James Pike

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James Pike
Bishop of California
James a pike.jpg
Pike in 1966
ChurchEpiscopal Church in the United States of America
In office1958–1966
PredecessorKarl M. Block
SuccessorC. Kilmer Myers
Personal details
Born(1913-02-14)February 14, 1913
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Diedc. September 3–7, 1969 (aged 56)
Wadi Mashash, Israel
  • Jane Alvies (m. 1938; civilly div. 1941)[1]
  • Esther Yanovsky (m. 1942;[2] div. 1966)
  • Diane Kennedy (m. 1968)
Alma mater

James Albert Pike (February 14, 1913 – c. September 3–7, 1969)[4] was an American Episcopal bishop, prolific writer, and one of the first mainline religious figures to appear regularly on television.

His outspoken, and to some, heretical views on many theological and social issues made him one of the most controversial public figures of his time. He was an early proponent of ordination of women and racial desegregation within mainline churches.[5] Pike was the fifth Bishop of California. Late in his life he explored psychic experimentation in an effort to contact his recently deceased son.

Early life[edit]

Pike was born in Oklahoma City on February 14, 1913. His father died when he was two, and his mother married California attorney Claude McFadden. The young Pike was a Roman Catholic and considered the priesthood; however, while attending the University of Santa Clara (1930–1932), he came to consider himself an agnostic. Thereafter, Pike transferred to the University of California, Los Angeles, for a year (1932–1933) before transferring again to the University of Southern California, where he received his undergraduate degree in 1934 and LL.B. in 1936. Subsequently, he earned his J.S.D. (1938) degree from Yale Law School as a Sterling Fellow. He was admitted to the California bar in 1936. After leaving Yale, he served as a staff attorney for the New Deal-era Securities and Exchange Commission in Washington, D.C. from 1938 to 1942. He also served as a lecturer in law at the Catholic University of America (1938–1939) and George Washington University (1938–1942). In the Second World War, he served with Naval Intelligence.

Conversion and early church life[edit]

After the war, Pike and his second wife joined the Episcopal Church. He first entered Virginia Theological Seminary (1945–1946) and then Union Theological Seminary (B.Div., 1951) to prepare for the priesthood. Pike was ordained as a deacon by the Bishop of Washington D.C., Angus Dun, on December 21, 1944.[6] He was ordained as a priest on November 1, 1946.[6]

Pike first served as a curate at St. John's Episcopal Church, Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C. from 1944 to 1946.[6] He then accepted an appointment as Rector of Christ Church, Poughkeepsie where he served Episcopalian students at Vassar College.[7][6] In 1949, he became chaplain at Columbia University.[6]

Pike graduated from Union Theological Seminary in 1951.[6] Remaining on the adjunct faculty of Columbia, Pike became the Dean of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in 1952. Using his new position and media savvy, he vociferously opposed the local Catholic bishops over their attacks on Planned Parenthood and their opposition to birth control. He accepted an invitation to receive an honorary doctorate from the University of the South in Tennessee, but then publicly declined after finding that the university did not admit African Americans. An example of Pike's use of the media is how he released his letter to The New York Times before it was delivered to Sewanee's trustees: they heard the news when reporters called for reactions.[5] It was also at this time that he publicly challenged Senator Joseph McCarthy's allegation that 7,000 American pastors were part of a Kremlin conspiracy; when the newly elected President Dwight D. Eisenhower backed up Pike, McCarthy and his movement began to lose their influence.[8]

In New York, Pike reached a large audience with liberal sermons and weekly television programs. Common topics included birth control, abortion laws, racism, capital punishment, apartheid, antisemitism, and farm worker exploitation.[9]

Election as bishop[edit]

Pike was elected as bishop coadjutor of California in 1958 and succeeded to the see a few months later, following the death of his predecessor, Karl Morgan Block. He served in this position until 1966, when he resigned to become a senior fellow for the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions in Santa Barbara, California, a liberal think tank founded by Robert Maynard Hutchins. During this period, he was an adjunct professor at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law (1966–1967) and the Graduate Theological Union (1966).

Pike with Martin Luther King Jr. at a press conference after the march to Selma, Alabama

His episcopate was marked by both professional and personal controversy. He was one of the leaders of the Protestants and Other Americans United for the Separation of Church and State movement, which advocated against John F. Kennedy's presidential campaign because of Catholic teachings.[10] While at Grace Cathedral, he was involved with promoting a living wage for workers in San Francisco, the acceptance of LGBT people in the church, and civil rights.[citation needed] He also recognized a Methodist minister as having dual ordination and freedom to serve in the diocese.[11] Later, he ordained a woman as a first-order deacon, now known as a "transitional deacon", usually the first step in the process towards ordination in the priesthood in the Episcopal church. The ordination was not approved until after Pike's death.[12]

Among his notable accomplishments, Pike invited Martin Luther King Jr. to speak at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco in 1965 following his march to Selma, Alabama.

Pike's theology involved the rejection of central Christian beliefs. His writings questioned a number of widely accepted beliefs, including the virginity of Mary, the Mother of Jesus;[13] the doctrine of Hell, and the Trinity.[13] He famously called for "fewer beliefs, more belief."[12] Heresy procedures were begun in 1962, 1964, 1965, and 1966, each growing in intensity, but in the end the Church decided it was not in the denomination's best interest to pursue an actual heresy trial.[5] He was censured in 1966 by the House of Bishops, which said "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."[6]

In his personal life, Pike had been a chain-smoker and an alcoholic.[14] His charismatic personality drew many people to him, including Maren Hackett Bergrud, with whom he developed a romantic relationship after the failure of his second marriage in 1965.

The Other Side[edit]

In 1966, Pike's son Jim took his own life in a New York City hotel room. Shortly after his son's death, Pike reported experiencing poltergeist phenomena—books vanishing and reappearing, safety pins open and indicating the approximate hour of his son's death, half the clothes in a closet disarranged and heaped up.[15] Pike led a public pursuit of various spiritualist and clairvoyant methods of contacting his deceased son to reconcile. In September 1967, Pike participated in a televised séance with his dead son through the medium Arthur Ford, an ordained minister in the Disciples of Christ church. Pike detailed these experiences in his book The Other Side.

Personal life and death[edit]

Pike's first marriage to Jane Alvies ended in divorce in 1941. He married Esther Yanovsky in 1942. She filed for divorce from Pike in 1966. They had four children, two boys and two girls.[citation needed] He lived with, but did not marry, his secretary Maren Bergrud, until 1967, when she committed suicide after they had an argument (he performed the funeral for her in his church). In 1968 he married Diane Kennedy (born 1938), with whom he had collaborated on a book detailing his experience with spiritualism.[5]

In August 1969, Pike and Diane traveled to Israel, to perform research for a proposed book. On September 2 they drove into the Judean Desert. In preparation for a book on the historical Jesus, they wanted to have a feeling for the landscape where Jesus went into the wilderness to fast and meditate for 40 days. They were unprepared for the journey, having taken along only two Cokes and no water. When their rented car became stuck in a deep rut, the two were not able to extract it (the car's jack was defective). After an hour of stressful efforts to get the car to move, they decided to walk toward Qumran, where they knew there would be water. What they did not know was that they were far south of Qumran in Wadi Mashash. After two hours of walking in the very hot sun, Pike felt he had to rest. Diane was concerned that, without water, they would both die there. She determined to walk on to find help. After ten long hours of climbing on the walls of the canyon and stumbling along a road under construction, she came upon a camp of Arab laborers. They gave her tea to drink until the foreman came and took her to the nearest army camp. It took four days to find Pike's body. He had tried to follow his wife and had fallen more than 60 feet down a steep canyon wall where he died. The probable date of his death is September 2; some sources cite it as between September 3 and 7. He was buried in the Protestant cemetery in Jaffa, Israel, on September 8, 1969.

In literature[edit]

Major works[edit]

  • Beyond Anxiety: The Christian Answer to Fear, Frustration, Guilt, Indecision, Inhibition, Loneliness, Despair. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. 1953.
  • The Faith of the Church. With Pittenger, Norman. The Church's Teaching. 3. Greenwich, Connecticut: Seabury Press. 1953.
  • If You Marry Outside Your Faith: Counsel on Mixed Marriage. New York: Harper & Brothers. 1954.
  • Roadblocks to Faith. With Krumm, John M. New York: Morehouse-Gorham. 1954.
  • Doing the Truth. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Co. 1955.
  • The Church, Politics and Society. With Pyle, John W. New York: Morehouse-Gorham. 1955.
  • Man in the Middle. With Johnson, Howard A. Greenwich, Connecticut: Seabury Press. 1956.
  • Modern Canterbury Pilgrims. Editor. New York: Morehouse-Gorham. 1956.
  • The Next Day. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Co. 1957.
    • Also published by MacMillan in 1968 with the title Facing the Next Day.
  • A Roman Catholic in the White House. With Byfield, Richard. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Co. 1960.
  • A New Look at Preaching. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. 1961.
  • Our Christmas Challenge. New York: Sterling. 1961.
  • Beyond the Law. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Co. 1963.
  • A Time for Christian Candor. New York: Harper & Rowe. 1964.
  • Teen-Agers and Sex. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall. 1965.
  • What is This Treasure. New York: Harper & Rowe. 1966.
  • If This Be Heresy. New York: Harper & Rowe. 1967.
  • You and the New Morality. New York: Harper & Rowe. 1967.
  • The Other Side. With Kennedy, Diane. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Co. 1968.



  1. ^ Robertson 2004, pp. 28, 31, 93.
  2. ^ Robertson 2004, p. 35.
  3. ^ Robertson 2004, p. 206.
  4. ^ Armentrout & Slocum 2000, p. 401.
  5. ^ a b c d Maudlin, Michael G. (2004). "Be Careful What You Pray For". Books & Culture. Carol Stream, Illinois: Christianity Today. Retrieved October 9, 2017.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Armentrout, Donald S., "Pike, James Albert (1913–1969)" in the Dictionary of Christianity in America, Daniel G. Reid et al. editors, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1990).
  7. ^ Robertson|2004|
  8. ^ Robertson 2004, pp. 80–81.
  9. ^ Lampen, Michael. "Bishop James Pike: Visionary or Heretic?". Tales from the Crypt. Grace Cathedral. Archived from the original on March 11, 2007. Retrieved March 20, 2007.
  10. ^ Woodward, Kenneth L. (December 5, 2007). "Mitt Romney Is No Jack Kennedy". The New York Times. p. A31. Retrieved October 9, 2017.
  11. ^ Robertson 2004, pp. 101–102.
  12. ^ a b Pike 1967.
  13. ^ a b "Pike, James Albert," An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, The Episcopal Church, web version, accessed 9/28/2018
  14. ^ Robertson 2004, p. 126.
  15. ^ Christopher 1970.
  16. ^ "The Author with Bishop Pike". Philip K. Dick Trust. Archived from the original on April 1, 2007. Retrieved March 20, 2007.
  17. ^ Didion 1979.

Works cited[edit]

Armentrout, Donald S.; Slocum, Robert Boak, eds. (2000). "Pike, James Albert". An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church: A User-Friendly Reference for Episcopalians. New York: Church Publishing. pp. 401–402. Retrieved October 10, 2017.
Christopher, Milbourne (1970). ESP, Seers & Psychics: What the Occult Really Is. New York: Crowell. ISBN 978-0-690-26815-7.
Didion, Joan (1979). "James Pike, American". The White Album. New York: Simon and Schuster. pp. 51ff. ISBN 978-0-671-22685-5.
Pike, James A. (1967). If This Be Heresy. New York: Harper and Rowe Publishers.
Robertson, David M. (2004). A Passionate Pilgrim: A Biography of Bishop James A. Pike. New York: Vintage Books (published 2006). ISBN 978-0-375-72616-3.

Further reading[edit]

Holzer, Hans (1970). The Psychic World of Bishop Pike. New York: Crown Publishers. OCLC 67690.
Mickler, Michael L. (1989). James A. Pike: Bishop and Iconoclast (PhD diss.). Graduate Theological Union. OCLC 58745868.
Spraggett, Allen (1970). The Bishop Pike Story. Signet Mystic. New York: New American Library. OCLC 898265564.
Stearn, Jess (January 28, 1968). "Bishop Pike's Strange Séances". This Week, The Baltimore Sun.
Stringfellow, William; Towne, Anthony (1967). The Bishop Pike Affair: Scandals of Conscience and Heresy, Relevance and Solemnity in the Contemporary Church. New York: Harper & Row. OCLC 1598777.
 ———  (1976). The Death and Life of Bishop Pike. Garden City, New York: Doubleday. ISBN 978-0-385-07455-1.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
Unger, Merrill F. (1971). The Haunting of Bishop Pike: A Christian View of the Other Side. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House. ISBN 978-0-8423-1340-7.
Wolff, Richard (2014). "The Dean Pike Show: An Examination and Comparative Analysis of Bishop James A. Pike's 1950s Television Program". Journal of Media and Religion. 13 (2): 82–96. doi:10.1080/15348423.2014.909199. ISSN 1534-8415.

External links[edit]