The Church is for the sake of the world

March 8, 2004

At the conclusion of a meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) and Primates Joint Standing Committee held in Canterbury, England, last week, Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold found time to talk to the media about some of the issues currently facing the Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church in the United States.

 

Here follows a full transcript of an interview with Sir David Frost, broadcast on BBC Breakfast with Frost on Sunday March 7:

FROST: In America it's election year, of course, and one of the issues climbing rapidly up the charts, up the political agenda, is homosexuality.

In San Francisco and some other places they now have gay marriages--something that President Bush wants to ban, by amending the constitution.

Those are civil ceremonies, of course, at the moment. Last year, many Anglicans were aghast when a diocese in America elected an openly gay bishop. Feelings were running so high that the head of the American church, Bishop Frank Griswold, had to wear a bullet-proof vest during the consecration ceremony.

When I talked to Bishop Griswold about that occasion, I wondered if he'd ever had to take such a precaution before.

GRISWOLD: I've never worn a bullet-proof vest before.

FROST: No.

GRISWOLD: It was simply a precaution. I really didn't feel it was necessary but I acceded to the concerns of those planning the service.

FROST: Well it has all raised a tremendous amount of feeling and so on, and the potential of a split in the Church. When you were thinking about whether you would go ahead with this, to consecrate Bishop Robinson, to what extent did you agonize over it? To what extent were you not sure, or were you always sure?

GRISWOLD: Well part of my role in the Episcopal Church of the United States is to uphold the formal decisions of the Church, quite independent of my own perspective. And because the decision to consent to his ordination after the election by the diocese was very clear and done according to our canons and constitution, I felt at ease supporting the action of the Church.

I think at the same time as a primate of the Anglican Communion I certainly was aware of the stress that that decision would have in other parts of the communion where questions of sexuality are looked at in a different light, if they are discussed at all.

FROST: If it does lead to a schism, a real split in the Church into two or three pieces, will it, in retrospect have been worth doing?

GRISWOLD: I find it difficult to answer hypothetical questions. I can only say that given our experience and given the desires of the people and clergy of the diocese of New Hampshire, I feel that they have acted honorably, that the Episcopal Church has acted honorably and I do hope in the fullness of time that the Anglican Communion will hold together in spite of differences. I think one of the things I've learned over the years is that the contexts in which we do our theology are so very different.

For example, in the United States and probably here as well, there is the theological latitude that simply doesn't exist in a nation that has, let us say, a very strong Muslim presence, because if the Christian community admitted a variety of points of view or interpretations, they probably would suffer tremendously because the other religions are so fierce and clear.

So I think the more we as Anglicans can appreciate the fact that we always do our theology in context, the more we can make room for one another's differences.

FROST: What do you think about the practice here in this country for our bishops and archbishops to say that in terms of gays and homosexuals in positions in the church, priests in the church, they can be deep down homosexual but they must not practice it. Do you think that's out of date now?

 

GRISWOLD: I think every province of the Anglican Communion has its own realities and each province is going to have to live its realities in its very own way.

FROST: What does that mean?

GRISWOLD: That means that the Church of England is going to have to figure out its own way and establish its own criteria, just as the Episcopal Church in the United States is going to have to make its decisions.

 

FROST: But would yours be different then? Your view on would be--what's the position in the States?

 

GRISWOLD: I think formally the Episcopal Church would be very close to the Church of England. I think that the reality we live with is that over the years many clergy, in the context of their congregations, have had to deal with the reality of homosexual couples and have seen in those couples what you might call the gifts of the spirit, a kindness, gentleness, charity, patience--all those things--and so homosexuals have, in a quite natural way, become part of the life of congregations.

And in the same way a number of bishops dealing with ordinands and members of the clergy have had to acknowledge that people of goodwill, clearly rooted and grounded in the gospel, have also had as part of their reality homosexuality--and in some instances have been living in sustained relationships with others.

FROST: When you see something happening like in San Francisco, where they have gay marriages, currently--obviously civil ceremonies, not--but in terms of couples attesting to their long term relationships and so on, do you think that's a healthy thing or not?

GRISWOLD: In the United States we're, we're very much involved in a public debate as to what is the best way to acknowledge that reality in our public life, just as the Church is trying to figure out what is the best way, pastorally, to deal with this reality.

 

And I must say the Church is also on record as being very strongly supportive of the civil and legal rights of homosexual persons.

 

FROST: But I mean would you, would you say that there will one day perhaps in a decade, maybe, that there would, it's conceivable there would be gay church weddings?

GRISWOLD: Well again, I hate to try to predict things, but certainly looking at some of the pastoral responses that have been made within congregations thus far to gay and lesbian couples, I think it may be the case that in the future there will be some pastoral response on the part of the Church that will be less guarded.

FROST: And of course the political side of all this is focused also with President Bush's proposal for outlawing the...

GRISWOLD: ...constitutional amendment, yes.

FROST: Yes. What's your reaction to that?

 

GRISWOLD: I think it would be unwise, at this point, to pursue a constitutional amendment because the debate, both within churches and certainly within civil society, I think needs to continue, and I'm fearful that a constitutional amendment at this time would preclude the continuation of that debate.

 

FROST: What is the attitude of the Church in North America to divorced clergy?

GRISWOLD: I think the Episcopal Church's attitude to divorce is, I think, far more liberal than is the case here in the UK. For a number of years, we have made it possible for divorced people to be married, remarried within the Church, with the bishop's permission, and indeed some of our clergy and bishops have themselves been divorced and remarried.

FROST: Is it possible do you think, Bishop Griswold, that in the end the only way that these deep divisions can be solved is by saying okay, no more Anglican union as such, we'll just be a sort of federation of different churches? Is that the only way to solve this one?

GRISWOLD: I think it's worth pointing out that the Church is for the sake of the world, not for the sake of its own self preservation. My sense is that if we draw deeply from the wellspring of grace and goodness and divine compassion that is at the very heart of the Church's life, we will find a way to continue forward with our different perspectives.

 

I think it's worth pointing out that Anglicanism, historically, was an effort to contain radical differences, a reformation consciousness in a Catholic consciousness within a context of common prayer, in which one point of view was not the answer but the ability to come together around word and sacrament.

And I think that continues to be the heart and centre of the Anglican experience and that, I think, could carry us through these difficult times.

[A web cast of this interview can be found at: the BBC web site]

Tagged in: Frank T. Griswold