Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold sat amidst 24 sophomores from the Basic Christianity class at St. Andrew’s Priory School for Girls in Honolulu as they peppered him with questions. Why does the Bible call homosexuality a sin? What is the view of the Episcopal Church on gay marriage and homosexuality, and do most Episcopalians agree on this issue? How would you describe God? Do you believe all religions share the truth about God?
“I told the girls, 'This is a chance to talk with someone who is head of the whole Episcopal Church,'” said religion teacher Pam Kennedy. “I really respect the integrity of the students to come up with intelligent questions, which we separated into social issues and theology,”
“Homosexuality is not part of the curriculum … but with the election [of a gay bishop in New Hampshire], it was on the girls’ minds. The methods we use to determine standards of right and wrong, and the questions you got from some of the girls, came right out of our curriculum,” Kennedy said.
“We look at issues [and discuss how one can be] guided by your conscience, the law and the strengths and weakness of each method. We come to understand those may not be the best ways to make decisions and that there is a need to have a universal standard -- God’s standard. We try to teach them critical thinking. I always tell them, you do not have a right to an opinion until you can back it up.”
Head of School Marilyn Matsunaga handed Griswold questions that he quietly scanned before settling in a chair to answer them and take other queries for almost 90 minutes. His long, thoughtful responses gave clear foundation for discussion.
On the Bible and homosexuality: “I think the Bible assumes everyone naturally is heterosexual, and therefore homosexuality is unnatural … you have to take into account the Bible was written many years ago. There are many things in the Bible over the centuries we’ve learned that are different from the way people thought when it was written … the cosmos … health and illness … we’ve learned a great deal about complexities about who we are as human beings. … If you understand people as we do now, that perhaps having to do with the fundamental structure of their personalities, then we can say biblical passages that condemn homosexuality reflect one awareness of how human beings are, and we understand another about human beings … then we can say being drawn to the same sex in terms of affection is not necessarily sinful.”
On gay marriage: The Episcopal Church is made up of people with varying viewpoints -- those who interpret the Bible exactly how it's written and those who view it in historical context, with insight always unfolding, he said. “The whole question of gay marriage, blessings of same-sex marriage, [are part of] the discussion the whole church is having. It has not come to any resolution … it’s the dioceses having their own conversations, and I’m sure at some point it will come to some clarity.”
On describing God: “I know God largely through Jesus. God is abstract, out there … Jesus has a way of showing up, then going on in people’s lives. There’s a moment when someone will show up and say exactly what I need them to say. Where did this come from? … Jesus participates in the reality of God.”
On all religions: “Truth is not confined to Christianity. Christianity and its deep message of love allow me to see the truth in other religions. Most religions I’ve encountered have, as their base, love and care for others.”
Allegiance and war
The students also asked Griswold about using “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, the moral and ethical choices of abortion, the war in Iraq and how he knew when he wanted to be an Episcopalian.
Griswold thanked the girls, noting, “Young people often see issues more clearly. And raising questions is terribly important. So speak your own truth, raise your own questions. Do not be shy. By virtue of your education, you have that capacity.”
“In a world that is largely selfish, how can you translate your own values that have deepened here at this school and bring that to others? We need to translate our faith into action. When we do this, our faith actually deepens.”
The visit to the 504-student, kindergarten through 12th grade diocesan school, founded in 1867 by Queen Emma of Hawaii, launched the presiding bishop’s six-day pastoral visit to the island Diocese of Hawaii in early December.