Deputies’ president denounces Archbishop Justin Welby’s decision on same-sex bishops’ spouses at Lambeth.

By Kirk Petersen

A top official of the Episcopal Church opened a four-day meeting of Executive Council Feb. 21 with a passionate denunciation of Archbishop Justin Welby’s declining to invite same-sex spouses of bishops to the 2020 Lambeth Conference.

If Archbishop Welby’s decision stands, “I think that the day is coming when we will need to take a hard look at where and how we invest the resources of the Episcopal Church across the Anglican Communion,” said the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, president of the House of Deputies.

The Lambeth Conference is a meeting of bishops of the Anglican Communion, held approximately once each decade in Canterbury, England, at the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Welby’s decision regarding same-sex spouses was announced a week ago in an Anglican Communion News Service blog post. Opposite-sex spouses of bishops will be invited to attend.

The Most Rev. Josiah Idowu-Fearon, secretary general of the Anglican Communion, wrote that “the invitation process has also needed to take account of the Anglican Communion’s position on marriage, which is that it is the lifelong union of a man and a woman. That is the position as set out in Resolution I.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference. Given this, it would be inappropriate for same-sex spouses to be invited to the conference.”

Jennings took issue with the idea that Lambeth has the authority to set policy for the Anglican Communion, saying that role belongs to the Anglican Consultative Council, which is “the only one of the [four] Instruments of Communion that includes laypeople and clergy, and it is the only Instrument of Communion that is a registered charity under British law. As such, it is the corporate entity of the Anglican Communion.”

Her complete remarks are posted on the House of Deputies website.

As reported by Episcopal News Service, the decision apparently affects two current bishops in the Anglican Communion, as well as one bishop-elect:

  • The Rt. Rev. Mary Glasspool, Assistant Bishop of New York, is married to Becki Sander. They plan to travel to Lambeth, even if Sander is not allowed to participate in spouses’ activities.
  • The Rt. Rev. Kevin Robertson, Suffragan Bishop of Toronto in the Anglican Church of Canada, married Mohan Sharma in December. Robertson told ENS that his first thought was to refuse to attend without Sharma, but that he had not made a decision.
  • By the time of the Lambeth Conference there will likely be another affected bishop. The Rev. Thomas Brown is due to be consecrated as Bishop of Maine in June 2019, assuming his election is confirmed by a majority of bishops and standing committees. Brown, who is married to the Rev. Thomas Mousin, declined to comment to ENS because of the consent process.

Jennings’s strongest sentiments related to the “two little girls” who are children of Robertson and his husband. “I cannot overlook the fact that the Anglican Communion Office has created a public situation in which two children are learning that the hierarchy of the church considers their family to be a source of shame and worthy of exclusion. That makes me very angry. When little girls are collateral damage, that is not the way of love.”

The invitation list for 2020 marks a change in the decades-long battle about same-sex relationships.

At the last Lambeth Conference in 2008, Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire was not invited because he was in a relationship with a same-sex partner. Idowu-Fearon said that this time, LGBT bishops are invited, as “we are recognizing that all those consecrated into the office of bishop should be able to attend.”

Before Jennings spoke, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry used his opening remarks to preview the long-term planning exercise that Executive Council would begin later in the morning. “Is there a future for religious faith?” Curry asked. “It does not have a future if faith and religion is seen as primarily and essentially an institutional arrangement.”

Curry joined the other members of Executive Council in a standing ovation at the end of Jennings’s remarks.

The Executive Council is an elected body that meets three times each year and serves essentially as the board of directors of the church, with governing authority between the triennial General Conventions.

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