It’s about context: Katharine Jefferts Schori speaks to AR paper

The Bible Belt Blogger has posted the full text of a recent interview with Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori. This is notable, imo, because in the time since her election at The Episcopal Church’s 2006 General Convention there have been a number of quotes from sermons and interviews which have further alarmed EC conservatives and many worldwide Anglican leaders and also given the rest of the church in the US reason to continue driving the diverse, inclusive theology party bus. So, when this post at Get Religion pointed to the interview transcript, I went to see if having the context made any difference for me. Emphasis on me – these thoughts are mine and reflect no official opinions or statements on behalf of my church, my bishops or my diocese whatsoever. Any comments are mine, kapish?

So, here are a couple of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s questions and the PBs answers as transcribed:

  • ADG: One of them is in an interview with the New York Times, when you talked about Episcopalians being more educated and less –

    KJS: The whole conversation was not reported.

    ADG: I’m sure. I know how that happens. But since Episcopalians don’t have as many children as some other folks, what are some of your ideas for growing the church? One of his passions is reaching out to people in the 18 to 25 age range.

    KJS: More power to him. That’s an essential piece of where our evangelism efforts need to be addressed. There are vast numbers of people in this country who are unchurched, who’ve been raised now without a faith tradition. That may be less so in this part of the country, but in the part of the country I come from, it’s normal. But many of those young people are asking spiritual questions. “Why am I here? What am I supposed to be about as a human being? How am I supposed to live in relationship with other people?” Those are questions that the Episcopal Church is well poised and well experienced in helping people to find answers. Not provide answers, but help people wrestle with the questions.

    ADG: How so?

    KJS: It’s a matter of openness more than anything else, and listening to the hunger that’s out there, offering a space and a community and a space in which to tell a person’s story and then beginning to connect that story with the larger story of our faith, if that makes sense.

    ADG: Could you be a little more specific about some of the things the Episcopal Church offers to help people deal with those questions?

    KJS: Well, we don’t come with a prescribed set of answers. We really do encourage people to wrestle with the question. To bring traditional sources to bear on it. Scripture, tradition and reason is how we talk about those sources. We insist that people use their minds in wrestling with questions. Faith is not meant to be unreasoned, or unreasonable. And I think that’s one of our gifts, that we’re willing to deal with a breadth of perspective, and encourage that breadth of perspective. It’s a mark of health.

    ADG: Speaking of that interview, what did get left out?

    KJS: Well, Episcopalians reproduce at lower rates than some other denominations for several reasons. There are clear connections between [reproductive] rates and educational level. It’s an inverse connection, as average education level goes up that group of people tends to reproduce at lower rates, and that’s certainly true in the Episcopal Church. It’s true of other mainline denominations as well. You don’t have a theological reason to reproduce at higher rates, unlike some other denominations and faith traditions. That’s the piece of complexity that got left out.

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  • ADG: I want to ask you about a couple of other things you’ve said in interviews. One of those was in the 10 questions in TIME magazine about the small box that people put God in. Could you elaborate a little bit on your take on “Jesus is the way, the truth and the life” [a paraphrase of John 14:16]?

    KJS: I certainly don’t disagree with that statement that Jesus is the way and the truth and the life. But the way it’s used is as a truth serum, or a touchstone: If you cannot repeat this statement, then you’re not a faithful Christian or person of faith. I think Jesus as way – that’s certainly what it means to be on a spiritual journey. It means to be in search of relationship with God. We understand Jesus as truth in the sense of being the wholeness of human expression. What does it mean to be wholly and fully and completely a human being? Jesus as life, again, an example of abundant life. We understand him as bringer of abundant life but also as exemplar. What does it mean to be both fully human and fully divine? Here we have the evidence in human form. So I’m impatient with the narrow understanding, but certainly welcoming of the broader understanding.

    ADG: What about the rest of that statement –

    KJS: The small box?

    ADG: Well, the rest of the verse, that no one comes to the Father except by the son.

    KJS: Again in its narrow construction, it tends to eliminate other possibilities. In its broader construction, yes, human beings come to relationship with God largely through their experience of holiness in other human beings. Through seeing God at work in other people’s lives. In that sense, yes, I will affirm that statement. But not in the narrow sense, that people can only come to relationship with God through consciously believing in Jesus.

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  • ADG: I want to ask you about something you said [in a radio interview] with Steve Crittenden in Australia. You were talking about issues of sexuality, and you said you thought that [objection to homosexuality] was more of an issue for men than for women, and women were more interested in — you didn’t say the Millennium Development Goals, but that was the kind of thing you were talking about. And right after your election, [a foreign journalist] asked you kind of a snide question about

    KJS: What would the average Anglican?

    ADG: Yeah, and Anglican women in Africa, think about your support for gays, and you said they’d be more concerned about food and education for their children. Do you have some evidence that the sexuality is more of an issue for men than for women?

    KJS: Well, who’s most heated up about it? Gatherings around the Anglican Communion that are primarily male seem to get captured by this issue. Gatherings that are primarily female get captured by passion for a human world. For human people and educating children and providing health care. The UN Commission on the Status of Women and the accompanying gathering of Anglican women at the UN over the year is probably the best evidence. And they have different opinions about issues of human sexuality, but that’s not the focus of their work together. The focus is on humans.

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  • ADG: That reminds me of something else you said. This was a CNN interview when Kyra Phillips asked you what happens when we die. You had an interesting answer that got some Southern Baptists riled up.

    KJS: OK. I didn’t hear their reaction.

    ADG: Al Mohler – I don’t know whether you’re familiar with him –

    KJS: I’m not.

    ADG: He’s a seminary president [at
    Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville] and has a blog and a radio show. [Mohler posted the exchange on his Web site]. It seemed to some people that you were saying there isn’t an afterlife.

    KJS: I don’t think Jesus was focused on that. I think Jesus was focused on heaven in this life, primarily. The Judeo-Christian tradition has always said yes, there is resurrection. There is life after death. But I think Jesus was not so worried about that. I think he’s worried about what we’re doing to treat our fellow human beings as children of God. He says the kingdom of heaven is among you, and within you, and around you.

    ADG: So does that mean that in your view there is no afterlife.

    KJS: That’s not what I said. I said what I think Jesus is more concerned about is heavenly existence, eternal life, in this life.

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Well, the context is important, and I’ve learned that we’re not talking about the same kind of context. It appears to me that KJS is placing a high value on the context of American culture, and specifically transmogrify the faith to fit into the culture. It certainly seems that the voices of the EC leadership resonate with hers in that regard. However, most of the worldwide Anglican Communion continues to believe that the faith as received from Christ and the Apostles and entrusted to the Church is a context unto itself, requiring application to culture rather than adaptation to culture. Knowing the full content of “what she meant” tells me that she was indeed quoted accurately. Yes, context is important.

One Response to “It’s about context: Katharine Jefferts Schori speaks to AR paper”

  1. James
    November 20, 2010 at 10:12 am #

    Thanks for this – and yes, context is everything. Looking carefully at context I think you will find that an exceedingly strong case can be made that Presiding Bishop Jefferts-Schori denies the resurrection and the divinity of Christ.

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