ONE of the bishops who were told that they could not bring their same-sex spouse to next year’s Lambeth Conference has accused conservative Primates of homophobia in their opposition to his presence.
The Area Bishop of York-Scarborough, the Rt Revd Kevin Robertson, a suffragan in the diocese of Toronto, said that he was not convinced that archbishops from the global South who had insisted that his husband, Mohan Sharma, could not attend the Conference were motivated solely by theological conviction.
Bishop Robertson was told in person by the Archbishop of Canterbury at Lambeth Palace earlier this year that Mr Sharma, unlike the husbands and wives of all other bishops, would not be invited to the Lambeth Conference in 2020.
“It was disappointing, absolutely, and I expressed that to the Archbishop,” Bishop Robertson said. He had been at Lambeth Palace for an induction event for new bishops from across the Anglican Communion.
“It was disappointing not only for me and my spouse, Mohan, but I also asked him what message does this send to more progressive Anglicans, not only in the UK and North America, but to gay and lesbian Anglicans in places in the Communion where it’s very difficult to come out.”
When asked if he believed the fierce opposition to his presence, let alone Mr Sharma’s invitation, from GAFCONaligned Primates was driven by homophobia, he replied “I do.”
“Because it appears there’s an inconsistency,” he said, pointing to a blog by the Secretary-General of the Communion, the Rt Revd Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon, which announced the policy of barring gay spouses (News, 22 February).
Dr Idowu-Fearon wrote that it was because same-sex marriages were inconsistent with a resolution on marriage from the 1998 Lambeth Conference which defined marriage as the lifelong union of one man and one woman.
“I know as we approach 2020 that there are bishops who have been divorced and remarried, in some cases more than once, who are being invited, and their spouses are also being invited,” Bishop Robertson said.
“So to hold up Lambeth 1.10 as the reason for Mohan and Becki not to be invited seems a little thin; it doesn’t seem particularly consistent.”
Becki Sander is the wife of a suffragan bishop in the diocese of New York, the Rt Revd Mary Glasspool. She, too, has been told that she cannot attend Lambeth 2020.
Last week, Bishop Glasspool announced that, after much reflection, she would attend next year’s Conference, albeit with “mixed feelings” and “dismay” at Archbishop Welby’s decision. Ms Sander will also travel to London, despite her lack of an invitation, where she will be joined in solidarity outside the Conference by the wives of the other two bishops from New York.
Bishop Robertson said that he had not finally decided with Mr Sharma what he would do, but he was minded to accept his own invitation to the Conference. “The worst thing in the world would be both of us to simply not be at the table and not speak up.
“[Mr Sharma] would obviously prefer to be included and invited and not show up to watch from the side, but we will be making some decisions around that.”
The Bishop, who has been in a relationship with Mr Sharma for more than a decade and married him in December, said that he appreciated other acts of solidarity, including that of the Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd Paul Bayes, who has said that his own wife will not be attending in protest at the exclusion of same-sex spouses.
Although he did suspect homophobia among some of the GAFCON Primates, Bishop Robertson said that he partly sympathised with Archbishop Welby’s predicament.
“He is pragmatic and looking for a compromise. In his own mind, it’s a lose-lose situation: if he invites the spouses, the conservatives will not be happy, and, if he doesn’t, the liberals won’t be.”
But he said that he had hoped that Archbishop Welby would have recognised the “inconsistency” in the GAFCON demands and, instead, taken the “brave step” of inviting Mr Sharma and Ms Sander anyway.
He said that in their private conversation at Lambeth Palace, Archbishop Welby attempted to comfort him by noting that, at the last Lambeth Conference, gay bishops themselves, let alone their partners, were not invited.
But this did not seem like much progress, Bishop Robertson said. “This is the great frustration of Lambeth — by excluding spouses like Becki and Mohan it doesn’t allow for frank, even difficult, conversations.
“If they are not present, not seen, not known, how do we advance the conversation and build bridges through the disagreement? Keeping people away and excluding people is not the answer.”