Williams won’t allow Robinson to function as priest in England

Citing fears of creating a controversy, Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury has refused to grant Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, the right to preach or preside at the eucharist in England. Robinson received the news in an email yesterday morning.

Sources familiar with the email say Williams cites the Windsor Report and recent statements from the Primates Meeting in refusing to grant Robinson permission to exercise his priestly functions during his current trip to England, or during the trip he plans during the Lambeth Conference in July and August.

The Windsor Report does not discuss the ordination of a candidate in a gay relationship to the priesthood, and it is priestly, rather than episcopal functions that Robinson had sought permission to perform. The primates’ statements, similarly, have objected to Robinson’s episcopacy, not his priesthood.

Several provinces in the Communion ordain gay and lesbian candidates without requiring a vow of celibacy. It is unclear whether the Church of England forbids these priests from exercising their functions within its jurisdiction as a matter of policy, or whether Williams’ ban extends only to Robinson. Many gay English priests live with their partners, but are expected to remain celibate.

The email, which came to Robinson through a Lambeth official, says Williams believes that giving Robinson permission to preach and preside at the Eucharist would be construed as an acceptance of the ministry of a controversial figure within the Communion.

Williams has not denied permission to preach and preside to Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria, who gave his support to a failed legislative attempt to limit the rights of Nigerian gays and their supporters to speak, assemble and worship God collectively. Akinola has yet to respond to an Atlantic magazine article which suggests he may have had prior knowledge of plans for retributive violence against Muslims in his country that resulted in the massacre of more than 650 people in Yelwa, Nigeria.

Williams has not denied permission to preach and preside to Bishop Bernard Malango, the retired primate of Central Africa and one of the authors of the Windsor Report. Malango dismissed without reason the ecclesiastical court convened to try pro-Mugabe Bishop Nolbert Kunonga for incitement to murder and other charges.

Williams has not denied permission to preach and preside to Bishop Gregory Venables, primate of the Southern Cone, who has now claimed as his own, churches in three others provinces in the Anglican Communion (Brazil, Canada and the United States). Nor has he denined permission to preach and preside to Archbishops Henry Orombi of Uganda, Emanuel Kolini of Rwanda, or Benjamin Nzimbi of Kenya, all of whom have ignored the Windsor Report’s plea not to claim churches within other provinces of the Communion.

Sources who have read the email say Williams expresses sorrow for the way the ban on Robinson must appear to the bishop and his supporters, but says he is acting for the good of the Church and the Communion.

At Church Times Blog, Dave Walker advances the story in the legal direction:

Questions are being asked as to whether Lambeth Palace has the authority to stop Gene Robinson from preaching if he is invited to do so by the incumbent of a parish. Legal minds have been perusing the Canons of the Church of England and it appears that he would have a strong case for being able to preach if invited.

However, Gene Robinson has ruled out preaching without the permission of the Archbishop. From the Hardtalk [TV] interview (only available for a week) on the BBC [Robinson said]: “In the past he has… declined to give me permission to preach and to celebrate the Holy Communion and I would never do so without his permission.”

Read Walker’s post here.

Earlier in the day Bishop Robinson had said on BBC Radio that God was “very disappointed” in Williams for his failure to confront Akinola over his treatment of gays. Read here. Listen here.

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23 Comments
  1. Huw

    I left a very gay-unfriendly church… And, after wrestling over a year to decide to make a commitment, to ECUSA, I’m due to be received by the Bp of Buffalo on Thursday, Ascension Day.

    I’m having very serious second thoughts now.

    This feuding amongst ourselves – failing to love and forgive each other over and over, even while we are being crucified by our own people – is why people look at the church (all denominations) and write it off.

    — Huw

    (Donne Huw Richardson)

  2. By EMAIL? Couldn’t the ABC take the time to do this face to face or at least phone Gene?

  3. Christopher Worthley

    Bishop Venables and Archbishop Akinola are on the record – right now, for heaven’s sake! – with some of the most egregious offenses against the Windsor Process and its very spirit imaginable: the attempt to alienate the property and assets of other provinces and claim them as their own.

    Yet, Archbishop Williams is worried that Bishop Ronsinson’s celebrating the Eucharist while visiting in England might create a controversy? This is not only outrageous; it is hopelessly, tragically myopic.

    Have Archbishop Williams and his staff utterly lost all perspective? If they discern no problem with their singling out of Bishop Robinson for limitations not placed on any others (e.g., Venebales, Akinola and, say, Minns), then their own credibility – certainly – but also that of the Anglican Communion as a whole are at even greater risk than many of us already feared.

  4. Christopher Worthley

    Amidst all of this, though:

    Huw, many blessings for your upcoming reception and for your life in the church. There is a lot of love in God’s church – truly – more than we often think as church politics rage about us. All this, too, shall pass, however, and it is love that ultimately abides. God’s peace to you!

  5. Heidi Shott

    My reaction to the archbishop’s decision and the way it was done is sadness and anger.

    But if the world is watching us, then it is Bishop Robinson’s reaction that is important right now.

    Ten years ago, when we elected a woman as diocesan bishop, there were about five congregations that were unhappy. Bishop Chilton Knudsen told them something like this, “Okay, you can bring in a retired bishop to do your confirmations, but let me work with you at your church fair, let me wash dishes with you after your community supper, let me be present with you at the deepest level of communion with you that you can handle.”

    Within a year she had celebrated and preached at each of the diocese’s 67 congregations.

    As a layperson, the Archbishop won’t let me preach or celebrate the Eucharist over there either, but he certainly couldn’t stop me from “preaching” the Gospel in a thousand other ways. That’s not authority he holds over me as a Christian…nor does he hold it over Bishop Robinson.

  6. This strikes me as the clerical equivalent of “driving while black.” Preaching or presiding while gay. . .

    While Presiding Bishop Venables and Archbishop Akinola continue to actively bring violence to the Communion with impunity, Archbishop Williams seems to regard Bishop Robinson as the greater threat.

    It’s a classic study in the intersection of heterosexism and power and a very sad day in Anglicanism — and an ongoing source of profound embarrassment for all of us.

  7. Donald Schell

    ‘fears of creating a controversy’

    Fear is the operative word here and it’s a word that comes up a lot in the New Testament, most often with warnings against letting it shape our actions.

    I think of Luke 12:4,

    ‘Do not fear those who kill the body and after that can do nothing more,’ and

    Hebrews 2:14-15,

    “Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death,”

    and most of all I think of I John 4:18,

    “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.”

    Rowan, whom I still admire as a great theologian and teacher, is betraying his own leadership and the Gospel by this invocation of fear. This is a tragedy, a bitter witness to a spiritually impoverished irrelevant Anglicanism. Thank God for Gene and for our faithful friends throughout the communion (for we do have friends north and south).

  8. Without meaning to do so, Rowan Williams keeps handing Gene Robinson a) opportunities to demonstrate which of them is the bigger man, and b) significant media relations advantages. He’s the gift that keeps on giving, demonstrating repeatedly through his own actions the pinched futility to the course he has chosen.

  9. Jean G. Fitzpatrick

    It’s a good thing Jesus didn’t shy away from “the ministry of a controversial figure.” Let us have only predictable clergy, and the church will die not with a bang but a whimper.

  10. Donald Schell

    This give Windsor’s ‘listening process’ an Orwellian turn. It’s a silencing process and it’s addressed specifically to the New Testament mandates to preach and witness at all times and give thanks in all things. No. Be silent and don’t eucharastize. Thank God that Gene is who he is. Jim, your comments are right on. The press will listen and quote Gene’s voice of courage and profound Christian charity. The whole thing feels like the wild doings of the Spirit in Acts with Rowan playing in sequence the part of Roman governors trying Paul, various religious councils condemning him and accusing him of heresy, and the silversmiths of Ephesus running him out of town for fear he’ll ruin their business.

  11. To put an even finer (duller?) point on it, Ann, the email “came to Robinson through a Lambeth official.”

  12. What has Canterbury to do with Jerusalem?

    I agree with Gene’s refusal to use a canonical loophole. If he had the permission of the diocesan bishop, that would suffice in the Episcopal Church. How does the role of the ABC within the Church of England differ? I think we need to obey the ordinaries wishes. I did it myself when I did some teaching in the Diocese of Dallas a couple of years ago.

    I believe that the Church of England is consumed by fears of internal schism, to say nothing of the desire to maintain the last vestiges of the Empire in its communion relationships.

    This may be what Rowan’s position constrains him to do. But as I’ve consistently argued, if that’s true, his position needs to be abolished. Unless he shows some willingness to push forward on women’s ordination, at a minimum, without flying bishops, I don’t see what value staying at the table really has. This is a surrender to bigotry and a false anti-Gospel of intolerance, which renders the Church less than Catholic.

    If I were a bishop, I would only participate in Lambeth on the same terms offered to Gene. That now includes, refusing to act as preacher or presider, even when asked to do so. I would suggest that all clergy (bishops, priest, and deacons) refuse to preside at any service within the Church of England.

    We deceive ourselves if we think homophobia is any better than racism.

  13. tobias haller

    There really is nothing new here except the obfuscation introduced by bringing up the Windsor Report, etc. The fact is that as an openly gay and partnered person, Gene could not be ordained in the C of E. That’s why he would not be allowed to function. He is in the same position women clergy from abroad were in before the C of E permitted the ordination of women to the priesthood.

    Where this is truly depressing lies in the fact that Rowan is handling it so ham-handedly — and, I might add, in a way that will actually serve the liberal cause. Hmmm. Perhaps not so ham-handed after all???

  14. Kit Carlson

    Heidi’s right. There’s no accounting for ++Rowan, but +Gene can account for himself in the way he responds. I hope we see Christ in +Gene’s response … I sure haven’t seen Christ in ++Rowan’s action.

  15. Luiz Coelho

    Does anybody have a copy of the original e-mail? I also find bizarre that all of that was sent by a Lambeth official, and through e-mail.

  16. Nicholas Knisely

    Re: Donald’s point about the Listening Process…

    Forbidding the exercise of ministry while +Gene is in the presence of those who say they are attempting to discern the spirits seems counterproductive and flies in the spirit of the Listening Process.

    How are people to be able to decide if the Spirit is calling us to the full inclusion of gay and lesbian christians if they refuse to allow the gifts a place to be manifested?

  17. George Clifford

    Two observations disturb me. First, Archbishop Williams appears to live in denial of the fact that the time for actions to prevent division within the Communion has passed. Bishops are boycotting Lambeth in protest of +Gene, an alternative conference (GAFCON) will occur, and some Anglican Communion provinces continue to extend their ministries across provincial lines.

    Second, the good Archbishop consistently reacts rather than taking the initiative. Leadership demands a proactive stance, a vision of what should be and how to get there. Leaders who depend upon personal charisma and symbolic, positional significance to lead must especially exercise a proactive leadership style to be effective. The Archbishop seems to have invested his hopes for future unity in developing an Anglican Covenant. Yet an Anglican Covenant, given the Brazilian bishops recent rejection of the idea and resistance in some other provinces, seems unlikely to bridge the differences within the Anglican Communion, much less heal those differences. Archbishop Akinola and those aligned with him gladly fill the Anglican Communion’s leadership vacuum. Others react with futile attempts at reconciliation while Akinola and company steadily advance their own agenda, demanding that the Anglican Communion redefine itself on their terms or they, like spoilt children, will make official what they are already doing and leave the Communion.

    For what does Archbishop Williams stand? For a Church that adopts heterosexuality as a litmus test of orthodoxy? For a Church that substitutes creedal orthodoxy for mutual love as the basis of its communion with one another? For a Church in which uniformity and numbers count for more than diversity and growing into the fullness of God’s love? For a Church so timid and weak that courageous dissent and honest disagreement have no place? Or, for a Church that prays together, serves God together, loves one another together, and makes room for all?

    In a world torn by war, riven by hatreds, decimated by disease and hunger, Christians have no time for a myopic focus on sex. God and our neighbors call us to the more important tasks of peacemakers, bridge builders, and givers of life.

  18. As much as I disagree with his decision, I can acknowledge the bind Archbishop Williams might feel. While we might feel some claim on him as Archbishop of Canterbury for the Communion, here he is pressed as Primate of All England – pressed even as our own Presiding Bishops have felt constrained one way or another in responding to issues regarding dissenting bishops and departing congregations. For good or ill, the disagreements within the Church of England are as sharp, and the language if anything more bitter, than here in the Episcopal Church. I agree that reference to the Windsor Report only gives an international spice to what was probably a largely national decision.

    I do give thanks that through all of this Bishop Robinson continues to show himself committed to reconciliation, and to “the highest level of communion possible.” That, in fact, was the purported purpose of the Windsor Report in the first place.

    Marshall Scott

  19. Why is it that +Gene has to be the one who singularly suffers the Archbishop of Canterbury’s inhospitable and inappropriate behavior? The Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops, or at least bishops who supported/support Bishop Robinson’s episcopate should speak through whatever channels to Lambeth and ++Rowan and let him know that the Anglican Communion’s conflicts do not singularly flow from the properly and duly elected Bishop of New Hampshire. Perhaps some of them should withholding participating in their “priestly” duties while they are in England.

  20. posted for Lauren R. Stanley:

    As one sitting very far away in South Sudan, this sounds like a classic case of tribalism, with which we are all too familiar in this country, and which we battle on a daily, and sometimes hourly, basis.

    Archbishop Williams, in denying Bishop Robinson the right to preach or preside at the eucharist in England, now or during the Lambeth Conference, appears to be targeting not only gays but also Americans.

    Would having Bishop Robinson in the pulpit or at the table cause the roof to cave in or lightning to strike? What additional controversy is the Archbishop trying to avoid? How, pray tell, could those who are opposed to him be even more upset than they already are?

    The Archbishop is targeting Bishop Robinson because he’s gay and in a committed relationship with a partner for whom he expresses deep love. That’s the first type of the tribalism: Gays are bad in some people’s opinion, which makes it OK to say bad things about them, to blame them for bad things that happen, to marginalize them. That’s bad enough. But the Archbishop also is targeting Americans and allowing people from other nations to dictate what goes on in the U.S. church. This is the second type of tribalism: World opinion of the United States is at an all-time low, so let’s just kick them while they’re down. Who’s to complain? Gays? Americans? Both are, apparently in the Archbishop’s opinion, lesser creatures, so go ahead, have a field day with them.

    The Sudanese people know all too well the devastation caused by tribalism. That has been a major factor in all of the wars that have plagued this land for the last five-plus decades, and continues to plague the people today. The Archbishop of Canterbury, a fine theologian, should remember the basis of theology: We are ALL created in the image of God, and NONE of us has the right to say, This person is a lesser creature. The differences between us should be celebrated as part of God’s vision for a very good creation. They should not be used to divide, to denigrate or to deny.

    The Rev. Lauren R. Stanley

    Missionary in Sudan

  21. Christopher Hayes

    This happened during +Gene’s last visit to England, and here is what gives me hope:

    “When Gene Robinson, New Hampshire’s gay Anglican bishop, came to Britain [in November 2004] he made his first public appearance at St Martin[-in-the-Fields] despite protests from the Church of England’s evangelical wing. ‘We were very keen to keep within the letter of the law,’ [Vicar the Rev. Nicholas] Holtam explains. ‘Nevertheless, we wanted to provide a platform. The way we did it was to hold a service at which he was present, and took no active part, but afterwards he spoke to a full church. Ironically, he got an hour and a quarter to speak and a standing ovation. If he’d been in the pulpit he’d have got 15 minutes and a rather more muted response.’ ”

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2005/dec/24/religion.world

    You can put Love and Truth in a tomb, but you can’t keep them there!

  22. Helpful comments, I am still digesting all of them .. I also ran across this article:

    http://timescolumns.typepad.com/gledhill/2008/05/bishop-gene-ban.html

    … on Ruth Gledhill’s London Times blog in which she asserts that there are at least (credible?) rumors that noted British actor (who played Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings) may “preach” Bishop Robinson’s sermon in England..I posted a bit about it on my blog, here:

    http://santospopsicles.blogspot.com/2008/05/gandalf-planning-to-preach-bishop.html

    …stay tuned…I imagine there will be more rumors (credible or not) to come…

  23. Now it seems maybe Bishop Robinson wasn’t banned at all…hmmmm, this is all very strange, check out the article in the Living Church…

    http://www.livingchurch.org/news/news-updates/2008/5/2/no-pulpit-ban-for-bishop-robinson

    Was there a rescinding of the ban, or was there never a ban at all, or is this article in the Living Church not based on credible sources?

    Editor’s note:

    George Conger writes that Rowan Williams has not been banned from preaching in England. This is technically correct. Williams doesn’t have the authority to ban Robinson. However, Robinson told Williams several years ago that he would not preach without Williams’ permission. Williams did not grant it. And in an email he sent to Robinson earlier this week he said that he did not think that “any extenstion” of the previous arrangement “in terms of permissions” would be appropriate because any public celebration “or even a sermon” would create controversy for Williams and whichever bishops gave Robinson permission to preach.

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