Questions for Katharine Jefferts Schori
State of the Church
Interview by DEBORAH SOLOMON
Published: November 19, 2006
Q: You just took office as the first woman to head the Episcopal Church, and curiously enough, you come from a science background, having worked as an oceanographer for years.
As a scientist with a Ph.D., what do you make of the Christian fundamentalists who say the earth was created in six days and dismiss evolution as a lot of bunk?
I think it’s a horrendous misunderstanding of both science and active faith tradition. I understand the great creation story in the scientific sense — big bang and evolutionary theory — as the best understanding of how we have come to be what we are: not the meaning behind it, but the process behind it. Genesis is about the meaning behind that.
Your critics see you as an unrepentant liberal who supports the ordination of gay bishops. Are you trying to bolster the religious left?
No. We’re not about being either left or right. We’re about being comprehensive.
How many members of the Episcopal Church are there in this country?
About 2.2 million. It used to be larger percentagewise, but Episcopalians tend to be better-educated and tend to reproduce at lower rates than some other denominations. Roman Catholics and Mormons both have theological reasons for producing lots of children.
Episcopalians aren’t interested in replenishing their ranks by having children?
No. It’s probably the opposite. We encourage people to pay attention to the stewardship of the earth and not use more than their portion.
You’re actually Catholic by birth; your parents joined the Episcopal Church when you were 9. What led them to convert?
It was before Vatican II had any influence in local parishes, and I think my parents were looking for a place where wrestling with questions was encouraged rather than discouraged.
Have you met Pope Benedict?
I have not. I think it would be really interesting.
He became embroiled in controversy this fall after suggesting that Muslims have a history of violence.
So do Christians! They have a terrible history. Look at history in the Dark Ages. Charlemagne converted whole tribes by the sword. I think Muslims are poorly understood by the West, and it is easy to latch onto that which we do not understand and demonize it.
What do you make of Ted Haggard, who just stepped down as the head of the National Association of Evangelicals, after he was accused of cavorting with a gay escort?
I think it’s very sad. We’re always surprised when we see people’s clay feet. Our culture seems to delight in exposing them. I think we have a prurient interest in other people’s failings.
You can’t blame the Haggard case on the culture or the media. It isn’t a story about sex so much as the disturbing hypocrisy of a church leader.
But we’re all hypocrites. All of us.
You’re very forgiving.
I like the word “shalom.” I use it in my correspondence, I use it in my sermons, and that’s how I sign my e-mails — “shalom.” To me it is a concrete reminder of what it is we’re all supposed to be about.
Because it means peace in Hebrew?
It means far more than peace. I think it’s a vision of the human community. Those great visions of Isaiah — every person fed, no more strife, the ill are healed, prisoners are released.
You were previously bishop of Nevada, but your new position requires you to live in New York City. Do you and your husband like it here?
He is actually in Nevada. He is a retired mathematician. He will be here in New York when it makes sense.
I hear you’re a pilot.
I got my license when I was 18.
You have many talents.
Many crazinesses, many passions.