Gay Bishop Dispute Dominates Conference

By Karla Adam
Special to The Washington Post
Monday, August 4, 2008

LONDON, Aug. 3 -- In the end, the 2008 Lambeth Conference will probably be remembered most for the bishop who was not in attendance but who nonetheless threatened to break apart the world's third-largest church.

The once-a-decade gathering of Anglican bishops and archbishops, which ended Sunday, was dominated by disputes concerning V. Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the worldwide Anglican church, who was consecrated five years ago in New Hampshire.

In a news conference Sunday, Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury and spiritual head of the world's 77 million Anglicans, urged bishops to halt further consecrations of gay bishops, pointing a finger specifically at the United States.

He said that certain dioceses in the American church continue "to put our relations as a communion under strain, and some problems won't be resolved while those practices continue."

Williams also pushed for the creation of a covenant, a doctrinal document of shared beliefs to be signed by each of the 38 self-governing Anglican provinces, including the Episcopal Church in the United States, which has about 2.3 million members.

For all the attention he generated, Robinson did not attend the 20-day conference. Williams withheld his invitation in an attempt to avoid any move toward a formal schism.

Despite the exclusion of Robinson, more than 200 bishops of the 880 invited boycotted the conference because invitations were extended to other North American bishops who accept homosexuality. In June, a conservative splinter group of bishops met at their own conference in Jerusalem.

For his part, Robinson spent the past month making public appearances in Britain. He rallied with gay and lesbian activists on the outskirts of the Canterbury Cathedral, the mother church of the communion; delivered a sermon at the Edinburgh Fringe festival; and joined actor and gay activist Ian McKellen onstage at a film premiere in London.

Inside the walls of the University of Kent in Canterbury, where the conference was held, about 650 purple-robed bishops, including 135 from the United States, spent the conference meeting in small groups and discussing such topics as social justice, the environment and, in the final few days, human sexuality.

Unlike previous conferences where resolutions were passed -- in 1998, for example, a resolution was passed that said homosexual activity was incompatible with Scripture -- this year's assembly steered clear of votes and parliamentary debates.

Diarmaid MacCulloch, a professor of the history of the church at Oxford University, said many of Williams's efforts to "prevent some from grandstanding," like meeting in small groups, were "sensible in trying to keep the temperature as low as possible."

MacCulloch predicted that the controversy about homosexuality would "rumble on because it can't be resolved with two great cultural gaps" but that in time, the factions might learn to live with their differences.

"Overall, the conference did less damage than it could have," he said, "and that's something to be thankful for."


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