At the end of the Lambeth Conference, John F. Burns writes another profile of Bishop Gene Robinson and describes both the man at the center of the storm and the tough road ahead for Anglicanism if it is to positively build on the work of Lambeth.
CANTERBURY, England — For a man at the heart of a bitter dispute that threatens to sunder the Anglican communion, Bishop Gene Robinson seems more relaxed than almost any of the 650 bishops and archbishops gathered for the Lambeth Conference, the once-a-decade assembly that brings together the leaders of an estimated 80 million Anglicans worldwide.
The easy demeanor and constant smile of this openly gay 61-year-old Episcopalian bishop of New Hampshire, when we meet at the Falstaff Hotel just down the street from Canterbury Cathedral, are all the more remarkable for the fact that he is the only man among the many wearing the Anglican bishop’s purple on Canterbury’s streets these past two weeks who wasn’t invited to the conference. Indeed, since the conference first met in 1867, he was the only Anglican bishop anywhere, except those disgraced for disputed legitimacy, malfeasance or criminality, to be told — in his case, by the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury — that there was no seat for him at the Lambeth table.
Not that being the ghost at the banquet has inhibited Bishop Robinson. He may, in fact, have been the busiest prelate in town other than Archbishop Williams and in some ways the most popular, since he decided to carve out an off-stage role for himself here while on a tour that included delivering sermons in London and Glasgow.
On Canterbury’s gabled streets, he has been greeted on almost every block by well-wishers. “Good for you, bishop!” a man in his 20s with fashionably blond-streaked hair shouted as the American passed on his way to the 13th-century Franciscan friary where he is staying. “Thank you, thank you,” responded the bishop, beaming.
At a birthday gathering at the friary, among monks he has joined at prayer at 7 a.m. every day, everyone seemed keen to have themselves photographed with the genial man from Concord, N.H.
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Bishop Robinson characterized the role he fashioned for himself here as nonconfrontational. “I think the leadership here expected me to show up, and protest, and try to wrestle the microphone from Archbishop Rowan, or try to get into meetings to which I wasn’t invited, and I’ve done none of these things,” he said. Instead, he said, what he had sought with his gadfly presence was “to bear witness to the love of God I know as a follower of Jesus Christ, and to be a constant reminder to the bishops gathered here that there are gay and lesbian Christians sitting in the pews in every one of their churches, and that they have taken vows to serve all in their flock.”
The profile underscores two facts that the church must face: gay people will not go away, and neither will the bullies.