Gene Robinson, the American whose consecration as the first openly gay bishop bitterly divided the Anglican Church, is a defiant, uninvited guest at the church’s 10-yearly meeting.
Despite being told in March that he would not be welcome at the Lambeth Conference, which brings together the world’s Anglican bishops and archbishops once a decade, Robinson is an outspoken presence on the sidelines of the two-week gathering at the University of Kent campus.
The meeting comes at a stormy time for the Anglican church and its 77 million followers amid moves by bishops from Africa, Australia and the United States to form a breakaway group in protest at the consecration of gay bishops and women.
Robinson, the 61-year-old bishop of New Hampshire, insists he is not alone among the Anglican communion’s clergy in being gay, and says he has come to Britain, against the wishes of the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the leader of the world’s Anglicans, to lend them his support.
“There are many clergy in Britain who are living with their partners,” Robinson told AFP in an interview.
“Many are out to their congregation and out to their bishop. But no one is willing to say it out loud. It’s not dishonesty but an unwillingness to be honest.
“I’m here because I would like to make it possible for those who would like to be open and honest to do so.”
Robinson has drawn the ire of more conservative Anglican bishops, some 250 of whom have boycotted the Lambeth Conference in protest at moves such as his consecration.
About a quarter of the communion’s bishops, mostly from Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda and Uganda, are staying away in protest at what they believe is the church’s moral decline.
With a bodyguard in close attendance even as he spoke in a peaceful park, Robinson said he had grown used to dealing with threats to his life.
“I received a number of death threats before coming here.
“That’s why I have security during the entire time I’m here. I had similar death threats at the time of my consecration.
“I have no interest in being a martyr, I’m just trying to be a good bishop.”
Robinson has cheated death before.
When he was born in Kentucky in 1947, the doctor who delivered him completed a birth as well as a death certificate, expecting that the newborn would not survive for long.
Robinson was ordained as a priest in 1973 and in 1987, he divorced his wife, after seeking advice from within the church on his attraction to men.
His two daughters publicly support him, and has never hidden his cohabitation with his partner of 20 years Mark Andrew, with whom he entered a civil partnership in June.
With his ordination as a bishop in 2003 by the US Episcopal Church, he became a world-renown figure.
Conservative clergy believe that homosexuality runs contrary to religious teaching, but it is an argument that Robinson rejects.
“It’s about how we interpret scripture,” he noted.
“Those who claim to make a plain reading of scriptures are actually interpreting it as well. We all interpret scripture.”
After all, he added, “we have changed our mind about a lot of things”.
“It was not very long ago, about 150 years, we were still using scripture to justify slavery, and we came to understand that it was not God’s will.”