Any host will tell you that the guest list can be a ticklish issue. And none could be more so than the Archbishop of Canterbury’s invitations to an important upcoming gathering of the bishops of the 77 million member Anglican Communion, which is currently embroiled in an angry internal debate over the ordination of gay clergy.
Earlier today Rowan Williams, the Canterbury Archbishop and thus the first-among-equals in the global religious group that includes the Episcopal Church in the United States, released a statement that he was sending out invitations for the 2008 Lambeth Conference of active Anglican bishops. Lambeth, which only meets once a decade, is the most important gathering of Communion leaders and the place where its most important decisions are made. Invitations also happen to be one of the few elements under the direct dominion of Williams, whose office is closer to coordinator-in-chief than Pope. The fact that the invitations had been sent was itself news ”” they hadn’t been expected yet. But at a related news conference, the Rev. Canon Kenneth Kearon, a Communion official, dropped a twin bombshell: Williams, he said, was not inviting the Right Rev. Martyn Minns, who is engaged in creating a conservative competitor to Episcopalianism in the U.S., or the Right Rev. V. Gene Robinson, the openly gay Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire.
The exclusions speak volumes. The Communion is currently divided over a variety of issues that have found their fullest expression in a heated debate about the Episcopal Church’s 2003 election of Robinson, an openly gay man, as bishop. The elevation is virulently opposed by a large group of (primarily) developing-world archbishops known collectively as the Global South, some of whom have indicated that they would prefer to break up the Communion rather than accept gay bishops. Of this group, the most outspoken has been Nigerian archbishop Peter Akinola. Of all of Akinola’s many statements and acts of protest, the most controversial has been has been his appointment of Minns as a “missionary bishop” to a non-Episcopal American Anglican group called Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA), which has absorbed formerly-Episcopal parishes in Virginia and Colorado.
By disinviting both Robinson and Minns, Williams may have pulled off a remarkable diplomatic feat.