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Katharine Jefferts Schori: faith and culture

Katharine Jefferts Schori: faith and culture

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori discusses contemporary issues and the church with the Huffington Post:

In an hour-long conversation with HuffPost staffers, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, touched upon subjects that ranged from her views on how to interpret scripture and challenges that face the church as its demographics change to debates over contraception and the relationship between religion and science.

On same-sex marriage and other gay rights issues, Schori said she has been “stunned at how quickly public opinion has changed in the U.S.” though she cautioned that she doesn’t expect controversy over gay clergy in the Episcopal Church to fade. As more states legalize same-sex marriage, she said, conflicts in the church could become more frequent.

“We muddle through [controversial issues] in a very public way,” Schori (sic) of the church that has just under two million members in the United States.


[Jefferts] Schori also spoke of the recent controversy over a federal requirement that employers’ health insurance plans provide contraception coverage.

“It’s appropriate for couples to plan their families,” [Jefferts] Schori said, adding that contraception is a “normative part of health care.” She also said the Episcopal Church “has taken a very nuanced approach on abortion. We say it is a moral tragedy but that it should not be the government’s role to deny its availability.”

[Jefferts] Schori said that much of the conflict over sexuality among Episcopalians and Anglicans — and more widely, among Christians — comes from their differing interpretations of scripture. She warned against taking a strictly literal approach to the Bible.

She said her career as a scientist has influenced her belief that religion and science, which are often painted as incompatible, can coexist. Schori said she encourages parishes to tackle issues such as climate change and poverty.

“We are increasingly concerned that the way human beings use resources here in the developed part of the world has an increasing impact on poor people not only here but around the world,” [Jefferts] Schori said. “Our part in what we call God’s mission is to help heal the world, heal the brokenness of the world.”

[Jefferts] Schori said that she is “not caught up in the numbers game.”

“I don’t know if people in the 1960s were as well-formed or as well-committed … It was socially normative to be part of a church in the 50s and 60s,” she said, adding that she believes attending church today is a more active decision than it used to be.

“We don’t count the right way. How many lives has the work of a congregation touched this year?” she said. “That’s a more important question than counting who came to church on a Sunday.”

Watch Two Minutes of Wisdom from the Presiding Bishop here.


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Bill Dilworth

Re: SSBs. I think the intention is to avoid as far and as long as possible the idea that we are changing the theology of Matrimony. After all, a good deal of the lobbying for this was not based on arguments from marriage, but along the lines of “Why can we bless animals and ocean liners but not same sex couples?”

Personally, I wish the SCLM had gone with something like the Adelphopoiesis rite, if it was determined we absolutely needed such a rite. I see the whole issue as a distraction from the IMNSHO important issue, which is civil marriage equality. And it feels a little too much like aping straight people to be entirely comfortable.

Richard E. Helmer


I agree in principle with your concerns re:the proposed same gendered blessings and the “separate but (un)equal” status they give couples. The practical problem the SCLM was trying to tackle in their work is that civil law around this matter currently is literally all over the map, and a blanket marriage service would create legal headaches for couples and clergy in many areas of the Church. They see this only as an interim step until civil law settles more and the Church decides to take on the more involved constitutional change around the marriage definition in the BCP. Still, I wonder if there might have been a more effective approach, though I cannot now assert what that might be.

Thanks for your corrective to my implying unintentionally that abortion is only a concern where poverty is involved. Of course it isn’t. As an ethical matter, I think your account rightly touches the question of moral agency and authority. That is: who ultimately has the most information and agency to decide when an abortion is necessary?

FWIW, I think — self critically here — that we men should be largely silent on the matter!

Wendy Dackson

Among my acquaintances, I only know of a small number who have had abortions (there may be more who have not shared the information with me). Of these few , none were poor, none were single, none had become pregnant accidentally. They were all white, middle class, married, Christian women who had planned for and deeply desired to be mothers. In each case, either the baby had deficits that were (in the words of one of the women) ‘incompatible with life’, or their own health was becoming so compromised by the pregnancy that, if carried to term, they may not have been able to care for the child, or existing siblings.

As long as women become pregnant, and as long as pregnancy carries risks to a woman’s health, abortion will at least theoretically be something that could occur. To pass laws to make it more traumatic, or less available, is unacceptable.

Wendy Dackson

I also question the need for special liturgies for same-sex couples. We already *have* liturgies for marriage and blessings because we’ve always done that. If the church wants to marry and bless marriages of same sex couples, is having separate liturgies from those of mixed-sex marriages one more way of saying they are not the same in the eyes of God?

Wendy Dackson

I think her concern for something other than attendance numbers is absolutely right, and she’s got a good idea of what the correct measure of a church’s influence and effectiveness is. Is it a ‘we don’t care if you come, because we’re above you all’, as another writer suggested? I don’t think so. I think what she’s saying is that the church is there to serve–and in a culture that is increasingly a ‘what’s in it for me’ thing, that’s not bad. I spent a lot of time researching a Church of England diocese, and the influence of the church in any community is far more than you’d ever guess by mere attendance numbers. (I’ll grant that the structures which fund the church are very different, and legal establishment is also a factor.)

All that said, one disturbing thing in the US is a demand by many churches of a higher commitment (in time, money, even ‘belief’) than a lot of people are willing or able to make. We’re too wrapped up in an ‘all or nothing’ vision of church life. We may have to demand a little less of each individual, so that more people can share the responsibilities of church life and more on their own terms.

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