Over blessing of same-sex couples

Over blessing of same-sex couples

Church of England bishops © Nigel Roddis

Over blessing of same-sex couples

Archbishop Justin Welby © dpa

"This week the Anglican Church could fall apart," wrote the Daily Telegraph ahead of the Anglicans' meeting in Canterbury. That failed to materialize, but a decision was reached that could have consequences.

Because of differences over gay marriage, top Anglican officials have decided on sanctions against the U.S. Episcopal Church. For the first time in history, the "Primates' Meeting" has more or less completely suspended a member church from participation in the worldwide Anglican Communion for three years.

US branch suspended

A majority of the heads of the 38 Anglican church provinces suspended the U.S. branch, which supports gay marriage, from making denominational family decisions on doctrinal ies for three years. The statement said the Episcopal Church's stance represents a "fundamental departure from the faith and teaching on marriage as the union of a man and a woman of the majority of Anglican provinces".

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, as honorary head of the Anglican Communion, had invited to the meeting in southern England. Worldwide, the Anglican Communion includes 85 million believers in 165 countries. The U.S. Episcopal Church is considered liberal and, according to its own figures, has 1.8 million members. The church had already ordained openly gay clergyman Gene Robinson as a bishop in 2003, after which conservative Anglicans left the church.

Anglican bishops and churches in Africa and Asia, in particular, oppose a move away from traditional sexual ethics. Before the five-day crisis meeting in Canterbury, more than 100 senior Anglicans had appealed to Archbishop Welby in an open letter to oppose discrimination against lesbian and gay Christians.

US church now only with observer status

With sanction decision, Anglican leaders strip U.S. church of voting rights on world communion's direction on doctrinal ies. They are now only allowed to attend communal meetings as observers. U.S. Anglicans are also no longer allowed to participate in interfaith bodies.

The move to suspend the U.S. church can be seen as a partial success for the traditionalists. Since 2008, leading Anglicans of the traditionalist wing have organized themselves into the "Global Anglican Future Conference". They call for U.S. church to be disciplined. Still, the move did not go far enough for some. Already on Tuesday Archbishop Stanley Ntagali from Uganda had left the meeting. He called for the exclusion of the U.S. church as well as Canadian Anglicans. The church in Canada has allowed the blessing of same-sex couples and plans to vote on allowing gay marriage in July.

The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States, Michael Curry, said the decision is very painful for American Anglicans. "For the disciples of Jesus in our church who are gay or lesbian, this will cause further pain," he added. They say many have been rejected for their sexual orientation by the church, their families and communities. For them, the opening of the church had been a sign of love. The sanctions decision will add to the pain people have experienced, Bishop Curry said.

Partial success for traditionalist churches

The fact that the directional dispute became at least a partial success for the traditionalist churches may also have to do with the shift in power within the Anglican Communion. Churches in the South, home to the more traditionalist Anglicans, have the most members. While membership is down in the U.S. and U.K., Anglican churches are growing, especially in Africa.

The church in Nigeria alone has more members than the U.S., Canadian and Church of England churches combined, scholar Philip Jenkins told The Washington Post. Thus, traditionalist churches can justify their claim to directional leadership on membership strength alone. In a first step, they have apparently succeeded.

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