... of Demonic Possession.
But the Bishop moved, instead, in an astonishing direction, finding an example of the lamentable exclusivity she is talking about in the behavior of the Apostle Paul himself. In the 16th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, we find the story of Paul's first visit to the Greek town of Philippi. We are told that one day, while on his way to prayer, Paul was accosted by a slave girl "who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortune-telling" (Acts. 16:16). This demon-possessed child followed Paul and his companions up and down for several days, shouting, "These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation." Having finally had enough of her, Paul turned to the young woman and addressed the wicked spirit within her, "I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her" (Acts. 16:18). And the demon, we are told, came out of her instantly.
Up until last month in Curaçao, the entire Christian interpretive tradition read that passage as an account of deliverance, as the story of the liberation of a young woman who had been enslaved both to dark spiritual powers and to the nefarious human beings who had exploited her.
But Bishop Jefferts Schori reads it as a tale of patriarchal oppression and intolerance. She preaches, "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." The Bishop correctly points out that the girl was saying true things about Paul and his friends, but demons say true things all the time in the New Testament. Think of the dark spirits who consistently confess that Jesus is the Holy One of God. That a Christian bishop would characterize the demonic possession of a young girl as something "beautiful and holy" simply beggars belief.
What is at the root of this deeply wrong-headed homily is a conflation of early 21st century values of inclusion and toleration with the great Biblical value of love. To love is to will the good of the other as other. As such, love can involve -- indeed, must involve -- a deep intolerance toward wickedness and a clear willingness to exclude certain forms of life, behavior, and thought. When inclusivity and toleration emerge as the supreme goods -- as they have in much of our society today -- then love devolves into something vague, sentimental and finally dangerous.
How dangerous? Well, we might begin to see the devil himself as beautiful and holy.
How long, however, before Bishop Schori points out that at least the Devil isn't part of "patriarchal oppression and intolerance"?