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TERRY GROSS, Host:

This is Fresh Air. I'm Terry Gross. The Episcopal Church has been facing the possibility of schism over the issue of homosexuality, particularly the ordination of gay bishops. On Saturday, the Pittsburgh diocese voted to break away from the Episcopal Church, becoming the second diocese to do so. The first was San Joaquin, California. Both dioceses are now aligned with a conservative Anglican province in South America.

My guest, Katharine Jefferts Schori, is the presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church, which is affiliated with the worldwide Anglican Communion. She's the first woman to serve as presiding bishop, and the ordination of women as bishop remains controversial in parts of the Anglican Communion. I spoke with Bishop Jefferts Schori on Thursday. Before we hear that interview, let's hear the update we recorded this morning about Saturday's vote in Pittsburgh.

Bishop Jefferts Schori, welcome to Fresh Air. How did you get the news that Pittsburgh had officially voted to secede?

KATHARINE JEFFERTS SCHORI: I was participating at a service of repentance where the Episcopal Church was apologizing for the sin of slavery and the way in which it has participated in it and profited from it over the last centuries in this land. I was in Philadelphia at the time, and following the service, someone brought me the news.

GROSS: What was your reaction to hearing about the secession?

JEFFERTS SCHORI: Well, obviously, I'm very sad. It's unnecessary. I think a number of people in the diocese of Pittsburgh really don't understand what the Episcopal Church believes and teaches. They've been led to believe that we're heretics. I don't think that's the case. We will work to reconstitute the remaining people, Episcopalians, in the diocese of Pittsburgh and ensure that the door is open and that people feel welcome to return if they wish to do so.

GROSS: So I know a lot of this has to do with the ordination of gay bishops. What are the other issues that the Pittsburgh secessionists disagree with?

JEFFERTS SCHORI: Well, they would tell you that issues of human sexuality are of major importance, that they're important enough to separate from a body that's been in common relationship for centuries. They also, some of them indicate that they believe that leaders in the Episcopal Church are teaching things that they say are un-Christian.

GROSS: Like what?

JEFFERTS SCHORI: They, some of them, believe that I and other bishops in the church teach that Jesus is not the son of God, and that's patently false.

GROSS: You teach that Jesus is the son of God and is also - was also a man. Is that?

JEFFERTS SCHORI: Yeah, fully human and fully divine, and that's been the orthodox teaching of Christians since the very early days of the church.

GROSS: And the secessionists object to the fully human part?

JEFFERTS SCHORI: No, no. They assert that we're teaching that Jesus is not the son of God, not fully divine.

GROSS: Now, Pittsburgh is the second diocese to vote to secede. Does this open the door to other dioceses in the Episcopal Church to vote to secede?

JEFFERTS SCHORI: We don't believe that dioceses can vote to secede. Our canons don't permit that; our church law is very clear that dioceses exist because they're in relationship to general convention. When leaders in the church do undertake a vote like this, we believe that disqualifies them from holding office because it violates their duty to uphold the rules in the church, the constitution and canons of the church. That said, we think that there may be two other dioceses where such actions may happen later this fall, in the diocese of Fort Worth, in Texas, and in the diocese of Quincy in southern Illinois.

GROSS: Are there compromises that you could've made with these dissenting members of the church in order to keep them?

JEFFERTS SCHORI: We - we've bent over backwards in recent years, and it's been over the course of many years that this controversy has been developing. We believe that we've done all we can do to assure the Episcopalians that there's room for them in this church, that we honor a diversity of viewpoints, and we will ensure that they can worship in ways that are appropriate to their beliefs.

GROSS: So what happens now? The church is going to maintain a diocese in Pittsburgh. It will just have a lot fewer people in it. Is that right?

JEFFERTS SCHORI: That's correct.

GROSS: And a different bishop.

JEFFERTS SCHORI: That's correct.

GROSS: Is this a sad moment for you?

JEFFERTS SCHORI: Exceedingly sad. When some members of the body decide that they no longer want to be in fellowship, we're all diminished by that.

GROSS: You know, it's funny, I don't know if you'll agree with this, but I know when I was younger and a lot of people were leaving their religions or thinking about it, it often had to do with the fact that they thought their religions were too conservative and too caught up in the past and not catching up with the fact that women wanted equal rights, the gays wanted equal rights. That, you know, that the liturgies and the customs just hadn't caught up with contemporary reality. Are you surprised that the pendulum in the Episcopal Churches is moving the other way, there are people breaking away because they are finding the church too liberal?

JEFFERTS SCHORI: Well, I actually get letters from people on both ends of the spectrum. I hear from people who are annoyed and grieved that the Episcopal Church has not been able to deal as fully welcoming to the ministry of gay and lesbian people as it has. I also hear from people who are furious that we even think about such things. The reality is that we are attracting members who find this a congenial home in which to pursue their spiritual journey because we are more open on some issues than others.

GROSS: What are the special responsibilities for you, as the presiding bishop of the church, dealing with such a painful time?

JEFFERTS SCHORI: Well, to ensure that people across the spectrum know that there's a place for them in this church, that we care about them, that the people who've departed know that we don't wish them ill, that, in fact, we pray for them and pray that they will find blessing in their new home.

GROSS: Katharine Jefferts Schori is the presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church. That interview was recorded this morning. Before we hear the interview I recorded with her on Thursday, let's hear a soundbite from Robert Duncan, the bishop who led the movement in Pittsburgh to secede from the Episcopal Church. He headed a group created to oppose the ordination of gays.

We spoke in December 2004, a year after Gene Robinson became the first openly gay person to be ordained as a bishop in the Episcopal Church. I had mentioned to Bishop Duncan that Bishop Robinson had said, it doesn't help to say hate the sin but love the sinner because one's sexuality is such an important part of who one is. You can't just separate them out that way. Here's Bishop Duncan's response.

ROBERT DUNCAN: What I'm saying and what we are trying to say in the gentlest, most graceful, most Christ-like way is that we didn't make the rules here, that God did, and that we believe God knows what he's doing, even if at times we question it. Again, scripture describes the human race as fallen and all of us as sinners. And if, even if it were allowed, which, again, is much disputed that orientation has some genetic part of it, as well as what all would agree is an environmental part - even if it has some genetic part, there are many genetic conditions that people have to live with, have to work with, have to work through and work around.

The Church loves us in whatever disorder or disease we may be afflicted with by the fallenness of the creation.

GROSS: So...

DUNCAN: And that's all I can say about the affectional same-sex sort of wiring, that it's an affectional disorder. That's - those are hard words, but I think they're true words. They're at least consistent with the scriptural description of who we are and how God's made the world.

GROSS: It's Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh from the Episcopal Church, recorded in December 2004.

Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, what are the pros and cons of keeping communion with people who think that gay people have a serious disorder, people like Bishop Duncan, and that Jesus wouldn't want gay people to have the same rights as everyone else? I know you'd like to keep the church together, but what are the pros and cons of keeping together with people who have views that I believe you would think don't respect the full human rights of everyone?

JEFFERTS SCHORI: Well, it's more than human rights. It's human dignity. The great reason to continue to try to hold the church together is that, if some decide to leave, they're no longer partners to conversation. If we're in dialogue with people with whom we disagree, we can learn from each other. There is the possibility of conversion, of changed opinions on all sides. If we remain together, we also have a far greater ability to serve the needs of our neighbors, both nearby and far away.

The Anglican Communion is one of the largest distribution mechanisms on Earth, if you will. There are Anglican churches beyond the ends of roads all over the world, and they have an ability to serve people that's essentially unsurpassed by other human organizations around the world. Jesus said that the primary task is to love God and love your neighbor, and loving our neighbor looks like feeding the hungry and watering the thirsty and clothing the naked and housing the homeless. And that is a great part of the human condition around the world, and it needs the energy and gifts of all of us.

GROSS: Now, you talk about the importance of dialogue with people who you don't - who don't believe the same thing that you do, in the hopes of understanding each other and maybe persuading each other. But, you know, when Bishop Duncan says, we didn't make the rules, Jesus did, and he's confident that he knows the rules that Jesus made and one of those rules is that gays have an affectional disorder, and, you know, you just can't accept homosexuality - what are the odds that a real conversation will come out of that? You know, when someone is so certain that you are wrong and they are right and that Jesus is on their side?

JEFFERTS SCHORI: To say that Jesus made rules about homosexuality is a very odd reading of the Bible because Jesus doesn't say anything about homosexuality. To take the kind of position that people did earlier in our history, that people who were left-handed were infected by evil spirits, we don't understand that today, but it was not an easy transition for many people to make.

GROSS: The U.S. bishops in the Episcopal Church voted earlier this month to authorize you to depose Bishop Duncan of Pittsburgh. What does that mean?

JEFFERTS SCHORI: That means that, at this point, he no longer has the rights or privileges or responsibilities to function as an ordained member of the clergy representing the Episcopal Church. Those bishops made that decision on the basis of his past actions and statements, his encouragement to members of the diocese of Pittsburgh and others to leave the Episcopal Church, and we believe that's a violation of the promises that he made when he was ordained.

GROSS: You know, you talked about the importance of maintaining a conversation within the church about issues upon which you disagree. Have you tried to talk with Bishop Duncan about the issue of homosexuality? And if so, is there anything you can tell us about the conversations?

JEFFERTS SCHORI: Well, certainly, I have tried to talk with him. We've been fellow members of the House of Bishops since I entered that body in 2001. He's been very clear in his opinions. There have been, you know, many interchanges. I don't think there has been a great deal of movement.

GROSS: What happens when a diocese secedes, and, you know, the first to secede was the San Joaquin diocese, and they joined with a Latin American province that is very conservative. So what happened in San Joaquin?

JEFFERTS SCHORI: Well, our understanding is that a diocese cannot secede. A diocese in the Episcopal Church is created by general convention. And when it first comes into being, it passes a resolution in its own convention that says it agrees to abide by the canons and constitution of the Episcopal Church. And part of that says that they won't do things that are in violation of the constitution and canons of the Episcopal Church.

Our understanding is that a vote to leave violates those canons. Yes, some people did decide to leave the Episcopal Church, but the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin continues today with a number of Episcopalians and now a provisional bishop who has been welcomed by the people of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin.

GROSS: Are there a lot of controversies in the wake of a split within a diocese over what belongs to the church and what belongs to the secessionists? I'm sure you'd think it belongs to the church, but they might disagree.

JEFFERTS SCHORI: Well, yes, there is controversy over that. Our church was wise enough 30 or so years ago to add to its canons a clear statement that all the assets of the Episcopal Church are held in trust for the whole body, that individual congregations or dioceses don't own things outright.

They were given by people, actually under the laws, the charitable donation laws of the United States in many cases, for the purposes, mission purposes, of the Episcopal Church. For people in a congregation to say, well, we gave this, therefore, we can take it back both violates church law and violates our secular law in the United States.

GROSS: What are some of the issues that the more liberal parts of the Anglican Communion have come in conflict with the more conservative branches?

JEFFERTS SCHORI: Well, there's an ongoing conversation, sometimes heated, about how we understand Scripture and often vigorous conversation about what our liturgical practices are, how we worship in community. That's been true of the Anglican Communion from the beginning.

The great Elizabethan Settlement in the early days of the Church of England, after it separated from Roman authority, had to do with what people actually believed about holy communion, about the Eucharist. And what Queen Elizabeth I did was basically to say, you can believe what you want in your own heart, but you're going to share in one common worship service and, in that manner, drew together the various strands of Anglicanism.

Those strands continue. They've developed and grown over the years, and at various times in our history as a communion, there have been outbreaks of energy in various of those strands that have generated some controversy with the others.

GROSS: You are the first woman to preside over the Episcopal Church. How controversial was your ordination as a bishop and then your consecration as the presiding bishop?

JEFFERTS SCHORI: I was ordained as a bishop in Nevada for the Diocese of Nevada in 2001. I don't think it was particularly controversial. I wasn't the first woman diocesan bishop in the Episcopal Church or the first in the communion. I think I was number 12. Yeah, there was some controversy over my election as the presiding bishop in 2006, particularly, I think, by the three diocesan bishops who don't believe that women should be ordained. One of them is now gone. He was the bishop of San Joaquin. I've had reasonable relationships with the bishop of Quincy, who's one of the others, and the bishop of Fort Worth is the third. Clearly, I represent an offense to their understanding of theology and whether or not it's appropriate for a woman to be ordained at all.

GROSS: What's your understanding of their grounds for believing that it's inappropriate for a woman to be ordained as a bishop?

JEFFERTS SCHORI: Well, the usual appeal is to tradition, that the church has never done it before, that it's been male clergy from the beginning. But if you read the Gospels carefully, you soon discover that the apostle to the apostles was Mary Magdalene. Usually, Episcopal ministry, the ministry of a bishop is grounded in the ministry of the apostles. So, again, it comes down to a difference in biblical interpretation.

GROSS: Tradition is such a complicated thing in religion. On the one hand, tradition is part of what makes religion beautiful, the sense of connection to history, a connection to a larger group of people, to a larger history, but at the same time, tradition is often used as a weapon to prevent change, including a more egalitarian understanding of human rights and human dignity. Can you talk a little bit about the kind of conundrum of tradition and religion?

JEFFERTS SCHORI: Well, tradition is how we pass on what we value, but the reality is that, if it never changes, it dies. If we were really serious about tradition, we would still be speaking Aramaic in church, and there's some Christians who do that. We would never have translated the worship service or the Bible into language that everyday people can understand. We would be running around in Middle Eastern clothing from the first century. We don't do that completely, you know, although our vestments have some similarity.

The Bible doesn't talk about lots of issues that people have to deal with today. And we've changed our mind about some things that the Bible seems to be very clear about, one of them being, for example, charging interest on a loan. Given the financial upset in - around the world at present, I think people can begin to understand why there is great concern in the Bible over how you treat loans. But the church, later in its history, by the Middle Ages, let go of the prohibition against charging interest. That's simply one example. If the tradition cannot address new conditions in human society, it dies.

GROSS: This is Fresh Air. I'm Terry Gross back with Katharine Jefferts Schori, the presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church, which is affiliated with the worldwide Anglican Communion. She became the first woman elected to this position in 2006. The ordination of women remains controversial in parts of the Anglican Communion. Before being elected presiding bishop, Jefferts Schori was the bishop of Nevada. And before she was ordained a priest, she was an oceanographer.

Now, I want to get back to the issue of the controversy over your position as the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church of the United States. My understanding is that the Pope is against it, and that the Vatican said that this would be an obstacle to the reconciliation between the Anglican and the Roman Catholic Church. Were things moving toward a reconciliation? I mean, and what would that mean? The Anglican Church split from the Catholic Church in the 1500s.

JEFFERTS SCHORI: Correct, over issues of authority. The Roman Church said in the 1800s and had said repeatedly that Anglican orders are invalid. Any Anglican bishop is a problem for Rome in that sense. When women first began to be ordained in Anglicanism, and the first one was in 1942, I believe, in Hong Kong, that presented another problem. The fact that there have been women bishops since 1989 does not represent any more of a problem than the fact that one bishop has been elected to preside in one part of the Anglican Communion.

And in fact, some Roman Catholic commentators were able to say that two years ago that, you know, it should have been anticipated that, as soon as women were ordained as priests, then the possibility that some would be ordained as bishops follows logically, and that some of those bishops might eventually be named as primates in their provinces. So, yes, it may be an issue, but it's no more of an issue than ordaining women in the first place.

GROSS: Do you think the Vatican sees the ordination of women in the Episcopal Church and the larger Anglican Church as a threat?

JEFFERTS SCHORI: Well, it certainly means that the conversation is public and probably gives comfort, in some sense, to people in the Roman Catholic tradition who would like to see women ordained as clergy as well.

GROSS: Can you just give us an update now on where the larger Anglican Communion stands on the ordination of gay bishops and the blessing of same-sex unions?

JEFFERTS SCHORI: The archbishop of Canterbury wrote some years ago that he did not see a problem with full inclusion for gay and lesbian people in the church. His position while he's been archbishop of Canterbury has not been that, that it's too divisive to the communion at present. The Lambeth Conference in 1998 passed a resolution in a rather interesting parliamentary way, to which a majority of the bishops consented, that said that the official teaching of the Anglican Communion is that sexual relationships are only appropriate within a heterosexual marriage, and that therefore, it's not appropriate to ordain a gay or lesbian person in a committed partnered relationship or to bless unions.

The Lambeth Conference that met this summer had deep conversations but didn't pass any resolutions. I think that was one of the great gifts of that conference. We were able in smaller groups to have conversations to learn more about each other's contexts, for some bishops in other parts of the communion to begin to understand the urgency we feel in this church and in the Church of Canada to provide full entry and welcome for gay and lesbian people in this church and for bishops in this church and in Canada to hear how difficult that has made the lives of some others in parts of the communion that are in predominantly Muslim societies or in societies, cultural contexts where it's simply taboo to talk about issues of human sexuality in public.

GROSS: I guess I just don't know how you reconcile that. How do you reconcile the Muslim communities who really are so uncomfortable with the idea of homosexuality or even talking about sexual issues with the churches who have gay members who want to be, you know, full-fledged human beings with acceptance in the church, with the right to same-sex unions. How do you make that fit?

JEFFERTS SCHORI: Well, you know, if you insist you have to have a final decision right now, yes, it's very uncomfortable. But Christians at least are invited to live in hope that at the end of all time, creation will be healed, and healed in the sense that the divisions that cause us so much distress in the current moment will be resolved. There's a great part of, you know, the understanding of faith, and I think this is true in most of the world's great religious traditions, that truth and paradox have something to do with each other.

In Christianity, we say that Jesus is both human and divine, both fully human and fully divine. That's a paradox. It's a very difficult thing to resolve. We also say that we understand God as trinity, as three persons who aren't fully separate, that we understand God as a unity in three persons. That's not easy to resolve either. The fact that we're trying to live in a communion where some churches think it's of vast importance to be able to provide appropriate care to gay and lesbian people by blessing their unions, and that we ought to be able to elect a bishop who happens to be gay and in a partnered relationship, and other parts of the communion who find that anathema - well, welcome to the human condition. We haven't sorted out all of the world's problems just yet.

GROSS: As the leader of the Episcopal Church of the United States of America...

JEFFERTS SCHORI: And it's not just in the United States, which is sometimes misunderstood. We're also present in Taiwan and Micronesia, in Honduras, Ecuador, Venezuela, Colombia, Haiti, which is our largest diocese, the Dominican Republic, the British and U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and a group of churches in Europe.

GROSS: So you are the primate of those areas as well?

JEFFERTS SCHORI: Yes.

GROSS: Wow. That's a very diverse area. So what are some of the goals you have under your leadership for reconciling between the culturally different parts of the church and for trying to move the church, which I think you would want to do, more toward a direction of the acceptance of homosexuality and the acceptance of women as leaders.

JEFFERTS SCHORI: As the presence in those many different places, you know, might suggest, we are a very multicultural church. We're a multinational church. We're a multiethnic church, and issues that are of great importance in one part of the church are not necessarily of great importance in another part of the church. You know, the interesting part to me is that it's only within a few places in the United States that there is this great debate and great angst over gay and lesbian presence in the church.

It's not affecting our dioceses overseas. They may not agree with the decisions, but they've got far more essential issues to attend to, like people dying of starvation and disease because there isn't adequate healthcare or food. I think that's where we need to be moving, to understand the issues of homosexuality as one part of our mission but not the whole of our mission.

And when we can begin to remember that we're called to serve all of our neighbors, not just the gay and lesbian community. They're an essential part of the whole, but they are not the whole. It's only when we're serving people who are dying and in prison and trying to raise their children in creative ways, and gay and lesbian people, that we can begin to become a whole community, that we can begin to represent the body of Christ.

GROSS: Now, you grew up for the first nine years of your life in the Roman Catholic church, and then your parents switched, and, of course you went along with them, to the Episcopal Church when you were nine. At that young age, did you notice differences between the two churches?

JEFFERTS SCHORI: Oh, immense differences. The Episcopal Church was an experience of worshiping in a small and intimate community. My experience of Sunday church, at least in the Roman Catholic tradition, had been of vast crowds, anonymous, of observing what went on more than participating. The Episcopal Church was much more participatory, involved, and we really became members of a community.

GROSS: You studied oceanography. I think you have your doctorate in oceanography, and you specialized in studying the octopus and...

JEFFERTS SCHORI: Squids and octopuses.

GROSS: Squids and octopuses.

JEFFERTS SCHORI: Right.

GROSS: Yeah. So, at what point did you start to become serious about wanting to become a leader within the church?

JEFFERTS SCHORI: Well, I had the odd experience in the mid-1980s of having three people in my congregation within about two weeks ask me if I'd ever thought about being a priest. I hadn't. When I was growing up, girls could sing in the choir. That's not one of my gifts. And that was basically all they could do in church. And it was an odd enough experience to hear this from three different people that I went and, you know, spent some significant time in discernment with the priest in that congregation. And we came to the conclusion that, at the very least, the time wasn't right. So I went off and did other things in the community. And five years later, a different priest in that congregation asked me to preach on a Sunday morning when the clergy were supposed to be away at a meeting. And that experience, right before the first Gulf War started, and preparing for it and hearing the response afterward finally let me say yes. And I went to seminary the next fall.

GROSS: So several people had said to you within a short period of time, have you ever thought about becoming a priest? Why do you think they asked you that? What did they see in you that you hadn't realized about yourself?

JEFFERTS SCHORI: I think they saw somebody who was wrestling with faith, who was trying to make sense out of the great stories of our faith in a current context, somebody who was offering to serve in particular ways in that congregation.

GROSS: What were some of the issues you were wrestling with within your faith?

JEFFERTS SCHORI: I left church when I was in college. I hadn't gotten a lot of help as a teenager, early teenager, making sense out of, you know, a childhood faith and the science that I was learning. You know, I think it's a fairly common journey for people as they grow up, how is it that we begin to move beyond that first naivete in how we read the stories and hear the ancient truths and how we begin to move into a - we encounter the cognitive dissonance, if you will, from looking at the world in an enlightenment perspective, and how do we move beyond that to what some have called a second naivete, an ability to live with paradox. We talked about that a little bit earlier. You know, truth has got an essential piece of it that has to do with being able to hold together at one time several perspectives.

GROSS: So, you talked about trying to reconcile the faith that you had learned as a child with the science and I imagine, in particular, the evolutionary science that you were learning as an oceanographer. So when you temporarily left the church, when you went back to the Episcopal Church, how was your adult understanding of, say, Genesis different from your childhood understanding?

JEFFERTS SCHORI: Well, I'm sure that, as a child, I never noticed that there were two creation stories, and that they say rather different things. The cosmological creation story that science talks about speaks about everything coming into existence from nothing. And, you know, if you read that first creation story in Genesis about the order in which things appear, it's not too different. I began to recognize that religion asks questions of meaning, that it asks how it is we should live together in ways that produce a good community, a healthy and holy and whole community, and that science asks questions that have much more to do with process and mechanism, how things come to be and what's out there rather than why.

GROSS: So, what was - like, how would you describe your reconciliation now between Genesis and evolutionary science?

JEFFERTS SCHORI: They're both very important stories. Genesis says essential things about what it means to live in community with other human beings and the rest of creation and with God. Evolutionary science says a great deal about how we've come to be the way we are.

GROSS: So what do you say to people who want to teach, you know, intelligent design or creationism?

JEFFERTS SCHORI: I think that's a very limited view of the world. I think we have a much more expansive view of what it means to be a human being if we can read the creation stories of our faith and the scientific creation story together. If we can understand that they ask different questions and lead us to different kinds of answers, we have a fuller view of the whole than if we insist that one of them is the other.

GROSS: We're nearing the end of the presidential campaign. There's a movement by some pastors to challenge the law that says you can't endorse a candidate from the pulpit and still have your church or synagogue or mosque get tax-exempt status. What are your opinions of that challenge?

JEFFERTS SCHORI: I think it's a rare congregation of whatever faith tradition that holds people who have exactly the same ideas. And a pastor's job at its best is to seek to feed and nurture and encourage every member of the flock and not just the ones who agree with you. And if you take a public position on one particular person, you, in some sense, elevate that person to a god within your religious tradition. That seems wholly inappropriate. We're all limited human beings, you know.

Every candidate on the ballot has got limitations, has got problems. None of them is a god. The task of informed faithful voters is to make the best decision they can based on the values that they think are most important. And certainly, I'm going to preach about the values that I think are essential, and they have a great deal to do with building that society of shalom or salaam. They don't - you know, I will make a decision when I cast my own ballot, but I don't think it's my job to tell other people how to cast theirs. It is my job to help them recognize what their faith has to say about building a just society.

GROSS: As the first woman serving as presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church, do you feel like you bring anything different to the position? And also, do you have any special goals for women in the church?

JEFFERTS SCHORI: Well, my goal is that great healing of creation, the one that Jesus claims as his mission in the fourth chapter of Luke, that, you know, to set the prisoners free and to give sight to the blind and to feed the hungry. Women and children are often the ones at the bottom. They are often the ones most in need of food and medicine. The Millennium Development Goals speak a great deal about the needs of women and children for those very reasons. They are overrepresented among the poorest.

My role as presiding bishop, you know, I can't compare it with the experience of a man. I don't know that it's different. I think probably my leadership has been more influenced by my training as a scientist; you know, that's probably more different than my gender.

GROSS: In what sense?

JEFFERTS SCHORI: I've been trained to look carefully at the world, to make a hypothesis and test it rather than coming with a preconceived idea or assumption about how things are.

GROSS: And that leads you to challenge what kinds of things?

JEFFERTS SCHORI: Well, I think it lets me look for the good in a variety of positions. It lets me - encourages me, along with my faith tradition, to look for the image of God in my opponent as well as my friend. It encourages me to try to find the blessing in the challenge and not simply to see it as a problem.

GROSS: Bishop Jefferts Schori, thank you so much for talking with us.

JEFFERTS SCHORI: It's been a joy, Terry. Thank you.

GROSS: Katharine Jefferts Schori is the presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church.

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