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.
But things get even more bizarre. We are told in Acts that the girl's owners are furious that Paul has effectively robbed them of their principal source of income and that they therefore stir up controversy and get him thrown in prison. But on the Bishop's reading, Paul is just getting what he deserved: "That's pretty much where he put himself by his own refusal to recognize that she too shares in God's nature, just as much as he does -- maybe more so!" She seems to rejoice that a mid-first-century Philippian version of the liberal thought police had the good sense to imprison the patriarchal Paul for his deep intolerance of fallen spirits! You see why this sermon reminded me of that New Yorker cartoon.
That night in prison, we are told, Paul and Silas sang hymns of praise to God and preached the Gospel to their jailors. Jefferts Schori reads this, strangely, as Paul coming to his senses at last, remembering God, dropping the annoyance he felt toward the girl, and embracing the spirit of compassion. Wouldn't it be a lot simpler and clearer to say that Paul, who had never "forgotten God," quite consistently showed compassion both toward the possessed girl and the unevangelized jailor, delivering the former and preaching the Gospel to the latter?