Frank Tracy Griswold III

The 25th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church.

Finding our way

December 1, 2004
Frank T. Griswold

Just before Halloween, Phoebe and I, on a weekend away, drove down a familiar country road in New England. Comfortable-looking old white-clapboarded houses separated by broad lawns lined both sides of the road. Carved pumpkins sat on some of the doorsteps, and chrysanthemums lent a blaze of autumn color.

In the midst of this tranquil setting, what most drew our attention were the signs that stood firm on the lawn of almost every house. The neighbors had chosen sides, and the signs announced their choice: their support for local candidates for sheriff or selectman or congressman and, of course, for one or the other of the presidential candidates. What struck us as we rode along was that the signs seemed to alternate up and down the road: here one for President Bush, then one for Senator Kerry, then Bush, then Kerry, and so on down the winding road.

Given that this campaign has been one of the most vituperative and polarizing in our nation’s history, I wondered how these neighbors would react to one another once a choice had been made. Would friendships be strained? Would the elation of some and the depression of others lead to continued polarization? Or would people find themselves able to come together again with a common vision for the good of their community, our nation and the world?

Emotions ran high during the campaign, and the language used on all sides left very little room for those who do not see life in terms of absolutes. Language has the power to either invite or repel. What we say can either open doors or close them.

In general, the rhetoric of the campaign served to divide rather than draw us together. Further, throughout the many months of the campaign, there appeared to be very little appreciation of the fact that reality as it actually is lived is largely complex, ambiguous and paradoxical. There was little acknowledgment that truth is frequently found dressed in gray rather than in black and white.

Now we as a nation are about to enter into our president’s second term in office. The primary task before us is to move beyond our polarized positions and to seek common ground. Instead of setting ourselves one against the other, we must find a way in which the concerns and fears of all can be brought together in one large and respectful conversation. Such a national conversation is essential in order for us to embrace an enlarged and renewed vision of what it means to be stewards of this great nation and its manifold resources in the service of all of the world’s people.

What I am saying about us as a nation applies to us as a church in that we also must be very careful about the language we use that either can build up or tear down. We also must live in an awareness of the paradoxical nature of truth. We must ground our thinking in classical Anglicanism, which came into being as a reflection of a comprehensive view of a Christian faith able to make room for the many and sometimes seemingly contradictory ways in which the Spirit of truth seeks always to lead us into Christ’s ever-unfolding truth.

I believe that our comprehensive Anglican tradition and the generous hearts of members of our church have kept us from coming into the type of polarization we have been experiencing in our nation. True, we hold very different points of view, but the “diverse center” of which I often have spoken is able to make room for and honor our differences. We as a church are finding a way forward to common ground and working to set aside our differences in the service of the one whose mission was to reconcile all people and all things to himself.

I believe that we as a community of faith are eager to be true to our calling to be “instruments of God’s peace,” as St. Francis prayed we might be. I believe we are seeking to make every effort — across our differences — to embody the reconciliation God brought about in Jesus through the cross. In the wake of this election, this is our call as citizens both of this great nation and of an eternal city of which Christ is the unwavering light.

Now that we have made our choices and the election is behind us, I have no idea whether the neighbors on that winding country road in New England are going to be able to make common cause. I hope the love they share for our country will hold them together, and all neighbors together, such that political differences can be set aside.

It is my prayer that in the days ahead the faith we share as Anglican Christians, regardless of our various points of view on the questions before us as a church and as a nation, may be a source of healing and reconciliation in the service of God’s reconciling love, which embraces us all. We as Christians rooted in the Anglican tradition can become powerful instruments in the healing of our nation as we recognize one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. Let us take our place in a common quest for justice and peace both at home and abroad.


Bishop Griswold


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