Anglican leaders on Thursday temporarily restricted the role of the United States Episcopal Church in their global fellowship as a sanction over the American church’s acceptance of gay marriage.
Episcopalians have been barred for three years from any policy-setting positions in the Anglican Communion while a task force is formed that will try to reconcile conflicting views over sexuality in the 85-million-member family of churches.
The Episcopal Church is the Anglican body in the United States.
The announcement came near the end of a week-long meeting in Canterbury, England, called by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, to heal rifts over same-sex relationships and keep the Anglican Communion from splitting apart.
Welby, the Anglican spiritual leader, does not have the authority to force a compromise. He set a news conference yesterday in Canterbury to explain the leaders’ decision.
Episcopal Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, who attended the meeting, told the other leaders their vote “will bring real pain” to gays and lesbians and to Episcopalians “committed to following Jesus in the way of love and being a church that lives that love.”
Still, he said he was committed to the Anglican family. The Global Anglican Future Conference, which represents theologically conservative Anglican leaders worldwide, had sought sanctions against the US church, and some members said they would walk out of this week’s meeting unless some penalty was applied.
One leader, Ugandan Archbishop Stanley Ntagali, did so. In a statement on Thursday, the conference known as GAFCON said their leaders were pleased by the outcome of the meeting, but “this action must not be seen as an end, but as a beginning.”
Anglicans, whose roots are in the missionary work of the Church of England, are the third-largest grouping of Christians in the world, behind Roman Catholics and the Orthodox. The fellowship has been fracturing for decades over gay relationships, women’s ordination and other issues.
Those rifts blew wide open in 2003 when the New York-based Episcopal Church consecrated the first openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson, in New Hampshire. Last year, the top US Episcopal legislative body, or General Convention, voted to authorise gay marriages in their churches.
The most vocal protests to the Episcopal embrace of gay rights came from Africa, home to some of the fastest-growing churches in the Anglican communion and the deepest opposition to gay relationships as a violation of Scripture. Many African countries have criminalised gay relationships.
Theological conservatives from around the world joined together to form the Global Anglican Future Conference as a fellowship within the communion, distancing themselves from the US Episcopal Church and refusing to participate in some Anglican gatherings.
In 2009, Anglican national leaders in Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda and other church provinces helped create the Anglican Church in North America, as a theologically conservative alternative to the US Episcopal Church. Welby had invited the leader of the conservative North American body to participate in the Canterbury assembly.
The press office for the Anglican leaders in Canterbury said the statement released on Thursday affirmed the leaders’ “unanimous commitment to walk together.”
The statement acknowledged “deep differences” over understanding of marriage and said the majority in the meeting “reaffirm” the teaching that marriage is only the union of a man and a woman. — AP.