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Frank Griswold: Exit Stage Left



By David W. Virtue

He came into office in Philadelphia in 1997, announcing in high tones that his heart and door were open to all. He smiled as he walked and talked of reconciliation between opposing groups and positions within the church. He breathed hope, even as the ecclesiastical and moral edges of the church began to openly fray. And now, after nine years of dismal leadership, the Most Rev. Frank Tracy Griswold must tragically face the fact that he has reconciled no one and nothing to anybody about anything.

The Presiding Bishop of the U.S. Episcopal Church's legacy after nearly a decade of turmoil and confusion is an embattled and torn church with factions fighting as intensely as three nationalist groups looking for dominance in Iraq.

As he leaves the highest office in The Episcopal Church, (once The Episcopal Church USA) and hands the reins of office over to a woman, who may well prove to be just as unacceptable to the vast bulk of the Anglican Communion, Griswold knows that history will not treat him kindly, and that he has trashed a once proud church that saw 11 presidents and unnumbered politicians and blue bloods pass through its hallowed doors.

Moving to consolidate his predecessor Ed "no outcasts" Browning legacy, Griswold billed himself as the great reconciler of all, but in the end no one was reconciled and the church's outcasts became those who only wanted to hold onto 'the faith once for all delivered to the saints' - a point of view that Griswold nuanced to death with his call for acceptance of all persons of whatever sexual persuasion, but not to those who sought to maintain a definable faith.

The more he talked reconciliation, the more things fell apart. His sermons became studies in linguistic doubletalk, a listener could draw all manner of conclusions from what he said - he was the master of doublespeak. He exuded a sort of Zen spirituality one observer noted, dipped in the crucible of sodomite acceptance - a faux spirituality, a Peter Pan dressed in purple. He was more comfortable talking about Sufi Rumi than St. Paul, and meeting on plains beyond good and evil.

He feinted and dodged theological thrusts like a master swordsman, making words mean whatever he wanted them to mean, hearing whatever he wanted to hear at various primatial gatherings around the world, and then proceeded to spin publicly what was said behind closed doors with less than memorable lines as, "I can't imagine a conversation saying we got it wrong", and similar phrases... and so it continued.

He called himself an Affirming Catholic, but he was neither affirming of the church's received teaching, and he was about as catholic as a Baghdad Imam.

As he dove, over time, more deeply into the pansexual subculture of the church, one sensed that that was where his heart truly lay. He was always comfortable around homosexuals and their fey acolytes, and increasingly uncomfortable around those whom he regarded as holding absolutist positions that did not compromise with the increasingly complex, post-modern culture that surrounded him. He made trips to Paris in his early years, and his dalliance in the gay subculture of the Left Bank, revealed in stories by VOL, and later in a two-part series "Griswold Agonistes" by this writer, got him into trouble with the American-born Bishop of Europe.

He was more at home in New York City than Abuja, more comfortable with folks from Integrity than Forward in Faith, and he viewed Evangelicals with condescension - their literalism on matters of faith and morals seemed far too simplistic in a complex world where pluriform truths of one form or another bumped into each other like dancers on a nightclub floor in Manhattan.

When two planes roared into the World Trade Center towers, destroying the lives of nearly 3,000 people just blocks from the Episcopal Church's headquarters, Griswold opined that American foreign policy was to blame and publicly scolded those with Islamophobic tendencies. He could see no evil; hear no evil, except to publicly excoriate those who actually believed IN evil, and who believed that a divine Savior might be necessary to redeem a fallen world. For Griswold all religions contained truth that must be incorporated into a much larger framework of truth, and so The Great Commission became the Great Omission, an embarrassing bit of Scripture that he relegated to the junk heap of ECUSA history for the grander call of UN Millennium Development Goals.

Griswold's understanding of the church's mission was couched in socio-economic terms not biblical terms. He saw the world as his oyster and he would save it with vaunted talk of millennium goals and high-sounding phrases that always ended "for the sake of the world".

But the blood-stained cross of Calvary, and talk of personal sin and salvation, was never on his lips, it did not accord with his refined tastes and classy New York lifestyle and jetting the globe in search of ecumenical dialogue and comforting talk. The movie, "The Passion of the Christ" was too much for the Sensitive One, he abhorred it.

As he traveled the world preaching his pluriform truths and informing everyone about how "vibrant and healthy" the "diverse center" of The Episcopal Church was, the awful truth trailed him like poisoned rats locked in a New York sewer - tens of thousands of orthodox Episcopalians were walking away from the church, hundreds of priests could no longer stomach his nonsense and were seeking spiritual sanctuary elsewhere, with a handful of dioceses, at the very end of his tenure, wanting out from under him and the Episcopal Church altogether.

Within weeks of his departure he finally got IT, clarity that is, from several of his orthodox bishops who sat opposite him, in the gay sex riddled staff employee confines of 815 2nd avenue, and he heard, to his face, that the church had two religions, and that he was on the wrong side of the Great Divide with the wrong religion. It must have been a defining moment for The Pluriform One - a shattering moment, equal perhaps in intensity to waking up in Hell with Bishop Spong's 12 Theses in one hand and a copy of Integrity's Mission statement in the other. Oh death we know thy sting.

As one General Convention after another moved progressively towards full acceptance of Lesbitransgays - the new nomenclature of record - Griswold found himself taking heat not only from his friend Dr. Rowan Williams but increasingly from Global South Primates led by Nigerian Primate Peter Akinola, who had no compunction, at the end, of setting up a rival Anglican diocese right under Griswold's nose and completing the ecclesiastical insult by ordaining an American priest to do his bidding in the U.S.

Griswold's lying legacy revealed itself most tenaciously when he told the Lambeth Primates in 2003 that he would not knowingly ordain a non-celibate person to the episcopacy and then three weeks later co-consecrating the homogenital V. Gene Robinson to be the next Bishop of New Hampshire. It was the defining, historical finale to his life's work.

He had sealed his duplicity forever with the Primates of the Anglican Communion; they would never trust him again. From that moment forward, and from GC2003, the Episcopal Church went into free fall, and Griswold watched helplessly as believing Episcopalians felt betrayed and departed, forming new jurisdictions like the Anglican Mission in America, bolstering multitudinous Continuing Churches, crossing the Tiber and alienating his one time friend APB George Carey whom he had conned into disowning the emerging orthodox U.S. Anglican mission and much more.

Even as the institution began seriously to collapse, Griswold preached up the strength of the church's "diverse center". Above all, he loved the show, the institution, the pomp and circumstance of it all, even as the Church aged and doors closed across the country with declining parishes and priests. Talk of a "ceasefire" in the church culture wars and a "two-church solution" was never contemplated by Griswold. The center, he believed, would always hold.

At the end he was more New Age than Anglican, more show than tell, his legacy, like his leadership, in tatters, using the church's money to maintain the institution at all and any cost, the triumph of ecclesiastical laws, the (mis)use of power and the Dennis Canon over truth, grace and the gospel.


For more stories about The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion go to the source: www.virtueonline.org

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