by George Conger
American partisans of the Anglican Communion’s sex wars were united in their umbrage this week towards the Archbishop of Canterbury over his decision to omit eight bishops from the guest list of the 2008 Lambeth Conference.
While US Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has urged the members of the US House of Bishops to forebear criticism and take a “calm approach” to the news that New Hampshire Bishop Gene Robinson has not been invited, several American bishops have responded sharply to the decision.
Conservative activists were exercised over the decision not to invite CANA Bishop Martyn Minns, AMiA Bishop Chuck Murphy and his suffragans, Alexander (Sandy) Green, Thaddeus Barnum, and T.J. Johnson, and Recife Bishop Robinson Cavalcanti. Conservative Episcopal Church bishops have remained silent, while Bishop Minns and Murphy have released statements criticizing the decision.
However news the invitation to Harare Bishop Nolbert Kunonga is being withheld pending further discussion has been greeted with quiet approval by Central African leaders contacted by The Church of England Newspaper.
In a terse email to the American bishops on May 22, Bishop Jefferts Schori stated she would withhold comment on Dr. Williams’ decision for the moment. “It is possible that aspects of this matter may change in the next 14 months, and the House of Bishops’ September meeting offers us a forum for further discussion,” she said.
However the Bishop of Washington, John Chane wrote his diocese on May 23 saying the decision to omit Robinson had left him “deeply troubled.” The “real issue” was not Robinson, he argued, but “leadership within the Anglican Communion.”
“Until we are able to separate ourselves from our fixation on human sexuality as the root of our divisions and address the dynamics of power and leadership in the Communion, we are doomed to fail in Christ’s call to engage the world in the act of inclusive love and a mission-driven theology that claims justice, the rule of law and the respect for human rights as the core of our work as a Communion,” Bishop Chane said.
The Bishops of Arizona and Ohio, Kirk Smith and Mark Hollingsworth wrote their dioceses as well sounding similar themes. Both conceded Dr. Williams was within his rights not to invite Robinson, but argued the New Hampshire bishop’s “manner of life” was not a cause for scandal. While Robinson’s presence at Lambeth may be “awkward” for some, both believed him to be vessel for “reconciliation and resolution” that would benefit the work of the Conference.
California Bishop Marc Andrus was equally critical writing on his website “The isolation and exile of Bishop Robinson rebukes the bright vision of the unity of the Church, and substitutes the mechanism of the diabolic, the shattering of communion and integrity.”
Bishop Minns told supporters on May 23 Dr. Williams faced an “impossible task” and was “confronted by two irreconcilable truth claims.” However the Lambeth invitation decision had ignored “the underlying issue” elevating “process over principle.”
Plans to recast Lambeth from a gathering of bishops into a graduate seminar were unwise. “The Lambeth Conference has been reduced to a meeting where bishops and their spouses simply gather for group bible study, prayer and shared reflection. These are significant activities but hardly justify the enormous expense of such an extended and world-wide gathering,” he wrote.
Bring the bishops together for study and reflection without a “shared understanding of what the Bible is, who Jesus is and what he has done for us” would not lead to a common voice from the Church on presenting the Gospel to a “hurting world.”
Dr. Williams decision to invite the Episcopal bishops “prior to the release of their final response to the Primates’ concerns and demands for repentance” appeared “preemptive and even dismissive” Bishop Murphy wrote on May 24.
Bishop Murphy, like Bishop Chane saw the decision as a failure of “leadership” by Dr. Williams, but noted the center of gravity within the Communion was moving South. “I expect Archbishop Kolini [of Rwanda] and other Global South leaders will address this matter in a decisive way at their upcoming meetings this fall,” he said.
South American Primate, Archbishop Gregory Venables, told The Daily Telegraph on Monday the situation was a “mess.” “Unless there is a major shift there are going to be significant absences from Lambeth,” he said.
“The fact that Gene Robinson isn’t going to be at Lambeth is important. But the gesture towards the liberal American bishops is far, far more significant,” Archbishop Venables said.
Meanwhile the Archbishop of Uganda, the Most Rev. Henry Luke Orombi announced a boycott of the Lambeth Conference in a statement released Wednesday.
The statement referred to last years Counsel of Anglican Provinces in Africa (CAPA) Road to Lambeth Statement which said the Church of Uganda would not attend the conference if “violators of the Lambeth resolution” were invited.
The statement read: “We note that all the American Bishops who consented to, participated in, and have continued to support the consecration as bishop of a man living in a homosexual relationship have been invited to the Lambeth Conference. These are Bishops who have violated the Lambeth Resolution 1.10, which rejects “homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture” and “cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions.”
“Accordingly, the House of Bishops of the Church of Uganda stands by its resolve to uphold the Road to Lambeth.”
–This article appears in the Church of England Newspaper, July 1, 2007 edition, page 1