Gene Robinson, the openly gay American Bishop of New Hampshire whose consecration in 2003 sparked the current Anglican crisis, was forced to halt his sermon at a London church today after a lone heckler with a motorcycle helmet disrupted the service.
When Robinson mentioned the “sad and discouraging” split in the Anglican Communion, the man shouted, “because of heretics like you!” and “repent, repent, repent!”. The congregation hastily sang “Thine be the glory” while the heckler was hustled out, and Robinson was able to resume. Watch the unedifying scene here -- captured by the media scrum which accompanies him everywhere.
Robinson has been excluded from the Lambeth Conference of Anglican Primates from across the world which begins on Wednesday, but has come to the UK to take a very public stand on its sidelines. He has created his own blog – Canterbury tales from the fringe – while another (very pink) blog, The Gene Pool, brings you“Gene sightings” and a chance to find out "who Gene is, and why he loves Jesus".
The bishop began today as a guest on the Andrew Marr programme, the leading Sunday politics show, along with the actor and atheist gay rights campaigner, Sir Ian McKellen, who will be at Robinson’s side tomorrow for the premiere of a documentary, For the Bible Tells Me So, which deals with “how insightful people of faith handle the realization of having a gay child”. The Bishop of New Hampshire is one of those whose stories is featured in the film.
Robinson, who in June entered a civil partnership with his partner of 20 years (their relationship began three years after Robinson separated from his wife – they have two children), is critical of the Archbishop of Canterbury for excluding him. But he tells Andrew Marr he is in England to “lend support” to Dr Williams and the other bishops, and is not mounting a protest.
Maybe. But Robinson is leading a campaign which is part of a wider battle for the future direction of Anglicanism; and Dr Williams may find his “support” not entirely welcome as he tries in the next weeks to patch together the rent seams of the Anglican fabric.
With a third of the world’s Anglican bishops boycotting Lambeth because of Dr Williams’s failure to expel Robinson and the North-American Episcopalians; with Robinson grabbing headlines outside the Conference; in the wake of the creation of an evangelical sub-communion in defiance of the Archbishop of Canterbury; and after a week in which Anglo-Catholic traditionalists are considering their future following the Synod’s decision to press ahead with women bishops, it is not an exaggeration to say that the centrifugal forces in Anglicanism are in full play. While it may be unedifying to watch, the importance of these debates for worldwide Christianity cannot be underestimated.
The Lambeth Conference bishops are currently on retreat. The Daily Telegraph, which carries a perceptive portrait of Dr Williams’s model of leadership, quotes a friend saying that the Archbishop of Canterbury “will go down to the darkest depths, so deep that most of us could not go there for lack of breath. But he invariably re-surfaces with a pearl beyond price.”
What will that pearl be?