The Anglican Communion has disciplined its U.S. branch, the Episcopal Church, over Episcopal support of church marriage for same-sex couples.
Episcopalians cannot have any policy-making role in the Anglican Communion for the next three years, communion officials announced Thursday, the Associated Press reports. The decision came after a four-day meeting of Anglican leaders called by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, the head of the global church, at Canterbury Cathedral in England.
The Episcopal Church’s decision last year to make the full church marriage rite available to same-sex couples is “a fundamental departure from the faith and teaching held by the majority of our Provinces on the doctrine of marriage,” said an agreement reached at the meeting of 39 Anglican primates, that is, bishops and archbishops. Provinces are member churches of the Anglican Communion.
The document also stated that the majority of primates at the meeting reaffirmed the “traditional doctrine” that “upholds marriage as between a man and a woman in faithful, lifelong union.”
The communion will now organize a task force that will seek to reconcile differing beliefs on sexuality in the global body, which has 85 million members, the AP reports.
Many Anglican churches in developing nations, particularly in Africa, have objected to the Episcopal Church’s LGBT-inclusive policies. The Episcopal Church has allowed openly gay, partnered clergy for several years, and appointed its first openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, in 2003. And even before last year’s decision on marriage, some Episcopal churches offered a marriage-like rite for same-sex couples. These policies have led some U.S. congregations to break with the Episcopal Church and affiliate with more conservative Anglican bodies overseas.
Episcopal Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, who attended the primates’ meeting, said the decision by a majority of his peers to punish his church “will bring real pain” to gay and lesbian Episcopalians, the Episcopal News Service reports. Curry, the church’s first African-American presiding bishop, also referred to other ways people are excluded.
“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,” he said. “And this conjures that up again, and brings pain.” However, he said he remains committed to the Anglican Communion.
Robinson, who is now retired, also objected to the move, in the following tweet:
God's judgment against those who include too many will be less harsh than the judgment against those who include too few. I'm just sayin'.
— Gene Robinson (@BishopGRobinson) January 14, 2016
The announcement of the primates’ decision led to protests at Canterbury Cathedral. In a Friday news conference, Welby expressed sympathy for the protesters and for LGBT and intersex people generally, the BBC reports. It was a reminder of the “pain and suffering of many LGBTI people around the world,” he said.
“For me it’s a constant source of deep sadness, the number of people who are persecuted for their sexuality,” he continued. “I don’t have the right to speak for everyone. 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.”
But Welby defended the decision, citing the need for unity in the church. “It is not for us to divide the body of Christ; it is not for us to divide the church,” he said.