Jefferts Schori's visit to Nashville comes at an uneasy time in the Episcopal Church.
The church faces shrinking membership, aging demographics, and ongoing disputes over sexuality and theology. Earlier this week a rival denomination, made up mostly of conservative former Episcopalians, launched in Texas. And in a few weeks, the Episcopal Church holds its general convention in Anaheim, Calif., which probably will be contentious.
Still, she's hopeful about her denomination, especially its social ministry to the hungry and poor.
"We are paying attention, in a deeper way, to the need of people who are hurting in other parts of the world," she said. "When we are doing that, we don't have as much time to pay attention to the nit-picking."
That comment highlights the dividing line between Jefferts Schori and the critics of the Episcopal Church.
Jefferts Schori, who is based in New York, believes that the mission of the church — to love God and serve suffering and oppressed people — trumps theological disputes.
The Rev. Ray Kasch disagrees.
Kasch is rector of St. Patrick's Anglican Church in Smyrna, part of the rival Anglican Church in North America. He says that without a common theology, a common mission is impossible.
"She told The New York Times that she doesn't believe that Jesus is the only way," he said. "We could not stay in the Episcopal Church after that."
Kasch is former pastor of All Saints Episcopal Church in Smyrna. He and most of the congregation left the denomination after Jefferts Schori's election in 2006.
Is Jesus a tribal savior?
But Jefferts Schori believes there has to be room in the Episcopal Church for differing views on theology. She also says some Christians think that Jesus will save only people who share their theological viewpoint.
"Is Jesus just our savior, a tribal savior?" she asked. "Or is Jesus the savior of the whole world? … Most Christians will affirm that Jesus' life, passion, death and Resurrection changed something between God and humanity. Jesus died for the whole world — and when you start there, Jesus can't be a tribal savior. He is the savior of all humanity."
She also said it wasn't her place to decide who God will save and who will be left out. She said that people want black and white answers on that question. But she doesn't think it's that simple.
"How people get saved is really a matter for God to figure out, not for me to figure out. My job is to figure out how to be the best follower of Jesus that I can."
When it comes to controversial issues, like homosexuality, Jefferts Schori says she begins with studying the Scriptures.
That includes looking at the messy human families found in the Bible.
"In the Old Testament, there are lots of examples of what holy and blessed marriage looks like, and what unholy marriage looks like," she said, "including polygamy and concubines being normal."
In the New Testament, she said, Jesus never married and was celibate. Paul wasn't married either.
"He said don't get married — unless you have to — because Jesus was coming back soon," she said.
Even among Anglicans, the idea of marriage has changed. In the 1600s, she said, one of the main reasons for marriage was to "avoid fornication."
"That's not in our prayer book now," she said. "We say that the primary goal and good of marriage is companionship. That's different from even what the first Anglicans said. If our goal is to help people live holy lives, which I think is the church's function, maybe we could think about people of the same sex living holy lives together."
Ah, so the "f-word" is out.