ADG: I want to ask you about a couple of other things you’ve said in interviews. One of those was in the 10 questions in TIME magazine about the small box that people put God in. Could you elaborate a little bit on your take on “Jesus is the way, the truth and the life” [a paraphrase of John 14:16]?
KJS: I certainly don’t disagree with that statement that Jesus is the way and the truth and the life. But the way it’s used is as a truth serum, or a touchstone: If you cannot repeat this statement, then you’re not a faithful Christian or person of faith. I think Jesus as way – that’s certainly what it means to be on a spiritual journey. It means to be in search of relationship with God. We understand Jesus as truth in the sense of being the wholeness of human expression. What does it mean to be wholly and fully and completely a human being? Jesus as life, again, an example of abundant life. We understand him as bringer of abundant life but also as exemplar. What does it mean to be both fully human and fully divine? Here we have the evidence in human form. So I’m impatient with the narrow understanding, but certainly welcoming of the broader understanding.
ADG: What about the rest of that statement –
KJS: The small box?
ADG: Well, the rest of the verse, that no one comes to the Father except by the son.
KJS: Again in its narrow construction, it tends to eliminate other possibilities. In its broader construction, yes, human beings come to relationship with God largely through their experience of holiness in other human beings. Through seeing God at work in other people’s lives. In that sense, yes, I will affirm that statement. But not in the narrow sense, that people can only come to relationship with God through consciously believing in Jesus.
ADG: I want to ask you about something you said [in a radio interview] with Steve Crittenden in Australia. You were talking about issues of sexuality, and you said you thought that [objection to homosexuality] was more of an issue for men than for women, and women were more interested in — you didn’t say the Millennium Development Goals, but that was the kind of thing you were talking about. And right after your election, [a foreign journalist] asked you kind of a snide question about
KJS: What would the average Anglican?
ADG: Yeah, and Anglican women in Africa, think about your support for gays, and you said they’d be more concerned about food and education for their children. Do you have some evidence that the sexuality is more of an issue for men than for women?
KJS: Well, who’s most heated up about it? Gatherings around the Anglican Communion that are primarily male seem to get captured by this issue. Gatherings that are primarily female get captured by passion for a human world. For human people and educating children and providing health care. The UN Commission on the Status of Women and the accompanying gathering of Anglican women at the UN over the year is probably the best evidence. And they have different opinions about issues of human sexuality, but that’s not the focus of their work together. The focus is on humans.
ADG: You’ve also said that issues of sexuality tend to be of more concern in the Southeast than in other parts of the country. Could you talk about that a little bit? Of course, there are exceptions: congregations in California, the Diocese of Quincy (Ill.), Pittsburgh. But you talk about geographic concern. Is it a Bible Belt thing?
KJS: I don’t know. I notice it’s a concern culturally in parts of the country where race relations have been so present. I come from a part of the country where issues of racism aren’t black/white. They’re about immigration, either from Asia or from Spanish-speaking countries, so there’s not the same kind of clear issue in history about who’s in and who’s out. It’s a much more diffuse issue. And it’s a complex issue in that it’s not just one group. And it’s not just African-Americans; it’s Chinese and Japanese and Mexicans and people from Hong Kong and Taiwan and the South Pacific. I think the human condition, and original sin, if you will, has something to do with defining some other group as not fully human, not fully acceptable. And in this country it’s had to do mostly with slavery and African-Americans. The church has certainly wrestled with the place of women in the life of society. We’re beginning to wrestle with the place of people whose sexual orientation is different from the average. In some sense the church has wrestled with the place of children. They’re not normative human beings in many people’s view. I think it’s a result of that. It has some connection with that history.
ADG: Let’s talk about the church’s support of the Millennium Development Goals. And what are some of the initiatives down the road for enlisting Episcopalians in accomplishing some of those goals? That was originally a United Nations initiative, which would mean focusing on those issues elsewhere, but we have those issues in pockets of the U.S. too.
KJS: It actually goes back to the early ’60s, when some economists sat down and said, “What would it take to solve global poverty?” It grew into something in the late ’90s that the bishops of the Anglican Communion said, “We need to participate in this.” In 2000 the UN adopted a set of eight goals. ... Dioceses in this country since the late ’90s have said, we want to be part of this. It originally started by saying, we’re going to contribute a percentage of our annual budget to international development work. People are aware more clearly today that it’s not just a matter of giving money, but it’s about empowering people in the pew to lobby their legislators. We’re not going to solve global poverty unless the industrialized nations of the world take it seriously and contribute a significant chunk of funds, resources, human capital, to making it possible. This is the first time in human history when we’ve really been able to say we can feed everybody. We can provide primary education for girls and boys across the world. We can do something about maternal health care and childhood disease and preventable disease like AIDS and tuberculosis and malaria. It’s a matter of having the will to do it, first of all, and then committing the resources to make it happen. The Episcopal Church is involved at the diocesan level, at the parish level, at the level of individual members of the tradition. But we’re also involved in lobbying Congress, through our Office of Government Relations, to participate in this program. We’re involved through an arm of the church called Episcopal Relief and Development that’s doing things like Nets for Life, insecticide-treated nets to sleep under and prevent malaria – a great number of other projects across the world to achieve those goals. I’ve heard in the time I’ve been here about places in Arkansas that are ripe for similar kinds of development. The Delta. So it’s not just international. There are domestic applications as well. It’s about achieving a world where human beings live with dignity, and have what they need to live with dignity.
ADG: That reminds me of something else you said. This was a CNN interview when Kyra Phillips asked you what happens when we die. You had an interesting answer that got some Southern Baptists riled up.
KJS: OK. I didn’t hear their reaction.
ADG: Al Mohler – I don’t know whether you’re familiar with him –
KJS: I’m not.
ADG: He’s a seminary president [at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville] and has a blog and a radio show. [Mohler posted the exchange on his Web site]. It seemed to some people that you were saying there isn’t an afterlife.
KJS: I don’t think Jesus was focused on that. I think Jesus was focused on heaven in this life, primarily. The Judeo-Christian tradition has always said yes, there is resurrection. There is life after death. But I think Jesus was not so worried about that. I think he’s worried about what we’re doing to treat our fellow human beings as children of God. He says the kingdom of heaven is among you, and within you, and around you.
ADG: So does that mean that in your view there is no afterlife?
KJS: That’s not what I said. I said what I think Jesus is more concerned about is heavenly existence, eternal life, in this life.
and there is alot more