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Commentary: A Woman To Lead Episcopalians

By Lee Cullum, KERA 90.1 Commentator

Dallas, TX –

Imagine my startled amazement when the election of Katharine Jefferts-Schori to be presiding bishop, the national leader, of the Episcopal Church of America was greeted by the rector of St. Johns Church in Quincy, Illinois with the declaration that she would not be welcome in his church. Here is what he told the New York Times: "Just like we can't use grape juice and saltines for Communion, because it isn't the right matter, we do not believe that the right matter is being offered here."

Take that, Bishop Katharine Jefferts-Schori. You, and all the women like you, are not the right matter. While this rector, named H.W. Herrmann, is to be commended for his powers of metaphor, he does leave Episcopal women, such as myself, wondering where to pursue their spiritual lives.

It's an enormous tribute to women that they've stayed with formal institutions of faith at all. Certainly the three great religions of the Book - Judaism, Islam and Christianity - at one time or another have done everything they could to hold women back, to keep them down, to obliterate them as personalities. Now Rev. Herrmann wants to preserve the historical animus against women. He, let's remember, has the right matter, the right stuff.

But what about Bishop Jefferts-Schori, that she should be so agonizingly deficient? She was born the daughter of two scientists, and became a scientist herself, earning a degree in marine biology from Stanford and a masters and PhD in oceanography from Oregon State University. Her masters in divinity is from the Church Divinity School of the Pacific which is associated with the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. There is no question that she is a liberal and voted for the ordination of Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire three years ago. He was the first openly gay man to be so honored. Those who disagree with this decision have every right to take issue with it though I would have voted as she did. I must add that some have been reckless and destructive in support of their own theology. This I deplore and deeply regret. I have come to see, however, that behind the anti-gay movement is the anti-women movement. It's all of a piece.

The question now for Episcopal women is this: Are they better off staying at home on Sunday mornings, in quiet prayer and reading, listening to Renee Fleming's CD of Sacred Songs? It would be peaceful, and lovely. But what would be missing, of course, is public worship, which is important to the religious experience. Should women form their own institutions, meeting in homes or available auditoriums, and leave existing churches to those who have the-eh-right matter? This too is tempting. But it would be a retreat from the battlefield Christianity always has been, dating back to the lions of the Roman Empire.

Bishop Katharine Jefferts-Schori needs the support of Episcopal women, and establishment churches need the feminine insight, however much some may resist it. So, soldier on, ye of the wrong matter. Grape juice and saltines may turn out to be the true salt of the earth.

Lee Cullum is a contributor to the Dallas Morning News and to KERA.

If you have opinions or rebuttals about this commentary, call (214) 740-9338 or email us.