Lambeth invitations exclude American gay bishop

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Martyn Minns (top) was installed in May as a misssionary bishop for North America by Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has invited all bishops in North America, except Gene Robinson, the openly gay bishop of New Hampshire, to the Lambeth Conference of the world’s Anglican bishops scheduled next year in the United Kingdom.

There were strong reactions to Bishop Robinson’s exclusion, with some of his fellow American bishops calling it “oppressive” and saying they would raise the matter during their meeting with Archbishop Williams scheduled this fall. Earlier, the Episcopal Church in the U.S. rejected the ultimatum issued by primates of the Anglican Communion to cease same-sex blessings and the consecration of additional gay bishops by Sept. 30 and instead sought a meeting with Archbishop Williams.

Archbishop Williams also did not consider inviting Martyn Minns, a breakaway priest from the Episcopal Church who was recently consecrated bishop and head of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA) by the primate of Nigeria, Archbishop Peter Akinola. Archbishop Akinola has threatened to boycott the conference, held once every 10 years, suggesting that withholding an invitation to Bishop Minns would be viewed as “withholding invitation to the entire house of bishops of the Church of Nigeria.” Another primate, Archbishop Henry Luke Orombi issued a statement May 30 indicating that the bishops of the Church of Uganda would not attend the conference. Rwandan bishops also said on June 19 that they would not attend.

Canon Kenneth Kearon, secretary general of the Anglican Communion, said: “He (Bishop Minns) wasn’t even being considered. He wasn’t eligible to be considered … because the Archbishop (of Canterbury) has decided that CANA and AMiA (another breakaway group called the Anglican Mission in America) are the same class.” He noted that at the time that AMiA consecrations took place in 2000, then-Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey said that “he couldn’t accept them as regular consecrations; that he would not regard himself as being in communion with the bishops concerned, and the primates agreed to that.”  

Archbishop Carey disagreed, however, saying  the Communion was not as divided as it is now. “It is not too much to say that everything has changed in the Anglican Communion as a result of the consecration of Gene Robinson,” he wrote in the Church of England Newspaper.

The decision not to invite Bishop Robinson, meanwhile, was based on “widespread objections” to his consecration as a bishop in the Episcopal Church and the recommendation of the 2004 Windsor Report, said Canon Kearon.

“The primates’ meeting in 2003 and 2005 recognized that the bishop of New Hampshire had been duly elected and consecrated according to the canons of the Episcopal Church,” said Mr. Kearon in a telephone interview. “However, for the archbishop to give full recognition to him at this conference would be to ignore the widespread objections to his ministry in many parts of the Communion.” He added that the Windsor Report, issued by the Lambeth Commission created by Archbishop Williams to seek ways of healing the rift within the Communion over human sexuality, had encouraged the Archbishop “to exercise very considerable caution in inviting him to the councils of the church.”

Archbishop Williams is, however, considering inviting Bishop Robinson to the conference as a guest, he said.

Bishop Robinson said he had received the news about not being invited to Lambeth “with great disappointment.”

In a statement, Bishop Robinson called the refusal to include him “among all other duly elected and consecrated bishops of the church an affront to the entire Episcopal Church.” He added, “At a time when the Anglican Communion is calling for a ‘listening process’ on the issue of homosexuality, how does it make sense to exclude gay and lesbian people from the discussion? Isn’t it time that the bishops of the church stop talking about us and start talking with us?”

In his letter of invitation, Archbishop Williams said, “with the recommendations of the Windsor Report particularly in mind, I have to reserve the right to withhold or withdraw invitations from bishops whose appointment, actions or manner of life have caused exceptionally serious division or scandal within the Communion.”

Mr. Kearon also confirmed that all Canadian bishops have been issued invitations despite threats of a boycott made by some primates if Archbishop Williams invited Bishop Robinson and Bishop Michael Ingham, whose Vancouver-based diocese, New Westminster, approved the blessing of same-sex unions in 2002. (In response to the Windsor Report, the bishops of the Anglican Church of Canada have agreed on a moratorium on same-sex blessings. The diocese of New Westminster also imposed a moratorium on allowing any new parishes to permit same-sex blessings, but continued to allow ceremonies in those that have already received approval from the bishop.)  

Mr. Kearon said, “it was never considered” that Bishop Ingham might not be invited.

Bishop Ingham, in an interview, said Bishop Robinson should be invited. “If the archbishop wants to keep everyone at the table, then everyone should be invited. The unfortunate message this sends is that schismatic bishops and primates are welcome but openly gay bishops aren’t.”

Other bishops and observers also weighed in on the issue of the invitation list.

Episcopal News Service reported that California Bishop Marc Andrus said that “the tactic of exile and isolation has been among the strongest tools of oppression against the human spirit.”

Ohio Bishop Mark Hollingsworth wrote in a letter to his diocese that Bishop Robinson’s presence at Lambeth “might be awkward or difficult for some of the other participants, but that is hardly uncommon in Christian community.”

Mr. Kearon also said there were a few other bishops who have not been issued invitations but it had nothing to do with the controversy over sexuality that has bitterly divided the Anglican Communion. These were bishops whose local status and standing is unclear.

These include Zimbabwean Bishop Nolbert Kunonga, an open supporter of President Robert Mugabe.

Lambeth Palace and the Anglican Communion Office said the conference, to be held July 16 to Aug. 4, 2008, was set to be “the largest Lambeth Conference in the history of the Anglican Communion,” with over 800 bishops of the provinces of the Anglican Communion expected to attend.

In his letter of invitation, Archbishop Williams wrote that he has also decided to exercise his privilege “of calling his colleagues not to legislate but to discover and define something more about common identity through prayer, listening to God’s word and shared reflection.”

Archbishop Williams added: “Coming to the Lambeth Conference does not commit you to accepting the position of others as necessarily a legitimate expression of Anglican doctrine and discipline, or to any action that would compromise your conscience or the integrity of your local church.”

The 2008 conference will differ from previous gatherings “in that the bishops will begin the conference with a period of retreat and reflection,” said the press statement. Most of the retreat will be held in and around Canterbury Cathedral. Discussions will take place at the University of Kent in Canterbury.

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Marites N. Sison and Solange De Santis, Staff Writers

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