As Canterbury Turns: The mission of the church

mission of churchTime's Jeff Chu asked the Presiding Bishop-elect of The Episcopal Church ten questions about her view of the church's mission, the relationship between religion and science and the exclusivity of Christianity. While the quality of her answers will be the subject of debate, I think he used a great -- and simple -- technique for getting information out of Katharine Jefferts Schori. And her answers are fascinating, I think. For instance, she says this about what the focus of the church should be:

Our focus needs to be on feeding people who go to bed hungry, on providing primary education to girls and boys, on healing people with AIDS, on addressing tuberculosis and malaria, on sustainable development. That ought to be the primary focus.

Jefferts Schori is more direct about her theological views than her predecessor, which may turn out to be a blessing or a curse. But it's so nice that Chu just asks the questions and gives us her answers. That way we can compare her words with those of Nigerian bishop Peter Akinola in a letter from April 2005:

I am also thankful that while we are all engaged in many different expressions of practical concern for the poor and the oppressed at home and abroad we share a common commitment to the primary mission of the Church, which is to proclaim redemption from sin and the promise of life eternal through faith in Jesus Christ.

You see that? While so many reporters take the easy route and frame the debate in the Anglican Communion as centering on gay sex and female ordination, the issues are much deeper. The bigger questions are what the very mission of the church is. Is it to care for the temporal needs of humanity or the eternal? The physical or the spiritual? Is it, again, to proclaim Christ?

Jefferts Schori answers a Chu question about whether Jesus is the only way to heaven by saying that believing that way would "put God in an awfully small box." Those are some pretty serious doctrinal divides that cross the Atlantic. Not that Jefferts Schori wants to talk doctrine. In one of her answers to Chu's questions, she pooh-poohed doctrinal discussions, deriding them as bickering.

Other reporters might want to press Jefferts Schori on that last point, asking her which, if any, doctrinal points are worth debating and why. And whatever else can be said, I'm sure she would answer in a straightforward manner.

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