Archbishop of Canterbury refuses to reverse his decision to not allow openly gay bishop, rogue conservative bishop to attend conference
LONDON The archbishop of Canterbury said Dec. 14 he will not reverse his decision to exclude a gay U.S. bishop from joining other bishops at a global Anglican gathering next year.
The Episcopal Church, the Anglican body in the U.S., caused an uproar in 2003 by consecrating the first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.
Anglicans are now on the brink of schism, and attendance at next year’s assembly, called the Lambeth Conference, has become a focus of the tension. Theological conservatives and liberals have separately threatened to boycott the meeting because of who was and wasn’t invited.
The office of Archbishop Rowan Williams said he also had not changed his mind about refusing an invitation to Martyn Minns, a conservative U.S. priest who was consecrated as a bishop in the Anglican Church of Nigeria to minister to disaffected Episcopalians in the U.S.
The Anglican Communion is a 77-million-member fellowship of churches that trace their roots to the Church of England.
Williams, spiritual leader of the world’s Anglicans, said he has recruited professional mediators in trying to reach greater understanding between the U.S. Episcopal Church and its critics both at home and abroad.
Williams dedicated his Advent message to the crisis. He said that just under half of world Anglican leaders have not accepted the pledges by the Episcopal Church that it won’t confirm any more gay bishops for now or approve official prayers for same-sex unions.
“We simply cannot pretend that there is now a ready-made consensus on the future of relationships between [the Episcopal Church] and other provinces,” said Williams, who does not have the direct authority to force a compromise. “Much work remains to be done.”
Statements by individual U.S. bishops that seem to deviate from their church’s declarations have complicated the situation, the archbishop said.
He said that interpreting the Bible cannot be done “in isolation by one part of the family” and that “radical change” in understanding Scripture “cannot be determined by one group or tradition alone.”
Williams also had stern words for Anglican leaders who have threatened not to attend the Lambeth Conference, held every 10 years and scheduled for July in Canterbury.
“I have said that the refusal to meet can be a refusal of the cross and so of the Resurrection,” Williams said. “We are being asked to see our handling of conflict and potential division as part of our maturing both as pastors and as disciples. I do not think this is either an incidental matter or an evasion of more basic questions.”
There was no immediate comment from Robinson, who was on sabbatical, or Minns, who was traveling.
Minns’ breakaway group, the Convocation of Anglicans in North America, was formed by Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola to counter the liberal-leaning U.S. denomination on its home turf.
Williams called for professionally facilitated conversations between the leadership of the Episcopal Church “and those with whom they are most in dispute, internally and externally, to see if we can generate any better level of mutual understanding.”
A week ago, the conservative Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin, in Fresno, Calif., voted to secede from the national church the first full diocese to do so. Separately, about 55 Episcopal parishes out of more than 7,000 nationwide have split from the denomination, with some aligning directly with like-minded Anglican provinces overseas. Lawsuits over church property are already in the courts in some states and more litigation is expected.
Canon Kendall Harmon, a traditionalist leader in the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, said he was encouraged that the letter called the consecration of a partnered gay man “a new understanding of Scripture.”
Episcopal leaders “have done an action that undermines the trust of the communion and they have not done enough to clear that trust,” Harmon said.
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, leader of the Episcopal Church, said in a statement that she has “repeatedly offered to engage in dialogue with those who are most unhappy,” but her offer “has not yet been seriously engaged.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 21, 2007.