A gay bishop has protested the Archbishop of Canterbury’s decision to exclude same-sex partners from attending the Anglican Church’s once-in-a-decade, 2020 Lambeth Conference.
Reverend Kevin Robertson, from Toronto, was personally told by Archbishop Justin Welby in January that his husband Mohan Sharma would not be invited to attend the meeting.
“It was disappointing not only for me and my spouse, Mohan, but I also asked him 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,” Robertson said an interview with Church Times published on Thursday (March 14).
Robertson, a father of two, was elected bishop in 2016. He married Sharma, his partner of 10 years, in December.
It was announced on February 15 that Welby had barred same-sex spouses from attending the 2020 Lambeth Conference, a meeting of Anglican bishops from around the world.
The meeting was expected to take place in 2018, but it faced delay following fears of boycott from African bishops over openly gay members attending.
The global Anglican church is facing an increasingly fractious split between liberal Western churches who embrace LGBT+ people, and a faction of hardline African churches who do not.
Robertson said he believed Welby’s decision to exclude same-sex spouses from the conference to be motivated by homophobia, as other heterosexual spouses have been invited regardless of whether they are the bishops’ first partner.
“I know as we approach 2020 that 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,” Robertson told the Church Times.
Episcopal Church joins backlash to ban on same-sex spouses at 2020 Lambeth Conference
Robertson is not the only bishop affected by the ban.
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The Episcopal Church—whose leader, bishop Michael Curry, gave a memorable sermon about the power love at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle—also voiced concerns about Welby’s decision.
The ban on same-sex spouses directly affects one of their bishops, New York Bishop Assistant Mary Glasspool, who is married to Becki Sander, her partner of more than 30 years.
“Exclusion of same gender spouses [from Lambeth 2020] seems like a simplistic reaction to this complex issue.”
— The Episcopal Church’s Bishops’ spouses planning group
Addressing the House of Bishops on Thursday, Reverend Glasspool said she was “shocked, hurt and enraged” when she received notice of the decision in December.
In a statement published on Episcopal News Service on Friday (March 15), the church’s House of Bishops describe being “aggrieved and distressed” the decision, and also “concerned by the use of exclusion as a means of building communion.”
The Episcopal Church’s Bishops’ spouses planning group also issued a statement regarding the Lambeth 2020 conference, expressing solidarity with Sander.
It read: “The spouse community understands that the Anglican Communion is not of one mind with regard to marriage, and that, in the life of the Communion, this is a complex issue. Exclusion of same gender spouses, however, seems like a simplistic reaction to this complex issue. It saddens us that all are not welcome to walk, listen, and witness with us, and that all voices will not be heard at this gathering.”
The Bishop of Liverpool Paul Bayes condemned the Archbishop’s stance last month, saying his wife would not attend the conference to show solidarity with gay bishops.
A strong supporter of LGBT+ rights, he said: “I deeply regret that in the fractious complexities of our life as a worldwide people this act of exclusion has taken its place.”