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BILL MOYERS: As you know we return often on this broadcast to the subject of religion. That's because so many issues in this world are driven by religious passions and ideals, including the pursuit of fairness and justice, whether in economics and politics or in matters of gender and sexuality.

No one understands more clearly how seriously religion is in conflict over morality and values than the woman you are about to meet. She came to leadership in her church hoping to pursue healing, peace, and justice, and finds herself in the eye of the storm.

It was quite a day last fall at The National Cathedral in Washington. For the first time in its history the Episcopal Church of America was installing a woman as its presiding bishop.

NEWSFOOTAGE: Brothers and sisters in Christ, greet the 26th presiding bishop.

BILL MOYERS: Quite a moment for a faith community that traces its roots back over four centuries to the Anglican Church of England.

And quite a moment for Katharine Jefferts Schori. Raised as a Catholic, she only became an Episcopal priest in 1994. Now, just twelve years later, she had been elected to lead America's two-and-a-half million Episcopalians.

Before the priesthood, she was a marine biologist — as familiar with squids as she would become with scripture. Now she presides over a fellowship of 7,600 congregations.

But it's a troubled time for the church. Episcopalians are part of the worldwide Anglican Community of 78 million members and they are deeply divided over issues of sexuality and the Bible.

VOICE: It is the Bible that says man shall not lie with man neither shall woman lie with a woman — it is an abomination before God.

BILL MOYERS: At a global conference in 1998, their representatives declared homosexuality to be 'incompatible with scripture." Five years later, defying the world body, U.S. Episcopalians consecrated Gene Robinson of New Hampshire as the first openly gay bishop in the history of the church. Traditional Episcopalians at home and Anglicans abroad were outraged. Over 40 American congregations have now voted to leave the fellowship, many to join a new alliance led by Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria. Last February, at an international conference in Tanzania, seven archbishops refused to take communion with Bishop Jefferts Schori. Now there is speculation the Episcopal Church of America might be expelled from the worldwide Anglican Community. As the controversy rages, Bishop Jefferts Schori finds serenity in her faith and her flying. Her new book is in fact entitled A Wing And A Prayer .

This week she was down to Earth again and testifying before a Congressional hearing on global warming as both a biologist and Bishop.

BISHOP KATHARINE JEFFERTS SCHORI: The crisis of climate change presents an unprecedented challenge to the goodness, interconnectedness and sanctity to the world that God created and loved.

BILL MOYERS: When you look at a squid what does it tell you about the world?

BISHOP KATHARINE JEFFERTS 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. That creation is in some sense God's way of loving the world.

BILL MOYERS: Has being a trained biologist shaped your faith journey?

BISHOP KATHARINE JEFFERTS SCHORI: Absolutely. My faith journey has been, as a scientist, about discovering the wonder of creation. That 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.

BILL MOYERS: What do you personally believe brought this world into existence?

BISHOP KATHARINE JEFFERTS SCHORI: As a scientist, I would embrace something that looks like the Big Bang as an accurate representation of how the best of knowledge today understands the origins of the universe. As a person of faith, Genesis tells me that God is in love with this world. That God creates and calls it good, and God finishes creation and calls it very good.

BILL MOYERS: What meaning comes from science?

BISHOP KATHARINE JEFFERTS SCHORI: The origins of what is, of a connectedness of what is, the mechanism of how what is has come to be.

BILL MOYERS: And what meaning comes from religion?

BISHOP KATHARINE JEFFERTS SCHORI: What it means to be in relationship with something beyond ourselves.

BILL MOYERS: With God.

BISHOP KATHARINE JEFFERTS SCHORI: With God, what it means to be in relationship with other human beings. What it means to be in relationship with the rest of creation. Christians talk about the body of Christ. A theologian named Sally McFague talks about the body of God as being all of creation. When one part of the body suffers, the whole body suffers. That's an essential piece of Paul's theology. If we're not caring adequately for the other parts of the body, we are not only destroying ourselves, but we're destroying our neighbors here and across the world. The fact that, you know, how I use carbon might have some impact on a poor person in China.

BILL MOYERS: Or vice versa.

BISHOP KATHARINE JEFFERTS SCHORI: Absolutely.

BILL MOYERS: Or the old story that I've heard so often of butterflies motion — creates disturbances thousands of miles away. And science tells us that, right?

BISHOP KATHARINE JEFFERTS SCHORI: Absolutely. So does religion. Religion and science are both ways of knowing, but they go at it from somewhat different perspectives. Science asks questions about how things happen and where they've come from. Religion and faith traditions ask questions of meaning, about why we're here and what we should do with what we have here, and how we should relate to the rest of creation.

BILL MOYERS: What is it about religion that provides that radical certainty for the people who are often on the other side of the issue from you on most or many things.

BISHOP KATHARINE JEFFERTS SCHORI: 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 it continually invites us into a larger understanding of that relationship.

BILL MOYERS: And yet so much of religion is about excluding, not connecting, not including.

BISHOP KATHARINE JEFFERTS SCHORI: Connection with the sacred is something that gives people a sense of what is beyond themselves. And the desire to control that I think is one of the basic human failings. If we can control access to the sacred or control how the larger world understands those we like or those we do not like — we have the ability to change things in creative or destructive directions.

BILL MOYERS: As I read about the conflict in your church, what I find is that both sides treat the Bible as their source, but they come to totally opposite conclusions as to what the Bible says. What do you make of that? As a scientist and a believer.

BISHOP KATHARINE JEFFERTS SCHORI: Our ways of reading Scripture shape the conclusions we come to. And often what we go looking for shapes the conclusions about what we read. I'll give you, a loaded example. The story of David and Jonathan.

You know, canonically, the traditional way of reading that has been about the friendship between two men. It says in the Scripture that David loved Jonathan with a love surpassing women. Many gay and lesbian people in our church today say, "This is a text that says something constructive about the love between people of the same gender." Yet our tradition has rarely been able to look at it with those eyes. I think that's a fertile ground for some serious Biblical scholarship and some encounter from people who come to different conclusions.

BILL MOYERS: If biology, as I understand it does, tells us that homosexuality is a genetic given, and religion says homosexuality is a sin in the eyes of God, can those two perceptions ever be reconciled?

BISHOP KATHARINE JEFFERTS SCHORI:  How do we come to a conclusion that it's a sin in the eyes of God?

BILL MOYERS: Well, you're the —

BISHOP KATHARINE JEFFERTS SCHORI:  What texts do we read that —

BILL MOYERS: But you know, all of your adversaries say that it is.

BISHOP KATHARINE JEFFERTS SCHORI: Well, I would have them go back to the very sources they find so black and white about that, and ask what's the context of this passage? What was it written to address? What was going on underneath it that this appears to speak to? And I think we find when we do some very serious scholarship, that in almost every case, it's speaking about a cultural context that looks nothing like the one in which we're wrestling with homosexuality today.

BILL MOYERS: So how do you read Jonathan and David, that story?

BISHOP KATHARINE JEFFERTS SCHORI: I think it's got some challenging things to say to us who have said for hundreds of years, thousands of years that it's inappropriate for two men to love each other in that way.

BILL MOYERS: Is this a moral issue to you?

BISHOP KATHARINE JEFFERTS SCHORI:  It's a moral issue in the sense that part of the job of a church is to help all Christians grow up into the full stature of Christ. It's to help all of us to lead holy lives. The question is what does that holy life look like?

BILL MOYERS: Well, many conservative, traditional Christians say that the homosexual life is not a holy life.

BISHOP KATHARINE JEFFERTS SCHORI:  They would say that it's only holy if it's celibate. And I think we've got more examples out of Scripture even, to offer in challenge to that.

BILL MOYERS: If it is a moral issue, is there a way somewhere between the positions on this? Or is it impossible for a church divided to agree on that way somewhere between the moral judgments?

BISHOP KATHARINE JEFFERTS SCHORI: I do believe it's 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 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.

BILL MOYERS: It's not my intention to hold Episcopalians up as the only arbiter of this issue because the Catholics are facing it, the Mormons are facing it, the Southern Baptist Convention is facing it. Orthodox Jews are facing it. And Islam, of course. Why are so many religious people uptight about sex?

BISHOP KATHARINE JEFFERTS SCHORI:  Because we haven't done an adequate job of talking about the whole human being, I think. Teaching in our faith tradition about the whole human being. And actually Judaism has probably done a better job than most of Christianity. Celebrating the Sabbath for a married couple was often understood to include sexual intercourse. A way of welcoming and rejoicing in the presence of God in the midst of the Sabbath. Christianity hasn't been able to say that very effectively.

BILL MOYERS: Why, do you think?

BISHOP KATHARINE JEFFERTS SCHORI:  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'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.

BILL MOYERS: When you look at what the other side says about homosexuality, and the Scriptural tradition, do you grant them anything?

BISHOP KATHARINE JEFFERTS SCHORI: Absolutely. That has been the traditional way of seeing things. It was also why Galileo got in so much trouble. The traditional way of seeing things was that the sun went around the Earth, not the other way around. If you expect things to be in a certain way, it's hard to see data that ask you to see the world in a very different way.

BILL MOYERS: So you would concede that as people like you want to modernize the Canon, the tradition and the Scripture, the traditionalists who look back and say, "This is our sacred tradition," would not want to come along on that journey.

BISHOP KATHARINE JEFFERTS SCHORI:  Absolutely. But, I would take them back into that tradition to see within it far more complexity than they've been willing to admit.

BILL MOYERS: But can there be compromise and conciliation within the church when the positions are so fixed and the feelings are so strong?

BISHOP KATHARINE JEFFERTS SCHORI:  I think if we're willing to hold our positions a little more lightly. To say, "Yes, this is where we come to as a conclusion out of faithfulness. We understand you may come to a different conclusion, also out of faithfulness. Perhaps we don't have to decide one way or the other immediately." If we're willing to live in that place of a little more humility, yes, we can live together.

BILL MOYERS: But isn't this what liberals say? We would like to talk and have a dialogue and listen. But do you get that coming back from this? I mean, the Bishop of Uganda would not meet with you. Now, you would be willing to meet and listen, but he won't. How can there then be any kind of reconciliation?

BISHOP KATHARINE JEFFERTS SCHORI:  Well, the larger structure of the communion did make that a possibility. He was at the table in Tanzania in February with me. We had one or two conversations. And clearly we disagree about matters of sexuality. But we do hold some other things in common.

BILL MOYERS: Did you recognize that? I mean, was there any sense of kinship? Can you say communion with somebody who believes so differently from you on this issue?

BISHOP KATHARINE JEFFERTS SCHORI: I can. I can.

BILL MOYERS: Can he? Would he? Will he?

BISHOP KATHARINE JEFFERTS SCHORI:  He was not willing to come to communion when I was present, which made me very sad. I know how painful it is to be excluded from the table.

BILL MOYERS: So is this issue going to tear your church apart?

BISHOP KATHARINE JEFFERTS SCHORI:  I don't believe so. I think people are going to be uncomfortable for a while, but perhaps that's the kind of stress that leads to growth eventually. I believe that perhaps a few more people may decide they have to go somewhere else. That they can't live with this innovation, in their eyes. But I don't believe it's going to tear our church apart.

BILL MOYERS: It's a fact that the biggest and fastest growing churches in the world are in what we call the global south — Africa, Latin America, Asia, where the authority of Scripture has not been challenged. In fact, the Anglican community in Nigeria — your counterpart to Episcopalians in this country — have seven times the numbers you do in this country. What are they doing right that you aren't?

BISHOP KATHARINE JEFFERTS SCHORI:  They're functioning in a very different context. They're functioning in an environment where radical Islam is very much a force in the community, where in fact Christianity and Islam are competing for converts. There's some indication that membership in a faith tradition is less clearly defined than it might be for people here in the United States. Our context here is of a complex culture faced with issues that are not so often about life and death. That are not about where the next meal is going to come from in most people in mainline traditions. That are not about disease that's likely to kill 40 percent of us before we reach maturity. We're dealing with different, different radical questions of meaning.

BILL MOYERS: Now I've been stunned to realize just how deep is the hostility to homosexuals in Africa. The penal code of Nigeria provides for up to 14 years imprisonment for homosexuality. It's considered illegal under Nigerian law. And, Islamists in Nigeria, as I understand it, are pressing right now as we speak — for a new law that would provide for homosexuals to be stoned. So you're saying this would have some effect on the Christian — Anglicans in Nigeria.

BISHOP KATHARINE JEFFERTS SCHORI:  Absolutely. Right, and the Anglican Archbishop has been working for a similar kind of law to outlaw all kinds of — not just homosexual activity, but even having conversations about it in public.

BILL MOYERS: Your colleague?

BISHOP KATHARINE JEFFERTS SCHORI:  Yes.

BILL MOYERS: Peter — Peter Akinola?

BISHOP KATHARINE JEFFERTS SCHORI: Yes.

BILL MOYERS: How can you ever make peace with that kind of people? Or he with you?

BISHOP KATHARINE JEFFERTS SCHORI:  Well, well, I look at where laws were in this country 50 years ago. How many laws were there about sodomy in this country 50 years ago? People were imprisoned for being open about their sexuality. It wasn't until Stonewall in the '60s that we began to —

BILL MOYERS: Here in New York.

BISHOP KATHARINE JEFFERTS SCHORI:  — talk about that kind of thing openly.

BILL MOYERS: As I've watched the struggle grow within your community, with an American Episcopalian community growing more and more liberal. And the Nigerians and Rwandans and the others growing more and more conservative on this issue. Is it possible that a divorce is the right choice down the road?

BISHOP KATHARINE JEFFERTS SCHORI:  It's remotely possible. But if we give up and say that's the only solution, I think we would lose something very precious. The Anglican Communion is one of the only worldwide faith communities that is willing to live with significant diversity of opinion. I think we have something to offer the larger society in teaching people how to live with folks who don't agree with you. It's not always easy, but it is of the Gospel, in my understanding.

BILL MOYERS: What can you and Peter Akinola, the Archbishop of Nigeria, your counterpart, what can you all collaborate on?

BISHOP KATHARINE JEFFERTS SCHORI:  I think with the help of our colleagues, we can collaborate on more than either of us might expect. He has said quite clearly that he doesn't want the help of the Episcopal Church in any kind of mission work in Nigeria, which is incredibly sad. It also removes us from being able to learn about his context — to learn about Christian evangelism in a culture where Islam is so present and vocal. It prevents both of us from being converted by the conversation.

BILL MOYERS: Do you see any hope of that changing?

BISHOP KATHARINE JEFFERTS SCHORI:  God has a way of keeping us at things like this. Even when some of us would find it more comfortable to depart.

BILL MOYERS: What is God asking you to do?

BISHOP KATHARINE JEFFERTS SCHORI:  I think God is asking us to build a society where people can live together in peace with a sense of justice. Where people can develop their gifts to the fullest, where people can, in some sense, recover their presence in the garden.

BILL MOYERS: You've even been criticized by some of your liberal colleagues in the American fellowship because you have called for a moratorium for a season on ordaining more gay Bishops. Why did you do that?

BISHOP KATHARINE JEFFERTS SCHORI:  It was a very painful thing to do. My sense was that there might be hope of some kind of broader understanding if we were able to pause. Not go backwards, but pause.

BILL MOYERS: Is it fair to ask some aspiring gay or lesbian person who wants to become a Bishop, like Gene Robinson did in 2003, to wait?

BISHOP KATHARINE JEFFERTS SCHORI:  Is it fair? No. It's not fair.

BILL MOYERS: But it's necessary?

BISHOP KATHARINE JEFFERTS SCHORI:  It's a crucified place to stand.

BILL MOYERS: There are some of your dioceses that do not accept your ordination —

BISHOP KATHARINE JEFFERTS SCHORI:  Uh-huh.

BILL MOYERS: — because you are a woman.

BISHOP KATHARINE JEFFERTS SCHORI: There are three Bishops, three diocesan Bishops.

BILL MOYERS: Three Bishops out of how many?

BISHOP KATHARINE JEFFERTS SCHORI:  A hundred and ten.

BILL MOYERS: Women are still up against a stained glass ceiling in religion, are they not? You are an exception.

BISHOP KATHARINE JEFFERTS SCHORI:  All of the traditions have within them the seeds of an alternate view. Paul's ability to say that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave or free, male and female. Islam — the presence of women in the earliest strands of that tradition — and women of some significant position. The Jewish tradition, with Miriam as one of the leaders of Israel — Deborah, among the judges. Women whose places have been often marginalized or forgotten. The many women in the Christian Scriptures who are not named. Mary Magdalene, who is apostle to the apostles, is first to tell the news of the Resurrection, but is rejected and marginalized as a prostitute in later Christian thought. Some of what those insights are — have been apparently too uncomfortable to maintain in the religious tradition. The reality is that women have always been very important tradents and passers-on of the tradition. In most cultures in the West women have passed on the faith at home. They continue to do that. This church and some other faith traditions have begun to affirm women's ability to do that in the larger public sphere. The early church did it until it got too uncomfortable.

BILL MOYERS: Early in the Christian story, women were a very dynamic presence, and leaders of local congregations. Then came the Bishops.

BISHOP KATHARINE JEFFERTS SCHORI: There's a very intriguing mosaic somewhere in Italy that apparently says, "Theodora Episcopa" in the feminine. Who knows? Who knows?

BILL MOYERS: I'll bet in the last year, there have been moments when you wished it was just you and that squid again in the —

BISHOP KATHARINE JEFFERTS SCHORI: Oh, no.

BILL MOYERS: — is that right?

BISHOP KATHARINE JEFFERTS SCHORI: I miss going to sea. I loved that. But I'm finding this a blessed ministry. Sure, there are challenges to it, but that's what keeps life interesting.

BILL MOYERS: What brings you the greatest joy in a day?

BISHOP KATHARINE JEFFERTS SCHORI: I think seeing the signs of health and vitality in the church around the larger church. And they exist everywhere, places where people are focused on serving their neighbors. Places where people are doing new and creative things. Seeing partnerships between a church in Iowa and the diocese of Swaziland that's providing clean water. Things like that, that show people at work doing Gospel work.

BILL MOYERS: Bishop Katharine, thank you very much.

BISHOP KATHARINE JEFFERTS SCHORI: Thank you, it's been a joy to be here.

BILL MOYERS: Same here.

Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori

June 8, 2007

“I think life is meant to be challenging. If we’re going to use the fullness of the gifts that we’ve been given, it means we have to continue to be stretched, and I look forward to that.”
-Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori

Twenty-Sixth Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church, Bishop Jefferts Schori became, in November 2006, the first woman to lead a national church in the 520 year history of Anglicanism. She serves as chief pastor to the Episcopal Church’s 2.4 million members in 16 countries and 10 dioceses, as well as the American representative to the worldwide Anglican Communion, a body of 38 provinces and 77 million worshippers.

Bishop Jefferts Schori has assumed her leadership position at a particularly tumultuous time for the Episcopal Church, specifically due to mounting criticism from more conservative sectors of the Anglican Communion, in parts of Africa and Asia, regarding Episcopal stances on homosexuality, same-sex partnerships, and other social issues. In her first national interview since being elected, she told CNN that she does not believe homosexuality is a sin:

“I believe that God creates us with different gifts. Each one of us comes into this world with a different collection of things that challenge us and things that give us joy and allow us to bless the world around us. And some people come into this world with affections ordered toward other people of the same gender and some people come into this world with affections directed at people of the other gender.”

A resolution from the 1998 Lambeth Conference, a meeting of worldwide Anglican bishops that occurs once a decade, states that, “Those persons who practise homosexuality and live in promiscuity, as well as those Bishops who knowingly ordain them or encourage these practices, act contrary to the Scriptures and the teaching of the Church. We call upon them to repent.”

More on Homosexuality and the Episcopal Church (1976-2007)

This issue came to a head in 2003 when the General Convention of the Episcopal Church consecrated openly gay Bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. After the affirmation was announced, 20 Episcopal bishops rose in protest. “I will stand against the actions of the Convention with everything I have and everything I am,” declared Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh. “I have not left, and will not leave, the Episcopal Church…it is this 74th General Convention that has left us, betrayed us, undone us.”

Peter J. Akinola, Archbishop of Nigeria and chairman of the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa, is perhaps the strongest vocal opponent of homosexuality in the Anglican church. And because the sheer numbers of worshippers in his province and others in the Global South dwarf those in Western congregations, his opinions have far-reaching effect. “Akinola personifies the epochal change in the Christian church, namely that the leadership, influence, growth and center of gravity in Christianity is shifting from the northern hemisphere to the southern,” writes Time magazine in its “100 Most Influential People” issue.

Akinola, despite urging against such an action from Bishop Jefferts Schori and Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, recently visited Virginia to personally install Bishop Martin Minns as head of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA), an offshoot of the Nigerian Anglican church, comprised predominantly of American congregations that broke away from the Episcopal church because of disagreement over the consecration of Bishop Robinson, among other reasons.

Before being ordained as a priest in 1994, Jefferts Schori was an oceanographer, earning her doctorate in the field in 1983 at Oregon State University. “I knew I was supposed to go fishing, and it took me a while to figure out just what for…” jokes the Bishop in an interview with Religion and Ethics Newsweekly.

“My faith journey has been, as a scientist, about discovering the wonder of creation. 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.”

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