A group of Episcopalians has invited controversial Episcopal Bishop V. Gene Robinson to speak during a major Catholic trade show for booksellers. Though Robinson’s appearance is not directly sponsored by the trade show, he is listed in the show’s schedule of events.
Robinson is the Bishop of New Hampshire, and was ordained a bishop despite his leaving his wife to live in a homosexual relationship. His elevation to the Episcopal Church’s leadership has inflamed controversy throughout the Anglican Communion, and furthered speculation that the unity of the communion could be ruptured by schism.
The Religious Booksellers Trade Exhibit (RBTE) is a major trade show for Catholic bookstores that has been held for 17 years. It meets in St. Charles, Illinois and is open to other religious denominations, including the Episcopalians who invited Bishop Robinson.
Bob Byrns, the RBTE show’s organizer, said in a letter that the trade show was organized “simply for the purpose of bringing liturgical book and gift sellers and their vendors together under one roof to educate ourselves about our industry, and to offer a venue in which products would be displayed and purchased, while at the same time offering additional opportunities for networking, entertainment, and worship.”
Byrns said the show’s speakers and musical artists were recommended by the publishers and retailers.
“We attempt to balance the program to meet the needs of both our Catholic and Episcopal attendees, as well as folks from other denominations,” Byrns said.
Church Publishing Incorporated, the publishing arm of the Episcopal Church, had suggested that Bishop Robinson be invited to speak at an RBTE lunch.
“We told them that would not be possible,” Byrns said. When the organization asked if Bishop Robinson could speak at the Episcopal Booksellers Association (EBA) dinner on Wednesday evening, Byrns said, “We told them that we would need to seek the approval of the EBA membership.”
According to Byrns, the EBA membership “overwhelmingly wished to extend an invitation to the Bishop, and so it happened.”
Bishop Robinson’s talk, titled “Charting the Course of the Anglican Communion,” is announced on the trade show’s web site in the RBTE schedule, which says that the talk is sponsored by Church Publishing Incorporated. The bishop’s talk is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 28.