In an interview with Episcopal News Service, Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold speaks about the significance and importance of listening to the experiences of Anglicans throughout the world.
In a February letter to the primates and moderators of the Anglican Communion, Griswold conveyed his support for the Communion's listening process and his hope that there may be many more opportunities for Anglicans to meet face to face.
An audio stream and podcast of the interview is available at: http://www.episcopalchurch.org/3577_72932_ENG_HTM.htm.
A transcript of the interview follows:
ENS: Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold has sent a letter to the primates and moderators of the Anglican Communion conveying his support for the listening process. Originally requested at the Lambeth Conference of Bishops and revisited at the Anglican Consultative Council meeting in 2005, the process is intended to facilitate mutual listening throughout the Communion, and especially to the experience of gay and lesbian people. I asked Bishop Griswold what he thought about the importance of listening.
GRISWOLD: I think listening is particularly important at this moment in the life of the Anglican Communion because we live across the Communion in very different contexts and are shaped and molded by very different historical, political, and ecclesial realities, and I think it is only as we can enter into one another's reality and understand it from the inside -- not simply through email or some kind of disembodied report -- that we can begin more profoundly to appreciate how the gospel is always, as the Virginia Report says, "locally embodied."
ENS: So what is your understanding of the listening process?
GRISWOLD: I don't think it is completely clear at this point what the listening process will involve. My hope is that the listening process will not simply be a shifting of pieces of paper and various statements, but the listening process will be an opportunity for people in different parts of the Communion to visit with one another, to be with one another in their own immediate context and reality so that we can understand in a lived way what it means to be diverse in our opinions, but rooted and grounded in a common faith. I do think it is important to underscore the fact that the life of the church is one of incarnation and we really must be with one another if we are to properly understand who we are as brothers and sisters in Christ.
ENS: In what ways has the Episcopal Church been committed to listening to and understanding other cultures and contexts?
GRISWOLD: I think the Episcopal Church has tried, maybe not as fully as it might have, to listen to other voices. One way in which this is done is, of course, to invite people from different parts of the Communion to be part of our life, to be present at such things as the House of Bishops meetings or the General Convention or visit various dioceses. But I realize that it is equally important, if not more important, for us to be with brothers and sisters from other parts of the Anglican Communion in their own reality and their own context. And so I have been very heartened by the number of visits that have taken place on the part of dioceses and bishops to other parts of the world as part of trying to understand the complexities with which our brothers and sisters live in other provinces and, at the same time, make it possible for people from other parts of the Communion to see what we live with and how we've been shaped and formed.
ENS: Why did you feel it was necessary to write to the Primates and Moderators of the Anglican Communion?
GRISWOLD: I thought it was necessary for me to write to the Primates and Moderators because the word had come back from a number of bishops who visited other parts of the world: why has it taken you so long to come and visit us? Why have only certain voices been heard from the United States and not other voices? And so I thought the best way to answer that concern was to write to the Primates and say we would happily come, but I did want to avoid any notion that we were coming with an agenda or were coming to impose something on them, because I know that has been a rather sensitive area, a rather sensitive concern for some time.
ENS: Is it reasonable to expect all provinces to listen to the experiences of gay and lesbian people when there are countries, particularly in Africa, where homosexuality is illegal?
GRISWOLD: I think that is a very good point because I have heard some people in this country say, "Well, why aren't there groups listening to gay and lesbian people in their own culture?" and I have had to say, on a number of instances, on a number of occasions, if you publicly said that this was part of your reality, you would either be put in jail or possibly treated violently and I think this is naivety on our part to assume that there is equal openness and protection in other parts of the world. So this does make the whole listening process much more complicated and particularly in let's say a fragile part of the Anglican Communion in a country where the public stance is very hostile to homosexuality, I think it would be extremely difficult for you as representatives of the church to come forward and say that we are going to listen publicly to the voices of gay and lesbian people and I think we need to be much more sensitive to the fact that these are realities that can't be set aside.
ENS: Can the communion endure in the context of such diversity, especially when some provinces have declared impaired or broken communion?
GRISWOLD: I think the thing that strikes me most in this present situation is that common creeds, common recognition of the Lordship of Christ, his full humanity, his full divinity, the Sacraments and the rest that we see as the shared tradition of the church; the fact that all of this is subordinate to the question of views on human sexuality. I find it very unsettling that views on human sexuality trump classical theology and people can find no common ground beyond do we agree or disagree on issues of sexuality, when in fact there is this profound shared tradition of belief and practice that we call Anglicanism. So I would hope that we could at least balance the preoccupation with sexuality against the fact that those that disagree share Jesus as Lord and Savior, a common belief in our being reconciled to God through the cross, a common belief in the fact that baptism draws us into intimate union with Christ and one another and the Eucharist renews that reality week by week. So some of this I think needs to be reclaimed as our true unity. I would also say that Communion is really God's gift. Communion is the internal life of the Holy Trinity into which we are drawn through baptism and therefore it is not ours to create or ours in some way to break. It is ours to share reverently, humbly, because it is God's desire for the world.