The Episcopal Church has been disciplined by the Anglican Communion, the international faith fellowship of which the church is a part, over deep disagreements about homosexuality and same-sex marriage.
The church has not been removed from the communion. However, it will be barred from Anglican decision-making for three years and will no longer represent the community in ecumenical or interfaith bodies, the Anglican organization has decided.
The Episcopal Church consecrated its first openly gay bishop in 2003. In 2012, the church voted to allow blessings over same-sex unions, while not calling them identical to marriage. Then last year, the church’s highest body voted to formally approve Episcopalian same-sex marriages.
More-conservative churches within the international Anglican community disagree with those decisions.
In a statement, coming near the end of a weeklong meeting of its leaders, the Anglican Communion called the Episcopal decisions on marriage “a fundamental departure from the faith and teaching held by the majority of our Provinces.”
The Anglican tradition defines marriage “as between a man and a woman in faithful, lifelong union,” the leaders said, calling the Episcopal Church’s decision to accept gay marriage a unilateral action that caused “deep pain” in the community.
The meeting of the Anglican Communion this week was called specifically to address the disagreements over marriage.
The deep division in the faith over issues of sexuality reflects a geographic divide — Anglican churches in the global Southern Hemisphere generally have stricter views on the subject, as NPR’s Tom Gjelten reported on All Things Considered Wednesday:
“The differences are complicated by history. Anglicanism in the global south is an outgrowth of British colonialism. This week’s meeting was called by the Rev. Justin Welby, who, as the archbishop of Canterbury, is the global Anglican leader.
“Welby, who has traveled widely in Africa and elsewhere, told a Washington audience recently that he has found many Anglican leaders feeling like new moral values are being imposed on them by their old colonial masters. …
“One more consideration — Christians in the global south often compete with Muslims. Philip Jenkins, a religion historian at Baylor University, says their resistance to same-sex marriage must be seen in that context: ‘If they were ever to waver on these gay issues, they think that would just hand a massive propaganda victory to Muslims.’ ”
In addition to sanctioning the Episcopal Church, the Anglican leadership will also establish a task force “with the intention of restoration of relationship, the rebuilding of mutual trust, healing the legacy of hurt, recognising the extent of our commonality and exploring our deep differences, ensuring they are held between us in the love and grace of Christ,” the group says.
The Episcopal Church is the only Anglican body to have fully endorsed gay marriage, The Associated Press notes, but Anglican churches in Brazil, South Africa, New Zealand and Scotland have moved to recognize same-sex relationships. And Canada’s Anglican Church is scheduled to vote this year on whether to authorize gay marriage.