The PBS program Bill Moyers Journal yesterday interviewed Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church USA and the first woman to lead a national Anglican church. Schori is an interesting figure. As the interview shows, her background as an oceanographer gives her an appreciation of the diversity of God’s creation. Science also shapes her historical awareness that tradition and expert opinion always evolve in response to new data, and that somehow the enterprise (be it science or religion) can continue through change without losing legitimacy. Moyers’ leading questions got on my nerves; he persisted in framing the issues as us-versus-them, seeming not to hear Schori’s primary emphasis on reconciliation, coexistence and patience.
The transcript and video are both available on the site, along with background material on the conflict over homosexuality in the church. I may be asking too much from television, but I wish the cultural issues didn’t always upstage the theological ones in coverage of the Anglican schism. Apart from her brave stance on gays’ and women’s equality, what does Bishop Schori believe about God, Jesus, the atonement, grace, salvation…you know, those things that were actually important enough to have more than six Bible verses written about them? What are the different positions on these topics within the Anglican Communion, and how do those divisions track the pro-gay/anti-gay split, or not?
Some quotes from Bishop Schori:
“The incredible wonder of God’s creation and the incredible diversity of God’s creation. Things that come in different sizes and colors and shapes and body forms are all part of that incredible diversity of creation that’s present below the waters where we never even see them. And the Psalms tell us that God delights in that.
“My faith journey has been, as a scientist, about discovering the wonder of creation. That there– there’s a prayer that we, in the Episcopal Church use after baptism that prays that the newly baptized may receive the gift of joy and wonder in all God’s works. The kind of work that I did as a scientist was a piece of that, just a small piece.”
“Religion is at its best, I think, an invitation into relationship. It’s not necessarily a set of instructions for how you deal with every challenging person you run across in the world. It has that at its depth, but it– does not give one permission to say, “This person is out, and this one’s okay and acceptable.” And I– it continually invites us into a larger understanding of that relationship.”
“I do believe [homosexuality is] a moral issue because it’s about how we love our neighbor. It’s about how we live in relationship to God and our neighbors. When I look at other instances in church history, when we’ve been faced with something similar– the history in this country over the– over slavery. The church in the north . Much of it came to a different conclusion than the church in the south– about the morality of slavery.
“And neither side was comfortable with the breadth of understanding that could include the other. In practice, the Episcopal Church didn’t kick out the Confederate part of the church. They kept calling the roll during the Civil War, and when the war was over, they welcomed them back. But in the– in the heat of the moment it’s pretty tough to live with that kind of breadth that can include a position that seems so radically opposed.”
[On the Christian tradition’s difficulty in affirming sexuality:] “I think part of it’s our Greek heritage. You know, our tendency toward dualism, that– you know, one part of a human being or a male human being– exemplifies spirit and– a female human being is somehow lesser and– demonstrates the flesh. “With our long-development of an anthropology that says that heterosexual male is a normative human being. We’re– we’ve only begun in the last 150 years to really question that.
“And I believe that the wrestling with the place of women in leadership, particularly in public leadership, is directly related to the same kind of issue over the position of gay and lesbian people in leadership, in public leadership.”
I couldn’t agree with you more about the need to hear our Presiding Bishop talk openly and candidly about her views on the core theological issues of our faith. Her failure thus far to do so is the single biggest reason I find her leadership frustrating.
As one of my clergy colleagues says of her, it’s as though she has a “moving target” Christology.
Why is she so reticent to take a clearly-defined stand on who Jesus is? Is it because she really is – as her conservative critics claim – someone who disavows the faith of the Church as articulated by the Nicene Creed and the Eucharistic prayers of the Book of Common Prayer?
If that’s not the case, why then does she not just come out and affirm Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior?
We need strong leadership on the social issues of our day. But we also need strong leadership to affirm the historic faith of the Church.
Contrary to what the extremes of the Episcopal Left and Episcopal Right might say, those two are not necessarily in conflict.
So good to hear you say that. I was feeling like the Last Unicorn out here till I found your blog. When will we learn that peacemaking in a diverse church is more than simply stifling all conversation about important things?
In case you’re interested, I’ve started a new blog:
Check it out.