The exclusion of two wayward bishops from joining a major Anglican conference next year has placed all the attention on the invitation list. But one of the bishops says the crisis Anglican churches are facing is not just about a few bishops.
"While the immediate attention is focused on the invitation list, it should be remembered that this crisis in the Anglican Communion is not about a few individual bishops but about a worldwide Communion that is torn at its deepest level," said the Rt. Rev. Martyn Minns, missionary bishop of CANA (Convocation of Anglicans in North America) – an orthodox Anglican splinter group and offshoot of the Church of Nigeria.
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the Anglican Communion's spiritual leader, sent out the first set of invitations to over 850 bishops for Lambeth 2008 – the church body's global decennial gathering – on Tuesday. Minns, who now oversees some 34 orthodox Anglican congregations in CANA that are dissident with the Episcopal Church, and openly gay bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire were not invited.
While reports indicate the non-invitation of the two bishops is likely to provoke debate, Williams stated he has to reserve the right to withhold invitations from "bishops whose appointment, actions or manner of life have caused exceptionally serious division or scandal within the Communion." He also recalled that invitations are issued on a personal basis by the Archbishop of Canterbury and that the conference has "no 'constitution' or formal powers," he stated in the invitation letter.
His invitations go out four months before the Episcopal Church is scheduled to respond to the requests of the Primates (Anglican leaders) to make an unequivocal pledge not to authorize same-sex blessings and confirm another openly gay bishop. The Episcopal Church, which currently represents Anglicanism in the United States, had widened rifts in 2003 when it consecrated Robinson and faces a Sept. 30 deadline this year to respond to the Primates.
"The question of Gene Robinson ... I think has exercised the archbishop of Canterbury's mind for quite some time," said Canon Kenneth Kearon, secretary-general of the Anglican Communion, according to The Associated Press.
Although Robinson was duly consecrated a bishop according to the rules of the Episcopal Church, "for the archbishop to simply give full recognition at this conference would be to ignore the very substantial and very widespread objections in many parts of the communion to his consecration and to his ministry," said Kearon.
The global body had reaffirmed earlier this year that homosexuality is incompatible with Scripture while still calling on the church to minister to all people irrespective of sexual orientation.
"At a time when the Anglican Communion is calling for a 'listening process' on the issue of homosexuality, how does it make sense to exclude gay and lesbian people from the discussion?" Robinson said in a statement released by his office.
Robinson expressed "great disappointment" in Williams' decision, but the New Hampshire bishop may be invited to attend the Lambeth Conference as a guest, according to Kearon.
Currently, however, there is seemingly no intention to invite Minns as a guest.
"It is a very different situation," said Kearon, explaining that while Minns is a bishop, his consecration is not regular.
Minns had helped 11 Virginia churches that voted overwhelmingly to split with the Episcopal Church. He was installed to lead CANA congregations on May 5 by Nigerian Primate the Most Rev. Peter J. Akinola who was urged by U.S. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and Williams not to do.
Regarding his name not being on the Lambeth invitation list, Minns stated, "Depending on the response of The Episcopal Church to the Primates' communiqué by September 30, the situation may become even more complex. One thing is clear, a great deal can and will happen before next July."
Also not invited are bishops of the Anglican Mission in America (AMiA) and bishops from the Reformed Episcopal Church. Both groups are currently working together with CANA along with other dissident Anglicans in what Minns had called a "common cause partnership."
For those invited to Lambeth, Williams affirmed that their coming to the conference "does not commit [them] to accepting the position of others as necessarily a legitimate expression of Anglican doctrine and discipline."
"At a time when our common identity seems less clear that it once did," Williams wrote, "the temptation is to move further away from each other into those circles where we only related to those who completely agree with us. But the depth and seriousness of the issues that face us require us to discuss as fully and freely as we can, and no other forum offers the same opportunities for all to hear and consider, in the context of a common waiting on the Holy Spirit."
Lambeth 2008 is scheduled to be held July 16-Aug. 4 at the University of Kent in England.