Over the past several days I’ve been musing about Katharine Jefferts Schori’s PR Tour coming up this weekend in Philadelphia.
While on the western end of the Pennsylvania Turnpike the Diocese of Pittsburgh prepares to take their historic vote to separate from The Episcopal Church, Bishop Schori is, interestingly enough, going to be on the eastern side of the Pennsylvania Turnpike and preparing to hold a media event, telling the world that the Episcopal Church is suddenly quite sorry about slavery after a hundred and fifty years, especially this weekend.
How odd it is that she is going to a northern church in Yankee territory to do it. She’s going to a church that actually opposed slavery and engaged in heroic actions to undermine the slave trade. This is where she’s going to publicly and with hordes of hopeful media in tow to apologize for the entire slave trade – to a place that is safe and will offer exceptional photo ops.
One does wonder. Shall we next expect that if one is going to apologize for, say, the atrocities committed on the Jews at Auschwitz, will one just simply book a hall at the Ritz Carlton and summon the media? Why go to all that bother to make the horrific pilgrimage to the actual death camps when one has a safe place to pontificate humility?
With one self-selected resolution nicely plucked up from the hundreds passed at General Convention 2006 also in hand (and of course, it was a political plan to pass that resolution in the first place), does Bishop Schori think she carries the authority of the living and dead as she pops into Philly to make amends, just as Pittsburgh starts to vote? Why the deflection?
Wonder if one of the hymns on the Philly docket is Go Down Moses? Best think again, no?
Ah! Suddenly, we are reminded of this article published back in 2005 when the Rev. Lynn Washington had the misfortune to spill the beans about the PR plan to use the rhetoric of slavery’s horrific history against those who were opposing the Episcopal Church’s “prophetic actions” of marriage and ordination of homosexuals in the Episcopal Church. Virginia Diocese Bishop Peter James Lee later said no one checked with him before publishing that article and of course Lynn Washington soon left the diocesan staff. Loose lips sink ships.
Remember what she wrote:
We were aware of forces that could separate us, even as we sought to come together. Division is nothing new among the people of God, as the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments show. It is particularly at issue in our Communion right now, but it is an old factor in the Church and an old story and strategy used among people of color. The slave trade could have never survived had there not been parties willing to trade for profit. Divide and conquer is an old technique: set members of a group against each other. The controversy has theological and church polity roots, but in the context of this Afro- Anglican gathering, the “realignment” that some in our Communion are lobbying for showed an old and suspicious cast …
The idea was to retool the Episcopal brand name by organizing public events and juxtaposition those engagements with those who are in public opposition to their theological and political revisions. Was it then not their intention to assuage the current divisions in the Episcopal Church by projecting conspiratorial motives onto their opponents instead?
And so, here we are today.
Is it an accident of coincidence that Bishop Schori plans to try to hoist the flag of intervention through her painstakingly planned counter-pronouncements for the events of this weekend and, in doing so, intervene in the Pittsburgh convention through the ironic tool of shame? By attempting to refocus the glaring press light away from Pittsburgh and onto Philadelphia, will we be also invited to affirm the recasting of the historic events in Pittsburgh with the self-congratulatory actions of Philadelphia?
Having just done the deed of casting out one of their own into the sea of deposition, the Presiding Bishop herself turns around and seeks to embrace others cast out and long gone. When they’re dead they can’t complain about the true meaning of freedom and liberty.
And so we have a public spectacle in Philly just days away. Indeed, what will they say?
“Look how wonderful we are – we are telling the world that we are so sorry about the slave-thingy, even if they are all dead, and those horrid Episcopalians who held slaves are all dead, thank God, and never mind that we are saying we’re so sorry in a church in Yankee territory (let’s not discuss General Sherman right now thank you very much) – but aren’t we just wonderful, simply marvelous for our ability to say we’re sorry and we won’t do it again? Bravo! And can you guess? We have a resolution right here that tells us to do just that – just as we planned to do back in 2005 – so we can look like swell people when in fact we’re taking the Episcopal Church right into the ground because of those nasty Pittsburgh-people – and you know what they’re doing now – their seceding from our beatific church, those party poopers, and you know what we just did to their bishop – and …
… oh dear, oh yes, we quite forgot, your own bishops has been deposed for unmentionable actions while the Pittsburgh bishop has been deposed by us because he, well, he hasn’t done it yet but we’re sure he’s going to do it today, well, he can’t do it today because we took him out, but somebody’s going to do something today and we don’t want you writing about that but writing about how simply marvelous we are, with our public acts of telling the world we’re so sorry, Uncle Albert, we’re so sorry if we caused you any pain. We’re so sorry, Uncle Albert, but there’s no one left at home and I believe I’m gonna rain …”
Why make the public spectacle ? Why the subtext? Why all the press releases and public declarations and such? Why all the planned accolades with the very person who first sued Bishop Duncan? Is this really what it means to ask for forgiveness, is this what it really means to repent?
What was it Jesus said again?
“Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
Want to apologize for slavery? How about walking into a Klu Klux Klan chapter meeting next week and apologize there, yes, look into the faces of hate and apologize there, or go to where slavery is – in the Southern Sudan and stare into the face of the Islamic oppressors and apologize there, or perhaps take a long walk and weep over the empty sands of Sullivan’s Island and apologize there, or if you dare – throw yourself on the grave of William Wilberforce and apologize there. Only do it with reserve and do it in secret so that it really matters, it really lasts.
And don’t call the media.