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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 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 ofthe 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."
References and Reading:
Read Bishop Jeffert's letter to Archbishop Akinola, urging him not to travel to the United States in order to consecrate Bishop Minns
"First, such action would violate the ancient customs of the church which limits the episcopal activity of a bishop to only the jurisdiction to which the bishop has been entrusted, unless canonical permission has been given. Second, such action would not help the efforts of reconciliation that are taking place in the Episcopal Church and in the Anglican Communion as a whole. Third, such action would display to the world division and disunity that are not part of the mind of Christ, which we must strive to display to all."

Read Archbishop Akinola's response to Bishop Jefferts Schori
"You speak in your letter of centuries old custom regarding diocesan boundaries. You are, of course, aware that the particular historical situation to which you make reference was intended to protect the church from false teaching not to prevent those who hold to the traditional teaching of the church from receiving faithful episcopal care. It was also a time when the Church had yet to face into the challenge of different denominational expressions of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church."

Read the Communique from the 2007 Primates Meeting in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, February, 19, 2007. (pdf)
"Since the controversial events of 2003, we have face the reality of increased tension the Anglican Communion - tension so deep that the fabric of our common life together has been torn."

Read the Windsor Report from October 2004. (pdf)
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, commissioned the Windsor Report in 2004 to discuss the theological implications of the decision by the Episcopal Church to consecrate a bishop in a committed same-sex relationship, as well as the Diocese of New Westminster to preside over same-sex unions.

Global Ultimatum: The larger meaning of Anglican leaders' demand that the Episcopal Church change its ways.
Timothy C. Morgan, Christianity Today, 3/16/2007.
"This kind of struggle is not unique to Anglicanism, but is also emerging among Presbyterians, Lutherans, Methodists, Baptists, and other leading Protestant groups. One feature of the emerging global civil society is the rebirth of denominational Protestantism in many parts of the Global South, like United Methodism in Mozambique and the Assemblies of God in Australia. Many seem to be comfortable with Western-style denominational identity."

Survey says clergy have highest job satisfaction.
"If you want to be rich, get an MBA. If you want to be happy, go for an M.Div.."

Watch an interview with Bishop Jefferts Schori from RELIGION AND ETHICS NEWSWEEKLY right after her election as the head of the Episcopal Church of America, June 20, 2006.

Additional pertinent stories from RELIGION AND ETHICS NEWSWEEKLY:
  • Episcopal Church Convention Aftermath
  • New Episcopal Presiding Bishop

    A Church Asunder, THE NEW YORKER, by Peter J. Boyer, April 17, 2006.
    "To several of the bishops at the gathering, the Church's endorsement of this logic, through Robinson's elevation to the episcopacy, pushed the Anglican notion of comprehensiveness beyond its historically implied limits."

    Perspective on Faith and Science from BILL MOYERS ON FAITH AND REASON.

    More on the Battle Over Evolution from BILL MOYERS ON FAITH AND REASON.

    Women and Religious History

    Bishop Jefferts Schori's own church first formally admitted women into the priesthood in 1976. Bishop Jefferts Schori and others can trace their heritage far back into church history — Bishop Jefferts Schori mentions Theodora Episcopa in her conversation with Bill Moyers. Many advocates of the ordination of women in the Roman Catholic faith make their case for ordination drawing on the history of women in the early church. Find out more about the role of women in faiths throughout time, and around the world.
  • References and Reading:
    Bill Moyers talks with Richard Rodriguez about christianity and homosexuality on BILL MOYERS ON FAITH & REASON

    Watch Jonathan Miller on BILL MOYERS JOURNAL discuss how he's reconciled religion and science.

    Photo by Robin Holland

    Published June 8, 2007

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