James Albert "Bishop" Pike

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James Albert "Bishop" Pike

Birthdate: (56)
Birthplace: Oklahoma City, OK
Death: Died in Jaffa, Isreal
Immediate Family:

Son of James Albert Pike and Pearl Agatha Wimsatt
Husband of <private> Kennedy; <private> Yanovsky and <private> Alvies
Father of <private> Pike; James Albert Pike; <private> Pike and <private> Pike

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Immediate Family

About James Albert "Bishop" Pike


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

His outspoken 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, racial desegregation, and the acceptance of LGBT people within mainline churches. Pike was the fifth Bishop of California.

Early life

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; but, while attending the University of Santa Clara, he came to consider himself an agnostic. Pike earned a doctorate from Yale Law School and married Jane Alvies. He served as an attorney in Washington, D.C., for the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) during Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal era and taught Law at George Washington University. After his first marriage ended in divorce (later annulled), Pike married Esther Yanovsky. In World War II, he served with Naval Intelligence.

Conversion and early church life

After WWII, Pike and his wife joined the Episcopal Church. He entered, first, the Virginia Theological Seminary and, then, the Union Theological seminary and began to prepare for the priesthood. He was ordained in 1946, first serving as an assistant at St. John's, Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C., and then as Rector of Christ Church in Poughkeepsie, New York. He next became head of the Department of Religion and chaplain at Columbia University. He left Columbia in 1952 to become the Dean of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, New York. Using his new position and media savvy, he picked a fight with 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 Sewanee: 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 that 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. It was also at this time that he publicly challenged Senator Joseph McCarthy's allegation that 7,000 U.S. pastors were part of the Kremlin's conspiracy; and, when the newly elected President Dwight D. Eisenhower backed up Pike, McCarthy and his movement began to lose their influence.

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.

Election as bishop

He 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. In this position, he served until 1966, when he abdicated/resigned. At that point, he began to work for the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, a liberal, private-sector think tank.

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 Kennedy's presidential campaign because of the pre-Vatican II Catholic teachings of the time. 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. He also recognized a Methodist minister as having dual ordination and freedom to serve in the diocese. 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.

Among his notable accomplishments, Pike met with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during his march to Selma, Alabama.

Pike's theology was profoundly challenging to the Church, involving the rejection of central Christian beliefs. His writings questioned a number of widely regarded theological stances, including the virginity of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and the doctrine of Hell, and the Trinity. He famously called for "fewer beliefs, more belief." 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. However, he was censured in 1966 by his brother bishops and resigned his position shortly thereafter.

In his personal life, Pike was a chain-smoker and an alcoholic. His charismatic personality drew many people to him, including his secretary Maren Hackett, with whom he developed a romantic relationship that cost him his second marriage in 1969.

The Other Side

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.[6] Pike led a public (and, for the Church, embarrassing) 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, who served at the time as a Disciples of Christ minister. Pike detailed these experiences in his book The Other Side.


In September 1969, Pike and his third wife Diane drove into the Judean Desert, searching for proof of the historical Jesus. With typical Pike bravado, they were unprepared for the journey; and, when their car broke down and became stuck, Diane Pike told her husband to stay in the shade of the car to protect himself from the heat of the desert sun, and not to go anywhere. Diane walked down a wadi to a grocery to seek help. The men there asked where she'd come from. She pointed to the wadi; they said "That's impossible. No one can do that." Help was obtained, but by the time they arrived back at the car, they found that James had wandered off, in violation of instructions, and later his body was recovered. This account came directly from Diane Kennedy Pike's verbal account to a group she and her partner Oso Lorrance were leading to Egypt, Jordan and Israel in 1975 and, following his wishes and those of his family, buried in the Protestant cemetery in Jaffa, Israel.

In literature

James Pike was an inspiration for the character of Timothy Archer in Philip K. Dick's book, The Transmigration of Timothy Archer. They were friends, and Pike officiated at Dick's wedding to Nancy Hackett, step-daughter of Maren Hackett (1966).
Joan Didion wrote about Pike and the building of the Grace Cathedral in her collection of essays, The White Album (1979).
E. L. Doctorow includes Pike as a fictionalized character in his novel, City of God (2000).
Sam Peckinpah may have appropriated his name for the anti-hero Pike Bishop (played by William Holden) of his Western The Wild Bunch (1969).

Major works


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James Albert "Bishop" Pike's Timeline

February 14, 1913
Oklahoma City, OK
Age 32
Washington DC
September 2, 1969
Age 56
Jaffa, Isreal