Following repeated decisions of the US Episcopal Church to ordain openly homosexual clergy and gay bishops, and more recently, endorse “same-sex marriage”, the senior body in the Anglican communion has voted to suspend the Episcopal Church from full membership of the Anglican communion.
The meeting of Anglican Primates’ took place in mid-January in Canterbury, England, under the auspices of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby.
Despite the hopes of some for a reconciliation, the clear signs coming from the Episcopal Church in the US is that the divisions are likely to be permanent.
In a statement released at the end of the meeting, the Anglican primates said, “We came knowing that the 2016 Primates’ meeting would be concerned with the differences among us in regard to our teaching on matters of human sexuality ...
“The meeting started by agreeing [to] the agenda. The first agreed item was to discuss an important point of contention among Anglicans worldwide: the recent change to the doctrine of marriage by the Episcopal Church in the USA.”
The issues have been deeply divisive for over a decade.
According to the website of the Episcopal Church, in 2003, the first openly gay bishop was consecrated.
In 2009, the General Convention of the Episcopalians resolved that “God’s call is open to all”, in other words, approved openly gay ordinations.
In 2012, blessing for same-gender relationships was authorised, and discrimination against transgender persons in the ordination process was officially prohibited.
All these decisions caused shock-waves throughout the Anglican communion.
The statement released by the Anglican Primates said, in part, “We gathered as Anglican Primates to pray and consider how we may preserve our unity in Christ given the ongoing deep differences that exist among us concerning our understanding of marriage.
“Recent developments in the Episcopal Church with respect to a change in their Canon on marriage represent a fundamental departure from the faith and teaching held by the majority of our Provinces on the doctrine of marriage. Possible developments in other Provinces could further exacerbate this situation.
“All of us acknowledge that these developments have caused further deep pain throughout our Communion.
“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.
“In keeping with the consistent position of previous Primates’ meetings such unilateral actions on a matter of doctrine without Catholic unity is considered by many of us as a departure from the mutual accountability and interdependence implied through being in relationship with each other in the Anglican Communion.
“Such actions further impair our communion and create a deeper mistrust between us. This results in significant distance between us and places huge strains on the functioning of the Instruments of Communion and the ways in which we express our historic and ongoing relationships.
“It is our unanimous desire to walk together.
“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 response of the Episcopal Church was defiant.
A close observer of these developments is Fr Dwight Longenecker, a former Episcopal minister who became a Catholic, and is now a Catholic priest.
Fr Longenecker wrote recently, “Presiding Bishop Michael Curry of the Episcopal Church has stated that they have no intention of reversing their decision to endorse same sex marriage.
“In a phone interview from England, where he attended the gathering of top Anglican archbishops, Curry said he told his fellow leaders they should expect no change. The top Episcopal legislative body, called General Convention, last year voted overwhelmingly to authorise same-sex marriage ceremonies in church.
“Furthermore, Curry said he thought it was the Episcopalians mission to convert everybody to same sex agenda acceptance.
“Curry said the church was resolved to work toward building acceptance of same-sex relationships throughout the Anglican fellowship, which the Episcopal Church represents in the United States.
“A majority of Anglican leaders at the meeting affirmed the teaching that marriage is only the union of a man and a woman.”
Bishop Curry said, “We are loyal members of the Anglican Communion, but we need to say we must find a better way. I really believe it’s part of our vocation.”
Fr Longenecker commented, “Bishop Curry’s definition of ‘loyal members of the Anglican Communion’ must be somewhat flexible. In fact, there are now about 150 different Anglican style churches which are ‘not in communion’ [with the wider Anglican Communion].”