Concern expressed over possible exclusion of bishops from Lambeth

By staff writers
November 23, 2007

As inclusive Anglicans representing what many call the 'orthodox centre' in the church have been meeting in a major gathering called Drenched in Grace, concern has been expressed that the Archbishop of Canterbury is giving in to pressure from hardliners.

A few days ago reports emerged in The Daily Telegraph and elswhere that the Dr Rowan Williams, spiritual head of the world's 77 million Anglicans, bitterly divided in a war of sexuality and authority, is preparing to target individual bishops whose pro-gay policies are seen as threatening to derail efforts to avert schism by withdrawing their invitations to next year's Lambeth Conference of worldwide bishops.

"Is the Archbishop of Canterbury proposing to withhold invitations from English as well as bishops from other Provinces, the USA in particular, who in the perception of conservatives, are also pro-gay in their diocesan policy?" the Rev Colin Coward, head of Changing Attitude asked at the beginning of the week.

It is said that Dr Williams could also target conservatives if he believes they are breaching the guidelines against bishops intervening in other Provinces and dioceses.

The Archbishop is said to have told friends he will challenge any bishop he believes is coming to the conference with an agenda "very much at odds" with his attempts to maintain unity in the worldwide Church, scrutinising “controversial bishops” he has already invited if there is evidence that they are unwilling to compromise their views, claims Changing Attitude.

They claim he may be seeking assurances that bishops can abide by the broad principles of the Windsor Report, but has not ruled out barring them from the three-week conference. The Windsor Report asked The Episcopal Church to impose moratoriums on future consecrations of gay bishops and on the blessing of same-sex relationships.

Changing Attitude, which wishes to see the full inclusion of lesbian and gay Christians, says the Archbishop of Canterbury is being put under huge pressure from conservatives on both extremes of the church who are plotting to secede if they fail to get their own way in forcing The Episcopal Church to be excluded from Lambeth and from the Anglican Communion.

"He is not being put under similar pressure from those, not only in North America but in other Provinces, who support the full inclusion of LGBT people", says the group.

Adding to the pressure, but from the 'orthodox centre' of the church, is Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, a patron of Changing Attitude. In a BBC radio interview to be broadcast on Tuesday 27 November 2007, as reported earlier on Ekklesia, Archbishop Tutu says that he is depressed by the Church's "obsession" with the issue of gay priests, and believes that its Gospel message is being undermined by "extreme homophobia".

Desmond Tutu says that Archbishop of Canterbury should be tackling homophobia in the church and making it a welcoming place for lesbian and gay people. "God must be weeping looking at some of the atrocities that we commit against one another. In the face of all of that, our Church, especially the Anglican Church, at this time is almost obsessed with questions of human sexuality."

Of Dr Rowan Williams, whose own pro-gay attitude has been submerged in his desire to keep the Church together, Dr Tutu says: "Why doesn't he demonstrate a particular attribute of God's which is that God is a welcoming God?"

Archbishop Tutu says the Anglican Church has seemed "extraordinarily homophobic" in its handling of the issue, and that he had feels "saddened" and "ashamed" of his church at the time. Asked if he still felt ashamed, he says: "If we are going to not welcome or invite people because of sexual orientation, yes. If God, as they say, is homophobic, I wouldn't worship that God."

The Rev Colin Coward, Director of Changing Attitude England, said this week: “If the Archbishop Canterbury is proposing to withdraw invitations to the Lambeth Conference from bishops who are seen as being “pro-gay” (according to the definition of conservative Anglicans) he will have to withdraw the invitation from every bishop who is a patron of Changing Attitude and from every English bishop who has participated in the registration or celebration of a civil partnership for one of their clergy or who have accepted partnered gay clergy in their diocese. There are a significant number of English bishops who quietly support LGBT people contrary to the principles outlined in the Windsor Report."

He added: “Bishops from the conservative global south are unwilling to come to Lambeth because they don’t want to be present with bishops from The Episcopal Church. Changing Attitude hopes every bishop in the Anglican Communion will be invited to Lambeth and will accept their invitation. The commitment of Lambeth 1998 to listen to the experience of lesbian and gay people can only be fulfilled when every bishop is present and is willing to listen to the deeply held Christian convictions of people who may differ from them in theology, understanding of the Bible and of human sexuality and relationships.”

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