An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church

Pike, James Albert

(Feb. 14, 1913-c. Sept. 3-7, 1969). Controversial theologian and bishop. He was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Pike received his B.A. in 1934 and his LL.B. in 1936, both from the University of California at Los Angeles. In 1938 he received his J.S.D. from Yale University. After a law career in Washington, D. C., and service in the U. S. Navy, Pike decided to enter the ordained ministry. He studied at both Union Theological Seminary and the General Theological Seminary. Pike was ordained deacon on Dec. 21, 1944. He began his ordained ministry as curate at St. John's Church, Washington. He was ordained priest on Nov. 1, 1946. From 1947 until 1949 he was rector of Christ Church, Poughkeepsie, New York, and Episcopal chaplain at Vassar College. In 1949 Pike became chaplain at Columbia University and chair of the religion department. In 1952 he became the dean of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. On May 15, 1958, he was consecrated Bishop Coadjutor of California, and on Sept. 20, 1958, he became the fifth Bishop of California. He resigned this position on Sept. 15, 1966, to become Theologian-in-Residence at the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, Santa Barbara, California. Pike's controversial reputation was due to his passion and persistence in public issues such as birth control, women's rights, the racial crisis, McCarthyism, abortion, fair housing, the rights of homosexuals, censorship, civil liberties, and the Vietnam War. He was also critical of the church and its theology. His departure from orthodoxy began with an article in The Christian Century, Dec. 21, 1960, entitled “Three-pronged Synthesis.” He denied the historical virgin birth and claimed that Joseph was the human father of Jesus. He challenged the historical development of the doctrine of the Trinity, and called it “excess baggage.” He also experimented with the occult. In 1966 Bishop Henry Louttit of Florida presented five charges against Pike in the House of Bishops. One accusation was that Pike publicly taught doctrine contrary to that held by the Episcopal Church. The House of Bishops censured Pike and stated: “His writing and speaking on profound realities with which Christian faith and worship are concerned are too often marred by caricatures of treasured symbols and at the worst, by cheap vulgarizations of great expressions of the faith.” Pike was a prolific writer. His views are best stated in A Time for Christian Candor (1964), What Is This Treasure (1966), and If This Be Heresy (1967). He died in the Israeli desert some time between Sept. 3 and 7, 1969.

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