Bishop of Chelmsford left stranded in Kenya in row over gay rights

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The Independent Online

The deep divisions within the Anglican Church over homosexuality have been re-ignited after the Archbishop of Kenya suddenly withdrew all assistance from a visiting English bishop who is committed to gay rights.

The Right Rev John Gladwin, the Bishop of Chelmsford, was visiting a diocese near Nairobi when he was told that the Most Rev Benjamin Nzimbi was abandoning all planned events and activities to celebrate his visit because of his stance on homosexual issues.

Campaigners for gay rights in the church said the move amounted to persecution of clergy who wanted to liberalise policy. The bishop was half way through a two-week visit to Kenya with 20 other clergy aimed at strengthening already long-standing ties between the dioceses there and his diocese at Chelmsford.

He had already paid the archbishop a courtesy call and was to have spent the next week visiting churches in and around the capital on matters not related to homosexuality.

Several events, receptions and activities had been organised by the archbishop, but it appears he then discovered that the bishop had been named this month as a patron of Changing Attitude, a campaigning group that promotes equality of opportunity for lesbian, gay and bisexual people in the Church.

Archbishop Nzimbi is a leading member of Global South, a collection of Anglican clergy in Africa which believes that homosexuality is a sin prohibited by the Bible. The group is vehemently opposed to any liberalisation on the issue.

In 2003, the archbishop announced a formal schism between the Anglican Church in Kenya and the Episcopal Church of the United States over the appointment of Gene Robinson, the openly gay clergyman, as Bishop of New Hampshire.

Archbishop Nzimbi said: "Now since we have known his [Bishop Gladwin's] position through factual fact-finding correspondences, we are unable to continue advancing the lined-up activities with the Diocese of Chelmsford." Without the archbishop's support the visitors have in effect been expelled by the Kenyan church.

Liberal reformers and conservatives within the church are deeply divided over the issue and even disagree over the essence of the last decree on policy in 1998, known as the Lambeth Resolutions.

Global South insists that the resolutions upheld the belief that homosexuality was wrong; reformers say that the agreed policy called for dialogue within the church.

The Rev Christopher Newlands, chaplain to Bishop Gladwin, and not part of the Kenya visit, said the development was "deeply to be regretted ... They are in a hotel at the moment and we are trying to see what we can do to recover the planned programme and make the best possible use of their time out there.

"Clearly we are doing everything we can from this end and in Kenya to try to heal the problems that have arisen over this misunderstanding about what working on Changing Attitude means and what the Lambeth Resolutions call us to do - listening to the experiences of lesbian and gay people in the Church."

The Rev Richard Kirker, the general secretary of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, said: "I have the deepest sympathy for the Bishop of Chelmsford and his curates who are experiencing in some small way the humiliation and rejection experienced by lesbian and gay people in the countries he is visiting.

"This farcical dance we are all enduring to pander to fanatical homophobes... has to end."