Frank Tracy Griswold III

The 25th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church.

PB Primates letter

July 22, 2003
Frank T. Griswold
For the Primates of the Anglican Communion
My dear brothers in Christ:

I write you on the eve of the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to let you know some of what is on my mind and heart during these days of prayer and preparation.

I am aware that earlier this month a letter was sent to “concerned primates” from a number of bishops of the Episcopal Church, USA outlining what they called a “deteriorating situation within the Episcopal Church and elsewhere.” They particularly pointed to two matters that will be before our General Convention: one pertaining to the confirmation of the bishop-elect of the Diocese of New Hampshire and the other dealing with the authorization of the development of rites for the blessing of same sex unions which would then be brought to the General Convention of 2006 for debate.

The polity of our church places the election of a bishop and the nomination process which precedes it entirely in the hands of the electing diocese. The election then must be confirmed by a majority of the diocesan standing committees (made up of clergy and laity) and by bishops with jurisdiction, each voting separately. When an election occurs within 120 days of a General Convention, the General Convention becomes the consenting body. Each bishop-elect must first gain the consent of a majority of the dioceses in the House of Deputies, which is comprised of elected clergy and lay members from each diocese. Next, ballots will be received from bishops with jurisdiction and the bishop-elect must receive a majority of those votes, as well.

At this General Convention ten dioceses will present bishops-elect for consent. The Diocese of New Hampshire and their bishop-elect are the focus of attention, not because of the competency and gifts of the Rev. Canon V. Gene Robinson, or because he was elected overwhelmingly by the clergy and laity of a diocese in which he has served for 28 years, but because he shares his life with a partner of the same sex. As Presiding Bishop and chief pastor, my concern, as I said in a letter to our bishops, is “how we move with grace through this time.” I am including a copy of this letter for your information.

This election, though profoundly disturbing to a number of Episcopalians, is not surprising given that increasingly in our part of the world there is an acknowledgment that some men and women find that their deepest affections are ordered to members of the same sex. Our church has a number of lay persons and clergy for whom this is true. Some have chosen the path of celibacy and others live within the context of a sustained relationship. In this latter case we are not talking primarily about sexual behavior which – in both its heterosexual and homosexual manifestations – can be profoundly sinful and little more than the compulsive pattern of lust so soundly condemned by St. Paul. What we are talking about is the core of the personal identity of men and women who share with us in the risen life of Christ.

I, perhaps more than anyone else, realize how very problematic this election is for some of you, as well as for some members of my own church, including the bishops who wrote to you. I am also aware of the efforts that have been made to draw you into this impending debate. Because we are members one of another in the body of Christ through baptism and are called to share each other’s burdens, your concern is appropriate and welcome. And may I say that I am always grateful when one of you contacts me directly to express your concerns.

Over these last five years I have continually reminded our church that we are part of a larger reality called the Anglican Communion, and that what we do locally has ramifications both positive and negative in other parts of the world. At the same time I am mindful that each of us has to interpret the gospel in our own context and within the particular reality of our own Province; there is no such thing as a neutral reading of Scripture. While we all accept the authority of Scripture, we interpret various passages in different ways.

I believe that the report of the House of Bishops Theology Committee, which was shared with you, can be helpful here. In a section entitled Living In Disagreement it states: “Our present conclusion is that equally sincere Christians, equally committed to an orthodox understanding of the Faith we share, equally looking to Scripture for guidance on this issue, are deeply divided regarding questions with respect to homosexuality. It will be crucial for all parties in this debate to ask God’s blessing on their ever-deepening conversion in Christ, and to pray for God’s love and forgiveness to be granted to all. Faithfulness and the courage to offer love and acceptance to those with whom we disagree is the great need of the moment.”

As Professor David Ford told us several years ago during one of our primates meetings, we are in the process of becoming a communion. I have reflected often upon his words and come to see more and more that communion is not a human construction but a gift from God. Communion involves not only our relationships to one another on earth but our being drawn by the Holy Spirit into the eternal life of communion which belongs to the Holy Trinity. Communion on this earth is always in some way impaired, both because of our limited understanding of God’s ways and our own human sinfulness. Because we have been baptized into one body through the death and resurrection of Christ, we cannot say to one another “I have no need of you.”(1 Corinthians 12:21) This means that maintaining communion is a sacred obligation. It is not easy and involves patience with one another, ongoing conversion, and a genuine desire to understand the different ways in which we seek to be faithful to the gospel. Declarations of being “in” or “out” of communion with one another may assuage our anger or our fear, but they can do little to show our broken and divided world that at the heart of the gospel is to be found a reconciling love that can embrace our passionately held opinions and transcend them all.

Please know how deeply I value each one of you as fellow pilgrims on a continuing journey into the ever unfolding truth of Christ. Grounded in Scripture, the historic creeds, the councils of the church and the sacraments of the new covenant, it is my prayer and deepest hope that our General Convention will reflect the mind of Christ such that our church can be an authentic sign of God’s reconciling love.

Yours sincerely in Christ’s love,

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