Katharine Jefferts Schori might be presiding over one of the biggest schisms in Christendom since the Reformation. As the new head of the U.S. Episcopal Church, Schori has caught flack from the Worldwide Anglican Communion (WAC) not only for being the first female head of a national Anglican church, but also for supporting the ordination of gay bishops. Schori, in turn, has made it clear that the Anglican conservatives obsessing over such ordinations are not only wrong, but fighting the wrong fight. She wants to move the Episcopal Church’s attention from debating the presence of Jesus in the wafer and the sexual orientation of bishops to issues like global poverty. If she has her way, the Church will spend more time ministering to the impoverished and implementing the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals and less time on theological esoterica.
Progressive members of all American religions should recognize Schori’s efforts to modernize her faith in opposition to fundamentalist coreligionists. Her battle with reactionary Anglicans echoes, for example, the struggle of liberal American Catholics to come to terms with a the conservative turn of the church under Pope Benedict. And though Judaism possesses no central body such as the Catholic Church or the WAC, we share similar struggles with the Israeli rabbinate, which grows increasingly frank in its contempt for the modernized, non-Orthodox movements that are the bedrock of American Judaism. Everyone is engaging in a battle between tikkun olamers and frummers. Everyone is struggling with how to relate to an overseas mother church that seems less and less in sync with the sensibilities of the majority. By wagering the future of her denomination on the strength of her convictions, Schori demonstrates the kind of moral bravery required to make religion relevant.
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