2016-07-27
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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.

In fact, the spokespersons among the Primates at the press conference kept emphasizing the good will and good feelings at the meeting. When I asked, for example, if it was true that many of the Primates refused to take Communion together, an unprecedented and sobering sign of division, the Archbishop of Australia ducked and obfuscated, noting that communion is never obligatory. It was primarily Rowan Williams himself who occasionally interjected an observation acknowledging the division still threatening the communion.

In the end, the Primates' communiqué reinforced the requirements of The Windsor Report, explicitly calling for a moratorium on same-sex unions and on consecrating bishops in same-gender relationships. There was one new twist - the U.S. and Canadian churches were asked voluntarily to withdraw their representation from the Anglican Consultative Council (the major formal Anglican international entity) for a period of time. These are significant, but hardly draconian steps. In fact, traditionalist Primates characterized their actions as deliberate and patient, hoping that the North Americans will indeed repent.

Griswold's melt-down continued when the U.S. House of Bishops met March 11-17 in Texas. He apparently missed the memo from the final press conference reporting that everyone got along fine. Instead, according to The Living Church, he told the U.S. bishops that the primates were "out for blood."

"The devil is a liar and the father of lies and the devil was certainly moving about Dromantine, the site of the primates' meeting in Northern Ireland, the presiding Bishop said, according to accounts from several bishops who spoke The Living Church on the condition that their names not be revealed."

The Presiding Bishop's particular venom was reserved for six Americans who were also in Northern Ireland during at least portions of the primates meeting. The Living Church noted that six were "singled out for opprobrium by the Presiding Bishop for their behind-the-scenes roles at Dromantine." These included The Rt. Rev. Robert Duncan, Bishop of Pittsburgh; the Rev. Canon Bill Atwood, general secretary of the Ekklesia Society; the Rev. Canon Martyn Minns, rector of Truro Parish, Fairfax, Va.; the Rev. Canon David Anderson, president of the American Anglican Council; the Rev. Canon Kendall Harmon, canon theologian of the Diocese of South Carolina; and, myself, Diane Knippers, president of the Institute for Religion and Democracy.

The good news is that perhaps Griswold is at last getting the message about how serious the Global South is about this crisis. It won't just go away. It's hard to say exactly what nefarious deeds he thought a handful of Americans were up to in Newry, the little town near Dromantine. But, if he thinks these Americans could even pretend to have a major influence on the Primates, he remains clueless. Worse, if he thinks Western whites will call the shots - either of his theological ilk or mine - he is entrapped in racist assumptions that will blind him to reality.

I'm more than happy to explain why I was in Northern Ireland. My husband and I had been in London earlier that week to attend a major art exhibit. Recognizing the historic Primates' meeting nearby, we decided to head to Northern Ireland for a day or two. We arrived on Thursday. My primary purpose was to consult with other orthodox leaders from the U.S. and the United Kingdom, to try to understand what the Primates were doing, to discuss how to explain their actions to our friends back home, and to strategize on our own next steps. As always, the most difficult task was to figure out how to offer hope to Episcopalians who believe that the Primates are acting too slowly. I attended the Friday afternoon closing press conference, enjoyed sharing information and observations with reporter friends, and wrote up a brief summary of my reflections for my IRD website, before returning to London on Saturday.

The highlight of our time was Friday night. Following the formal meetings, a number of the Primates came to our hotel to meet with the six of us whom Griswold identified, other workers, spouses, and a prayer team. What do we tell the folks back home, we asked? We got an earful. "Grow up. Be patient. Don't expect us to solve your problems," we were told. We were also assured that they would not back down, and that they would continue to work to see that parishes and priests in hostile dioceses got adequate support. Most importantly, they admonished us to build unity among all the orthodox Anglicans - those still in ECUSA and those in the growing diaspora. It was a serious and sobering challenge.

The Global South is adamant. In the end, there will not be business as usual with ECUSA and the Anglican Communion. That's why I'm convinced that Frank Griswold is the wrong man leading the wrong church.

The ideological revisionists are treating this as a game - to see who can out maneuver whom. For example, the Primates require a moratorium on consecrating bishops in same-sex relations through 2008. The ECUSA bishops countered with a moratorium on all consecrations of all bishops through 2006. What was intended as a cooling-off period was transformed into a sign of solidarity with homosexuals. (The really sad thing is that our church is so moribund that this moratorium on new leadership will likely cause only minimal difficulties.)

ECUSA will chose schism because it can't say "no" to its own radical ideologues. Griswold is not the man to lead the church in high-stakes, manipulative ideological gamesmanship. To avoid further melt-downs, he ought to resign.

I do feel compelled to offer one final personal reflection on my time in Ireland. I continue to struggle with cancer that was first diagnosed just before the 2003 General Convention. During the final Friday night, my rector, Martyn Minns and his wife Angela asked the Primates as we met to pray for me. I sat on a chair in the middle of the room and they gathered around me. I didn't understand the prayers, because each was praying in his own native language. But I felt the strength of their hands and I know that God's healing mercy and grace was sought for me by a group of Christian saints.

Bishop Griswold discerned "the father of lies and the devil" moving about Dromantine. All I know is that at a hotel dining room in a nearby town, we were blessed with the presence of the Holy Spirit.

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