Frank Tracy Griswold III

The 25th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church.

Finding Our Way: A Christian Perspective

March 13, 2003
Frank T. Griswold

All through these many months of debates and discussions about our government's policy and actions toward Iraq I have expressed my opposition to war. Joined by leaders and members of other faith communities, I have supported the alternatives to war that would both address the legitimate concerns of our nation and recognize that war at this point is not the solution. At what appears to be the eleventh hour, I remain convinced that military action is the course of last resort and could have unintended negative consequences beyond our imagining. I do not believe it an exaggeration to say that decisions made now will affect our global future for good or ill. Over these last weeks an undercurrent has entered the debates and discussions that I might describe as the "God factor." I have read and heard a great deal about how religion, and faith in God, bear on this situation. In one sense, this is welcome in that people of faith are obliged to bring their perspectives to matters of public policy. At the same time, to invoke God's name and assume God's blessing on our acts is not something that can be done in a spirit of self-justification, but rather in a spirit of humility and constant openness to being led into deeper understandings of God's desire. "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord" (Isaiah 55). Our images of God's ways and God's will are rooted in the Bible. Scripture, however, contains different understandings of God and God's will. As Christians we look to the view which is most faithful to the life and death of Jesus Christ. God sent his Son to reconcile the world and its people to himself and to show us how to live into the fullness of our humanity. In Christ we see power surrendered in favor of vulnerability, service to others, and a compassion and love for his enemies that leads him to the cross. I am deeply disturbed that some Christians are animated by notions of a God of vengeance and retribution, and adopt simplistic views of good and evil. The task of people of faith, indeed those of the three Abrahamic faiths–Judaism, Christianity and Islam–is to point us all toward a God abounding in compassion and love for each one of us. What are the implications for us, the followers of Jesus, as we ponder the present situation? How do we see ourselves as a nation? How is our national character–historically marked by generosity, mutual respect, and a love of freedom–being shaped by our present experiences? Following the terrible events of September 11, 2001 and the outpouring of expressions of solidarity from people around the world–many of whom experience the effects of terrorism daily–I had hoped that we as a nation would come to a new consciousness that would enable us to see ourselves less in terms of "offended power" and more as belonging to a vulnerable and interdependent global community in which we are called to bear one another's burdens and share one another's sufferings. Since that day I have said that as our nation is a superpower, we are also called to be a super servant genuinely concerned for the welfare of the world beyond our own perceived self interest. Those who argue for war have said that war can be an act of service to the global community, and religious language is employed to justify such an action. How can this be when war would have a profoundly damaging effect upon countless innocent people? How can this be when war would further fuel the anger and frustration so many people around the globe, far beyond the borders of Iraq, feel towards our country? Instead of waging war, our faith calls us to wage reconciliation. This involves the demanding and difficult challenge of loving our enemies and embracing policies of generosity of spirit that build up the global community. I am also concerned that the call for war and the attendant rhetoric have profoundly polarized our nation. Anxiety and self-preoccupation have become a way of life and we are fast losing our ability to see ourselves as part of a global community. Critics are dismissed as unpatriotic and nations that fail to do our bidding are ridiculed and demeaned. Our national spirit is being slowly poisoned. This may be Osama bin Laden's greatest triumph. From my office window in New York I can see the United Nations building. These days every time I glance at it I say a prayer for its members, particularly the members of the Security Council, that they may be imbued with God's care and love for our world. Prayer is a dimension of peace-making in which we can all engage. Prayer unites us to God and works in us the mind of Christ. Prayer is an invitation from God to open ourselves to God's larger desires for us and for humanity and all creation. Prayer can liberate us from our biases and fixed points of view and lead us into a new space where God's perspective is able to transform and enlarges our own. God's care surrounds both our men and women in the military, now in Southwest Asia, and the people of Iraq as they face ominous possibilities. I therefore invite all members of our church to observe the worldwide candlelight vigil on Sunday, March 16 at 7 p.m. in their local communities and to consider similar observances at all liturgies during these difficult days. I know that President Bush is a person of prayer. And I pray for him every day. Today, I have made a request to him that he meet with me and other Christian leaders at this crucial time. As fellow members of Christ's body, we very much want to share our perspectives with him and to join with him in prayer that we may be faithful to the ways in which God is inviting this great nation of ours to be a blessing to the nations of the world. The Most Reverend Frank T. Griswold, Presiding Bishop and Primate March 13, 2003