Bishop Griswold calls Church to God's Mission of Reconciliation

Jan 21, 2003 11:49 PM EST

Marking his fifth anniversary as presiding bishop on January 12, Frank T Griswold told the congregation at the Washington National Cathedral that "the work of repair, rebuilding and renewing" the world is one to which every Christian is called at baptism. That work, said Bishop Griswold, calls for "adopting God's point of view" instead of the limited perspective of self or nation.

"If we are truly a nation 'under God,' as we say we are, then God's perspective rather than our own self-interest will animate both our national life and our being in the world," he stated. "Otherwise we had better abandon that claim altogether and admit that our power is the source of our own divinity."

"What would happen if God's justice and peace were our heart's desire, and the dignity of every human being our deepest concern?" he asked. "There would be a revolution, which is precisely what God's work, God's mission, is all about."

Subversive love

Bishop Griswold said he came to a deeper understanding of that mission while standing in the dust and ashes filling St Paul's Chapel in New York, three days after the September 11 terrorist attacks. "Behind the altar hung a small brass crucifix, its tiny arms extended in the direction of the site [Ground Zero] I had just visited," he recounted. "In that moment, though numb from all I had witnessed, and caught in a sea of conflicting emotions, it became absolutely clear that the tiny brass arms of the figure on the cross could contain and enfold all the horror, rage, pain and grief that lay so close at hand in an uncompromising and enduring saving embrace of unwavering and death-defying love."

God's love is "radically subversive" of "structures of power and control, assertion, and self-interest," he said. "The good news is that God's loving desire for the full flourishing of all people and all things is the reality. All else is distortion."

Bishop Griswold added that American willingness to spend more on war in Iraq than on the AIDS pandemic in Africa is "a manifestation of evil" and a "form of sin from which we as a nation are called to repent."

Words are weapons

"I'd like to be able to go somewhere in the world and not have to apologise for being from the United States," Bishop Griswold said on January 10 in an interview with Religion News Service. "Quite apart from the bombs we drop, words are weapons and we have used our language so unwisely, so intemperately, so thoughtlessly...that I'm not surprised we are hated and loathed everywhere I go," he said. "We are loathed, and I think the world has every right to loathe us, because they see us as greedy, self-interested and almost totally unconcerned about poverty, disease and suffering," he said.

"My sense is that we have been so abundantly blessed as a nation that it's all the more incumbent upon us that we share those blessing with others," he said. "God's concern is for the world and not simply for a nation.... Too often we narrow down faith to serve our own immediate concerns and national interests."

Bishop Griswold's sentiments about the threat of war were echoed by Pope John Paul II in a New Year's statement on January 13. War "is always a defeat for humanity. International law, honest dialogue, solidarity between states, the noble exercise of diplomacy: These are the methods worthy of individuals and nations in resolving their differences," the Pope said, adding his criticism of leaders who "place their trust in nuclear weapons" and armed force. "War is never just another means that one can choose to employ for settling differences between nations," he said.

By Jan Nunley