In a statement that is sure to draw fire from Christian conservatives, the newly elected leader of the Episcopal Church in the U.S.A. said Monday that she believes homosexuality is not a sin and that homosexuals were created by God with affections ordered toward other people of the same gender.
Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori of Nevada, who on Sunday was chosen as the first female presiding bishop for the Episcopal Church, was asked by CNN if it was a sin to be homosexual.
"I don't believe so," she said following her election, according to Reuters. I believe that God creates us with different gifts. Each one of us comes into this world with a different collection of things that challenge us and things that give us joy and allow us to bless the world around us.
"Some people come into this world with affections ordered toward other people of the same gender and some people come into this world with affections directed at people of the other gender," she added.
When asked how she reconciled her position on homosexuality with specific passages in the Bible declaring sexual relations between men an abomination, Jefferts Schori said the Bible was written in a very different historical context by people asking different questions.
Many believe Jefferts Schoris election will further complicate attempts to maintain unity within the Episcopal Church and within the global Anglican Communion to which her denomination is a member of.
Since the Episcopal Church consecrated Gene Robinson of New Hampshire as the first openly gay Episcopal bishop in 2003, many overseas Anglican leaders have broken ties with the U.S. Anglican arm as a majority believes gay relationships violate Scripture. And within the Episcopal Church, conservative members have banded together to form the Pittsburgh-based Anglican Communion Network, which represents 10 Episcopal dioceses and more than 900 parishes that opposed Robinson's election. The network remains part of the Episcopal Church for now, but could ultimately attempt to replace the denomination as the American member of the communion. It has a meeting set for the end of July to discuss its plans.
Despite her clear stance on homosexuality, Jefferts Schori has not yet expressed whether she thinks the church should stop electing gay bishops a decision that delegates at the Episcopal General Convention have to make within the remaining two days of the triennial gathering that began last week. However, the Nevada bishop had voted to confirm Robinson in 2003 and supports blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, who is recognized as "first among equals" of all Anglican primates, released a brief statement Monday "greeting" Jefferts Schori as the new Episcopal head, and noted that her election "will undoubtedly have an impact on the collegial life of the Anglican Primates" and bring into focus some continuing issues in several of our ecumenical dialogues."
Stopping short of congratulating the new Episcopal head, Williams said in his statement, I send my greetings to Bishop Katharine and she has my prayers and good wishes as she takes up a deeply demanding position at a critical time."
Although Williams serves as the symbolic head of the 77 million-member Anglican Communion, each province governs itself an independent relationship that many Episcopalians cherish.
"We are continuing to pray for the General Convention of the Episcopal Church as it confronts a series of exceptionally difficult choices, Williams concluded.
As the presiding bishop, Jefferts Schori will represent the Episcopal Church in meetings with other Anglican leaders and with leaders of other religious groups. She will be installed for a nine-year term Nov. 4 in the Washington Cathedral.