Naivety and Pluriform Truths

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.


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