Beliefnet
Pity the Most Reverend Frank Griswold, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. He leads a fractious denomination, in a highly litigious society. His church has taken positions that place it well outside mainstream Anglicanism, as well as Christianity. While he no doubt agrees with the new positions of the Episcopal Church, he seems to do it more out of duty than a joyful sense of calling. He is a non-ideologue, trying to lead a church that is now driven by ideologues.

I don't know Griswold personally, so I'll resist the temptation of offering an in-depth psychoanalysis of the man. But clearly, his temperament, gifts, and interests cry out for another job.

By all accounts, he is a decent man, kind and thoughtful. They say he isn't much of a manager or administrator. He has a scholarly bent. He is obviously drawn to the mystical elements of faith. I could see him a chaplain at a school for boys or a theological college.

Griswold and other Episcopal Church leaders have set out to make radical changes in the teachings of the 2,000-year-old Christian Church. These changes touch everything from sources of church authority, particularly the role of Holy Scripture, to sexual ethics, to expectations of church leaders, to pushing the limits of dissent while seeking the maintain unity within and among churches.

They assumed they could achieve such revolutionary change with minimal costs. If they are right, they are indeed prophetic church reformers, but they seem to want their reformation on the cheap, treating the conflict like some sort of church flap that will blow over in a couple of years.

Because his task is so at odds with his temperament, it's no surprise that the normally calm Griswold would have an occasional melt-down--which he did in northern Ireland in February and then at last week's House of Bishops meeting in Texas.

First, some background on the Primates meeting. Thirty-eight primates head national Anglican churches around the world; these churches are primarily found in the old British colonial empire. The titular head of the primates is the Archbishop of Canterbury, appointed by the British crown.

While the institution of the Anglican Communion has become more formalized over the last century, the regular meetings of the Primates are relatively new. Since the first one in 1979, they have provided an opportunity for "leisurely thought, prayer and deep consultation." They are not legislative bodies and they claim no formal legal authority, although recent fractious Lambeth Conferences (one-a-decade gatherings of all the bishops worldwide) have suggested stronger leadership from the Primates would be helpful.

The style of the Primate's meetings is more retreat-like than business-y. They don't pass resolutions, but they do issue pastoral letters or communiques, largely arrived at by consensus. All this is perfectly fine, when there are high levels of trust and agreement. But free-form gatherings can also become highly manipulative and coercive, especially in settings that include people from various cultures--such as the Primates' meetings.

Low-level conflicts have emerged in recent years regarding questions of access with and among the primates during their meetings. (For instance, Could they have cell phones?) As the controversies grew hotter, the need for outside resource people emerged. The Archbishop of Canterbury, as host, has access to staff and legal counsel. But who else does? At the most recent meeting, observers noted that Presiding Bishop Griswold had a staff assistant staying on the grounds at Dromantine, where the Primates met. When one of the Global South primates asked to bring his assistant on campus, he was told no. Apparently someone was making rules--but who?

The current Anglican crisis is played out against the really big transition in global Christianity, the rise of the Global South. At home, some of the primates have the status and privileges of heads of state. For these powerful men, the desire to be respectful to ones host - a strong traditional virtue - conflicts with the annoyance at having to seek, and sometimes being denied, permission to meet with people, get assistance, and plan one's own time.

So against this background of cultural differences and questions of control, matters came to a head when on Thursday evening, Archbishop Peter Akinola, Primate of Nigeria, held an off-campus dinner party for a group of primates, thanking them for their hard work that week.

When Griswold and Archbishop Andrew Hutchison of Canada noticed that a considerable portion of their number were absent that evening, they turned on the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. In melt-down one, they accused him of ineffective leadership and of losing control of the meeting. Williams, in turn, had words with some of the Africans that night. By the time of the press conference Friday afternoon, the worst of the outbreak seemed to have been patched up.

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