Anglican Communion suspends Episcopal Church over same-sex marriages
January 14, 2016 11:19 PM
Ben Curtis/Associated Press
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, shown here in October 2013 conducting a service in Nairobi, Kenya. Leaders of the Anglican Communion have suspended the American arm of the church for three years over its acceptance of gay marriage.
By Peter Smith / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
On a global scale, it was an unprecedented disciplinary action.
Leaders of the Anglican Communion suspended its American counterpart, the Episcopal Church, for the next three years from various leadership roles in the world’s third-largest Christian fellowship.
On the local scene, the impact is not likely to be huge, leaders say.
That’s in part because the historic Episcopal community already split more than seven years ago over the same issues of homosexuality and theology that prompted Thursday’s joint statement by the Anglican primates, or leaders of their 38 national churches.
The primates — meeting in Canterbury, England, for their first high-level meeting after years of stalemate — acknowledged their “unanimous desire to walk together” in the 85 million-member family of churches.
But they faulted the Episcopal Church for violating such unity by approving same-sex marriage rites in 2015, “a fundamental departure from the faith and teaching held by the majority of our Provinces.”
Some had feared a more drastic result this week, such as a walkout of conservative primates or an attempt to expel the American church entirely.
As it stands, the Episcopal Church remains the communion’s U.S. representative despite being sent to the time-out corner.
The primates said: “However, given the seriousness of these matters we formally acknowledge this distance by requiring that for a period of three years the Episcopal Church no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal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 figurehead of the Anglican Communion, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, called the meeting in hopes of bridging a de facto separation. Long-simmering disputes had exploded following the 2003 ordination of an openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church. The communion cannot tell a national church what to do, but several overseas provinces had declared their ties with the American church broken.
Bishop Dorsey McConnell of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh was encouraged that the primates “unequivocally stated their unanimous desire” for unity. “Given recent developments in the Episcopal Church, we can’t reasonably represent the majority opinion of the primates on external bodies or even internally, and that this statement simply acknowledges that reality,” he said.
In 2008, much of the local Episcopal diocese broke away to join the new Anglican Church in North America, whose founding leader was Bishop Robert Duncan.
Bishop Duncan, who completed his term in that leadership role but is continuing to lead the Anglican Church in North America’s Diocese of Pittsburgh until his retirement later this year, called the primates’ decision “stunning.”
“All the price we paid here for standing as we stood, there’s some measure of this decision saying the world stood with us,” he said.
While the North American body is not officially recognized by the communion, several Global South primates do consider it a partner church and insisted that Bishop Duncan’s successor as its leader, Archbishop Foley Beach, be present at the primates’ meeting.
Bishop McConnell said grassroots level, local Episcopalians will continue to cooperate with overseas Anglicans, such as ongoing mission projects in Uganda.
“I hope we’ll all see it as a call to offer ourselves as fully and faithfully as we can to build stronger relationships with our sisters and brothers across the communion,” he said.
The Anglican Communion traces its roots to the Reformation-era Church of England. Most members are in fast-growing churches in former British colonies in Africa and elsewhere in the so-called Global South. Such churches are far more conservative in theological and sexual issues than their Western counterparts.
The primates are acting cautiously but firmly, said the Rev. Laurie Thompson, dean of advancement and doctoral studies at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge.
“No one’s walking off the field in a huff,” he said. “That’s a good sign. It’s a characteristic pattern of Anglicanism to keep talking.”
That said, “the slack in the boundaries is gone,” he added. “I read in that that we’re at the end of the rope and can’t push this thing any further.”
The Episcopal Church claims about 1.8 million U.S. members, with the Anglican Church in North America claiming more than 100,000 in this country and Canada.
Locally, the Episcopal diocese claims about 3,000 in weekly attendance in 37 southwestern Pennsylvania parishes, while the Anglican diocese claims at least 50 congregations and about 5,000 in attendance across a wider geographic area.
Peter Smith: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1416 or on Twitter @PG_PeterSmith.
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