The top Anglican archbishop has invited gay bishops to an upcoming worldwide gathering of the church’s leaders, but not their spouses.
The context for that decision by Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, is the continuing rift over homosexuality in the 85-million-member Anglican Communion, which includes churches worldwide that are descended from the Church of England.
On one side are progressive Anglican churches, including the Episcopal Church in the United States and the Anglican Church of Canada, which welcome openly LGBT people and in many cases ordain them and accept same-sex marriages.
On the other side of the rift are conservative Anglican churches such as those of Uganda, Nigeria and Kenya, which vehemently oppose homosexuality, tend to exclude LGBT people from membership and often support laws against homosexual activity.
Many conservative bishops plan to boycott the 2020 gathering, known as the Lambeth Conference, because gay bishops were invited.
Progressive bishops considered boycotting too, because same-sex spouses were not invited.
So far, however, progressive bishops have decided to attend and to celebrate the news that, unlike in the past, Welby invited gay bishops. After openly gay priest Gene Robinson was ordained as a bishop in the Episcopal Church in 2003, he was excluded from the 2008 Lambeth Conference.
Religion News reported about the conference, scheduled for July 23-Aug. 2, 2020, in Canterbury, England:
Many [Anglican] bishops belonging to the traditionalist Global Anglican Future Conference, known as GAFCON, have already decided to boycott the conference to protest the fact that Episcopal Church USA, the Church of Canada and the Scottish Episcopal Church have voted to allow same-sex marriage in recent years. No bishops from Rwanda, Nigeria or Uganda will be attending Lambeth 2020, and many from other African, Asian and South American provinces are also expected to stay away.
For example, the Church of Nigeria issued a statement last September, declaring that Welby “should not invite those Provinces that have endorsed by word or deed sexual practices that are in contradiction to the teaching of Scripture … unless they have repented of their actions and reversed their decisions. In the event that this does not occur the Bishops of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) unanimously resolved that they will decline any invitation to attend Lambeth 2020 and all other meetings of the [Anglican] Communion.”
In the United States, the progressive bishops of New York wrote on March 1 to explain to church members their decision to attend next year’s Lambeth Conference:
To Our Dear Brothers and Sisters in the Diocese of New York,
Many of you will have learned by now that Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has invited all active bishops in the communion, including gay bishops, to attend the 2020 Lambeth Conference. That is a positive development, since that was not true of the last Lambeth in 2008, when Bishop Gene Robinson was pointedly not invited to attend and participate. However, we are alarmed that at the same time he has said that spouses of bishops who are in same-sex marriages will not be invited. As of this writing that ruling affects a single bishop and spouse in the Anglican Church of Canada, and a single bishop and spouse in the Episcopal Church – Mary Glasspool and her spouse Becki Sander of our own diocese (though note that the bishop-elect of Maine is in a same-sex marriage, and when he becomes the bishop, this will apply to his spouse as well).
In two weeks the House of Bishops will hold our spring meeting in North Carolina, and we expect this matter to occupy some of our time. However, as so many of you have contacted us to know the response we will make from this diocese, we are writing this letter now to inform you of our thinking, understanding that we have not yet been in conversation with the full community of our fellow bishops.
Though this has only recently become public, we have actually been wrestling with this for some time. Archbishop Welby wrote a letter to Bishop Glasspool, and copied Bishop Dietsche, in early December, and the three of us have been in conversation on this matter for the time since. We have considered not attending, in protest over this extraordinary action. But in the end we have concluded that we cannot in conscience remove the voice of the Diocese of New York from the larger conversations at Lambeth regarding sexuality and the inclusion of LGBTQ people in the full sacramental life of the church. We certainly do not want to exclude the unique witness of Bishop Mary and her ministry from those debates and deliberations. So, not without mixed feelings, we the bishops of New York will be attending the Lambeth Conference.
From the start, it has been the conviction of the spouses of Bishops Andy and Allen that they would fully and unambiguously support Becki, their sister and friend. They too look forward to being in conversation with the fuller community of bishops’ spouses, but at this time it is the intention of Becki Sander to accompany Bishop Mary to England, though she will not be permitted to participate in the Lambeth conversations and activities. Margaret Dietsche and Clara Mun are also planning to go to England, to stand with Becki.
So much of our dismay over the Archbishop’s decision is that we are so blessed by the inclusion of members of the LGBTQ community in the full sacramental life of this diocese, including ordination and access to marriage for same-sex couples. We are graced by the lives and witness of the countless gay and lesbian priests, deacons and laypersons who have enhanced and magnified our common life by the depth of their faith, by their courage, and by the self-offering of their lives to the service to God and God’s children. We will be taking to Lambeth the lives and stories of the LGBTQ people of our diocese. We will be taking the hard histories and the holy graces of people who have asked only to receive from their church the dignity and love which they have received from their God. We will bear witness to the struggle and the triumph, and we will give voice at Lambeth to the voiceless many who will not be there. We will carry to Lambeth the spirit raised this year on the 50th anniversary of Stonewall in this our own diocese, and the celebration of World Pride Week. We go to Lambeth so that you will be at Lambeth.
We ask your prayers for the Archbishop of Canterbury, for our two hundred congregations and us your bishops, for the worldwide community of bishops preparing to gather at Lambeth, for those who love us and for those who do not, for the LGBTQ community in the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of New York, and for the gay and lesbian Christians across our communion who do not yet enjoy the fullest possibilities and promise of the church. May the Holy Spirit come to Lambeth, that the prayer of Our Lord Jesus that “all may be one, as the father and I are one” may be realized in our day. With every good wish, we remain
The Right Reverend Andrew ML Dietsche
Bishop of New York
The Right Reverend Allen K Shin
Bishop Suffragan of New York
The Right Reverend Mary D Glasspool
Bishop Assistant of New York
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