Let’s say I’m a twenty-something with a college degree, living in Brooklyn. I kind of have a job but no benefits. I get by with money but I have lots of debt. I don’t see what the big deal is about gay marriage and it’s obvious that the earth is getting warmer. My parents dragged me to church a few times when I was growing up so I know something about all that religion stuff, but now my knowledge of religion is mostly based on people like Rick Santorum. I just don’t see the point of faith and I certainly don’t see the need for it in my life. I’m part of the “Rise of the Nones.”
Now let’s say that one day I’m surfing around the Internet and I come across the interview Katharine Jefferts Schori recently gave to the Huffington Post. The words “female” and “bishop” are so rarely connected in my mind that I click on the link to see what she has to say.
Stepping out of the Brooklyn millennial conceit, here’s the question I want to pose: as our fictional twenty-something peruses the interview, does he find anything that is genuinely Good News? That is to say, does he find any of the life-altering, world-changing, drop-everything-and-follow gospel of Christ Jesus?
(Let’s note, of course, all the provisos. Of course, she was responding to questions, of course the interviewers wanted to ask her about hot-button subjects—sex, creation, Scripture—and of course an interview is not a sermon.)
I think the answer to this question about the Good News is no. Our fictional Brooklyn resident wouldn’t find much to disagree with. Bishop Katharine is in sync on same-gender marriage. Good. The church wants to respond to the poverty of the world. Good. She calls it “God’s mission,” but whatever. We agree.
The thing is, while our fictional millennial may think what Bishop Katharine has to say is Good, none of it is New. He already believes all this stuff already. The church is arriving late to the party. Glad to have you here but you’re old news. You do your thing, Bishop Katharine, and I’ll do mine. None of what Bishop Katharine has to say would, I think, make our millennial think, “Wow, I’ve got to learn more about Jesus and get myself into church!” In fact, by my count, the presiding bishop is quoted mentioning General Convention (once), more than she mentions Jesus (none).
Again, all my earlier provisos apply and nothing in this post is a comment on the presiding bishop herself. This interview, I’m sure you will agree, well represents the dominant working theology in the Episcopal Church in the early twenty-first century.
If you read the Gospels or Acts, it is clear that when people heard the proclamation of the Good News, their lives were transformed. Not just adjusted or modified but completely reoriented towards Christ. The fact that the gospel had such an impact is, to my mind, one of the best confirmations of its truth.
What is the Gospel message in the twenty-first century that is both authentically Good and authentically New, the proclamation that seizes the attention of the hearer and brings about dramatic life change?
How do we preach the unique witness of Jesus Christ in a way that makes people who’ve never heard about Jesus want to devote their whole lives to following in the Way he first showed to us?
That, it seems, are questions we still need to answer.