Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town Desmond Tutu has made an emotional appeal to Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams to invite all Anglican bishops to the 2008 global Lambeth Conference, "even those irregularly consecrated or actively gay."
The Nobel Peace Prize laureate's plea came in a letter to the present Archbishop of Cape Town, Njongonkulu Ndungane, in which he also called on all Anglican bishops to be "more welcoming and inclusive of one another."
"Our Communion has always been characterized by its comprehensiveness, its inclusiveness, its catholicity," he said. "...we are really family, held together not so much by law as by bonds of affection. There is no family that is unanimous on every single subject."
The Lambeth Conference, the once-a-decade gathering of Anglican Communion bishops, is due to be held July 16-August 4, 2008 at the University of Kent in Canterbury, England. About 880 invitations have been sent out to serving diocesan, suffragan and assisting bishops.
Williams' decision to withhold a small number of invitations was made public May 22. Among those he did not invite were Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire and Martyn Minns, bishop of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA), a conservative missionary effort in the U.S. sponsored by the Anglican Church of Nigeria.
Robinson became the first openly gay bishop in the Anglican Communion when he was consecrated in November 2004, causing consternation among more theologically conservative Anglicans. Minns was installed as head of CANA on May 5, a move that has been criticized by some as being divisive.
On May 4, Williams wrote to Nigerian Primate Peter Akinola, a leading critic of the Episcopal Church, asking him to cancel his plans to visit the United States and install Minns.
Williams has said he intends to explore how Robinson might be present as a guest to the Lambeth Conference, but he is not contemplating inviting Minns.
In recent months, some Global South Anglican leaders have indicated that they may boycott the Lambeth Conference on the grounds that Williams has invited bishops from the Episcopal Church who supported Robinson's election and consecration.
"In a world where difference has led to alienation and even bloody conflict, the Church is God's agent to demonstrate that unity in diversity is in fact the law of life," Tutu said in his letter to Ndungane. "...We are most like God when we are welcoming and when we are as inclusive as possible, when we have broken down all middle walls of partition."
Tutu was elected the first black South African Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town in 1986 and was a leading opponent to the country's apartheid regime that employed a system of ethnic separation until 1994.
Like his successor Ndungane, Tutu has been a staunch supporter of gay rights and advocated for an Anglican Communion that is inclusive of all people regardless of sexuality.
"Our Lord is weeping to see our Communion tearing itself apart on the issue of human sexuality when the world for which he died is ravaged by poverty, disease, war and corruption," Tutu said. "I beg you all in our Lord's name agree to disagree, argue, debate, disagree, but do all this as members of one family."