Monday, January 29, 2007

“What are you: a Unitarian?!?”

NPR interview by Robin Young
October 18th
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?

KJS: [silence]

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.

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