September 1, 2009
(RNS) -- Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori on Thursday (Aug. 27) tried to tamp criticism she received last month after she denounced the "heresy" of individual salvation.
In a statement issued by church headquarters in New York, Jefferts Schori tried to clarify her remarks at the church's General Convention in Anaheim, Calif., saying that individualism is "basically unbiblical and un-Christian."
"If salvation is understood only as 'getting right with God' without considering 'getting right with (all) our neighbors,'" Jefferts Schori said in a statement, "then we've got a heresy (an unorthodox belief) on our hands."
In her opening speech at the Anaheim convention, Jefferts Schori called the belief that "we can be saved as individuals, that any of us alone can be in right relationship with God," the "great Western heresy."
Conservative Christians, particularly evangelicals, blasted Jefferts Schori's remarks as minimizing the role of personal faith in salvation.
Some also called her church "severed from Scripture" because of its progressive stance on gay rights.
Jefferts Schori acknowledged Thursday that "there have been varied reactions" from people who weren't at the General Convention "who heard or read an isolated comment without the context."
In Thursday's one-page statement, Jefferts Schori sought to put her remarks in a biblical context, saying that both Jesus and the Hebrew prophets criticized believers who claim to be worshipping correctly, but "ignore injustice done to their neighbors."
"Individualism ... is basically unbiblical and unchristian," Jefferts Schori said.
"Salvation depends on love of God and our relationship with Jesus, and we give evidence of our relationship with God in how we treat our neighbors, nearby and far away," she said. "Salvation is a gift from God, not something we can earn by our own works, but neither is salvation assured by words alone."
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