LONDON - The first openly gay U.S. Episcopal bishop was barred from a once-a-decade Anglican meeting so he wouldn't become a focus of the global event.
Anglicans on all sides of the issue agree: the strategy has backfired.
New Hampshire Bishop Gene Robinson has been embraced by sympathetic Anglicans in England and Scotland who view his exclusion as an affront to their Christian beliefs.
Robinson plans several appearances on the outskirts of the Lambeth Conference to be what he called a "constant and friendly" reminder of gays in the church.
"I'm just not willing to let the bishops meet and pretend that we don't exist," Robinson said, in an interview Sunday with The Associated Press before preaching at St. Mary's Church 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 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 Robinson was consecrated in 2003. The Episcopal Church is the Anglican body in the United States.
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," Robinson said. "My agenda is this: What does the church's treatment of gay and lesbian people say about God? You've got all these people talking about gays and lesbians being an abomination before God. Does that make you want to run out and go to an Anglican church and sing God's praises?"
Robinson preached Sunday at the 16th-century parish on the Thames River, despite a request from 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.
An emotional Robinson resumed preaching, asking parishioners to "pray for that man" and urging them repeatedly not to fear change in the church.
On Monday night, Robinson will join Sir Ian McKellan at a London literary festival for the British premiere of "For the Bible Tells Me So," a documentary about gay Christians that features Robinson.
Next Sunday, after the Lambeth Conference holds its opening worship in Canterbury Cathedral, 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.
Robinson was a target of death threats at his consecration and wore a bulletproof vest throughout the ceremony. He said the threats resumed a few months ago when he published a book about his religious views. He has arranged personal security in England, but said he could not disclose details. Donors are covering the cost for the extra protection, he said. His partner of two decades, Mark Andrew, is travelling with him but declined to be interviewed.
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 Robinson, their plan was bound to fail.
"He will end up getting all the attention," Minns said.
Minns was also barred from Lambeth. He was consecrated by the conservative Anglican Church of Nigeria, which created the U.S. parish network despite an Anglican tradition of respecting the boundaries of other provinces.
For many theological conservatives, 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 liberal Anglicans without fully breaking away from the communion. More than 200 conservative bishops are boycotting Lambeth because Episcopal leaders who consecrated Robinson will be there.
Robinson said he felt "pretty devastated" when he learned he would not be allowed to participate in the conference, a key meeting that affirms membership in the communion.
He said he was also worried that he would flub his appearances in England this month.
"I so want to be a good steward of this opportunity. I want to do God proud," he said. "I have this wonderful opportunity to bring hope to people who find the church a hopeless place."
On the Net:
Lambeth Conference: http://www.lambethconference.org/index.cfm
New Hampshire Bishop Gene Robinson: http://www.nhepiscopal.org/
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 13, 2008 $sourceSection$sourcePage