DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
The Rev. Liz Beasley (canon for the Ministry of Development and Communications), left, Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and the Rev. Richard S.O. Chang (retiring bishop) talked yesterday following a press conference yesterday at St. Peter's Episcopal Church. Jefferts Schori, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, is the first woman to be elected the top leader of the church in the United States and is in Hawaii for the ordination tomorrow of the Rev. Robert Fitzpatrick as the fifth Hawaii bishop.
Bishop unbowed by controversy
Keeping the Episcopal Church inclusive is key to its U.S. leader
Full inclusion of homosexuals in the church has pitted the U.S. Episcopal Church against other branches of the worldwide denomination, but the leader of 2.4 million American Episcopalians said the controversy will not divert the church from its larger goals of social justice.
"Inclusion of gay and lesbian Christians is a major issue, but it is not all of our mission, just a piece of it," said the Right Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori. "Some people want to see it as a defining issue as to whether or not a person can be an Episcopalian. It's bigger than that. It has to be."
Jefferts Schori, the first woman to be elected presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, is in Honolulu to preside at the ordination today of new Hawaii Bishop Robert Fitzpatrick. She spoke to reporters yesterday at a press conference. She attended the meeting in Tanzania last month of presiding bishops of 38 Anglican Church provinces, at which a handful of conservative clergymen refused to participate in the Eucharist liturgy with her, a demonstration of the controversy that has raged since 2003 when the decision-making General Conference of the U.S. church voted to permit ordination of an openly gay bishop and to develop a ritual for blessing same-sex unions.
The prelates sent her home with a message calling for the Americans to "clarify" their positions by Sept. 30. That measure, and an earlier resolution from Anglican bishops, are viewed by some as an ultimatum and a threat that will splinter the 76 million-member church.
She said a delegation of Anglican women to a recent United Nations Conference on the Status of Women put matters in perspective: "They said the work of the Gospel is more important than that which divides us. What's important is to deal with poverty and illness.
"We've been asked to pause," said Jefferts Schori, who is outspoken in her stand for being inclusive. She said the issue will be discussed when the U.S. House of Bishops meets next weekend in Texas. "It will get sorted out in God's time."
It is not new for the Christian church to struggle with who will be included, she said.
"What we're faced with is one part of the church saying, 'You're going too fast, in the wrong direction.' Another part is saying we're not going fast enough, and a bunch in the middle saying, 'Well, we can live with this.'"
Jefferts Schori said, "The Body of Christ is really meant to include all the people you disagree with, people you find really annoying, obnoxious, and people you'd sit down to dinner with comfort."
"If we are engaged in battles royal, we're probably missing a significant chunk of our mission because of the distraction," she said.
She will leave this evening for a meeting in South Africa about the broader issues, church participation in meeting the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. The conference will address measures to fight AIDS and malaria in Africa.