Lambeth ban on Robinson upheld

by
13 March 2008

by Pat Ashworth

Pained: the Rt Revd Gene Robinson AP

Pained: the Rt Revd Gene Robinson AP

THE Bishop of New Hampshire, in the United States, the Rt Revd Gene Robinson, has said that he is “dismayed and sick-hearted” after learning on Monday that all possibilities for inviting him to the Lambeth Conference had been ruled out. He has confirmed that he intends to be in Canterbury for the duration of the Conference.

“Don’t let them cut me off from you,” he urged the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church in the US at its spring meeting in Texas on Monday. It emerged that three US bishops — the Bishop of Northern Indiana, the Rt Revd Ed Little; the Bishop of Wyoming, the Rt Revd Bruce Caldwell; and the Bishop of Vermont, the Rt Revd Tom Ely — have been negotiating for months with the Archbishop of Canterbury’s chief of staff, Christopher Smith, and Canon Kenneth Kearon, secretary general of the Anglican Communion, in the hope of arriving at “a substantial invitation”.

The three asked that Bishop Robinson might “have the opportunity to pray with other bishops at Lambeth”; “have time with and access to other bishops from around the Anglican Communion in order to build relationships”; and “have a voice at the table regarding the Listening Process and the discussions on human sexuality”.

They would have settled for a consultative role as “least derogatory”, they said, after the Archbishop of Canterbury reiterated his intention to respect the recommendations of the Windsor report about “exercising extreme caution” over Bishop Robinson’s participation in the councils of the Church.

They modified their request to an invitation to Bishop Robinson to attend the retreat and worship; to attend or observe any plenary sessions; to offer a workshop on several days, focused on listening to the voices of gay and lesbian persons; and to participate in the indaba groups on human sexuality, on 31 July.

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It had been reiterated that a full invitation was not possible, the Bishops said. They had been reminded that the retreat session was a closed session, “and it would present the Archbishop of Canterbury with a problem for Gene to attend something so intimate. The same would be true of the Bible-study/indaba groups.” No concept of “observer” was built into the conference structure.

Bishop Robinson had been offered a presence in the Marketplace, the exhibition forum, “where he could be hosted by one of the groups”, and the possibility of participating in a “high-profile event” yet to be determined on 31 July (Listening Process day) — “something like an interview with a major media interviewer from England”.

In an address to his fellow bishops, Bishop Robinson said he was not “here to whine”, but had been “in considerable pain” since learning of the outcome of the negotiations on Friday evening, and for 36 hours had felt “a compelling urge to run, to flee. My inspiration for staying came from my conservative brothers in this house. I have seen John Howe and Ed Salmon and others show up for years when there was a lot of pain for them.”

The worst sin was leaving the table, he said, speaking of the high hopes he had had after talking with the Anglican Communion Office for almost a year. He described the offer to be hosted at the Marketplace as a “non-offer . . . One workshop on one afternoon and being interviewed by the secular press was not anything I was seeking. I wasn’t going to Lambeth to have another interview with the secular press. If interviewed at all, I want to talk with a theologian.”

Bishop Robinson said: “If we can’t sit around a table and study the Bible together, what kind of communion do we have and what are we trying to save?” It had been a difficult 48 hours, hearing the Bishops’ plans for Lambeth, he said. “It feels as if, instead of leaving the 99 sheep in search of the one, the Archbishop of Canterbury has cut me out of the herd.”

Of hints of a boycott by some of his colleagues if he was not invited, he said, “I want to say loud and clear — you must go. . . For God’s sake don’t stay away. And second, please, don’t let them separate me from you.” He thanked bishops for treating him with respect, “and perhaps especially [for the welcome] by those of you who voted no on my consent”.

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The Bishops’ six-day “reconciliation retreat” has been a closed meeting. It has been led by Canon Brian Cox, who describes himself as a conservative, and specialises in conflict resolution all over the world. He is one of two clerics sent into the diocese of San Joaquin by the Presiding Bishop’s Office as an interim pastoral presence (News, 22 February).

Two bishops have been responsible for a media report of proceedings each day. The House of Bishops had saved until Wednesday, the final day, the question of the status of the Bishop of San Joaquin, the Rt Revd John-David Schofield, who, in a letter to the Presiding Bishop dated 1 March, resigned from the House of Bishops, and is now a member of the House of Bishops of the Southern Cone. It is unclear whether a vote will still be needed.

If a majority of the bishops determine that Bishop Schofield has abandoned communion, the Presiding Bishop will declare the see vacant. A steering committee has already been appointed to organise a special convention on 29 March to elect a provisional bishop.

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