By Eileen Flynn
Saturday, May 19, 2007
The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, addressed the graduates of the Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest on Tuesday in Northwest Austin. After the commencement, Jefferts Schori, the first woman to lead the national church, sat down with an American-Statesman reporter to talk about her denomination's challenges, including tensions within the 2.4 million-member American province and with Anglicans worldwide and her recent public row with Nigerian bishop Peter Akinola. Jefferts Schori, 53, also touched on her view of smart church growth and why this is the "most exciting time to be an Anglican in generations." She's most passionate about what her church is doing that doesn't make headlines: feeding the hungry, empowering the poor, educating children.
[AMERICAN STATESMAN:] 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?
[PRESIDING BISHOP:] 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.
[PRESIDING BISHOP:] 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.
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