Monday, July 14, 2008

LONDON | The first openly gay U.S. Episcopal bishop showed up for a once-a-decade Anglican meeting - uninvited - to press his case for the inclusion of homosexual clergy, which threatens to split the church.

Anglican officials decided not to invite New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson, fearing he would become a focus of the global event.

But with Bishop Robinson planning several appearances on the sidelines of the Lambeth Conference, which begins Tuesday, the strategy appears to have backfired.

“I’m just not willing to let the bishops meet and pretend that we don’t exist,” Bishop Robinson said in an interview Sunday with the Associated Press before preaching at St. Mary’s Church of Putney. “They’ve taken vows to serve all the people in dioceses, not just certain ones.”

The Anglican spiritual leader, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, did not include Bishop Robinson and a few other bishops in the conference as he tried to prevent a split in the world Anglican Communion.

The 77 million-member fellowship - the third-largest in the world behind Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians - has been on the brink of schism since Bishop Robinson was consecrated in 2003. The Episcopal Church is the Anglican body in the U.S.

Bishop Robinson and Episcopal leaders had tried for years to negotiate a role for the New Hampshire bishop at Lambeth, but were unsuccessful. He resolved to come to England anyway.

“I’m not storming the pulpit to wrestle the microphone from the archbishop,” Bishop Robinson said. “My agenda is this: What does the church’s treatment of gay and lesbian people say about God?”

Bishop Robinson preached Sunday at the 16th-century parish on the Thames River, despite a request from Archbishop Williams that he not do so. A protester briefly interrupted the sermon, waving a motorcycle helmet and yelling “Repent!” and “Heretic!” before he was escorted out.

On Monday night, Bishop Robinson will join actor Ian McKellen at a London literary festival for the British premiere of “For the Bible Tells Me So,” a documentary about gay Christians that features Bishop Robinson.

Next Sunday, after the Lambeth Conference holds its formal opening worship in Canterbury Cathedral, Bishop Robinson will join Anglican gays and lesbians in a separate service nearby. He will then sit in the public exhibition hall near the assembly sessions to be available for conversation.

A group of Episcopal bishops have organized two private receptions where Anglicans from other parts of the world can meet him. When the conference ends Aug. 3, he heads to Scotland where he has been invited to preach at Anglican parishes.

Bishop Martyn Minns, a former Episcopal priest who now leads a breakaway network of U.S. conservatives, said in a recent interview that although organizers of the Lambeth Conference intended to move the topic off Bishop Robinson, their plan was bound to fail.

“He will end up getting all the attention,” Bishop Minns said.

Bishop Minns also was barred from Lambeth. He was consecrated by the conservative Anglican Church of Nigeria, which created the U.S. parish network that is breaking away from the mainstream Anglican communion.

For many theological conservatives, Bishop Robinson’s consecration was the final straw in a long-running debate over how Anglicans should interpret Scripture. Last month in Jerusalem, traditionalists created a worldwide network of conservatives to separate from theologically liberal Anglicans without fully breaking away from the communion.

More than 200 conservative bishops are boycotting Lambeth because Episcopal leaders who consecrated Bishop Robinson will be there.

Also Sunday, Archbishop Desmond Tutu pleaded for unity in the worldwide Anglican Communion. The 76-year-old veteran of South Africa’s anti-apartheid struggle and the winner of the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize said he felt the church should move together on the topic of homosexuality.

“The Anglican Church prides itself - and this is one of its greatest attributes - it prides itself on being the church that is comprehensive, meaning that it includes all kinds of points of view,” he told Sky News television.

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