Disappointment at Oxford Union as gay bishop decides to pull out

( [email protected] ) Mar 04, 2004 12:58 PM EST

London: Reverend Gene Robinson , who was due to speak on 11 March in a debate at Oxford University proposing the motion "This House believes a gay lifestyle should be no bar to becoming a bishop", said taking part in the debate would not help the church at this time.

Organizers of the debate have reacted strongly to news that the openly gay Anglican churchman has withdrawn just days before the event was to take place.

The Reverend Richard Kirker, general secretary of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, was due to speak with Bishop Robinson

He said he was deeply saddened by the decision, "all the more so as it seems likely to all he was put under pressure to withdraw".

"It will seem strange to all fair minded people that while others discuss and debate him in a very personal and often offensive way, he finds himself forced into silence," he said.

"The Church has once again shot itself in the foot."

The Oxford Union, which draws celebrity speakers ranging from farmer Tony Martin to Hollywood star Clint Eastwood, said the cancellation was a blow to free speech.

Oxford Union President Edward Tomlinson was quoted as saying that it is a shame the archbishop's newly appointed commission should act as a gagging order, rather than as a catalyst for discussion.

"I understand that Bishop Robinson is a figure of totemic importance in this debate, and his love for the Anglican Communion has meant for the time being he believes silence to be the best course of action.

"As the president of the most famous debating society in the world, and as a committed Anglican, I look forward to the day when free discussion of this matter can and does take place.”

Robinson's consecration in November triggered worldwide controversy and he issued a statement when he said he was withdrawing from the Oxford debate on 1 March - the same day that Anglican Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria boycotted a meeting of church leaders in England in protest at Robinson's consecration.