true, they must have decided, let's just say it is.

And we'll even find a pet Congressman to go in on the gag. (Blunt knows from spin -- he's married to a tobacco lobbyist. Not Aaron Eckhardt, though.)

Here's the funniest part -- and we don't mean ha-ha-funny:

One of the filmmakers said he'd want to be warned if his children were going to see a film with a pro-Islamic message. "But our country wasn't founded on Islamic values," [said producer-star Alex Kendrick.] "It was founded on Judeo-Christian values."

This defender of free speech actually approves of warning moviegoers about religious content, provided it isn't his religion. Yeah, that's the spirit that made America great, isn't it?