Archbishops of the Anglican Communion have responded to the Episcopal Church USA’s decision to permit same-sex marriage by suspending the church from full participation in the communion for three years.
According to a Jan. 15 communique from Anglican primates, a majority of 39 bishops present during a Jan. 11-15 meeting in Canterbury, England, adopted a series of recommendations concerning same-sex marriage, including one that for three years the Episcopal Church USA “no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity.”
The Episcopal Church USA’s decision last summer to amend church canons to allow marriage between people of the same gender “represent[s] a fundamental departure from the faith and teaching held by the majority of our Provinces on the doctrine of marriage,” the recommendations stated.
The archbishops acknowledged “deep differences that exist among us concerning the understanding of marriage” but noted, “The traditional doctrine of the church in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds marriage as between a man and a woman in faithful, lifelong union. The majority of those gathered reaffirm this teaching.”
The communique added that the archbishops “condemned homophobic prejudice and violence and resolved to work together to offer pastoral care and loving service irrespective of sexual orientation.”
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who is regarded as a “first among equals” among Anglican archbishops by virtue of his office, said at a Jan. 15 press conference the U.S. Episcopal Church is not being sanctioned or punished.
The Episcopal Church USA changed a “basic understanding of doctrine, ahead of the rest of the communion and without consultation,” Welby said according to the Anglican publication Church Times. “We are not sanctioning them. We do not have the power to do so. We simply said, if any province, on a major issue of how the church is run or what it believes, is out of line, there will be consequences in their full participation in the life of the communion.”
A report by the Belfast Telegraph highlighted Welby’s apology during the press conference for the Anglican Church’s role in persecuting people for their sexuality. He pointed to Africa in particular, where some nations outlaw homosexual behavior.
“I don’t have the right to speak for everyone,” Welby said according to the Telegraph. “I wanted to take this opportunity … to say how sorry I am for the hurt and pain, in the past and present, the church has caused.”
U.S. Episcopal Church archbishop Michael Curry, who is African American, compared the archbishops’ action to the injustices of slavery and segregation.
“I stand before you as your brother,” Curry said according to the Church Times. “I stand before you as a descendant of African slaves, stolen from their native land, enslaved in a bitter bondage, and then, even after emancipation, segregated and excluded in church and society. And this conjures that up again, and brings pain.”
R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said conservative bishops “forced this issue” but “did not get everything they wanted.”
Still, Mohler said Jan. 15 in his daily podcast The Briefing, “it is a very significant development that it is the Episcopal Church USA that was singled out by its sister churches in the Anglican Communion as the outlier, as the one that is outside the bounds, the one that has violated the authority of scripture.”
A spokesman for the Institute on Religion & Democracy, an organization that seeks to foster renewal in mainline denominations, said the suspension is not a “formal schism” though there will continue to be “broken communion” between “various Anglican provinces and the Episcopal Church.”
“This sanction is the ecclesiastical equivalent of being placed in ‘time out,’” Walton wrote in a blog post. “But the goal of ‘time out’ is to change behavior, and the Episcopal Church has clearly spoken that it will not deviate from its chosen trajectory.”
The Anglican Communion is comprised of 85 million people worldwide who are part of national or regional churches that call themselves Anglican or Episcopal, according to the Anglican Communion website.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)