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ECUSA: Unspinning Griswold's Letter to the Lambeth Commission


News Analysis

By David W. Virtue

The ECUSA Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold wrote to the Lambeth Commission and Irish Primate Robert H. A. Eames this week to explain to him and the Commission the mind of the ECUSA on human sexuality as it faces possible censure from the Primates for its actions in consecrating a known homosexual to the episcopacy.

GRISWOLD: Rather than respond to the questionnaire I thought it would be more helpful were I to send to you to share with members of the Commission a description of some of the workings of the Episcopal Church, pertinent to your deliberations, and also to try to give some sense of how we have come to a point in our life where we find ourselves having given consent to the election and consecration of a man who shares his life with a member of the same sex.
VIRTUOSITY: Here beginneth the softening process. Follow the dots and I will take you on a canonical journey of advice and consent.

GRISWOLD: For at least 35 years the Episcopal Church has been engaged in a process of discernment about the question of homosexuality in the life of the church. This discernment began quite naturally on a local level as congregations began to be aware that certain faithful members of their worshipping communities were homosexual.

VIRTUOSITY: For at least 35 years the Episcopal Church has been in steady decline because of its innovations both sexual and theological, beginning with Bishop James Pike, continuing with high octane grade fuel poured on by John Shelby Spong. This was not about “discernment” as Griswold would have you believe but a deliberate turning of the ECUSA towards acceptance by a secularized culture.

GRISWOLD: In some instances these persons shared their lives with a partner of the same sex. It also became obvious that the quality of such relationships on occasion matched the mutual care and self-giving that we associate with marriage.

VIRTUOSITY: That was not grounds then or now for the Episcopal Church to roll over in the face of the Zeitgeist but to challenge it. The church is to be a counter culture and should not acquiesce to it.

GRISWOLD: It is important to realize here that in many areas of our church, particularly urban areas, homosexuality is a very ordinary reality. The whole question of homosexuality is widely and openly discussed. And homosexual persons are quite public in areas of politics, sports and entertainment.

VIRTUOSITY: It might be an “ordinary reality” for some, but not for everybody, especially for those families who have lost loved ones to the AIDS pandemic, including my own.

GRISWOLD: I realize this is not the case around our Communion but this fact of our culture must be taken into account given that none of us do our theology in a vacuum. In the gospel Jesus speaks about knowing a tree by the fruit it bears. In congregations where persons known to be homosexual became a part of congregational life, it became obvious that they possessed the fruit of the Spirit: generosity, kindness, and many of the other characteristics that we associate with Christian virtue.

VIRTUOSITY: Nowhere in Holy Scripture is “culture” the deciding factor on the nature of the faith and truth or its transmission. The gospel was borne into a diverse Middle Eastern culture made up of Jew and Greek, Gentile, Scythian, slave, bond and free…and much more. The Apostle Paul did not water down his message or change it to satisfy some cultural peculiarity or sexual need of any one of these groups.
As for the tree bearing fruit, the ECUSA has borne very little fruit since it started down this innovative trail and has in fact lost over one million members in its 35-year journey downwards. That’s a lot of missing fruit. In his note about homosexuals “possessed with the fruit of the Spirit” Griswold confuses the “fruit of the Spirit” with ordinary personality traits.

GRISWOLD: I think here of the experience of the church in Acts, having to deal with the fruit of the Spirit working in the lives of those outside the recognized community, in this case the Gentiles. The fact that in many instances good fruit appeared on trees that were condemned by the church obliged many clergy and others to ponder the scriptures afresh in the light of this reality.

VIRTUOSITY: This statement is utter rubbish. Where exactly “outside the recognized community” were these fruits being demonstrated? ‘Meat being offered to idols’ and who should ‘wait on tables’, who had what gift, had nothing to do with the “fruit of the Spirit”…(it is always singular never plural)…but “the benefit you reap leads to holiness and life” (Rom. 6:22) Nothing about homosexuality leads to holiness or life. Nothing.

GRISWOLD: If the fruit of the Spirit is discerned in the lives of homosexual men and women is that not in some way an indication by God that these people are to be treated and seen as full members of the community and to be entrusted with ministry on behalf of the community? So, based on the reality around us of men and women who were part of our lives, we continued our discernment.

VIRTUOSITY: Known Christian homosexuals like Henri Nouwen, Dag Hammarskjöld and Stephen Neill demonstrated the fruit of the Spirit by living celibate lives, as indeed have such celibate and celebrated heterosexuals as Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul II and countless Christians throughout the ages who have remained faithful to the gospel call to faithfulness in marriage and celibacy outside of marriage.

GRISWOLD”…so we continued our discernment”

VIRTUOSITY: so ECUSA continued its long slide into congregational oblivion as it thought it could change God’s mind about sexual behavior. Those denominations like the Roman Catholic Church and countless Evangelical denominations and churches that hold fast to biblical morality grew in that period…and continue to do so.

GRISWOLD: Over these years homosexual persons, lay and ordained, have gradually become a vital part of our church. And, as a logical development, congregations have extended a pastoral ministry to their gay and lesbian members. In some congregations there has been acknowledgment of same sex commitments.

VIRTUOSITY: Sexual sin was twisted and then abandoned in the name of a false god called “inclusion”, it was then fully brokered in by a group of whinny men and women who then got angrier and angrier at anyone who disagreed with their behavior, resulting in, 35 years later, with orthodox Episcopalians being marginalized, sued, pilloried and tossed out of parishes across the country for their alleged disobedience.

GRISWOLD: Then, as a logical consequence of the acceptance of gay and lesbian persons in the life of congregations and dioceses, the church as a whole has been engaging the question of homosexuality, including in the formal legislative context of the General Convention. At the General Convention in 1976 a resolution was passed stating: “…that homosexual persons are children of God who have a full and equal claim with all other persons upon the love, acceptance, and pastoral concern and care of the Church.”

VIRTUOSITY: NO distinction was ever made between people who might be, for whatever reason inclined towards sexual relations with their own sex and homosexual BEHAVIOR, which Scripture wholly proscribes.

GRISWOLD: Ten years ago at the General Convention in 1994 a resolution was passed amending the canons such that “no one shall be denied access to the selection process for ordination in this Church because of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, marital status, sexual orientation, disabilities or age…” Our engagement as a church with questions of homosexuality has lead to a series of studies and dialogues which have been broadly undertaken and involved persons of a full range of opinion.

VIRTUOSITY: Amending the canons is not on a par with Holy Scripture which cannot be “amended” to suit someone’s particular sexual tastes, needs or preferences. The term “sexual orientation” came to mean and include sexual behavior. The endless “studies and dialogues” had only one aim in view – to broker in the lifestyle of sodomists in the name of a false inclusion that wholly disregarded biblical teaching.

GRISWOLD: These conversations, which have been both very structured and unstructured, from settings such as parish halls to the floors of formal gatherings, have been concerned with the authority and interpretation of scripture, human sexuality as God’s gift, the place of homosexual Christians within the life of the church and the theological aspects of committed relationships of same sex couples.

VIRTUOSITY: “Conversations” is a buzzword which means we talk and talk till we all agree with Griswold that sodomy is acceptable to him, Louie Crew, Otis Charles and now V. Gene Robinson.

GRISWOLD: As part of this work, in 1993 the House of Bishops commissioned from theologians representing diverse points of view a series of papers dealing with authority of scripture. The papers reflected different ways in which scripture may legitimately be approached within the context of the community of faith.

VIRTUOSITY: This group was loaded with gay and pro-gay activists with a token person of orthodox persuasion to lend credence that they would be fair. The dice was loaded from the beginning, just like the Executive Council that is 99 percent revisionist and the PB’s Council of Advice that has 12 out of 13 members who are thorough going revisionists. Objectivity and fairness is a lit candle in the wind.

GRISWOLD: I realize that some provinces of our Communion have a dominant tradition for interpreting scripture. I would note here that it is part of the reality of the Episcopal Church that we live with divergent points of view regarding the interpretation of scripture and understandings of the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the church.

Though we believe “the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation,” as it is stated in our ordination liturgy, there is no neutral reading of scripture, and we interpret various passages differently while seeking to be faithful to the mind of Christ.

It is therefore important to recognize that people of genuine faith can and do differ in their understandings of what we agree is the “Word of God.” None of our work and prayerful discernment has produced a common mind, and we have managed to live with the tension of diverse opinions on these matters, agreeing to disagree.

VIRTUOSITY: Nonsense. Every Scripture has one meaning and one meaning only. There are different styles and genres like poetry, metaphor and so on. When Jesus rose from the dead He did so, literally. When in the gospels it says he is the “door” into life, nobody but a moron thinks he is a piece of wood swinging on hinges. That “dominant tradition” is the historical-grammatical method of interpreting Scripture which has stood the test of time. Furthermore there has never been “divergent points” on interpreting the Scriptures’ plain meaning on how we behave sexually. That’s been a done deal for 2,000 years. You cannot be “faithful to the mind of Christ” and believe Adam and Steve have a right to sexually lobotomize Holy Scripture.

GRISWOLD: We were living in a very Anglican way with divergent views until the circumstances of our life, and the canons of our church, forced us into making an either/or decision in a very public way with the election of the bishop coadjutor of New Hampshire, and the canonical necessity for giving or withholding of consent.

This either/or decision did not allow for the middle ground, which the report of the Theology Committee of the House of Bishops (which was submitted to the primates prior to our meeting in Brazil) had sought to establish.

VIRTUOSITY: So he says the “circumstances of our lives” determine the truth of something. This is absurd. If my kids take drugs do I say, there, there, “the circumstances of your life” mean that I must change my mind about drug abuse! Enjoy. What nonsense. The “either/or” is precisely what Scripture says. Either/or about sin and salvation, either/or about holy or unholy living, either/or about God or Satan, either/or about God’s Kingdom or Satan’s kingdom, either/or about heaven and hell…and a lot more besides.

Griswold does not believe in either/or, he wants both/and. Heterosexuality and homosexuality, heterosexuality and bisexuality, heterosexuality and transsexual behavior. But Scripture says no you can’t have it both ways. As the old Negro Spiritual puts it better than I could… “you gonna serve somebody…you gonna serve de devil or you gonna serve de Lord…but you gonna serve somebody.”

GRISWOLD: The consent to the New Hampshire election has been a presenting issue in our present strains within the Communion. Therefore I think it is important to acknowledge that there is a diversity of practice in appointing or electing bishops around the Communion and to say something here about the nature of our election and consent process, which is open, democratic, and participatory – flowing out of the life of the community.

The manner in which bishops are chosen in the Episcopal Church involves a protracted search process undertaken by the diocese, lasting usually a year or longer, in which a profile is developed by the people and clergy of the diocese.

Names are put forward and a search committee composed of lay and clergy members reviews the names, checks backgrounds, addresses questions to potential nominees and then puts forward a list of names to be considered.

The diocese then has an opportunity to meet and ask questions of all the nominees. This was the process followed in the Diocese of New Hampshire, and at the end of that process the diocesan convention elected the Rev. Canon Gene Robinson, someone who had ministered among them for 17 years.

Once a person has been elected, the election must be consented to by a majority of Standing Committees of dioceses and a majority of bishops holding jurisdiction. When an election occurs within 120 days of the General Convention, the consent process takes place within the context of the General Convention, which is precisely what happened in the case of Gene Robinson and nine other bishops-elect.

I think it is very important to be clear about this process. When we met at Lambeth the primates asked me if I couldn’t have intervened and stopped the consecration. I made it clear that I could not because of the canonical realities by which I am bound, and that it is my responsibility to uphold the decisions formally made by the church.

VIRTUOSITY: So Griswold argues that the “process” is what determines truth, plus a majority vote in the HoB which is loaded with revisionists who would sooner believe in fairies at the end of the Garden than the theological implications of Mel Gibson’s frightening film of Christ’s last hours on earth. It is not Holy Scripture that determined the truth or falsity of Robinson’s fitness to the office of bishop, but a bunch of bishops who not only don’t believe half of what the Bible says, they don’t even know what it contains. PA Bishop Charles E. Bennison was failed by examining chaplains when he sought to go into the priesthood but mummy put pressure on her hubby bishop and lo and behold son Charles himself did rise up and become bishop and then lo announced that Jesus was a sinner, while the Standing Committee is so dumb it still can’t find a single reason to get rid of him.

GRISWOLD: I think it is problematic that some view the bishops who participated in the ordination and consecration of Gene Robinson as having performed some unfaithful act. This is to overlook the fact that it was a formal decision made by a majority of bishops with jurisdiction and majority of clergy and laypeople representing the 100 domestic dioceses.

VIRTUOSITY: It was an unfaithful act then and the consequences are still reverberating around ECUSA and the whole Communion. Griswold argues that because a majority of bishops agreed that it was right that it automatically MAKES it right. Really. Hitler had a majority in his day, so did Stalin. They’re both dead now and so are their worldviews. Majorities are generally wrong that’s why we have prophets.

GRISWOLD: I might say that the very public and open nature of our actions is a factor here. This is both healthy and problematic. Not long ago I was at a meeting in Spain which included Christians from a number of ecclesial communities, one of which had made strongly critical statements about the New Hampshire consecration.

I had a long conversation with the bishop representing that church, who castigated me for having allowed the ordination of Gene Robinson to occur. Once he had delivered himself of his anger he surprised me by saying that there were indeed homosexual clergy and bishops in his church, but that it was looked upon as “human weakness” and a private matter between themselves and their spiritual fathers.

Only if their homosexuality became public was the church obliged to intervene. I said to him that though I could appreciate capitulation to “human weakness” I was concerned that he was describing a climate of secrecy, and a practice that was tolerated that stood at variance with the public position of the church.

Was that not a dishonest stance? Would it not be far more helpful and truthful, albeit difficult, to deal openly with the reality which heretofore has remained hidden? Is not secrecy the Devil’s playground? It has been extremely difficult for the Episcopal Church to deal honestly with this issue, but that is the course we have taken and, as I said, the decision of which course to take – openness or secrecy – was one that was forced upon us.

VIRTUOSITY: So if we bring it all out into the open, like Janet Jackson’s breast, that makes it right. The great “sin” is hiddeness or “secrecy”. But sin is always done in secret, it is the very nature of sin; what is tragic and blasphemous is that the Episcopal Church is publicly recognizing and practicing sin and not calling it that any more.

GRISWOLD: I believe that part of the strain within the Communion, and the reaction to a decision taken within the Episcopal Church is the disproportionate influence that the United States has in other parts of the world, leading to the fear that whatever happens in the United States will be imposed in some way on other parts of the world.
I am well aware of the negative effects of globalization. I need to make plain that because something may appear to be an unfoldment of the Spirit in the life of the Episcopal Church that does not mean that it should or ought to become normative elsewhere.

Never would our church wish to impose patterns that may be appropriate within the life of the Episcopal Church on other provinces of the Anglican Communion. I remember vividly when I visited the Church in Nigeria and was asked if I was coming to tell them they must ordain women. I told them I firmly believed that is a decision they will have to make within the reality of their own context. There is not one right way. Immediately, there was relief on the part of the bishops.

VIRTUOSITY: Then perhaps Griswold can explain why ECUSA’s pansexual organization Integrity sought for years to get a foothold for sodomy on African soil and almost succeeded in the Province of Uganda, and only got blown away when their handpicked bishop pulled the plug on the whole operation. Griswold might also try and explain why Ted Karpf an avowed Episcopal sodomite is working with Archbishop Ndungane in Southern Africa…if that isn’t sneaking in by the back door I don’t know what is.

GRISWOLD: This raises the very important notion of context, to which I alluded earlier. We must ask: are our understandings and applications of the gospel conditioned by the historical and cultural circumstances in which we live our lives and seek to articulate our faithful discipleship? I believe the answer is yes.

VIRTUOSITY: The content of the gospel has never changed in 2,000 years regardless of space, time, culture, history or nationality. When the first Church of England missionaries went to Africa they probably committed all kinds of cultural blunders, but they got the word out that Jesus is Lord, that he came to save them from their sin, and then they died, usually very quickly of some disease.

Tribal Africans, wearing funny clothes with different colored skin speaking multiple languages and dialects somehow got the message and today Nigeria has 20 million evangelical, washed-in-the-blood, saved by grace, repentant, Jesus-praisin’ Anglican Christians who actually use a Cranmer written Prayer Book. Go figure.

GRISWOLD: As well, the speed of communication can oblige us to react to situations and events in other parts of our Communion without the benefit of knowing how brother and sister Anglicans were led to a particular decision. Electronic communication also makes it easy for misinformation to be spread abroad and take on a life of its own. This is all the more reason for us to deal directly with one another when there are serious questions or concerns, and not rely on interpretations or reports that may be untrue or biased.

VIRTUOSITY: Yes the REAL problem is Virtuosity. Why can’t he just shut up and go away. If not, ignore him. And then invite me to your province or diocese for a face to face and I will charm your miter off and probably leave a check behind as well.

GRISWOLD: Another dynamic is the role members of my own church with a particular point of view have played in shaping opinions, shall we say, since before the last Lambeth Conference. We must openly acknowledge the fact that part of the reason issues of homosexuality have so overtaken the Anglican Communion is because a number of the members of the Episcopal Church – along with individuals and groups motivated by political ideologies rather than theological convictions – have, by virtue of their connections and resources, been able to garner the consciousness of bishops around the world. Their unstinting efforts have made this issue more central to our life than the spreading of the gospel and the living of the Good News of Jesus Christ. We must ask ourselves if this preoccupation with sexuality is truly of God.

VIRTUOSITY: This is a crock. It is precisely about theology not “political ideology”. Virtuosity cannot, by its constitution, make any political statements. It is precisely about theology or the lack of it, that ECUSA has lost its way.

GRISWOLD: A closing thought: Communion, as Archbishop Rowan has made clear, exists on many levels; it is not simply a formal, ecclesial relationship. Therefore, I ask myself and the members of my own church in the midst of this profound and straining disagreement if there is not some invitation or opportunity to live the mystery of communion at a deeper level, as difficult and costly as it may be.

VIRTUOSITY: (Interpretation) Please don’t throw me out of the club. Let’s go to a deeper level with Sufi Rumi or some other idiot, but let us stay together, schism and heresy, truth and falsity…living together.

And if you go to Hell Bishop Griswold should I follow you there?


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