NEW YORK – With two key meetings ahead that could determine whether the Episcopal Church (search) splits over homosexuality, the denomination's leader defended his support Monday for an openly gay bishop in an interview with The Associated Press.
Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold (search) said he voted at last month's General Convention to confirm Bishop-elect V. Gene Robinson (search) because Episcopalians in New Hampshire had overwhelmingly chosen him in their local election and had the right to make that choice. Griswold also argued that Scripture does not condemn same-sex relationships, a position conservatives vehemently reject.
Robinson has lived with his male partner for more than 13 years and worked in the Diocese of New Hampshire for about 15 years.
"I wasn't settling the question of sexuality. I was affirming the choice of a diocese," Griswold said, seated in his midtown Manhattan office.
Later, he said that in biblical times there was no understanding that homosexuality was a natural orientation and not a choice.
"Discreet acts of homosexuality" were condemned in the Bible because they were acts of lust instead of the "love, forgiveness, grace" of committed same-sex relationships, he said.
"Homosexuality, as we understand it as an orientation, is not mentioned in the Bible," he said. "I think the confirmation of the bishop of New Hampshire is acknowledging what is already a reality in the life of the church and the larger society of which we are a part."
Griswold made the comments at a critical time for his leadership of the 2.3-million member Episcopal Church.
Next week, the conservative American Anglican Council (search) will gather more than 1,400 lay Episcopalians, bishops and clergy in Dallas to decide whether to break from the denomination over Robinson.
The following week, on Oct. 15-16, Griswold will join fellow leaders of the world Anglican Communion at an emergency meeting in London to prevent their association from fracturing over the gay bishop and other issues related to homosexuality.
The Episcopal Church is the U.S. branch of the 77-million-member global Anglican Communion, which represents churches that trace their roots to the Church of England.
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the communion's spiritual leader, summoned the other 37 church primates to London after several overseas bishops threatened to sever ties with the Americans. Archbishop of Nigeria Peter Akinola called electing Robinson "a satanic attack on God's church."
U.S. conservatives have asked Williams to consider authorizing a separate Anglican province in North America. Griswold would not say whether he thought the idea would be approved, but said he believed it would require a vote by the American church's General Convention, not a decision by Williams, to authorize it.
"It would involve our own decision-making processes, our own constitution, so most likely it would require action by the General Convention," he said.
Asked his reaction to demands from some critics that he be sanctioned personally, Griswold shrugged and said "whatever will be, will be." But he also said he would explain to the other Anglican leaders that, unlike many of them, he does not have the authority to intervene in a diocese.
Griswold said he has met with about 20 American bishops in New York and in visits to other dioceses since the national convention last month and was "deeply concerned" for those "troubled" by Robinson's confirmation.
A handful of U.S. dioceses have held special conventions that rejected Robinson's ratification and asked world Anglican leaders to intervene.
Some bishops and parishes have temporarily withheld payments from the national church and a few clergy have quit their parishes or the denomination altogether.
But Griswold also said he saw hopeful signs in his talks with other Episcopalians that the church could remain unified.
"Yes, we are dealing with something that is difficult and problematic and the end is not in sight and the consequences are not fully revealed," he said. "However, on balance there are many faithful Episcopalians, priests and bishops going about the ministry of reconciliation with gusto."