Is The Episcopal Church Driving Drunk?

By now you’ve probably seen the mug shot of Episcopal Bishop Heather Cook on the day she was booked for manslaughter stemming from a hit-and-run DUI. In press reports the mug shot generally runs alongside another photo: sometimes a close-up of a bespectacled middle-aged blonde woman, with a clerical collar and dangling earrings framing a wide face and a gap-toothed smile. Another of Cook on the day she was consecrated as a bishop, standing and smiling with friends, miter atop her head and shepherd’s crook in hand. And then there’s the unfortunate image of Cook standing behind an altar, blessing a dozen cruets of wine.

On the Saturday after Christmas, the second ranking bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland was said to be drunk and texting when she steered her Subaru into the bike lane and plowed into Tom Palmero, an avid cyclist, husband, and father of two. With the passenger side of her car’s windshield shattered by the force of the accident, Cook drove on. Another cyclist caught up to the Bishop’s car at a stoplight and rapped on the window. Cook stepped on the gas and disappeared into her gated apartment community.

After calling a diocesan official, Cook returned to the scene, some 20 to 40 minutes later. And by then, Palermo was dead. The bishop wasn’t charged until days later, after an extensive police investigation and a social media campaign demanding her prosecution. A local media upstart, the Baltimore Brew, has pursued the story aggressively, outpacing in both the scope and depth of coverage the more staid Baltimore Sun.

The Bishop turned herself in on January 9th, and a tough judge set bail at an exceptionally high $2.5 million, noting Cook’s “indifference to life” and calling her a flight risk. A few days later, a defrocked priest, described as Cook’s “steady companion,” stepped forward with the cash and promissory note to free Cook. In the days since, the Bishop reportedly has returned to rehab on the shores of Chesapeake Bay, where she stayed in the days before she was booked. Cook is a suspended bishop now, and Episcopal Church officials have begun disciplinary procedures that will probably lead to her firing.

Is the Episcopal Church itself on trial, right alongside Bishop Cook? It sure seems that way.

One of the story’s inevitable themes is the charge of church leaders’ hypocrisy and ineptitude, a charge sounded even (especially?) by those inside the church itself. “I’d like to know how you can get our trust back, because right now it doesn’t exist,” one Episcopalian asked Cook’s boss, Maryland Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton, at a parish meeting in Lutherville. The parishioner’s concerns are understandable. Where’s the accountability? Hadn’t anyone seen this coming? Why hadn’t a pastor, another bishop, stepped forward to intervene? Why were voting delegates to Maryland’s diocesan convention kept in the dark about Cook’s 2010 arrest on DUI charges?

Some church officials, presumably Sutton and the committee that nominated Cook, knew about Cook’s earlier arrest. The details are tawdry: Cook was stopped because her car was clunking along on a tire so flat its rubber was stripped to the rim. Cook had vomit on her blouse and reeked of alcohol. The arresting officer found a liquor bottle and a stash of marijuana, and Cook wobbled so much during a field sobriety test that the cop cut it short. She was arrested but never did time, nor, apparently, was she remanded to rehab.

As if to underscore the yawning gap between the Bishop’s public face and the realities of her private life, the Baltimore Sun featured a YouTube video of a sermon Cook preached months ago to a sparsely attended Sunday morning service. The Bishop spoke in words that now seem pathetic as well as chillingly prophetic: “Things happen suddenly, and we’re either prepared in the moment or we’re not, and we face the consequences. We can’t go back. We can’t do it over” (7:07).

There’s another, more pointedly political angle to this story: the case of Bishop Cook has become a meme in the ideological warfare waged by right-wing Anglicans against the Episcopal Church, including a breakaway denomination called the Anglican Church in North America [ACNA], and groups like the American Anglican Council.

For decades, right wing Anglicans in the U.S. and elsewhere have blamed the Episcopal Church’s precipitous slide in membership on its captivity to liberalism and liberation theology, and especially to the “agendas” of sexual dissidents and radical women. There’s no credible evidence linking the Church’s alarming stats to its embrace of liberal policies, but that hasn’t stopped the right from relentlessly hammering the claim.

The most spectacular flare-ups in this war have also been about bishops: the consecration of the Episcopal Church’s first openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson, in 2004, and the election of Katharine Jefferts Schori to a 9-year term as the Church’s Presiding Bishop in 2006, the first woman to hold that post. Both Robinson and Jefferts Schori have been subjected to withering attacks from the right–Robinson because of his sexuality, and Jefferts Schori for her support for same-sex unions and for her aggressive handling of property disputes with breakaway dioceses and parishes. And of course because she’s a woman.

The right has folded the story of vehicular manslaughter into this narrative of left-wing captivity and declension–sometimes subtly, at other times blatantly. The Christian Post, a conservative evangelical on-line news site that claims non-alignment but leans heavily right, has given the story heavy coverage. In one of its articles CP linked Cook to Gene Robinson and to other Episcopal Bishops–including a dead one–with alcohol problems. (Robinson went to rehab during his episcopacy). An editorial that ran on the website of the American Anglican Council called the incident “[s]ad for the Episcopal Church that has fallen so far away from godly discipline and order.”

The right-wing Anglican blogosphere was more direct: “The most recent outrage (and there have been many) of a drunken bishop killing a cyclist, then fleeing the scene of the crime and hiding behind a gated community so she wouldn’t have to face her accusers is just the ass end of a long line of episcopal outrage and filth dating back more than 40 years. In the case of Bishop Suffragan Heather Cook, a half empty whisky bottle and a marijuana bong have become her own personal Eucharist,” thundered David Virtue of virtueonline.org, who concluded, “This latest outrage will only hasten the church’s demise.”

Many, though not all, of these Anglicans reject any role for women as priests or bishops. And so for them, Heather Cook’s crime spree began with her ordination, and continued because the church that consecrated her was terminally ill.

Follow Jesus into the neighborhood; travel lightly.

While there are points of life and light in the Episcopal Church, as in any other old-line denomination, right-wing detractors are correct in noting that the numbers are grim and the future far from bright. The question is, why? Why has this once-powerful church, with unmatched cultural capital and an impressive treasury, become so anemic? The answer is surely more complicated than the simple right-wing Anglican formula that liberalism = death.

But let’s face it: this has been a tough few months for the Episcopal Church, and the Cook case must feel like a punch in the gut. Take the case of the denomination’s seminaries, so many of which are struggling. The Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge almost imploded last spring after a showdown that pitted faculty against an unpopular dean and the trustees who supported her. General Theological Seminary in New York City, once known as a finishing school for future bishops, was engulfed in a similar but even more public battle in the fall of 2014 after struggling financially for years.

While sideshows like these play on in the background, the Episcopal Church continues to hemorrhage members. No wonder Jefferts Schori said thanks but no thanks to a second term as Presiding Bishop. Who would blame her?

In the run-up to the Church’s triennial convention in Salt Lake City in June of 2015, the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church (TREC) has developed a restructuring plan to streamline the Church’s considerable bureaucracy, eliminating most standing committees and commissions, lowering the goal for diocesan assessments to more realistic levels for the support of the national church, and vesting more power in the office of the Presiding Bishop, who will take on more of a CEO role.

Will TREC, whose sacred slogan is, “Follow Jesus into the neighborhood; travel lightly,” fix what’s wrong with the Episcopal Church? Only time will tell. But how possible will it be for the Church to travel lightly when it’s so weighed down by its own cultural baggage, including its very brand? It’s not just the media that’s to blame for the relentless spotlight on the Church’s bishops; it’s also how the church puts itself forward.

The visibility of both Bishop Cook and the larger Episcopal Church in this sad and outrageous story of vehicular homicide says something about the denomination’s core identity. After all, this is the church with bishop in its very name, so is it any wonder that its bishops become conflated with the denomination and its mission–sometimes for good, sometimes for bad, and this time for worse? I’d guess not many people pay attention to the theological rationale for having bishops, or even less to the mechanics of consecrating them, but one fact remains: the Episcopal Church’s brand is inseparably linked to its bishops, and that can be a liability, as this case demonstrates so dramatically.

But at the end of the day, the story is not about church politics, not about the survival of another punch-drunk old-line denomination. The story that matters most is Tom Palermo, who leaves behind a grieving widow and two young children. That’s the point made by those, including many sorrowful Episcopalians, who’ve given to a fund set up for Palermo’s children. It’s also a point made by Baltimore cyclists on New Year’s Day, during a memorial ride that drew 1500 bikers. Fittingly enough, the ride began in the parking lot of Baltimore’s Episcopal Cathedral of the Incarnation, and made its way to the place where Palermo was struck, now a roadside altar with a ghost bike marking the spot.

Correction: Maryland Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton was initially identified as Eugene Sutton Taylor. RD regrets the error.  

53 Comments

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    It is tough on Christians these days because there are other different Christians who if they smell blood, they will move in for the kill.

  • whiskyjack1@gmail.com' Whiskyjack says:

    What strikes me most is the moral failing of both the Bishop (in leaving the scene) and the Church (in covering up the substance abuse problems of a senior official). Reminiscent in many ways of the reprehensible behavior of the Catholic Church’s response to the pedophile priests. Just another example of the moral failings of those who claim that there is no morality without God.

  • akhfontaine@gmail.com' AKHF says:

    So if the most important thing is Tom Palermo – then why use that line as almost an afterthought? I think you just wanted to use these events to self promote.

  • jcf1899@gmail.com' JCF says:

    When you say that TEC “continues to hemorrhage members”, I think that now it’s mainly that they’re dying off. Not a pleasant demographic reality, to be sure, but it’s not that people are walking out the door hurrumphing either.

    In the developed world, the Shrinking Church phenomenon has next to nothing to do w/ the liberal conservative dichotomy: conservative churches are shrinking too, except as (temporarily) propped up w/ birthrates and immigration. No one’s really figured out the face-time “Belonging” paradigm for the 21st century yet. We’re online or “bowling alone”.

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    The conservative church is slowly shrinking because they have crazy beliefs from ancient scriptures that are dangerous to humanity and the environment in a world that needs to solve real problems.

    The liberal church is in the process of removing the crazy and dangerous beliefs, but it ends up shrinking too, maybe even faster, because when the crazy beliefs are gone it seems they don’t really have any beliefs left. That is my impression. I have been trying to check it by finding out what are the beliefs of the liberal church. So far all I can find out is everything in liberal Christianity is optional.

  • MotherKaeton@gmail.com' liza49 says:

    Confession: One of my journalistic pet peeves is articles which ask a question in the headline and then don’t answer the question. Actually, the author didn’t address much; it was basically a rehash of the events from his perspective.

    I also question the wisdom of blaming something as big as a denomination
    for one specific incident — and he didn’t address that. Such a disappointment – from this author and RD. Even WaPo did a better job.

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    The topic is religion. There are lots of questions, and nobody really has any good answers. It might also be a mistake to listen to those who do think they have the answers.

  • MotherKaeton@gmail.com' liza49 says:

    Wait! What? First of all, the bishop was drunk. She was drunk when she hit Mr. Palermo. She was drunk when she sped off. She was drunk when she returned. That’s no excuse for her behavior – which was beyond gross impairment of judgment – but it also explains her behavior beyond “moral failing”. She is and will continue to be held accountable for her actions, despite the condition of her impairment at the time of the accident. And that is a good thing.

    Second: What evidence is there that the Church “covered up the substance abuse problemes of a senior official”? None. She was known to be an alcoholic in recovery when she was nominated. She was thoroughly examined by a psychologist before the election and declared in recovery. She was known as an alcoholic by the Search Committee, the Standing Committee, the Bishop and the Chancellor (diocesan lawyer). She was asked to self disclose to the people who were electing her. She did not.

    We can look back and say that 4 years of recovery is probably not sufficient time before accepting the challenges of such a high stress position as bishop. If the church is guilty of anything, it is ignorance of the disease of addiction.

    So, while you may have your problems with “the church” – and I can accept and respect that, sir – please do not make sweeping, false statements about this situation. It’s neither respectful or helpful. Thank you.

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    Why is bishop a “high stress position”? All they have to do is make up sermons, and being an addict seems to help with that.

  • MotherKaeton@gmail.com' liza49 says:

    That’s a pessimistic long range POV. I’m not a Pollyanna but I don’t think unanswered questions about this incident provide the death knell of this or any other religion. Because yes, I was keenly aware that the topic is religion.

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    I think that is true, questions about this incident or any other incident don’t matter much. The important questions are about what is the religion? Is it just a continuation of something with roots in antiquity?

  • MotherKaeton@gmail.com' liza49 says:

    Your question and answer reveal just how much you don’t know.

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    I don’t know because the questions can’t be answered without sinking the religion deeper into the mess that religion has created.

  • whiskyjack1@gmail.com' Whiskyjack says:

    I disagree with you. I think that it is a moral failing to assume control of an automobile while intoxicated. It is a moral failing to leave the scene of the accident. It is a moral failing to fail to respond to another cyclist’s plea to stop. Just as impairment due to alcohol or drugs does not exonerate guilt in a legal setting, it is no excuse from a moral standpoint.

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    Moral failings are something to be handled by the law. If religion gets involved in moral failings it will only create bigger problems.

  • whiskyjack1@gmail.com' Whiskyjack says:

    Agreed. One of the points of my original comment was to observe that the religious person and institution in this story (and many, many others) show little evidence of the moral superiority that (supposedly) religion confers.

  • MotherKaeton@gmail.com' liza49 says:

    Please, Jim Reed. You can check into the job description of a bishop without “sinking deeper into the mess that religion has created”. If you don’t want to do that, that’s fine. But, please don’t raise serious questions and answer them with inaccurate snark. It’s disrespectful not only of this incredible tragedy – A person died, for goodness sake! A wife and young children left without a husband and a father. A bishop in the church has seriously failed her vocation, her church and her own family! – but you disrespect your own intelligence.

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    In Christianity the theory behind that moral superiority is God and Jesus are in your heart guiding your life from moment to moment, and giving you a supernatural ability to express love for others. Theoretically this creates a class of people who are morally way way above the rest of the population who have the devil in their hearts guiding them. At least that was the theory.

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    Sometimes people are killed in this way. It is something for the law to handle. The primary responsibility of the clergy is to grow the church and propagate it down to the next generation. It does this by respecting and building the illusion. Sometimes in times of need people want to see it as something more than what it actually is.

  • cathylewis@cox.net' Realitycheck says:

    The group to which she was known to be an alcoholic was very small – and methinks, very naive. That she was permitted not to disclose to the very people who would elect her reflects yet another reason the leadership selection process needs an overhaul. Most people I know who are in recovery are very open about their situation because it’s a part of who they are. Having said that, I hope that our church, which has led the way on so much, will have the courage to look at its selection processes at the parish and episcopal level with an unflinching eye. Since that examination would have to come from the House of Bishops itself, though, I don’t hold out much hope.

  • judithmax@comcast.net' Judith Maxfield says:

    The criticism of my church is being heard. We of the laity who live further away from the inner workings of church authority are probably very shocked and betrayed. I hope the windows will be thrown open for fresh air, repentance and forgiveness.
    Reflection: Love is patient, love is kind. The other matter of numbers, moral authority and thus, I am learning in some of the below responses that the bottom line might be – and i think it is – an matter of what you think “god” is for you. If you believe god is a paternal father who resides in a remote place called Heaven who will sweep in as moral authority to either admonish, punish, or clean up your mess, you have placed yourself in a very un-grown up place, child like but in grown up clothing. Some churches operate that way, telling you what exactly what to believe, no questions asked. To teach through experience is a more natural way so that “it is in your heart and in your mind”. Dogma is for children. So, I don’t see a large congregation as necessarily “successful”. That is a secular measurement. You can be a baptized heathen but not a questioning theologian, (i.e. how you see God and the consequences of human life as together; my definition). Having people who question the “why” is, I believe , what God wants us to do so that we can be fully adult with all the great possibilities we were designed to be, i.e. fully and gloriously human. So you want a simple creed? Go to your conservative churches then. Life has suffering, thats the deal. We’ll do anything to avoid that. Warning: It takes more work to stay an child-adult. I’ve been there, done that.
    So, thats my experience. Its about our human evolution. TEC helped me to grow up and I am not done until I die. I accept the deal given to me. I have a Peace the world cannot give.

  • nohit@aol.com' WaveTossed says:

    I’m a recovering alcoholic/addict, and I’m also a lifetime Episcopalian. One aspect of the disease of addiction that many non-alcoholics/addicts don’t understand is the cunning, baffling nature of relapse. I’m not totally sure of the timeline, but it seems that Heather Cook got her first DUI, went into rehab, and seemed to have been in recovery. She said all the “right” things and thus people “forgave” her and she got consecrated as Bishop Suffragen. But someitme after that, she stopped working her program, probably stopped going to meetings, didn’t contact her sponsor. And thus, she took the first drink and headed right back into active alcoholism. In this state, she drove drunk again, and killed another person, an innocent cyclist. I understand that she’s back in rehab. But one of the things that alcoholics have to learn — and believe me, I had to learn it, is that we ARE responsible for our actions and there are consequences. The people who consecrated her, I don’t think that they completely understood this fact. Probably they could have “forgiven” her but not consecrate her, at least not until she had many years of sobriety and a solid AA program. Now it’s water over the dam, but action needs to be taken, even if she is in rehab and back into recovery. There are grave consequences for ending an innocent life, and Heather needs to face them. Among other things, remove her from being a bishop, let her face her legal consequences, even if it means hard time in prison. One of the Steps in recovery is making amends to those the alcoholic has hurt. Right now, all I can do is pray for her and pray for her recovery.

  • nanbush5@gmail.com' nanbush says:

    I find this an ungracious and churlish essay, heavy on ill temper and altogether too free of any sense of the tragedies inherent on all sides of the impelling incident. As sad as that is, I find the unsparing judgmentalism of so many comments these past weeks to be equally hostile to the heart of the Christian witness.

    As for the grumpy comments about the impending demise of the Episcopal Church, try this piece: http://benirwin.me/2015/01/22/11-things-about-the-episcopal-church/

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    What is the heart of the Christian witness?

  • nanbush5@gmail.com' nanbush says:

    ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind . . . and your neighbor as yourself.’ It’s the “neighbor as yourself” part that’s hard, as witness today’s topic.

    Be kind of nice to think you were really interested and not just trolling.

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    I am questioning Christianity as much as I can. I think the “Love the Lord your God” part normally means love and respect the church, and don’t ask hard questions. I think that is where it breaks down.

  • nanbush5@gmail.com' nanbush says:

    The Christianity you’re questioning is one that a lot of us Christians want no part of either (which is why we get cranky about comments that lump everyone into the same tub. It’s like saying you can’t stand pie because you don’t like rhubarb.) And heaven knows, the way things are going just now, there’s more than enough to criticize and get sick over. However, about your comment, no way are God and church interchangeable! Probably some people do conflate the two, but they likely take the Bible as something dictated word-for-word by a big man-like being in the sky, too. And if you honestly think a person can’t ask hard questions and be Christian, you should read Peter Rollins! Short answer, I think, is that where it really breaks down is in which branch/es of Christianity you’re talking about and who you’re reading.

  • cgoslingpbc@aol.com' cgosling says:

    Too bad the bishop was not Catholic so she could confess her sins and start over with a clean slate. Islam, LDS, Hebrew and Christian leaders of the past just had a chat with God and proclaimed his new doctrine to make their desires legal and sinless.Oh, for the good old days.

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    You are right in what you say about the questioning and the branches of Christianity and what is happening today. Behind all those things, I have another question about just what Christianity is. We can now see from a study of history and the Bible that the story of Jesus is a story from the last decades of the first century, and before that you have the earlier extensive writings of Paul that show a Christianity without any of the gospel Jesus stories from later in the century. The basic question about Christianity is is the Jesus story a myth that was developed in the last part of the century, and said to be about events from decades earlier? I think it is clear from history and the Bible, Jesus is a myth. So what is Christianity? At some level it is dedicating your life to belief in the myth. The current direction of liberal Christianity seems to be traditional creeds and beliefs are optional, maybe there is no actual heaven and hell. Maybe you are not required to believe in the traditional concept of the Trinity.

    All the huge questions about the current disaster of global conservative Christianity are getting in the way of a deeper conversation about the Jesus myth. I think it is hard to get the world focused on this important issue.

  • brook.h.packard@gmail.com' Brook Packard says:

    So Ben Irwin loves 11 things about the Episcopal Church. Good for Ben! He’s not one of the 19,000 a year who leave TEC.

  • goodthunder@everestkc.net' Goodthunder says:

    The most honest response for the Diocese of Maryland is for both Bishops to tender their resignations right now.

  • monika.fischer55@gmail.com' mulberry26 . says:

    Some bishops are in high-responsibility and therefore high-stress positions and some are in very low-stress/low-responsibility positions. In the House of Bishops, there is no parity in terms responsibilities, nor is there any reflection of that when it comes to salary, benefits, entitlements, or status despite the fact that the HOB says it is a community. This tragedy reveals the flawed process of “discernment”, seminary training, absence of right reason, and TEC’s idolatrous worship of ordination.

  • nanbush5@gmail.com' nanbush says:

    Well, as much as I agree with you about the disaster of global evangelical Christianity–which I consider terrifying in its ignorance–I’m not prepared to say that Jesus is a myth (as opposed to mythological, but that’s another discussion), although stories about him have been mythologized. And on yet another hand, you’re right that it’s hard to get the world to look at real issues. I share your frustration on that.

    Paul’s letters came before the gospels, but he doesn’t talk about the ministry of Jesus because his entire perspective had been blown apart by that vision which totally restructured his sense of reality. He didn’t write about the human Jesus because to him that was of no interest; his total focus was on his perception of a risen and glorified spiritual Being with which he had had personal contact, and which he identified as the Christ. Serendipitous timing, as he coincided with the early need of the Jesus followers for some evangelizing.
    Today we call experiences like his near-death experiences. I’ve been working with NDEs 30+ years, and this abrupt shift happens fairly often; Paul is obviously more intense and more articulate than most..Now, there is plenty of biblical evidence that Jesus, too, had multiple spiritual encounters of this or a similar type, giving him the unshakable belief in love as central, caring for each other, service, lack of interest in material success, his healing abilities, and above all, his conviction of a having a relationship with a tremendous, personalized spiritual force (Father, God, what-you-will). Same thing happens to NDErs. Behind all the attempts to put these experiences into words, all the later theologizing and dogmatizing, all the intellectualizing of something which cannot be intellectualized–behind all those elements of religion lie this kind of spiritual experience in a single individual, whether Jesus, Mohammed, Zoroaster, Confucius…etc etc etc. And no, I’m not wanting to sensationalize NDEs; they’re quite common; the important thing is, they point to some links that seem worth following.

    Yeah, yeah, I know about the Hollywoodized NDE hype and the over-sentimentalizing and marketing and crap that goes with it. But that’s irrelevant, really. When you get past (or behind) all the fluff, something is going on. Take a look at my blog, dancingpastthedark.com. You may find some interesting commentary. Be easier to continue this conversation there, if you’re interested. Lots of questions like these. I think we’re talking about your deeper conversation.

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    Paul might not have been interested in the human Jesus because those stories weren’t invented yet. Paul got his Jesus from old testament scriptures, and from his vision. If there had been an actual Jesus of Nazareth and the stories were out there in oral tradition, there are many places in his writings where he would logically have used them. He couldn’t use those Jesus traditions because they were a later addition. We still have the same contradiction, Christianity relies on having an oral tradition that matches the later gospel stories, and is different from the written record of the time. I think it is hard for Christianity to see the obvious truth here because they have all those centuries of working things into what they want to see.

  • psywww@gmail.com' Russ Dewey says:

    John, check out John Shelby Spong’s talks at Chautauqua, on YouTube, to see Christianity without the supernatural theism. Spong uses the latest Biblical scholarship to reconstruct the original teachings, and he recognizes myth and exaggeration as teaching tools, the way they were employed throughout Judaism.

    As for the historical reality of Jesus, it is plausible among other reasons because about 30 would-be Messiahs were put to death by the Romans during those times of Jewish uprisings. In the case of at least one later messiah candidate, bar Kokhba, there is physical evidence of his people’s last hiding place, in a cave. We also know end-times thinking (in which the Sons of Light would be pitted against the Sons of Darkness) was in the air at the time, because of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

    IMHO one can easily tell which parts of the Bible were borrowed from earlier religions, because we know about those earlier traditions (like Mithraism, Osiris worship, etc). No surprise, all the supernatural elements are mythic “memes” from the time, not so different from super-hero features of the present day.

    But I agree with Ehrman, a secular scholar who says there is actually good reason to think there was a historic Jesus. You can use evidence from the text itself to figure out what are the earliest segments, and a single “voice” of Jesus emerges as it does with all great writers. E.g. he never spoke in the first person (the book of John is a late addition). He taught in parables. He believed the end times were close by. It’s the rest of his message, and the thrust of his teaching…what to do and how to live… that interests scholars of the “historical Jesus.”

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    The latest Biblical scholarship seems to be splitting into two camps. One side says Jesus was an historical person, but the miracles were myths that were added. The other side says even Jesus the man was a myth because his story was invented in the latter part of the first century.

    Ehrman drew heavy criticism after his Is Jesus Real book. In his later works he seems to be less sure about things in the controversial topic.

  • psywww@gmail.com' Russ Dewey says:

    I’ve also seen what I call the “Rosa Parks” scenario. Ms. Parks is often called the founding mother of the civil rights movement. She refused to move to the back of the bus, which (according to one creation story) started it all. But she never participated in civil rights marches or demonstrations after that. However, the seed she planted grew and grew.

    If it was one or two thousand years ago maybe we would have a whole set of Rosa Parks stories, including from her childhood, but especially emphasizing her heroic confrontation with Wallace on the courtroom steps, etc! 🙂

    I.e. Jesus may have been a real man (much like John the Baptist) but the movement definitely took on a life of its own.

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    There may have been a first century apocalyptic preacher named Jesus, in fact there probably was, but that is not the subject of any of the books of the New Testament. The gospels were written later, and they were about the stories they were making up. The writings of Paul were about the Jesus that was being found by him and others in Old Testament scriptures, and a few visions. Acts was a late first century novel. Revelation was crazy religion. If there was this Jesus preacher, none of the new testament canon was written about him, so I don’t think he could be the Jesus of Christianity.

  • phillinj@slu.edu' NancyP says:

    I think this got wider attention due to the “man bites dog” aspect of a woman bishop. One Roman Catholic bishop or second in command in an RC diocese has had a DUI vehicular homicide hit-and-run in the last few years (that I recall). That case came and went as a mainly local story. In this case the discernment process has run aground in selecting someone whose first instinct in trouble is to hide, not deal with the facts. This is not the action of a leader. Not all drunks panic*, and a panic episode is a charitable (and likely) interpretation of her initial actions. I do object to individuals generalizing about the whole denomination and about women clergy based on the actions of one individual, in order to make their point. Alcoholism and drunk driving is quite prevalent, can be a problem in otherwise high-functioning people, and it’s a guarantee that a large organization will have an executive or leader that is impaired by alcohol. In general, religious organizations are more likely to be a bit naive about the possibility of relapse despite apparently sincere repentance.
    ^Best example of not panicking while drunk: Winston Churchill – apparently he was potted for the entirety of WWII.

  • garry.marley@mail.okstate.edu' dogged says:

    “There’s no credible evidence linking the Church’s alarming stats to its embrace of liberal policies, but that hasn’t stopped the right from relentlessly hammering the claim.” Oh really, Prof. Todd?
    A personal testimony will suffice here:
    Since the swinging 60s, the church of my Baptism, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America or ELCA, marketed itself as a prophetic sounding board for the Leftist policies of the Democrat Party. Nuclear disarmaments & freezes, women’s “reproductive health” issues, a zealous LGBT advocacy, open borders, redistribution of wealth, racial & ethnic quotas —-You name it and they were out there painting a pious veneer onto some very thorny secular movements. Jesus morphed into a hip barefoot Marxist hawking “social justice” and “the people’s revolution”. Soapy revisionism and imploded theology.
    But the membership of Liberal Protestant bodies is in a stampede—out the door. Bad karma perhaps?

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    So most of Christianity sold their soul to the party of the rich. Now instead of a legacy of thorny progressive causes, we have the gap between rich and others growing 10 fold. Wall Street wins while the rest of us lose. At the end of the last Republican administration that meant lose jobs, lose health care, lose pensions, lose homes. The rich manged to make nice profit from it all, and they did it with that conservative Christian voting block.

  • psadair71@yahoo.com' PieRatz says:

    This story serves to illuminate our social conditioning in regards to reverence and expectations for those with ministerial credentials. This is a non-story (except for the obvious tragedies) when the driver is a plumber or a salesman.

  • admin@baltimorebrew.com' baltimorebrew says:

    More, quite a bit more, from us at Baltimore Brew.
    https://www.baltimorebrew.com/2015/01/27/a-spiritual-leaders-fall-from-grace/

  • learnclub@aol.com' SisterLea says:

    You might like THE POWER OF PARABLE, How Fiction by Jesus Became Fiction about Jesus by John Dominic Crossan. Crossan also has some good YouTube videos.

  • judithmax@comcast.net' Judith Maxfield says:

    Right on!!! RD has a lot of trolling. Is it possible God won’t leave them alone? God can be irksome.

  • judithmax@comcast.net' Judith Maxfield says:

    This is beginning to sound like a broken record.

  • judithmax@comcast.net' Judith Maxfield says:

    Are you looking for belief as a kind of dogma? It sounds like it. What about experience coming from within? Its kinder, respectful and more real.
    My episcopal church is growing. The belief is a word that can also mean “trust” the messenger even when you don’t quite get the message. It takes time, as in evolution. By messenger, for us it Jesus the messiah, which I think means messenger, the anointed one. Some people want quick scientific evidence. Wrong question from mind games.

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    Science has done very well over the long run by eliminating false beliefs. Jesus might be like that. If the concept of Jesus was developed and refined at the end of the first Christian century, and the church has developed along lines of belief that the belief is the most important thing, then imagine how much more insight and inspiration the episcopal church would be capable of once they are free from the old dogmas. Jesus is holding them back from a religious perspective.

  • judithmax@comcast.net' Judith Maxfield says:

    I disagree for now on one point – your last line. Big statement, but its too broad and illogical for the Christian religion. Care to expand? TEC is known most for self examination and in the lead of practice to be relevant. Thats why we are the moving target for the evangelicals.
    Our religious perspective includes the acceptance of scientific discoveries, evolution, philosophy and the humanities, the full inclusion of all human beings. The basis for this is in the attitude of Jesus above all else. Full acceptance of gender id is not an issue for ordination. No problem.

    So what you are saying leaves me clueless. I think it was Cranmer, the english bishop who was burned at the stake by catholic Queen Mary that coined the statement the Anglican church is like a three legged stool, the legs being reason, scripture, practice. (Reason is interchangeable with experience.) The blend of all three is “via media” in COE and TEC. We have conservatives in TEC ( mainly in the red states) because of via media, trying to hold differences together. Its painful.
    Can you talk more about your last line? I’m curious.

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    What if the concept of Jesus is a myth that was developed by the Christian church in the last half of the first century, and in the following centuries? I believe the New Testament shows that is the case. By accepting science and the other things you mention TEC is at the lead of solving many of the problems in Christianity today. There are a lot of problems. It all starts by Christianity dedicating their life to belief in a myth, and what they have had to do to expand that belief. No matter how many problems you solve, at the heart is a belief in something not true. No matter how much you evolve Jesus into the ultimate good guy, it is still make-believe. There will always be those who are going to point that out to you. Christianity has always had to find a way to silence those people. You can evolve that process into something more humane, and be much more Christ-like in how you treat those who point out your error than other branches of Christianity, but the problem will always be there as long as the myth is at the heart of the belief structure of your church. When put that way, it seems like there is no way that this world is going to understand, at least not at this point in time.

  • judithmax@comcast.net' Judith Maxfield says:

    That has to make the people who knew him in the flesh were liars. I will point out to you that I don’t need to “prove” that Jesus was a human that walked the earth at one time, just as you cannot prove that he is not make-believe. There is a problem in operating from via negativa to build a case. Is TEC trying to silence people? Show me.
    Please do not talk in generalities.
    Frankly, from a scholarly point of view, some of your positions do not follow in a sequence of logic even if its in a secular debate. As I read “Ok, therefore….” it does not add up in a substantial methodology.
    we can go on and on over this. I do think one can’t find the real Jesus in the Gospel because they stand on the outside thinking in their heads what its all about. Its not science, and thus cannot work that way. Human attitudes cannot replaced in a test tube -at least not yet, I hope never because then we will be controlled in the most horrible way. Yes, Christianity got it wrong when it became a state religion. But there have always been those who did get it, main;y by suffering with the displaced and poor. The witnesses? Many, as in St Francis, M.L. King, Diedrich Bonhöffer, Bishop Romero, and many more. I accept other forms of belief that are helpful and do no harm. I don’t accept magic as an answer as you suggested as being myth. There are existential Truths best experienced away from science to rightly ask “Why”?

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    Paul did not personally know a “Jesus”. He just had his vision, and the old testament scriptures that he applied to Jesus. The gospels were from later decades. They were written one building upon another. There is no first hand account of anyone who knew a “Jesus”. They were obviously making things up. They should be put in the category of fiction. That is what Christianity will ultimately have to deal with.

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