Page last updated at 10:09 GMT, Sunday, 13 July 2008 11:09 UK

Archbishop's position 'untenable'

Bishop Gene Robinson
Bishop Gene Robinson was not invited to the Lambeth Conference

An openly gay US bishop has said the Archbishop of Canterbury is in an "almost untenable" position as he tries to retain unity in the Church.

The Bishop of New Hampshire, Gene Robinson, said Dr Rowan Williams was trying to overcome deep divisions over the ordination of women and gay people.

But he told the BBC: "No matter what he does he makes someone mad."

Bishop Robinson is due to preach in London as the Anglican communion gathers for the Lambeth Conference.

The American preacher has been excluded from the event, held every 10 years, but has said he will be in Canterbury, where it is taking place, at the same time.

He is also due to speak at St Mary's Church in Putney, south-west London, on Sunday.

He said "a mistake was made" in not inviting him to the conference, but he would do whatever he could to raise the issue of gay rights "from the fringe".

He said he would not stage any kind of protest, but would simply "preach the word of God".

'Mutual salvation'

Anglican conservatives set up a splinter movement earlier this month, in rejection of the acceptance of gay bishops.

The particular problem they've got is homophobia
Sir Ian McKellen
Actor and gay rights campaigner

And last week the General Synod, the Church of England's ruling body, voted in favour of legislation aimed at introducing women bishops, a move which generated acrimony.

Some 1,300 clergy opposed to it had threatened to leave the Church if the safeguards they wanted were not agreed.

Speaking on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show, Bishop Robinson said he would doing everything he could to hold the Anglican communion together

"We need each other," he said. "We need the voices from Africa, Asia and South America. We need each other for our mutual salvation."

He said he had "no doubt" that Dr Williams was doing his best to retain unity, but added: "I believe that we ought not to be fearful about the Church.

"The Church is not ours to win or lose. The Church is God's and God will take care of the Church."

Bishop Robinson on why he will attend the Lambeth Conference

Actor and gay rights campaigner Sir Ian McKellen is supporting Bishop Robinson.

He told the BBC the Church seemed to believe it had a "particular problem" with the inclusion of gay people, just as the military used to claim that discipline would be affected if they were allowed to serve.

"The particular problem they've got is homophobia and having it, they root around in the Bible to find the very few passages that seem to be relevant," he said.

Sir Ian said that like Bishop Robinson he too had received death threats because of his homosexuality.

'An abomination'

Bishop Robinson publicly announced his sexuality in the 1980s and has since been in a 20-year relationship with his current partner.

He said the Church was now "coming to a different mind" about gay rights, just as it had with divorce, but effort would have to be made to undo years of discrimination.

Sir Ian McKellen
Openly gay actor Sir Ian McKellen is supporting Bishop Robinson

He recalled speaking to a group of 12- to 21-year-olds who were questioning their sexuality, all of whom were familiar with a passage from the Biblical chapter Leviticus which describes homosexuality as "an abomination".

Bishop Robinson said: "They couldn't have found Leviticus in a Bible if their lives had depended on it, but they knew that word and they thought they knew what God thought of them.

"The Church is responsible for that - it's religious people, Muslims, Jews, Christians - and it's going to take religious voices to undo the hatred that comes from those words."

On Sunday Bishop Robinson will attend a film on how the Bible can be used by families to combat homophobia, and will hold a question and answer session with Sir Ian.

The Lambeth Conference begins on Wednesday.

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