THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH'S ELECTION of its first female presiding bishop has made a split with the Anglican Communion even more likely. Katharine Jefferts Schori delighted Episcopalians who support gay bishops, same-sex unions, and other liberal social policies. But her victory also confirmed what church conservatives have long feared: The liberal majority is going to keep pushing until the leftward drift of the past few decades is complete.
Jefferts Schori embodies the Episcopal evolution. While bishop of Nevada, she voted for a gay bishop's consecration and allowed same-sex blessings. She was also noted for her political activism. In letters to Nevada politicians, she quoted Scripture and used the power of her office to lobby for liberal policies.
On April 21, 2004, she wrote to Nevada senators Harry Reid and John Ensign on the subject of immigration: "The Bible repeatedly enjoins people of faith to remember the stranger, to care for those without family or roots in a place, and to ensure that they are fed, housed, and shown hospitality." She then chastised the United States for "[forgetting] that mandate, especially since September 11th," because "the fear-mongering of late has eclipsed the demand to treat our neighbors fairly and humanely."
In an October 31, 2005 letter to Nevada's entire congressional delegation, Jefferts Schori opposed the FY 2006 federal budget reconciliation, which provided funding for Hurricane Katrina relief. "The budget process provides the opportunity for Congress and the President to work together to address the poverty that exists in this nation," she explained. "Congress must not exacerbate poverty . . . by passing a budget that further impoverishes one group of already poor people in our nation in order to help those newly or more deeply impoverished by the recent hurricanes . . . . We must not ask the poorest among us to bear a burden which should be borne by this entire nation."
The new presiding bishop is no doubt to the left of most Americans. Speaking in vague, poetic language, Jefferts Schori exudes a West-coast liberal aura. "I've always found a great sense of spirituality in the out-of-doors," she recently told PBS's Religion & Ethics Newsweekly. "The wilderness is a place of great gifts. It may be threatening to some people; it ought to be threatening, I think, in some important way. But it is a place where I discover God, and what God is calling me to do and be."
She also aims to have a universal appeal. In a recent interview with Time, she was asked, "Is belief in Jesus the only way to get to heaven?" Her response: "We who practice the Christian tradition understand him as our vehicle to the divine. But for us to assume that God could not act in other ways is, I think, to put God in an awfully small box." In a homily right after her election at the general convention, Jefferts Schori casually referred to "our mother Jesus."
Telling a national magazine that there could be ways to heaven other than Jesus is, of course, contrary to what Jesus himself said on the matter: "I am the way, and the truth, and the light. There is no way to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). As for "mother Jesus," when questioned about it, Jefferts Schori responded that she was merely echoing the thesis of the 14th century mystic Julian of Norwich.
Nebulous language and politically correct theology have not endeared Jefferts Schori to conservatives who feel that clarity, not ambiguity, is needed from the church's new leader. She has stated, "I will bend over backward to build relationships with people who disagree with me." If the new presiding bishop really wants to "build relationships" with conservative Episcopalians, she has a long way to go.
Jamie Deal is an intern at The Weekly Standard.