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A tale of two bishops

What happens when apostasy reigns?


Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, right, addresses the Episcopal General Convention in Columbus, Ohio, on June 21, 2006. Associated Press/Photo by Paul Vernon, pool

A tale of two bishops

Go back half a century and the most established church of the Protestant establishment was, without question, the Episcopal Church. Never massive in numbers, that historic denomination sat atop the so-called “seven sisters” of the old Protestant mainline (Episcopalians, Congregationalists [now United Church of Christ, UCC], Presbyterians [PCUSA], United Methodists, the Disciples of Christ, northern Baptists, and Lutherans [ELCA]). Those historic churches had outsize importance in shaping the culture. The word “mainline” was not used inaccurately.

Fast forward to the present and all those denominations have been in precipitous decline for decades. The culture has been secularizing and those churches basically decided to secularize with it. All have been effectively in the hands of theological liberals for so long now that it is hard to remember a time when they were not (at least in leadership) monolithically progressive if not outright heretical.

Those denominations still punch above their weight in media attention. In recent days, The New York Times ran an obituary noting the death of a former presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, Frank T. Griswold III, describing him as a “bridge-building bishop.”

Bishop Griswold must have looked like a presiding bishop sent by Central Casting in Hollywood. He had attended the ultra-elite St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire and then went on to Harvard, already aiming for the Episcopal ministry. After Harvard he studied at General Theological Seminary in New York City and at Oriel College of Oxford University. Two relatives were prominent bishops in the Episcopal Church. Bishop Griswold would serve as Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church from 1998 to 2006. That’s the top of the heap.

But those dates are really important. In 2003, with the full support of Bishop Griswold, the Episcopal Church elected Rev. V. Gene Robinson as the first “openly gay” bishop of the church. Back then, such a move still made headline news. The elevation of an openly homosexual man as bishop reversed two thousand years of church teaching and practice, threw the world of churches claiming episcopal succession into turmoil, and basically tore the Anglican Communion asunder.

At the time, Bishop Griswold said that he saw “no impediment” to the consecration of Robinson to the episcopate, yielding to the vote of the Diocese of New Hampshire. When Robinson was installed, Bishop Griswold stated: “As Anglicans we are learning to live in the mystery of communion at a much deeper level.”

The consecration of Bishop Robinson was the final straw for many Anglicans around the world.

Well, some Anglicans. The consecration of Bishop Robinson was the final straw for many Anglicans around the world. Soon after Bishop Robinson’s election, I sat between two Anglican archbishops from Africa at dinner. They were bold to accuse Bishop Robinson of heresy and the Episcopal Church of apostasy.

Within a few years, the global Anglican Communion would be divided and the Episcopal Church would see the defection of more evangelical and traditional Episcopal parishes. They would seek and find communion in new Anglican circles and churches.

What about the Scriptural teachings on sex, gender, marriage, and ministry? Bishop Robinson (who had divorced his wife and eventually married a man, later divorcing him too) simply said: “We worship a living God, not one locked up in the Scripture of 2,000 years ago.”

As for Bishop Griswold, he saw human sexuality as “a free-ranging force that can overwhelm reason and is therefore dangerous.” He added, “Some people feel that if sexuality isn’t carefully circumscribed, it will subvert all sorts of things.” That seems to be precisely the sort of thing taught in Scripture, but Bishop Griswold saw a way out of the box.

“In the Gospels,” he said, “Jesus said ‘I have many more things to say to you but you cannot bear them now,’ which suggests to me that God’s truth is always unfolding.” He continued: “If we can accept that there are new truths that science brings us, or new discoveries in medicine, why is it when it comes to sexuality, there is no new truth?”

By now it must be clear to all that there is no masking the divide between biblical Christianity and the new religion that blesses all things LGBTQ+. That divide comes down to whether or not you see God as a constantly updateable divine metaphor that, in the words of Bishop Robinson, rejects a God “locked up in the Scripture of 2,000 years ago.”

Those words were a strange admission that the new religion of sexual liberation requires the rejection of Scripture and the elevation of modern gender and sexuality ideologies to the driver’s seat. The Episcopal Church did not start down its liberal freefall in 2003, but that act of consecrating an openly gay bishop was a clear and determinative crossing of a bar. As yet, there is no example of a historic Christian denomination regaining its sanity after surrendering to the insanity. Without a full return to Scriptural authority, there is simply no way back.


R. Albert Mohler Jr.

Albert Mohler is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Boyce College and editor of WORLD Opinions. He is also the host of The Briefing and Thinking in Public. He is the author of several books, including The Gathering Storm: Secularism, Culture, and the Church. He is the seminary’s Centennial Professor of Christian Thought and a minister, having served as pastor and staff minister of several Southern Baptist churches.


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