Five Anglican Primates, four from Africa and one from South America, have publicized their intentions to boycott the 2008 Lambeth Conference in a letter responding to a group of English bishops who had urged them to attend the once-a-decade gathering.
Archbishops Peter Akinola of Nigeria, Emmanuel Kolini of Rwanda, Benjamin Nzimbi of Kenya, Henry Orombi of Uganda, and Gregory Venables of the Southern Cone -- who make up five of the 38 Anglican Primates -- told the 21 English bishops that they would not attend Lambeth in protest to the invitations extended by the Archbishop of Canterbury to the Episcopal Church's bishops. Akinola, Kolini and Orombi had all previously announced that they intended to boycott the conference.
Neva Rae Fox, the Episcopal Church's public affairs officer, noted that Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori is saddened by the primates' decision not to attend Lambeth.
"The gathering will be diminished by their absence, and I imagine that they themselves will miss a gift they might have otherwise received," the Presiding Bishop said. "None of us is called to 'feel at home' except in the full and immediate presence of God. It is our searching, especially with those we find most 'other,' that is likely to lead us into the fuller experience of the body of Christ. Fear of the other is an invitation to seek the face of God, not a threat to be avoided."
The five primates acknowledged in their letter that some of them "have not been able to take communion with the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church since February 2005" because of the 2003 consecration of Robinson, an openly gay partnered man, as bishop of New Hampshire. "The consecrators of Gene Robinson have all been invited to Lambeth, contrary to the statement of the Windsor Report (para 134) that members of the Episcopal Church should 'consider in all conscience whether they should withdraw themselves from representative functions in the Anglican Communion,'" the primates said.
The English bishops, who identified themselves as "the evangelical bishops in the Church of England," wrote to the primates on February 2, describing the Windsor process as "tortuous and frustrating and much slower than we would all have wished," but warning that if it is abandoned it "would inevitably split apart those who share an equally high regard for Scriptures and for the historic faith of the Church."
They said they share the primates' "increasing sorrow and alarm at the developing situation around the Anglican Communion" but urged them to attend Lambeth after some had announced that they and their bishops would be boycotting the July 16-August 3 conference which will be held on the campus of the University of Kent in Canterbury, England.
Instead, the five primates will be joined one month prior to Lambeth by conservative bishops and other supporters for the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON). Meeting in the Holy Land, GAFCON is largely seen as a rival gathering and has stirred strong criticism, particularly from Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem Suheil Dawani, who said it would cause many political problems and would be "disastrous for his ministry in the Holy Land."
In the days following Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams' May 2007 announcement that he had invited all but a small number of bishops to Lambeth, the primates of Nigeria and Uganda indicated that their bishops would not attend the conference. One month later, Rwanda's House of Bishops issued a communiquÃ© criticizing the leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury and announcing that they too would not attend Lambeth because "some of our bishops have not been invited."
The bishops of the Diocese of Sydney, Anglican Church of Australia, will also boycott the conference, according to a February 2 announcement from Archbishop Peter Jensen and a February 13 statement from the Church of the Province of Uganda reasserted that its bishops would not participate.
In his February 11 presidential address at the opening of the Church of England's General Synod, Williams said he both respects and regrets the decisions of some bishops not to be present at Lambeth. "I respect the consciences of those who have said they do not feel able to attend because there will be those present who have in their view acted against the disciplinary and doctrinal consensus of the communion," he said. "Needless to say, I regret such a decision, since I believe we should be seeking God's mind for the Communion in prayer and study together; but it simply reminds us that even the most 'successful' Lambeth Conference leaves us with work still to be done in rebuilding relationships."
The five primates said in their February 15 letter that some of their bishops who objected to Robinson's consecration have "been charged with abandonment of communion" for "making arrangements for orthodox oversight" of congregations in other provinces.
Such events have been described as "interventions" or "boundary crossings" by official councils or representatives of the Anglican Communion. Despite calls by the Instruments of Communion, including the Primates themselves, for such interventions to cease, some Anglican leaders have continued to cross provincial boundaries and minister to congregations in the U.S. without necessary consultation with or consent from the leadership of the Episcopal Church.
In their letter, the primates said these congregations "have either forfeited or are being sued for their properties by the very bishops with whom you wish us to share Christian family fellowship for three weeks," at Lambeth.
"To do this is an assault on our consciences and our hearts," they said. "Further, how can we explain to our church members, that while we and they are formally out of communion with the Episcopal Church, and provide oversight to these orthodox colleagues, we at the same time live with them at the Lambeth Conference as though nothing had happened? This would be hypocrisy."
The five primates noted that their action was "not intended to signal that we are walking out of the Communion."
They also said they are mindful of the media interest in the conference, "and in the presence in some form or other of Gene Robinson and his male partner, and of 30 gay activists. We would be the continual target of activist campaigners and media intrusion. In these circumstances we could not feel at home."
Williams had originally said he was exploring ways that Robinson could be invited to attend but more recently indicated that such an invitation was proving difficult to fulfill.
Williams said the decision of some to be absent from Lambeth "not only shows the deep differences over theology and ethics that have so strained our connections; it also reflects, uncomfortably for us, some of the legacy of hurt that is felt by some of our provinces at what is experienced as patronizing or manipulative or insensitive actions and attitudes on the part of many of the churches of the 'West' or 'North' -- not only the Episcopal Church in the USA...That's hard to hear, but we have to hear it and to offer apologies and seek for better understanding. Lambeth can't be the end of the story."
Williams confirmed that more than 600 out of 880 bishops have accepted invitations to Lambeth so far.