Thursday, August 7, 2003

LONDON — The Episcopal Church’s first openly homosexual bishop will deliver a keynote speech to homosexual Christians during a visit to Britain, a move certain to inflame tensions within the Church of England.

The Rev. V. Gene Robinson, whose confirmation as the Episcopal bishop of New Hampshire threatens to divide the Anglican Communion, will address an October conference in Manchester of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement.

Mr. Robinson also is expected to preside at a service.

The homosexual Christian group promotes the conference on its Web site with a message from Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams expressing his hope that the gathering will help the process of “listening and mutual questioning” within the church.

The Rev. Richard Kirker, general secretary of the homosexual group, denied that Mr. Robinson’s presence would be inflammatory.

“It is an opportunity to change any sense that people like Gene are unusual or extraordinary,” he said. “Sexual orientation is a gift of God, and no one should invoke their faith to justify discrimination.”

Mr. Robinson, 56, who left his wife and two children 13 years ago to live with his homosexual lover, will visit Britain a week before his consecration.

His confirmation as bishop in balloting Tuesday at an Episcopal Church conference in Minneapolis was followed yesterday by a vote in which the Episcopalians rejected a formal church “marriage” rite for homosexuals.

Instead, they settled for a compromise resolution that recognizes, but does not authorize, church “marriage” ceremonies for same-sex couples.

The resolution, approved by deputies at the convention, allows Episcopalians to “explore and experience liturgies celebrating and blessing same-sex unions.” Episcopal bishops approved the measure by voice vote Wednesday.

The Episcopal Church, with 2.3 million members, is the U.S. branch of the Anglican Communion, with more than 70 million members worldwide.

The Rev. David Banting, chairman of the British evangelical group Reform, said Mr. Robinson’s Manchester visit would “fuel the flames” of the scriptural argument over homosexuality among Anglicans.

He added: “Gene Robinson is a fraud in his teaching and his lifestyle, and the Bible makes clear that the greatest danger the church faces comes from within.”

Martyn Eden of the Evangelical Alliance said Mr. Robinson’s elevation was a matter of “deep concern” for Anglicans.

Bishops opposed to Mr. Robinson’s appointment have called for a meeting of Anglican primates to discuss the division within the church. Clergy and congregations in Africa and Asia are particularly hostile to the idea of homosexual priests.

Archbishop Peter Jensen of Sydney, Australia, said the Episcopal Church in the United States had “turned away from the traditional teaching of the Christian church.”

The Rt. Rev. Mouneer Anis, a bishop in Egypt, said Mr. Robinson’s election would seriously damage Anglican relations with the Muslim world.

“We cannot comprehend a decision to elect as bishop a man who has forsaken his wife and the vows he made to her to live in a sexual relationship with another man outside the bonds of his marriage,” Mr. Anis said.

The Church of Nigeria, which threatened to withdraw from the Anglican Communion over the proposed appointment of another homosexual priest, Jeffrey John, as bishop of Reading, England, has not yet responded.

Mr. John withdrew from consideration for the post because he did not want to cause a schism in the church.

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