Rough waters aren't new to Katharine Jefferts Schori, 52, a former oceanographer who is the Presiding Bishop-elect of the Episcopal Church of the U.S.A. Bishop Katharine, as she's known, takes over a denomination rocked by controversy at home and abroad for its liberal stance on gay clergy. She talked with TIME's Jeff Chu about her mission of social justice, the relationship between science and religion and whether faith in Jesus is the only path to heaven.
What will be your focus as head of the U.S. church?
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.
The issue of gay bishops has been so divisive. The diocese of Newark, N.J., has named a gay man as one of its candidates for bishop. Is now the time to elect another gay bishop?
Dioceses, when they are faithful, call the person who is best suited to lead them. I believe every diocese does the best job it's capable of in discerning who it is calling to leadership.
Many Anglicans in the developing world say such choices in the U.S. church have hurt their work.
That's been important for the church here to hear. We've heard in ways we hadn't heard before the problematic nature of our decisions. Especially in places where Christians are functioning in the face of Islamic culture and mores, evangelism is a real challenge. [But] these decisions were made because we believe that's where the Gospel has been calling us. The Episcopal Church in the U.S. has come to a reasonable conclusion and consensus that gay and lesbian Christians are full members of this church and that our ministry to and with gay and lesbian Christians should be part of the fullness of our life.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, who leads the Anglican Communion, wrote recently that a two-tier Communion may be a solution. What did you read in his message?
The pieces that I saw as most important had to do with the complexity of the situation and the length of time that this process will continue. He's very clear that we're not going to see an instant solution. He's also clear about his role: it is to call people to conversation, not to intervene in diocesan or provincial life--which some people have been asking for.
There's much debate about whether science and religion can comfortably coexist. You're a scientist and a pastor. What do you think?
Oh, they absolutely can. In the Middle Ages, theology was called the queen of the sciences. It asks a set of questions about human existence, about why we're here and how we should be in relationship with our neighbors and with the divine. And science, in this more traditional understanding, is about looking at creation and trying to understand how it functions.
What is your view on intelligent design?
I firmly believe that evolution ought to be taught in the schools as the best witness of what modern science has taught us. To try to read the Bible literalistically about such issues disinvites us from using the best of recent scholarship.