Archive for March, 2004

Naivety and Pluriform Truths

March 6, 2004

The following story appeared in the March 6 Manchester Guardian.

The head of the US Episcopal church, whose consecration of an openly gay bishop has threatened to split the worldwide Anglican communion, has admitted that the church was “naive” to imagine there would be no repercussions.
Frank Griswold, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal church in the USA (Ecusa), which has a congregation of 2.3m, was speaking in Britain, where is attending a week of meetings in Canterbury.
He has seen a third of the Anglican provinces declaring themselves – to varying degrees – out of communion with the Americans since Gene Robinson became diocesan bishop of New Hampshire.
Bishop Robinson, who is divorced and has two adult daughters, has lived with his male partner for many years.
Earlier this week he was persuaded to cancel a visit to England next Thursday to speak in a debate at the Oxford Union.
Bishop Griswold endorsed Bishop Robinson’s election at last year’s Ecusa general convention, and presided over his consecration in November.
He told the Guardian: “Certainly, none of us had anticipated the effect of the ordination in New Hampshire.
It was telecast around the world. Possibly naively, we thought it was a local event.”
The remark is surprising since – a fortnight before the consecration – Bishop Griswold attended a London meeting of Anglican primates at which a unanimous statement was issued serving warning that the communion would be in danger of being torn apart if the service went ahead.
Peter Akinola, primate of the communion’s biggest province, Nigeria, which claims the allegiance of 17m Anglicans, refused to attend this week’s meetings of the Anglican Consultative Council’s standing committees and the primates in Canterbury because of Bishop Griswold’s presence.
Dr Akinola, who has been outspoken in his condemnation of homosexuals, describing their behaviour as worse than beasts, issued a statement saying he could not sit in any meeting with the American church.
“He is baffled that the Anglican communion office continues to act as if what Ecusa did does not really matter,” his spokesman said.
Bishop Griswold said: “I’ve been concerned about the tone of the rhetoric used. I fully respect those who disagree, but some of the language is truly unhelpful. I’ve let the rhetoric come forward, but have not responded to it in the interests of the communion.”
While the Nigerian archbishop boycotted the Canterbury gathering, two of his colleagues – the archbishops of Uganda and Central Africa, who have also strongly criticised the US church – were present and sat amicably next to Bishop Griswold in the meetings.
Although some African leaders have said that they want nothing to do with the US church, none has so far rejected the financial aid that Ecusa gives their continent, including assistance to the Anglican African Council, which Dr Akinola chairs.
Bishop Griswold said: “As far as I know, the various partnerships are holding firm. Relationships move at different levels, but we would never use our resources to elicit compliance or to punish those who disagree with us.
“That would be totally contrary to our understanding of the church’s mission.
“I have travelled to other parts of the Anglican world and I know the contexts in which they exist.
There are cultures that are faced with militant Islam, cultures in which sexuality is never discussed, and in those circumstances I can well understand why they should take a different position on homosexuality.”
The US church – like the Church of England – has a proportion of gay priests, some in active relationships and many fully supported by congregations aware of their partnerships with what are known as “father’s friends”.
Bishop Griswold said: “Gay men and women have become part of the parish community and their presence has been welcomed in the life of the church.
“I have respected that some clergy in long-term partnerships have ministries filled with grace.
“I began to ask myself, ‘Is God inviting me to perceive grace at work?’”

I have seen various comments on this piece already on Titusonenine. They have mostly focused on the absurd comment by the Presiding Bishop that he was somehow “naïve” to expect so much fallout. Of course, this is not remotely credible. Press coverage at Minneapolis, at the Lambeth meeting in October, and finally at the consecration itself, was huge. Voices in opposition to the consecration were many and loud. The level of opposition was, in many ways, unprecedented.

However, I for one do not think this is a case of Frank Griswold being out of touch with reality, as has been suggested. Rather, his other comments show that either he is being consciously disingenuous when he suggests that there was some element of naivety or he really does believe in “pluriform truths.”

First, note how he sums up all the fuss as a result of cultural differences. The only reason he can give for anyone being opposed to the consecration of Gene Robinson and same-sex unions is that they come from a different culture, not from reading Holy Scripture. Of course, that two-thirds of the American public is opposed to gay marriage shows that this is absurd, unless the Presiding Bishop believes that American tolerance is to be equated with acceptance in American culture.

Second, however, and much more importantly—whatever happened to “God is doing a new thing”? I thought the whole point of this was to trumpet it, to declare to the world the latest revelation of the Holy Spirit.

And of course, in case the Presiding Bishop has forgotten, the point of having a bishop is to maintain communion throughout the church. The episcopate is itself an instrument of unity, both nationally and globally. All those snide comments that were made about continuing churches back in 1977—that their bishops are just episcopi vagantes—were premised on the assumption that the catholic ministry is universal. How could it be just a “local event”?

It would seem that the rationale for this whole thing shifts day by day. One moment it’s a new work of the Spirit, the next it’s just local. The Presiding Bishop needs to get his story straight. But of course, when one is dealing with “pluriform truths,” that isn’t really necessary, and may not even be possible. Truth itself is a shifting reality for the Presiding Bishop, even when it comes to the recent past.


Love as a Buzzword

March 1, 2004

The following is from an article in the Lexington Herald-Leader about Bishop Sauls of the Diocese of Lexington (see the entire article here).

Sauls put it differently. Saying that “Scripture is full of logical inconsistencies,” he told his annual convention Friday that “when it comes to family, how I love matters more than how I think.”

Leaving aside the “logical inconsistencies” issue (isn’t it a bishop’s job to sort those things out?), I note with interest the disconnect he proposed here between thinking and loving.

In the Eastern Orthodox Divine Liturgy, the Peace is exchanged just before the clergy and congregation recite the Nicene Creed. The priest and congregation have the following exchange (emphasis mine).

Priest: Peace be unto all.

Choir: And to your spirit.

Priest: Let us love one another, that with one mind we may confess,

Choir: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit! The Trinity, one in essence and undivided!

Then the Nicene creed follows. Apparently the Orthodox liturgy has no trouble connecting love with doctrine.

When are these people going to learn that, according to Christian teaching, how you love depends on how you think? Does Bishop Sauls truly believe that loving (the long term, difficult sort and not the warm and fuzzy stuff) and thinking are really separate? That the Church’s teaching (which he has sworn to uphold) is disconnected from its love?

Of course, everyone can point to unloving people who were or are “orthodox.” Formal assent to moral or theological propositions does not in itself produce the love that Christianity teaches. But is “thinking” for Bishop Sauls only a matter of boring theological technicalities (or perhaps “logical inconsistencies”)? Does he see no connection between what we believe and how we act (i.e., how love is expressed)?

Many moons ago, Jerry Brown popularized the term “buzzword” for terms that appeared to mean something but are in fact a retreat from real thinking into the vague psychobabble of loosely associated impressions. With men such as Bishop Sauls, “love” has now entered the buzzword lexicon.

Episcopal Haiku

March 1, 2004

My department made the shift a few years ago from teaching “western” to “world” civ. I had mixed feelings about it at the time—I thought the students lost as much as they gained—but one advantage for faculty such as myself was a (re)acquaintance with non-western cultures. In preparing to teach something about Japan to freshman, I thought to consider that classic form of Japanese poetry, the haiku.

The classic haiku has a 5-7-5 syllabe format (not always observed and not always preserved in translation from Japanese). Japan’s greatest poet, Basho of the 17th century, could thus write:

On the withered branch
A crow has alighted—
The sound of the water.

This has led in recent years to something like an international movement, especially, it seems, in English, and has resulted in football haiku such as

The fumble bounces
Distant, a racoon sneezes
Oh, dive for the ball


On Brett Favre’s helmet
Beer falls, and the cup crumbles
Sideline in autumn

And then there are the computer haiku:

No keyboard present
Hit F1 to continue
Zen engineering?

The Tao that is seen
Is the the true Tao, until
You bring fresh toner

Windows NT crashed
I am the Blue Screen of Death
No one hears your screams

Having been erased
The document you are seeking
Must now be retyped.

And so on and so on.

This got me to thinking. What about Anglican/Episcopal haiku, especially under the current circumstances? Some of it might make us laugh. Some of it might make us cry. Some of it might do both. But it seems worth the effort, if only as a way to express our feelings.

So, here are a few offerings:

Gene Robinson bishop?
Temple turns in his grave
All faith has been lost

New Hampshire elects
Inestimable sadness
Impaired communion

Bishops have voted
At General Convention—
What now for our faith?

I now offer to anyone to send in more to my via e-mail. It can be serious or utterly silly, but it must adhere to form! I will wait a few weeks a put up what I consider the best.