Kevin Robertson, a bishop in Toronto, was told by Archbishop Justin Welby that his husband, Mohan Sharma, could not attend next year’s Lambeth Conference because of ferocious opposition from ultra-conservative church leaders from Africa, South America and Asia.
All other bishops and their spouses from the 40 Anglican churches across the globe have been invited to the conference, which is the most significant gathering of Anglican leaders and takes place just once every 10 years.
But Archbishop Welby told Bishop Robertson he could not bring his husband with him because it would upset those from traditionalist churches in Africa, South America and Asia, who strongly oppose any accommodation with LGBT+ Christians.
Bishop Robertson told The Independent Archbishop Welby had effectively caved in to bigotry.
When asked if the opposition of conservative bishops was driven by homophobia, not theological differences, he said: “I do, because it appears there is an inconsistency.”
The supposed Anglican position on marriage – that it is a lifelong union between one man and woman – was contradicted by many bishops who had divorced and remarried, yet only gay bishops were being singled out, he noted.
“I know there are bishops who have been divorced and remarried, in some cases more than once, who are being invited and their spouses are also being invited.
“So to hold [this] up as the reason for Mohan not to be invited seems a little thin.”
Bishop Robertson was in London for a separate meeting in January when he was summoned to Archbishop Welby’s office to be told his husband was barred. The head of the Church of England told him: “If I invite your spouse to the Lambeth Conference there won’t be a Lambeth Conference,” Bishop Robertson reported.
Hardliners have threatened to boycott the gathering altogether even though no gay partners will be present.
The head of the conservative Gafcon movement of Anglican Churches, Archbishop Nicholas Okoh from the Church of Nigeria, said last week he and his fellow believers had felt “the pain of betrayal” because gay bishops, such as Bishop Robertson, were not also being excluded along with their partners.
If same-sex spouses were being barred so too should gay bishops, who have also committed to a “sexual relationship [which is] incompatible with scripture”, he wrote in a blog post.
Although gay marriage is permitted in some Anglican churches, including the United States, Scotland and soon Canada, it is currently forbidden in the Church of England and most other churches across the world.
Archbishop Welby attempted to comfort Bishop Robertson during their meeting by pointing out at the last Lambeth Conference in 2008 gay bishops as well as their partners were banned.
But Bishop Robertson said this did not feel like much progress to him. “My hope would be that he would have said there is no consistency in not inviting the spouses of those in same-sex marriages. It would have been a brave step and he would have faced [a] backlash, but frankly he’s going to face some of that anyway.”
As well as speaking of his own disappointment at Mr Sharma’s exclusion, the bishop also bemoaned the statement the Anglican Church was making by turning their backs on LGBT+ relationships.
“What message does this send to more progressive Anglicans, not only in the UK and North America but to gay and lesbian Anglicans in places in the communion where it’s very difficult to come out?”
There has been growing anger at the ban on gay spouses ever since it was announced last month.
The Bishop of Liverpool Paul Bayes, a prominent pro-LGBT+ advocate in the Church of England, has said he will not bring his own wife to the Lambeth Conference in protest at the decision.
The other gay bishop affected by the policy, Mary Glasspool from the diocese of New York, has said she will travel to London with her wife next year. In a letter posted online, Bishop Glasspool said her wife Becki Sander would remain outside the summit and would be joined by the wives of the two other bishops from New York, in solidarity.
“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,” the New York bishops wrote.
“[They] have asked only to receive from their church the dignity and love which they have received from their god.”
Bishop Robertson said he agreed: “If [LGBT+ people] are not present, not seen, not known, how do we advance the conversation and build bridges through the disagreement? Keeping people away and excluding people is not the answer.”
A spokesperson for Archbishop Welby declined to comment, and the Anglican communion’s spokesperson would only point to a blog by the organisation’s head explaining the policy.
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