Wednesday, May 23, 2007
Saturday, May 19, 2007
American-Statesman: I realized on my way over here I didn't prepare any questions about what it's like to be the first woman to hold this job. I think part of that is maybe we've come to a place where we're not as surprised.
Katharine Jefferts Schori: My sense, though, is, for women who grew up without female role models in the church, it's a big deal. For children, who are growing up with more egalitarian models of leadership, it's not likely to be such a big deal. I'm aware that I represent something because of who I am, my gender. That's important to some people. It's certainly not a focus of mine.
I want to ask about that transition from the Roman tradition (attending a Catholic school) to the Anglican. I know you were young, so your faith wasn't fully formed, but how did the transition affect you?
Katharine Jefferts Schori: I had the gracious experience of going to a convent school directed by the Sacred Heart order, an order of French nuns. They were very structured but also willing to play. It was an experience of ordered freedom, which is something that Anglicanism takes quite seriously. So it's a consistent theme in my life. On feast days, we went to school and put on our gym suits instead of our uniforms. And I have vivid memories of these nuns in their full black habits gathering up all their skirts to run down the field to play kickball with us. So there was some real grace in that.
The Episcopal Church for me was a very different kind of church experience (from the large-scale Roman Catholic Latin Masses). It was an intimate community where people knew each other, where we knew the priest. He became a friend of my parents, and it was a place where people were invited to question, to ask questions, to wrestle with their faith.
I want to talk about your commencement address. These people are about to go off into the world representing the Episcopal Church with all the knowledge they gathered from this seminary. What do you think is the most important thing they need to understand?
Katharine Jefferts Schori: I reminded them that they will give thanks for the things they have learned here, but they will soon discover they haven't learned everything they need to know, that we only learn a lot of that by doing it. Much of that has to do with learning to love the people God puts around you. In all their diversity and challenge and blessing. I talked, as well, about my recent trip to Honduras and what leadership looks like there, leadership that's willing to bless the seeds that are already planted, to see the possibility in people who have almost nothing, to identify that and name it and encourage it to grow. That people are competent once they're challenged to be competent.
Let's talk about Bishop Akinola. You sent a letter to him asking him not to come to the U.S. and set up alternative episcopacies that would not recognize the Episcopal Church. He replied that it's ironic that you would ask him to follow custom when in fact your province has violated scriptural teachings on issues like homosexuality. Is there possibility for dialogue beyond this?
Katharine Jefferts Schori: I think the possibility for dialogue with him in particular is a challenge. The reality is that we have changed our scriptural understandings about all sorts of things, including sexual ethics. We teach something different about contraception than we did 50 years ago. We permit remarriage after divorce, despite what Jesus said about it. Homosexuality is the most recent in a long series of challenges. Bishop Akinola is arguing that we've changed our understanding. Yes, we have, but not wholly. It's a challenge to many people who don't want to talk about sexuality in public. If you look at attitudes toward sexuality in general, and homosexuality in particular, what they were like in this country 50 years ago, and compare it to what they're like in Nigeria today — pretty similar.
You are leading a denomination that is aging. It's not growing overall here (in the U.S.). How can you invigorate the church and keep it vibrant and relevant?
Katharine Jefferts Schori: Part of our challenge is to see the people who are around us, who may not be Anglo, who may not be primarily English-speaking, and say: "Here is a field ripe for harvest, even though we might not have done work as a church there before." The most rapidly growing parts of this church as a church are in some of those overseas dioceses like Haiti and Honduras and Dominican Republic. More forward-thinking dioceses are looking at the demographics and focusing their efforts on people who are there, not the people they wish were there or the people they're used to being there.
There's a young priest in Virginia who's starting a congregation. He talked about his way of gathering people to begin that conversation. He said, "One of the things I do is go to Starbucks and I sit down at a table and I put out this little paper tent that says 'Tell me your stories about God.' " It speaks to the reality of spiritual hunger of folks who may not have any experience with church at all. It means going out and speaking good news or listening to people and then offering news that fits. News that addresses the bad news that they're talking about.
Are you meeting any resistance to this?
Katharine Jefferts Schori: I think some people expect that the church should look like the church did when they were 15. The reality is, the church doesn't live unless it continues to change. And it's struggled with who's in and who's out from the very beginning. The first great controversies were about whether or not gentiles could be followers of Jesus. Do they have to be circumcised? Do they have to follow the dietary laws? We have struggled over and over again in this country with the place of slaves, African Americans, the place of immigrants, the place of women in the church. Today it's about the place of gay and lesbian people. There will be another group next. I don't know who it will be, but it's our human nature to say (we want) people like us.
Tuesday, February 06, 2007
By Cathy Lynn Grossman
February 5, 2007
Every time Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori dons her personalized vestments, there's a vision of sunrise.
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori wears new vestments, which depict a "new dawn" for the church.
Colors of the "new dawn," cited so often by the prophet Isaiah, are sewn into her personalized mantle and bishop's hat — an orange glow rises from a green hem to a dawn-blue band below purple heavens.
Jefferts Schori herself stands for a new day in her church:
• The first female presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, the U.S. branch of the worldwide Anglican Communion.
• The first and only female primate, head of one of the 38 national and regional churches, in the world's largest non-Catholic Christian denomination.
• The leader who faces a costly fracture among the faithful, a crack radiating across the Anglican world.
Since her election in June and installation in November, a tiny but influential number of churches from Virginia to California — "one-half of 1 percent of the 7,200 congregations," she says — have spurned her leadership and the liberal direction of the Episcopal Church to align with Southern Hemisphere traditionalists.
The long-simmering tensions between those who adhere to a strict interpretation of the Bible and those who read it less literally came to a boil in 2003. That's when the church's governing body approved the election of the church's first openly gay bishop, the Rev. V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.
Jefferts Schori has been excoriated by conservatives for her theological views. Some primates say they won't sit in the same room with her at her first meeting of the primates in Tanzania next week.
Yet, despite "white-hot animosity thrown at her, she's unflappable," New York Bishop Mark Sisk says.
Confronted with seemingly intractable conflicts, Jefferts Schori smiles like someone well versed in Matthew 6:25's refrain: "Be not anxious." The world is all of God, she says, so go forward.
"I'm no Pollyanna. I just try to look at the world with the expectation that I will find signs of God. The burning bush is an invitation, if we are willing to engage it."
She's at ease answering questions, speaking in a low voice, slowly and precisely. She zeros in to make a point by leaning forward to fix her intent gaze on a visitor.
She has had little time to personalize her functional New York office with its view of the United Nations. But one thing she treasures rests on her desk: a slice of shale embedded with an ammonite, a fossil ancestor of the chambered nautilus.
It is circular, complex, ruggedly beautiful — and has been extinct for 65 million years. It was a gift from her parents 30 years ago, as she commenced her first career in biological oceanography.
Jefferts Schori is as conversant on squids as on Scripture. She's also an instrument-rated pilot with a Cessna 172 stashed in Nevada, where she was bishop before taking national office. Lean and fit at 52, she spent Christmas Day climbing a snowy peak near Death Valley.
For all her adventurous spirit, scientific curiosity and pastoral experience since becoming a priest in 1994, she calls herself an introvert in her new book, "A Wing and a Prayer." Yet she says that "fear should not block faithfulness."
Or optimism. To hear her talk, the future of her denomination is brighter every day, with many "healthy, vital churches."
What of breakaway churches?
She's sad to see them go but not so sad that she won't fight for their properties. "The institution cannot give away its birthright and the gifts that belong to future generations. Our desire to reconcile continues, but if (the seceding churches) would prefer to be part of another tradition, then they are welcome to go. They just can't take what doesn't belong to them," she says, leaning forward.
"The church's laws are broad but they are there, and beyond these lines you cannot go. Crossing boundaries has consequences."
Condemnations from Global South primates?
Jefferts Schori steers the discussion to the positive, focusing on the mission she shares with many of the African primates to address the terrible plagues of war, poverty, disease and hunger.
"We can work on these together. Human need is so overwhelming that it seems incredibly sinful to spend time" on church politics.
What she omits: The Anglican Church in Tanzania recently declared itself in "severely impaired communion" with the Episcopal Church. The Archbishop of Uganda said he wouldn't meet with her because of her stance on biblical faith and morality.
The head of the Anglican Communion, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, who invited Jefferts Schori to Tanzania, also invited some dissident U.S. conservative leaders. But the Anglican Archbishop of Southern Africa has been quoted saying that to boycott a legitimately elected primate while "Africa is on fire ... is like fiddling while Rome burns" and "goes against God's fundamental call for unity and reconciliation."
Jefferts Schori is unruffled.
"It's not about me. This is not a table that belongs to any one province. It's God's table," she says.
What about her denomination's declining numbers?
Statistics don't scare her, she says. Yes, membership is down from 3.2 million in 1960 to 2.2 million today, a downward trend similar to all the mainline churches.
A new Gallup survey shows that the number of Americans who say they "consider themselves part of a Christian tradition" fell 6 percentage points, from 80 percent to 74 percent, from 1999 to 2006, while the number of people who say they are not part of any religious tradition rose from 13 percent to 18 percent in the same period.
"It's no longer the social norm to be a Christian," Jefferts Schori says. Her answer isn't to ramp up on orthodoxy but to reach out to all ages and cultures with Christlike social action.
Critics say she equivocates on essential doctrine — the necessity for atonement and the exclusivity of salvation through Christ. They cite interviews in which she has said living like Jesus in this world was a more urgent task than worrying about the next world.
"It's not my job to pick" who is saved. "It's God's job," she tells USA TODAY.
Yes, sin "is pervasive, part of human nature," but "it's not the centerpiece of the Christian message. If we spend our time talking about sin and depravity, it is all we see in the world," she says.
Here's where blood rushes into the blogs and critics pounce.
"Her theological statements are not orthodox Christian, not orthodox Anglican. Frankly, they're bizarre," says the Rev. Canon David Anderson, president of the American Anglican Council. He has aligned with a group of U.S. churches that now answer to the Archbishop of Nigeria.
Sisk disagrees sharply.
"She's profoundly faithful to the central claims of the church and the scriptures. People who say she's not are making that up. They just don't agree with her. And the fact that she stays calm in the face of a lot of pumped-up hype, that she just doesn't buy it, irritates them."
Indeed, asked about her critics, Jefferts Schori doesn't blink. She leans in, drops her voice even lower and cuts to the chase.
She sees two strands of faith: One is "most concerned with atonement, that Jesus died for our sins and our most important task is to repent." But the other is "the more gracious strand," says the bishop who dresses like a sunrise.
It "is to talk about life, to claim the joy and the blessings for good that it offers, to look forward.
"God became human in order that we may become divine. That's our task."
Thursday, February 01, 2007
We have this week buried another who worked from a large and ambitious vision. While Gerald Ford had less time than many others in the position for which he is best remembered, his funeral reminded us all of the need for healing of the hurts and ills in this world. His act of pardon, most unwelcome at the time, brought this nation healing, and he himself paid the price. Mercy is not altogether a popular virtue. But the compassionate urge toward healing – and healing for the whole world – is what motivates mercy.
That deep sense of righting the wrongs and injustices of this world is needed in ever-increasing abundance. We need creative and compassionate leaders who can help to find healing in Darfur and the Middle East – we need them today, as we needed them in Ireland and South Africa in the 1980s and 90s. There will be equally deep need in human communities as you move into this work and leave this place.
The search for equity, if we understand it to mean the basic dignity of each human being, underlies many of the world’s great religious traditions, especially those with which this part of the world is most familiar. The three Abrahamic faiths – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – seek a broad vision of peace with justice, known as shalom or salaam. Judaism embraces the great visions of the prophet Isaiah, of a banquet spread on a hillside, of a city set on a hill to which all the nations will come, and those visions find their specificity in a community where the hungry are fed, the ill healed, prisoners set free, the blind have their sight restored, and the poor hear good news about liberation from oppression.
Jesus’ first reported act of public ministry (in Luke’s gospel) is to read from that vision of Isaiah’s, and to say, "today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." In doing so, he claims that vision as his own. Christians seek to make that scripture reality in this day as well.
Islam draws its very name from the understanding that peace comes in submission to the will of God, of living in right relationship to God and other human beings. Islam, shalom, and salaam all have the same root in a word that means a good deal more than simply "peace."
That vision of peace with justice, where no one oppresses the poor, where all are able to live at liberty, where no one’s God-given potential is limited because of unchosen accidents of birth or life – gender, race, class, disability, illness – lies behind the work of prophetic leaders. Prophetic leaders, which I desperately hope you are becoming, are those who can dream big dreams of a world restored, and challenge the political systems of our day to move toward those dreams.
In our day, that vision of a world restored, a world where the poorest have enough to eat and access to education, health care, and the basic necessities of dignified human life, is exemplified in the Millennium Development Goals. The Goals are a concrete vision of the possible, achievable by the year 2015, and include:
· feeding the one-third of the world’s people who go to bed hungry each night
· primary education for girls as well as boys
· improving maternal health care
· reducing childhood mortality rates
· preventing and treating AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, and other diseases
· working toward gender equity and the empowerment of women
· ensuring environmentally sustainable development
· building global partnerships for development, with a focus on debt, aid, and trade
These frame a bold but achievable vision which challenges all the peoples and governments of the world. In order to reach those goals, the developed nations will need to increase their giving to development work – and the United States, while generous, gives at a significantly lower percentage than many other industrialized nations. Those large and industrialized nations, together with global financial institutions, will need to continue the good work of international debt relief begun in the Jubilee year of 2000. The developing world, in partnership with others, will need to attend to issues of accountability, transparency, and the misdirection of public resources for private gain. South Africa’s Archbishop Ndgungane’s Africa Monitor project is a solid approach to those challenges which is just beginning to take shape. The people of the world will need to continue to challenge their governments to live up to this bold vision that brings together developed and developing nations to better the lives of billions of people.
The world needs the kind of leadership that can dream big dreams, challenge old and inadequate ways, and courageously seek the best for all humanity and indeed, all creation. Those leaders you are and are becoming have a significant opportunity to build a more just and equitable world, and it will take all the gifts you have to offer – and some you may not yet recognize.
All great leadership begins in courage – the courage to dream those dreams, and to challenge unjust and corrupt systems. That courage will be repeatedly tested and tried, but it does grow stronger as it’s exercised. You will discover that telling someone "no" gets easier the second and third time. You will also discover, if you haven’t already, that fear usually arises in ignorance – fear of the unknown person or idea, fear of what is untested or unexplored in yourself, and fear of the future. Most of those fears quail in the face of exploration.
Your leadership and its effectiveness will depend on your ability to see connections in unlikely places – between people or ideas that have not yet met, in understanding the interconnected web which sustains all life on this planet (and beyond), and the reality that John Donne so eloquently phrased as "no man is an island, entire of itself, but each is connected to the main. Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. Send not to ask for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee." Every single one of us, and our ability to live a full and abundant life, is diminished by the failure of our neighbors to thrive. That is true whether the neighbor is a member of our immediate family or a woman with filariasis in Namibia, a fish-slave in Ghana, or a child sold into sex-slavery in Cambodia. Their suffering limits human flourishing – yours, mine, and that of all humanity.
A deeply grounded sense of compassion, coupled with a grand and global vision, can change this world. My tradition calls that vision the reign of God, or the commonwealth of God, and while your motivation may not be explicitly grounded in a religious tradition, you are here because you seek the betterment of all humanity.
It seems appropriate to say something about the religious motivation of leadership, especially in our day. Like all gifts, it is one that can be misused or used well. At its best, religious motivation leads to the upbuilding of all humanity and all creation, not its diminishment. At its best, such a motivation – rooted in any of the world’s great religions – seeks justice and peace and abundant life, ideally for all creatures. At its best, such motivation seeks that vision on behalf of all, rather than some subset of humanity. Beware of religious leaders who are unwilling to serve the greater good, who understand that God loves only some, or that some portion of humanity is not worthy of respect or dignity. That is a hamstrung and limping version of the great dream of shalom, salaam, or shanti (the Sanskrit word for peace). As in the dream of Martin Luther King, Jr., we seek a world in which all children can grow and play together, unconcerned by those accidents of birth or life that others see as all-defining. We seek a world where the poor hear good news, the ill are healed and the hungry fed, where prisoners are forgiven, set free, and restored to community, where no one studies war any more. We seek a world in which the systems that seek to maintain some in servitude or slavery are abolished, where all have the minimal right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but even more, a world where all have the right to full and abundant lives at peace with their neighbors.
Achieving a world or a community that is more whole or healthy or healed or even holy (those words all come from the same root), or more closely aligned with that great vision, will require partnerships between groups and people with similar goals but varying motivations, religious and not. The ability to sort out the godly or humane motivations from those that are less than noble is part of the challenge before us all. In some sense it is the eternal dilemma that faces all social architects. If politics is the art of the possible or the art of living in community, how can it play an effective and fruitful role in building that just society? Jesus had a rather canny understanding of politics: "be wise as serpents and innocent as doves" (Matthew 10:16) and in Luke (16:8), "the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the children of light." Political savvy is not a bad thing, and he was clearly urging its development in service of that vision of the Reign of God.
That word, savvy, is about knowing (from savoir, saber, sapere). The public service of community building requires knowledge, and knowledge of several kinds. Religious vision and knowledge – what is sometimes called enlightenment – can inspire people to dream dreams and think thoughts that lead them beyond narrow instinctual self-interest toward a healed world of peace and justice. That kind of knowledge may be ineffable – or hard to put into words – but it does create the passion, zeal, and energy that are required to struggle toward that vision. Religious or spiritual knowing is basically about making meaning out of life – why am I here? How am I meant to live? And the answers usually have to do with right relationship to God, other human beings, and the rest of creation.
There is another vital partner in this quest for knowledge. Understanding the best of recent science is not a luxury, it is essential to building this vision of a healed community. Not only is the scientific method a potential arbiter of narrowly adversarial or competitive visions of reality, it is an important partner to the kind of spiritual knowing that is willing to dream beyond the mechanics of life toward equity, justice, and peace. Science is a way of understanding the workings of this world, whether at the level of quantum physics, ocean currents and weather systems, or the dynamics of human beings in community. It is a way of knowing what we have to work with, and can lead to testable hypotheses about the most effective means of changing what is.
The kind of political work, living-in-community work, that you are equipping for here is a vital piece of changing this world into something that is worthy of our aspirations. That savvy, however, must be a partner joined to the whole of human possibility of which religion speaks and to the reality and givenness of this world, of which science speaks. Without the transcendent, politics can become mere manipulation, without science, blind. Together this enterprise can build a more whole, healed, and yes, holy, world for the ultimate benefit of all humanity and all creation.
Wednesday, January 31, 2007
Q: You just took office as the first woman to head the Episcopal Church, and curiously enough, you come from a science background, having worked as an oceanographer for years.
I worked on squids and octopuses.
As a scientist with a Ph.D., what do you make of the Christian fundamentalists who say the earth was created in six days and dismiss evolution as a lot of bunk?
I think it’s a horrendous misunderstanding of both science and active faith tradition. I understand the great creation story in the scientific sense — big bang and evolutionary theory — as the best understanding of how we have come to be what we are: not the meaning behind it, but the process behind it. Genesis is about the meaning behind that.
Your critics see you as an unrepentant liberal who supports the ordination of gay bishops. Are you trying to bolster the religious left?
No. We’re not about being either left or right. We’re about being comprehensive.
How many members of the Episcopal Church are there in this country?
About 2.2 million. It used to be larger percentagewise, but Episcopalians tend to be better-educated and tend to reproduce at lower rates than some other denominations. Roman Catholics and Mormons both have theological reasons for producing lots of children.
Episcopalians aren’t interested in replenishing their ranks by having children?
No. It’s probably the opposite. We encourage people to pay attention to the stewardship of the earth and not use more than their portion.
You’re actually Catholic by birth; your parents joined the Episcopal Church when you were 9. What led them to convert?
It was before Vatican II had any influence in local parishes, and I think my parents were looking for a place where wrestling with questions was encouraged rather than discouraged.
Have you met Pope Benedict?
I have not. I think it would be really interesting.
He became embroiled in controversy this fall after suggesting that Muslims have a history of violence.
So do Christians! They have a terrible history. Look at history in the Dark Ages. Charlemagne converted whole tribes by the sword. I think Muslims are poorly understood by the West, and it is easy to latch onto that which we do not understand and demonize it.
What do you make of Ted Haggard, who just stepped down as the head of the National Association of Evangelicals, after he was accused of cavorting with a gay escort?
I think it’s very sad. We’re always surprised when we see people’s clay feet. Our culture seems to delight in exposing them. I think we have a prurient interest in other people’s failings.
You can’t blame the Haggard case on the culture or the media. It isn’t a story about sex so much as the disturbing hypocrisy of a church leader.
But we’re all hypocrites. All of us.
You’re very forgiving.
I like the word “shalom.” I use it in my correspondence, I use it in my sermons, and that’s how I sign my e-mails — “shalom.” To me it is a concrete reminder of what it is we’re all supposed to be about.
Because it means peace in Hebrew?
It means far more than peace. I think it’s a vision of the human community. Those great visions of Isaiah — every person fed, no more strife, the ill are healed, prisoners are released.
You were previously bishop of Nevada, but your new position requires you to live in New York City. Do you and your husband like it here?
He is actually in Nevada. He is a retired mathematician. He will be here in New York when it makes sense.
I hear you’re a pilot.
I got my license when I was 18.
You have many talents.
Many crazinesses, many passions.
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette: This is your first time to consecrate a bishop. Tell me how you prepare for that, and your sense of our bishop, if you even have that yet.
Katharine Jefferts Schori: I’ve met him twice at this point. I don’t really know him yet. I do know something about the diocese, because (outgoing bishop Larry Maze and I have worked together on things like Living Stones, which is bishops of small dioceses, meaning small numerically, or financially, or sometimes geographically. So I have some sense of the kinds of creative ministry that have gone on here.
ADG: What are some of those things in particular?
KJS: Developing ministry teams, which is something of a novelty within the Episcopal Church. It’s been going on for a long time, but in smaller rural places. And Bishop Maze has done a good, creative piece of work in fostering that here.
ADG: One of the things that bishop-elect Benfield is particularly concerned about is growing the church. [Both the diocese and the national church have steadily lost members in recent years.] And I’m going to refer to some things you’ve said in other interviews, because it seems in many interviews you have a way of saying things that startle people or surprise people.
ADG: One of them is in an interview with the New York Times, when you talked about Episcopalians being more educated and less –
KJS: The whole conversation was not reported.
ADG: I’m sure. I know how that happens. But since Episcopalians don’t have as many children as some other folks, what are some of your ideas for growing the church? One of his passions is reaching out to people in the 18 to 25 age range.
KJS: More power to him. That’s an essential piece of where our evangelism efforts need to be addressed. There are vast numbers of people in this country who are unchurched, who’ve been raised now without a faith tradition. That may be less so in this part of the country, but in the part of the country I come from, it’s normal. But many of those young people are asking spiritual questions. “Why am I here? What am I supposed to be about as a human being? How am I supposed to live in relationship with other people?” Those are questions that the Episcopal Church is well poised and well experienced in helping people to find answers. Not provide answers, but help people wrestle with the questions.
ADG: How so?
KJS: It’s a matter of openness more than anything else, and listening to the hunger that’s out there, offering a space and a community and a space in which to tell a person’s story and then beginning to connect that story with the larger story of our faith, if that makes sense.
ADG: Could you be a little more specific about some of the things the Episcopal Church offers to help people deal with those questions?
KJS: Well, we don’t come with a prescribed set of answers. We really do encourage people to wrestle with the question. To bring traditional sources to bear on it. Scripture, tradition and reason is how we talk about those sources. We insist that people use their minds in wrestling with questions. Faith is not meant to be unreasoned, or unreasonable. And I think that’s one of our gifts, that we’re willing to deal with a breadth of perspective, and encourage that breadth of perspective. It’s a mark of health.
ADG: Speaking of that interview, what did get left out?
KJS: Well, Episcopalians reproduce at lower rates than some other denominations for several reasons. There are clear connections between [reproductive] rates and educational level. It’s an inverse connection, as average education level goes up that group of people tends to reproduce at lower rates, and that’s certainly true in the Episcopal Church. It’s true of other mainline denominations as well. You don’t have a theological reason to reproduce at higher rates, unlike some other denominations and faith traditions. That’s the piece of complexity that got left out.
ADG: When you first became bishop of Nevada, you were interested in reaching out to Hispanic populations. Did you have some success doing that, and is that something you’d like to broaden? I ask that because we have a large Hispanic population here in Arkansas.
KJS: I think it’s absolutely essential. In addition to that younger adult demographic, people that come from other countries, other language traditions, are an essential piece of our evangelical focus. That is beginning to have some success. It has taken a long time. A new congregation is beginning in south Reno within the month. The focus of that congregation, which will probably be primarily Anglo, is starting missions to help start a Hispanic church. That is going to be its reason for existence. There is a great challenge in finding competent, trained, Spanish-speaking, bicultural, bilingual clergy. That’s one of the big challenges for this church. We can’t simply import such clergy from other countries. It’s unfair to those countries at some very important level of justice, and I think we’re going to have to continue to be creative about how we find and form such people and leadership from within communities. And that’s actually something that Arkansas has been effective at doing. Not specifically in the Hispanic community, but the leadership development team that Bishop Maze has promoted is a model for doing that kind of work.
ADG: And again, what might be attractive to Hispanics about the Episcopal Church in a way that you wouldn’t simply be sheep-stealing those who are already within the Roman Catholic tradition?
KJS: If you go to Latin America today, you discover that Roman Catholicism is alive and well, but there are many other traditions that are also booming. The Pentecostal religion; more open, in some sense, traditions. I think the Episcopal church provides a liturgically familiar kind of setting, but with an openness of perspective that insists that people have to come to their own conclusions. The answers of faith aren’t going to be provided for you.
ADG: I want to ask you about a couple of other things you’ve said in interviews. One of those was in the 10 questions in TIME magazine about the small box that people put God in. Could you elaborate a little bit on your take on “Jesus is the way, the truth and the life” [a paraphrase of John 14:16]?
KJS: I certainly don’t disagree with that statement that Jesus is the way and the truth and the life. But the way it’s used is as a truth serum, or a touchstone: If you cannot repeat this statement, then you’re not a faithful Christian or person of faith. I think Jesus as way – that’s certainly what it means to be on a spiritual journey. It means to be in search of relationship with God. We understand Jesus as truth in the sense of being the wholeness of human expression. What does it mean to be wholly and fully and completely a human being? Jesus as life, again, an example of abundant life. We understand him as bringer of abundant life but also as exemplar. What does it mean to be both fully human and fully divine? Here we have the evidence in human form. So I’m impatient with the narrow understanding, but certainly welcoming of the broader understanding.
ADG: What about the rest of that statement –
KJS: The small box?
ADG: Well, the rest of the verse, that no one comes to the Father except by the son.
KJS: Again in its narrow construction, it tends to eliminate other possibilities. In its broader construction, yes, human beings come to relationship with God largely through their experience of holiness in other human beings. Through seeing God at work in other people’s lives. In that sense, yes, I will affirm that statement. But not in the narrow sense, that people can only come to relationship with God through consciously believing in Jesus.
ADG: I want to ask you about something you said [in a radio interview] with Steve Crittenden in Australia. You were talking about issues of sexuality, and you said you thought that [objection to homosexuality] was more of an issue for men than for women, and women were more interested in — you didn’t say the Millennium Development Goals, but that was the kind of thing you were talking about. And right after your election, [a foreign journalist] asked you kind of a snide question about.
KJS: What would the average Anglican?
ADG: Yeah, and Anglican women in Africa, think about your support for gays, and you said they’d be more concerned about food and education for their children. Do you have some evidence that the sexuality is more of an issue for men than for women?
KJS: Well, who’s most heated up about it? Gatherings around the Anglican Communion that are primarily male seem to get captured by this issue. Gatherings that are primarily female get captured by passion for a human world. For human people and educating children and providing health care. The UN Commission on the Status of Women and the accompanying gathering of Anglican women at the UN over the year is probably the best evidence. And they have different opinions about issues of human sexuality, but that’s not the focus of their work together. The focus is on humans.
ADG: You’ve also said that issues of sexuality tend to be of more concern in the Southeast than in other parts of the country. Could you talk about that a little bit? Of course, there are exceptions: congregations in California, the Diocese of Quincy (Ill.), Pittsburgh. But you talk about geographic concern. Is it a Bible Belt thing?
KJS: I don’t know. I notice it’s a concern culturally in parts of the country where race relations have been so present. I come from a part of the country where issues of racism aren’t black/white. They’re about immigration, either from Asia or from Spanish-speaking countries, so there’s not the same kind of clear issue in history about who’s in and who’s out. It’s a much more diffuse issue. And it’s a complex issue in that it’s not just one group. And it’s not just African-Americans; it’s Chinese and Japanese and Mexicans and people from Hong Kong and Taiwan and the South Pacific. I think the human condition, and original sin, if you will, has something to do with defining some other group as not fully human, not fully acceptable. And in this country it’s had to do mostly with slavery and African-Americans. The church has certainly wrestled with the place of women in the life of society. We’re beginning to wrestle with the place of people whose sexual orientation is different from the average. In some sense the church has wrestled with the place of children. They’re not normative human beings in many people’s view. I think it’s a result of that. It has some connection with that history.
ADG: Let’s talk about the church’s support of the Millennium Development Goals. And what are some of the initiatives down the road for enlisting Episcopalians in accomplishing some of those goals? That was originally a United Nations initiative, which would mean focusing on those issues elsewhere, but we have those issues in pockets of the U.S. too.
KJS: It actually goes back to the early ’60s, when some economists sat down and said, “What would it take to solve global poverty?” It grew into something in the late ’90s that the bishops of the Anglican Communion said, “We need to participate in this.” In 2000 the UN adopted a set of eight goals. ... Dioceses in this country since the late ’90s have said, we want to be part of this. It originally started by saying, we’re going to contribute a percentage of our annual budget to international development work. People are aware more clearly today that it’s not just a matter of giving money, but it’s about empowering people in the pew to lobby their legislators. We’re not going to solve global poverty unless the industrialized nations of the world take it seriously and contribute a significant chunk of funds, resources, human capital, to making it possible. This is the first time in human history when we’ve really been able to say we can feed everybody. We can provide primary education for girls and boys across the world. We can do something about maternal health care and childhood disease and preventable disease like AIDS and tuberculosis and malaria. It’s a matter of having the will to do it, first of all, and then committing the resources to make it happen. The Episcopal Church is involved at the diocesan level, at the parish level, at the level of individual members of the tradition. But we’re also involved in lobbying Congress, through our Office of Government Relations, to participate in this program. We’re involved through an arm of the church called Episcopal Relief and Development that’s doing things like Nets for Life, insecticide-treated nets to sleep under and prevent malaria – a great number of other projects across the world to achieve those goals. I’ve heard in the time I’ve been here about places in Arkansas that are ripe for similar kinds of development. The Delta. So it’s not just international. There are domestic applications as well. It’s about achieving a world where human beings live with dignity, and have what they need to live with dignity.
ADG: That reminds me of something else you said. This was a CNN interview when Kyra Phillips asked you what happens when we die. You had an interesting answer that got some Southern Baptists riled up.
KJS: OK. I didn’t hear their reaction.
ADG: Al Mohler – I don’t know whether you’re familiar with him –
KJS: I’m not.
ADG: He’s a seminary president [at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville] and has a blog and a radio show. [Mohler posted the exchange on his Web site]. It seemed to some people that you were saying there isn’t an afterlife.
KJS: I don’t think Jesus was focused on that. I think Jesus was focused on heaven in this life, primarily. The Judeo-Christian tradition has always said yes, there is resurrection. There is life after death. But I think Jesus was not so worried about that. I think he’s worried about what we’re doing to treat our fellow human beings as children of God. He says the kingdom of heaven is among you, and within you, and around you.
ADG: So does that mean that in your view there is no afterlife?
KJS: That’s not what I said. I said what I think Jesus is more concerned about is heavenly existence, eternal life, in this life.
ADG: So there again, that’s partly why the Millennium Development Goals are important to you? To improve people’s lives now?
KJS: Absolutely. The Anglican tradition of Christianity is world-affirming, it is focused on incarnation, and it insists that we’re not meant to shut ourselves off from the world in a pietistic sense or in a sectarian sense. That we’re meant to be in the world, and transforming the world into something that looks more like the reign of God.
ADG: Do you think there’s any part of us that lives on somewhere after we die?
KJS: Absolutely. But that’s not a question that concerns me day in and day out. I think I’m meant to use the gifts I have to transform the world in this life.
ADG: [Brown asked whether Jefferts Schori’s views on the afterlife are more informed by the Old Testament than the New.] I know you’re a fan of the book of Isaiah.
KJS: Jesus was clearly in the prophetic tradition. The prophets are concerned about human beings in this life, how governmental structures have oppressed them; they’re concerned with liberation from that oppression. They’re not patient with the idea that one suffers in this life so you can live in glory after you die. Not patient with that idea at all.
ADG: Let’s talk about some of the struggles in the church right now, what’s happening in the church in Virginia [where members of several congregations have recently voted to leave the denomination]. I’m especially curious to know what you think about property issues. That’s going to be different based on individual laws in different states.
KJS: Actually, not so much. The reality is that this is a very tiny percentage of the Episcopal Church. This is a handful of congregations out of 1,700. They’re getting a lot of press; they’re quite noisy. The reality is that there have always been people who decide that they have to follow another path. That they can’t find what they’re looking for or believe they need within a faith tradition. And our attitude has to be to bless their going, to pray that they find the source that they’re looking for in another community. But the reality also is that congregations and dioceses are structures of the institutional church known as the Episcopal Church. They can’t leave. Individuals can leave. We’ve also been very clear that property in this church, all kinds of property, real property, legacy, memorials in a congregation, are held in trust, because they come from generations before us and they are for generations that come after us. That can’t be alienated. The issue you raised about law – the federal Constitution is clear about the separation of church and state, that the church has the right to make decisions, if it’s a hierarchical church, and that the courts will only interfere in very specific circumstances. The property issues have been decided in favor of the denomination in almost every case.
ADG: What about in Georgia, where there’s a church where it’s not so much people wanting to leave as having cut off their funding to the national church.
KJS: That’s nothing new. There are congregations and even dioceses in this church that, because they’re peeved with particular decisions — and they’re decisions across the map; all sides are going to withhold funding from the national church. It’s a sad commentary on an understanding on both denominational polity and a sense of stewardship. Money that’s given is meant to be given as an expression of gratitude, not as a tax, although people sometimes see it that way. And the other sad part is that often when those monies are withheld, it prevents good creative mission from going on. It hamstrings feeding programs. It prevents new congregations from being started. It slows down aid work overseas. We are often in this country still highly individualistic. What’s mine is mine, and don’t touch it. That’s not a Christian virtue. There’s a rather surprising story in the book of Acts, in a Christian community that was clearly holding goods in common, and a couple in the congregation, in the gathering, said they were going to sell their property and give the money to their community, and it didn’t happen that way, and the way the story is told is actually quite humorous.
ADG: Let’s broaden the focus a little to the Anglican Communion. Next month you’re going to be traveling –
KJS: To Tanzania –
ADG: To visit with [the other primates of the Anglican Communion], some of whom don’t actually accept you in the job that you have. And the position you have as presiding bishop is a little different than the primates in some other churches. Could you explain that a little bit?
KJS: Sure. In the Episcopal Church, the church in Canada, the church in a number of other western places, the primate has much less authority than in some of the African churches, for example, where the bishop rules. We come out of a democratic tradition; our church is structured politically in a democratic way. In order to make decisions in this church of policy, the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies, which includes laypeople and clergy, have to agree to do it. The bishop in a diocese doesn’t have the ability to walk into a parish and say, “Hmm, you have to change this, this, this and this.” The bishop does have some clear authority in particular circumstances, but not over every decision. That’s not true in other parts of the church. And I think there’s a lack of understanding of our polity here that contributes to the frustration. I know that before Bishop Robinson [Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, the first openly gay partnered bishop] was consecrated, some of the other primates were just flummoxed that Bishop Griswold couldn’t simply say, “Well, you can’t do it.” That just didn’t make sense to them.
ADG: So what’s your game plan for Tanzania?
KJS: To go and meet the human beings who will gather. I’m sure there are a couple, at least, who don’t welcome the presence of a woman in their midst, and others whom I claim as friends. It’s a mixed group. And in some sense it’s curious to me that opinions that were held by each of my predecessors are somehow more offensive when they’re held by a woman.
ADG: We talked about that interview being taken out of context. What do you think the media doesn’t get about the Episcopal Church? The Virginia churches have gotten an awful lot of press. Are there other things you think that are more important that are overlooked?
KJS: The church in most places is healthy and vital and doing good and creative ministry. And that’s not the kind of story that sells newspapers. But it’s real. The church is thriving in so many places. And yes, there’s some conflict, but it’s a very tiny piece of the whole.
ADG: What do you wish people like me would ask you that we don’t?
KJS: Hmm. Hmm. Well, stories of great success and vitality. And I think this congregation [Christ Episcopal Church in Little Rock] is probably one of them.
ADG: There’s been talk of having both houses elect a presiding bishop. Could that be a reality [at the next General Convention] for 2015?
KJS: I don’t know. We’d have to change our canons, our rules. The church in Canada does it in a very different way, and they come out of the same democratic ethos that we do. The House of Bishops in Canada produces a slate of acceptable nominees, and then they send that slate to the General Senate, which would be equivalent to our House of Deputies, and they elect. So it’s simply another model. But in many other parts of the Communion it’s simply the bishops who elect. The others have no say in the matter at all.
ADG: What’s happening at Camp Allen this week? [A group of self-described “Windsor bishops” met at Camp Allen in Texas.] Do you know and do you care?
KJS: I gather that Bishop [of Texas, the Right Rev. Don] Wimberley has called a meeting. I was not invited. I’ve not seen their agenda; I don’t know who’s there; but I think they’re talking. And I think that can only be good.
ADG: We’ve covered a lot of ground. Is there anything else you’d like to say?
KJS: I’m delighted to be in Arkansas.
Monday, January 29, 2007
Transcribed by the CaNN News Editor
RY: I’m Robin Young: it’s ‘Here & Now.’
Bishop Katharine Jefferts-Schori, a former oceanographer, and a pilot, is slated to become the first woman to head The Episcopal Church of America– that will happen on November 1st.
She’s inheriting a church divided on the ordination of homosexuals, and the blessing of same-sex unions. Her own election has precipitated a double-crisis over the role of women. In the American Church, some Episcopal dioceses have asked to leave because they don’t accept a woman as leader; and international Episcopal churches have also said they can’t accept a woman as head of a national church. For her part, Bp. Katharine has been quoted as saying that if her opponents leave the table, she will rise to follow them to continue the dialogue.
Bishops Jefferts-Schori joins us now: welcome!
KJS: Thank you.
RY: And– boy!– as I read some of the recent history of the church, it does sound like a somewhat tough row to hoe [laugh] that you’re entering.
KJS: Well, I think all ages have their challenges: this is simply ours.
RY: Now, well, when you were elected Primate, that is, head of the U.S. Episcopal Church, you were quoted as saying “We’re not here to argue about matters of sexuality, we’re here to build a holy community”.. but as you know, there are people arguing about sexuality– what are you going to do to heal that?
KJS: Well, we’re going to keep conversing, we’re going to continue to ask people to met gay and lesbian Christians, and to begin seeing some of the fruits of their ministry.. uh, we’re going to continue to wrestle with these issues– they are the issues of our day, and the issues of recent generations have been about the place women in the church, and the place of african-americans in the church, and the place of immigrants in the church, and I simply see this as our current growth into a larger.. communion.
RY: Because why? Why do you believe so firmly that’s the right direction for the church?
KJS: Well, as a scientist and as a person of faith, I– I understand that sexual orientation is a given, for almost all people; it’s not a matter of choice, and in that case, if this is how people are created, then our job as a community of faith is to assist people in finding holy ways of living in relationship, and, uh, that’s what we’re about.
RY: What do you say to your congregants who say “Well, I also, you know, understand that there are people who might be gay or lesbian, but I just don’t want them as my bishop, as Gene Robinson is now in New Hampshire; or to be married in the church that I also attend. What do you.. what do you say to them?
KJS: Well, it’s a challenge. But I think God calls us into challenging situations, I think that’s how we grow.
The Early church dealt with it.. the place of gentiles in the church, do new gentile converts have to be circumcised, did they have to live by Jewish dietary laws, or could they be welcomed as they were? There will be another group after gay and lesbian Christians– I don’t know who it will be, but there will be another one, because that’s who we are as human beings.
RY: You mentioned that you were a scientist. I remember recently I was on a little field trip with A.O. Wilson, the scientist–
KJS: Oh, my..
RY: — and he calls himself a secular humanist, and he just says that as a scientist, he just has looked and looked and looked, and he’d be– he’s said ‘I’d love to be the one to prove there was a God– wouldn’t that be the greatest sceintific discovery?” But he can’t see the proof. How about you? As a scientist, and scientists want to see proof of something, how do you– how are you then also a person of faith?
KJS: I came back– I was, uh, raised, you know, in the church– and I came back to the church as an adult when I was in graduate school, and began to read the physicists, who talk about mystery– Heisenberg, and Bohr, and Einstein. Here were people who were going down the same kinds of roads that I had gone down, saying “No, there’s something innately mysterious about creation, something beyond what we can deal with in scientific terms. Hard science asks questions about ‘how, and ‘what’; and faith-traditions ask questions of meaning: what does it mean to be a human being in this world? How can I live a live that is good? Uhh…
RY: TIME asked you an interesting question, we thought, “Is belief in Jesus the only way to get to heaven?” And your answer, equally interesting, you said “We who practice the Christian tradition understand him as our vehicle to the divine. But for us to assume that God could not act in other ways is, I think, to put God in an awfully small box.” And I read that and I said “What are you: a Unitarian?!?” [laughs]
What are you– that is another concern for people, because, they say Scripture says that Jesus says he was The Light and The Way and the only way to God the Father.
KJS: Christians understand that Jesus is the route to God. Umm– that is not to say that Muslims, or Sikhs, or Jains, come to God in a radically different way. They come to God through… human experience.. through human experience of the divine. Christians talk about that in terms of Jesus.
RY: So you’re saying there are other ways to God.
KJS: Uhh… human communities have always searched for relationship that which is beyond them.. with the ultimate.. with the divine. For Christians, we say that our route to God is through Jesus. Uhh.. uh.. that doesn’t mean that a Hindu.. uh.. doesn’t experience God except through Jesus. It-it-it says that Hindus and people of other faith traditions approach God through their.. own cultural contexts; they relate to God, they experience God in human relationships, as well as ones that transcend human relationships; and Christians would say those are our experiences of Jesus; of God through the experience of Jesus.
RY: It sounds like you’re saying it’s a parallel reality, but in another culture and language.
KJS: I think that’s accurate.. I think that’s accurate.
RY: Bishop Katharine: you have a fascinating life-story. Your Dad was a physicist, your Mom had a degree in literature, and became a biologist. You, as we said, were an oceanographer, grew up in Seattle, you have a daughter who’s a 2nd Lieutenant, and a pilot in the Air Force– by the way, is she serving?
KJS: Uh, she’s serving stateside, and she’s a 1st Lieutenant.
RY: How about you? Do you still pilot a plane?
KJS: I do– I flew from Reno to Henderson yesterday.
RY: What kind of plane do you fly?
KJS: A Cessna 172.
RY: What does that do for you?
RY: ..besides get you from A to B..
KJS: Oh. Oh.. that’s the easy part. Uh.. it’s, for me, an encounter with the vastness of creation, and the Creator.. it’s a reminder that I’m a very small piece of it.. that I’m constrained by human limits… uh, and it gives me a very different perspective on the world.
RY: Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori, slated to become head of the Episcopal Church of America on November the first. Thank you for speaking with us.
KJS: Oh, it’s been a pleasure. Thank you.
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori preached at her November 4 investiture service, which was set in the context of Holy Eucharist at Washington National Cathedral. The full text of Jefferts Schori's sermon follows:
Where is home for you? How would you define your home? A friend in Nevada said to me just before I left that he had thought I would only leave Nevada to go home, and in his mind, that meant Oregon. But in the six years I spent there, Nevada became home. The state song is even called, "Home means Nevada." And for a place filled with folk who have come from elsewhere, that is quite remarkable – all sorts and conditions of rootless people trying to grow new roots in the desert.
So where is home for you? Des Moines or Anchorage or Taipei or San Salvador or Port au Prince?
What makes it home? Familiar landscape, a quality of life, or the presence of particular people?
Some people who engage this journey we call Christianity discover that home is found on the road, whether literally the restless travel that occupies some of us, or the hodos that is the Way of following the one we call the Christ. The home we ultimately seek is found in relationship with creator, with redeemer, with spirit. When Augustine says "our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee, O Lord" he means that our natural home is in God.
The great journey stories of the Hebrew Bible begin with leaving our home in Eden, they tell of wandering for a very long time in search of a new home in the land of promise, and they tell later of returning home from exile. And eventually Israel begins to realize that they are meant to build a home that will draw all the nations to Mount Zion. Isaiah's great vision of a thanksgiving feast on a mountain, to which the whole world is invited, is part of that initial discovery of a universal home-building mission, meant for all. Jesus' inauguration and incarnation of the heavenly banquet is about a home that does not depend on place, but on community gathered in the conscious presence of God.
In Death of the Hired Man, Robert Frost said that "home is the place where, when you go there, they have to take you in." We all ache for a community that will take us in, with all our warts and quirks and petty meannesses – and yet they still celebrate when they see us coming! That vision of homegoing and homecoming that underlies our deepest spiritual yearnings is also the job assignment each one of us gets in baptism – go home, and while you're at it, help to build a home for everyone else on earth. For none of us can truly find our rest in God until all of our brothers and sisters have also been welcomed home like the prodigal.
There's a wonderful Hebrew word for that vision and work – shalom. It doesn't just mean the sort of peace that comes when we're no longer at war. It's that rich and multihued vision of a world where no one goes hungry because everyone is invited to a seat at the groaning board, it's a vision of a world where no one is sick or in prison because all sorts of disease have been healed, it's a vision of a world where every human being has the capacity to use every good gift that God has given, it is a vision of a world where no one enjoys abundance at the expense of another, it's a vision of a world where all enjoy Sabbath rest in the conscious presence of God. Shalom means that all human beings live together as siblings, at peace with one another and with God, and in right relationship with all of the rest of creation. It is that vision of the lion lying down with the lamb and the small child playing over the den of the adder, where the specter of death no longer holds sway. It is that vision to which Jesus points when he says, "today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." To say "shalom" is to know our own place and to invite and affirm the place of all of the rest of creation, once more at home in God.
You and I have been invited into that ministry of global peace-making that makes a place and affirms a welcome for all of God's creatures. But more than welcome, that ministry invites all to feast until they are filled with God's abundance. God has spoken that dream in our hearts – through the prophets, through the patriarchs and the mystics, in human flesh in Jesus, and in each one of us at baptism. All are welcome, all are fed, all are satisfied, all are healed of the wounds and lessenings that are part of the not-yet-ness of creation.
That homecoming of shalom is both destination and journey. We cannot embark on the journey without some vision of where we are going, even though we may not reach it this side of the grave. We are really charged with seeing everyplace and all places as home, and living in a way that makes that true for every other creature on the planet. None of us can be fully at home, at rest, enjoying shalom, unless all the world is as well. Shalom is the fruit of living that dream. We live in a day where there is a concrete possibility of making that dream reality for the most destitute, forgotten, and ignored of our fellow travelers – for the castaways, for those in peril or just barely afloat on life's restless sea.
This church has said that our larger vision will be framed and shaped in the coming years by the vision of shalom embedded in the Millennium Development Goals – a world where the hungry are fed, the ill are healed, the young educated, women and men treated equally, and where all have access to clean water and adequate sanitation, basic health care, and the promise of development that does not endanger the rest of creation. That vision of abundant life is achievable in our own day, but only with the passionate commitment of each and every one of us. It is God's vision of homecoming for all humanity. [Applause]
The ability of any of us to enjoy shalom depends on the health of our neighbors. If some do not have the opportunity for health or wholeness, then none of us can enjoy true and perfect holiness. The writer of Ephesians implores us to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace – to be at one in God's shalom. That is our baptismal task and hope, and unless each of the members of the body enjoys shalom we shall not live as one. That dream of God, that word of God spoken in each one of us at baptism also speaks hope of its realization.
The health of our neighbors, in its broadest understanding, is the mission that God has given us. We cannot love God if we fail to love our neighbors into a more whole and holy state of life. If some in this church feel wounded by recent decisions, then our salvation, our health as a body is at some hazard, and it becomes the duty of all of us to seek healing and wholeness. As long as children live exposed on the streets, while seniors go without food to pay for life-sustaining drugs, wherever peoples are sickened by industrial waste, the body suffers, and none of us can say we have finally come home.
What keeps us from the tireless search for that vision of shalom? There are probably only two answers, and they are connected – apathy and fear. One is the unwillingness to acknowledge the pain of other people, the other is an unwillingness to acknowledge that pain with enough courage to act. The cure for each is a deep and abiding hope. If God in Jesus has made captivity captive, has taken fear hostage, it is for the liberation and flourishing of hope. Augustine said that as Christians, we are prisoners of hope – a ridiculously assertive hope, a hope that unflinchingly assails the doors of heaven, a hope that will not cease until that dream of God has swallowed up death forever, a hope that has the audacity to join Jesus in saying, "today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."
And how shall that scripture be fulfilled in our hearing? In the will to make peace with one who disdains our theological position – for his has merit, too, as the fruit of faithfulness. In the courage to challenge our legislators to make poverty history, to fund AIDS work in Africa, and the distribution of anti-malarial mosquito nets, and primary schools where all children are welcomed. In the will to look within our own hearts and confront the shadows that darken the dream that God has planted there.
That scripture is fulfilled each time we reach beyond our narrow self-interest to call another home.
That scripture is fulfilled in ways both small and large, in acts of individuals and of nations, whenever we seek the good of the other, ifor our own good and final homecoming is wrapped up in that.
God has spoken that dream in us, let us rejoice! Let us join the raucous throngs in creation, the sea creatures and the geological features who leap for joy at the vision of all creation restored, restored to proper relationship, to all creation come home at last. May that scripture be fulfilled in our hearing and in our doing.
Shalom, chaverim, shalom, my friends, shalom.
[Congregation responded: Shalom]
The Institute on Religion & Democracy
In her investiture sermon, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori spoke of what she called the "dream of God" and equated it with her "vision of shalom." She described it as the "homecoming" of all human beings to a place of peace with God and, even more, the restoration of the entire created order to that "shalom." The United Nations' Millennium Development Goals are the vehicle through which The Episcopal Church (TEC) can play its part in fulfilling this "dream." In the end, there will be "a world where no one goes hungry … no one is sick or in prison … no one enjoys abundance at the expense of the other … all enjoy Sabbath rest in the conscious presence of God."
The "dream of God" imagery may have constituted a tribute on Bishop Jefferts Schori's part to the late Dr. Verna J. Dozier, an Episcopal layperson, teacher, and author. Dozier's most popular book, The Dream of God: A Call to Return, has greatly influenced many progressives. Episcopal clergy such as the Rev. Ed Bacon, Bishop Michael Curry, and the Rev. Susan Russell, as well as progressive Christian authors such as Marcus Borg, have referenced this "dream of God" metaphor.1 The book often is used for discussion groups in progressive parishes.
Verna Dozier was disheartened by The Episcopal Church (TEC), feeling "that [its] religious leaders too often ignore social justice to focus instead on spirituality." Consequently, she urged fellow members of the laity to follow Christ through activism for progressive causes. She asked them "to witness … that there is another possibility for human life than the way of exploitation and domination." She also criticized the church for what was in her mind too great a focus on worshipping Christ: "Jesus did not call human beings to worship him, but to follow him."
Her sense of dichotomy between serving and worshipping Christ led her to teach her students to question their faith, the Scriptures, the church as an institution, and religious leaders. She argued that fear, not doubt, is the opposite of faith. She also contended that faith is demonstrated primarily through action rather than belief. "Don't just tell me what you believe; tell me what difference it makes that you believe" is a saying of hers cited frequently by progressives.
Dozier's major arguments are reflected in Bishop Jefferts Schori's thinking. In her investiture sermon, the new Presiding Bishop identified fear as one of two reasons that would keep Christians from pursuing her "vision of shalom." (The other reason was apathy.) And in her first homily after being elected Presiding Bishop last June, she raised this question as her central focus: "Can we dream of a world where all creatures, human and not, can meet each other in a stance that is not tinged with fear?"
In the same sermon, Bishop Jefferts Schori talked of "lay[ing] down [this] fear" by letting go of any "idolatrous self interest"—including, potentially, one's "theological framework." The goal of this abandonment is to "love the world"; Christians should relinquish their "narrow self-interest, and heal the hurting and fill the hungry and set the prisoners free." Nearly five months later in her investiture sermon, she identified the church's mission with loving others: "The health of our neighbors, in its broadest understanding, is the mission that God has given us."
What's significant here is that the bishop uses theology as an example of an idol while not doing the same for social justice. She clearly did not mean in her June sermon that a "theological framework" is always a source of idolatry. Nonetheless, she did not cite "lov[ing] the world" as a potential idol even though it can be one. There are times when people help others to boost their own prestige rather than out of altruism. There are also times when people place so much stock in their service to humanity that their good deeds become a god to them.
This comparative distrust of theology meshes well with Verna Dozier's thought. When asked in the progressive publication The Witness about her feelings on orthodox Christian beliefs, Dozier replied that "The insistence on one position is a frightened position. If you were not threatened by another reality you wouldn't have to be so strong on yours." From this perspective, fear is the reason why many Christians hold classical Christian beliefs (e.g., salvation through Christ alone, a belief that Bishop Jefferts Schori denies). Clearly, Bishop Jefferts Schori agrees at least partially with this sentiment.
Dozier also speculated in The Witness that concern for "right belief" is "a manifestation of the drive for power that's in all of us, all the time. I can control you if I can set up the possibility that there is only one position and I hold it."2 Correspondingly, in her essay "Lab Report" from her forthcoming book A Wing and a Prayer, Bishop Jefferts Schori contends that "the great sin of the church … [is] the desire to be right."3
The one-sided warnings say much about the greater weight that Bishop Jefferts Schori gives to social justice than theology—or even worship. She told The Living Church that Christians should reach out to their neighbors by "[s]how[ing] God's love through action. Add formal worship as needed." Bishop Jefferts Schori may not see the same dichotomy between following Christ and worshipping Christ that Verna Dozier did. Still, "formal worship" evidently is lower on the priority scale for the new Presiding Bishop than social justice.
Regardless of whether Bishop Jefferts Schori consciously paid homage to Verna Dozier, she nonetheless affirmed Dozier's central metaphor of the "dream of God" in her investiture sermon. In so doing, she used imagery that would have resonated deeply with many Episcopal progressives. The new Presiding Bishop asserted that pursuing this "dream of God" should be a "tireless search" for all Christians, who are "prisoners of hope"4 until the "dream" comes to fruition.
Undoubtedly influenced by her background in marine biology, the bishop closed her investiture sermon with an image of every creature joyfully envisioning this "dream": "God has spoken that dream in us, let us rejoice! Let us join the raucous throngs in creation, the sea creatures and the geological features who leap for joy at the vision of all creation restored, restored to proper relationship, to all creation come home at last."
What role does Jesus Christ play in this vision? Bishop Jefferts Schori at one point compares this homecoming to a heavenly banquet of which Jesus is the "inauguration and incarnation." She asserts that God uses Jesus' incarnation, along with Old Testament prophetic writings and stories of the patriarchs, the reflections of mystics, and baptism, to plant the "dream in us." Perhaps most significantly for the bishop, he is also the one who "has made captivity captive, has taken fear hostage … for the liberation and flourishing of hope." In this last quote, Bishop Jefferts Schori alludes to her favorite passage of Scripture, the first few verses of Isaiah 61—the text that she used as the basis for her investiture sermon.
Noticeably absent from her passing references to Christ in the investiture sermon, however, is any mention of his death and resurrection. Also missing is any call to repentance and faith in Christ. Like other progressives, Bishop Jefferts Schori evidently finds more significance in the life that Jesus lived than in his sacrifice for the sins of all humanity and God's vindication of that sacrifice.5
Another writer had a vision of creation's liberation over 2,000 years ago. The apostle Paul saw all creation burdened as a result of the fall of humanity and foresaw a day when "the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God."6 He also saw hope as critical for the Christian, but the hope that he described in the letter to the Romans was one grounded in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. "Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life."7
Paul saw no dichotomy between following and worshipping Jesus Christ, unlike Verna Dozier. For example, the apostle spends several chapters in Romans on practical ways in which his readers can follow Christ. In the middle of this section, Paul speaks of Jesus as Lord and anticipates a day when everyone will "confess" or "praise" (the exact word is disputed, but either one involves worship) Jesus.8 A parallel passage in Paul's letter to the Philippians9 is also explicit in this regard.
And in contrast to Bishop Jefferts Schori, Paul clearly did not believe that a person's "theological framework" is somehow less trustworthy than social action. Many of his writings aim to help Christians build a "theological framework" that affects all aspects of their lives, including both worship and Christian action. Again in his letter to the Romans, Paul spends nearly all of the first 11 chapters describing an elaborate "theological framework" that serves as the basis for, first, worship10, and second, practical instructions.11 The progressive "dream of God," unfortunately, lacks this balance.
July 10, 2006
Rough waters aren't new to Katharine Jefferts Schori, 52, a former oceanographer who is the Presiding Bishop-elect of the Episcopal Church of the U.S.A. Bishop Katharine, as she's known, takes over a denomination rocked by controversy at home and abroad for its liberal stance on gay clergy. She talked with TIME's Jeff Chu about her mission of social justice, the relationship between science and religion and whether faith in Jesus is the only path to heaven.
What will be your focus as head of the U.S. church?
Our focus needs to be on feeding people who go to bed hungry, on providing primary education to girls and boys, on healing people with AIDS, on addressing tuberculosis and malaria, on sustainable development. That ought to be the primary focus.
The issue of gay bishops has been so divisive. The diocese of Newark, N.J., has named a gay man as one of its candidates for bishop. Is now the time to elect another gay bishop?
Dioceses, when they are faithful, call the person who is best suited to lead them. I believe every diocese does the best job it's capable of in discerning who it is calling to leadership.
Many Anglicans in the developing world say such choices in the U.S. church have hurt their work.
That's been important for the church here to hear. We've heard in ways we hadn't heard before the problematic nature of our decisions. Especially in places where Christians are functioning in the face of Islamic culture and mores, evangelism is a real challenge. [But] these decisions were made because we believe that's where the Gospel has been calling us. The Episcopal Church in the U.S. has come to a reasonable conclusion and consensus that gay and lesbian Christians are full members of this church and that our ministry to and with gay and lesbian Christians should be part of the fullness of our life.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, who leads the Anglican Communion, wrote recently that a two-tier Communion may be a solution. What did you read in his message?
The pieces that I saw as most important had to do with the complexity of the situation and the length of time that this process will continue. He's very clear that we're not going to see an instant solution. He's also clear about his role: it is to call people to conversation, not to intervene in diocesan or provincial life--which some people have been asking for.
There's much debate about whether science and religion can comfortably coexist. You're a scientist and a pastor. What do you think?
Oh, they absolutely can. In the Middle Ages, theology was called the queen of the sciences. It asks a set of questions about human existence, about why we're here and how we should be in relationship with our neighbors and with the divine. And science, in this more traditional understanding, is about looking at creation and trying to understand how it functions.
What is your view on intelligent design?
I firmly believe that evolution ought to be taught in the schools as the best witness of what modern science has taught us. To try to read the Bible literalistically about such issues disinvites us from using the best of recent scholarship.Is belief in Jesus the only way to get to heaven?
We who practice the Christian tradition understand him as our vehicle to the divine. But for us to assume that God could not act in other ways is, I think, to put God in an awfully small box.
Pastoral work can be all-consuming. How do you relax?
I run regularly. I like to hike, and I take one long backpacking trip a year. Flying is also a focusing activity. I come from a family of pilots, and it's always been part of my experience. It takes one's full attention, and that's restful in an odd kind of way. It takes your mind away from other concerns, not unlike meditation.