Frank Tracy Griswold III

The 25th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church.

God Cares for the Whole World and So Must We

April 15, 2003
Frank T. Griswold

Early this year in a press interview I said, among other things, that I frequently am in the position of having to apologize to those in other parts of the world for our nation’s policies that can seem, to their eyes, uncaring and based on our national self-interest rather than the greater good of the global community. I was amazed at the reaction this observation generated. It seems I must have touched a nerve.

My travels essentially involve visits to brother and sister Anglicans and I am frequently the guest of bishops who are often weighed down with burdens of poverty, hunger, disease and – in many places – civil strife. Because I am an American, and sometimes am perceived as a symbol of the power our nation possesses, their questions frequently have to do with policies of the United States. To their minds our policies seem to take little account of their realities.

Not untypical was my time spent with an African bishop who has opened his home to 20 children left orphans by the devastation of AIDS. A generation of his people is being lost and he wants to know why the United States has not been more forthright in helping his region to deal with this pandemic. He asks if our policies favor the interests of our pharmaceutical companies or the people he watches sicken and die for lack of drugs that that are available here.

My comments do not spring from a political ideology – either left, right, or center – but from the gospel. And, the gospel is very clear. In the words of Jesus: just as you did it to the least of these… you did it unto me. Concern for the wellbeing of people in other parts of the globe, including fellow members of Christ’s risen body the church, is not a matter of politics but of fidelity to the message of Jesus. All who are baptized in Christ are called to give voice to this message.

Jesus also tells us that to whom much has been given from them much will be expected. We are the wealthiest nation in the world: I can well understand the deep resentment of Christians in other nations at the fact that our foreign aid spending, in proportion to our wealth, is last in the world in support of fighting poverty and promoting development in the poorest parts of the globe. I believe that as Americans we are possessed of enormously generous spirits. Our policies need to reflect our national spirit of generosity and caring rather than being limited to the immediate concerns of particular interest groups.

I am also mindful that the gospel tells us that God so loved the world that he sent his Son to be its Savior. God’s care, therefore, is not for a particular people or nation but for the whole world. Again, speaking as a person of faith, it is quite clear therefore that we must learn to think globally. Though the care of our citizens – of all our citizens – is our collective national responsibility, we are called to transcend that view and not be limited by our own national concerns. At the same time, in a time of war and the threat of terrorism, one might argue that our self interest is actually served by attending to the world: a hurting world where anger is seeded in refugee camps and children orphaned by AIDS are pressed into armies.

Jesus also tells us that the one who is great must be the servant of all. Therefore, our greatness as a nation, and the fact that we are a super power, calls us to adopt a more deliberate global role as super servant.

One of the great blessings of our American way is freedom of speech and the ability to express differing points of view. It is equally incumbent upon us all to listen: to listen to voices that may challenge us and enlarge our consciousness by revealing something of God’s larger purpose and desire for the wellbeing not only of ourselves but the whole creation.

May we all, in these days of polarizing rhetoric, be given “ears to hear” and hearts that can respond to the burdens borne by all of God’s children. In this way the best that is in us can become a source of blessing to others.

Now, our nation is at war. We pray for peace and know not what the next days, weeks, and months will bring. And while young Americans are in harm’s way, it is incumbent on us to pray for them and to support for the nation under whose flag they fight. One form this support can take is asking the hard questions about our national goals and values. As a citizen of the United States and one who loves his country, my hope is always that we can deport ourselves in the world community in ways that reveal the best that is in us as a nation that proclaims it is “under God.”

The Most Rev. Frank T. Griswold
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church, USA