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Anglican leaders downplay censure of Episcopal Church

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, left, speaks with protesters on the grounds of Canterbury Cathedral in Canterbury, England, on Jan. 15, 2016. REUTERS/Toby Melville.
The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby (L) speaks with protestors in the grounds of Canterbury Cathedral in Canterbury, southern Britain January 15, 2016. REUTERS/Toby Melville.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, left, speaks with protesters on the grounds of Canterbury Cathedral in Canterbury, England, on Jan. 15, 2016. REUTERS/Toby Melville.

CANTERBURY, England (RNS) The Anglican Communion’s worldwide leaders, finishing up four days of heated discussions, sought to project a sense of unity despite a move to exclude the Episcopal Church from key policy decisions as a result of the American province’s acceptance of same-sex marriage.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, overall leader of the global body, stressed at a news conference on Friday (Jan. 15) that the church had chosen to remain together, albeit effectively as a house divided.

“The decision that we would walk together was unanimous,” Welby said, adding that any meeting of leaders of a church of 85 million members in 165 countries and 38 provinces “is bound to give confused messages.”

The Anglican Communion is the world’s third-largest Christian denomination, after Catholics and Orthodox.

RELATED STORY: Episcopal Church suspended from full participation in Anglican Communion

Welby played down the decision, leaked a day earlier, to suspend the Episcopal Church from decision-making on policy and governance for a period of three years. He said it had been “completely taken out of context, and then very heavily interpreted” as a sanction on the American province.

“We don’t have the power to sanction anyone,” he said. “We’ve said simply, that if any province on a major issue of how the church is run is out of line, there will be consequences in their full participation in the Anglican Communion.”

“It’s not a sanction; it’s a consequence,” he stressed.

Welby said he wanted to “take this opportunity personally to say how sorry I am for the pain the church has caused,” to people who have suffered because of their sexuality. But he stressed the primary fear for the majority of Anglicans around the world “is the violence that confronts them and their families daily” amid armed conflicts and militant extremism.

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Welby was flanked by several clerics from member churches, including Bishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon, the secretary general of the Anglican Communion. Idowu-Fearon said Western churches should stay out of African moral debates.

“If the West would just leave Africans within our various cultures, we know how to live together with our differences,” he said, adding that Anglican churches in Africa have “always made room for pastoral care and concern for those who have a different sexual orientation.”

Protesters outside a conference of Anglican leaders in Canterbury, England on Jan. 15, 2015. Photo by RNS/Trevor Grundy.

Protesters outside a conference of Anglican leaders in Canterbury, England on Jan. 15, 2015. Photo by RNS/Trevor Grundy.

There were protests by gay Anglicans outside Canterbury Cathedral, headquarters of the denomination. Many were African, who sang songs of protests and chanted slogans calling for an end to homophobia and gay bashing,

A Nigerian who gave only his first name, Chijioke, said religious leaders on the continent should be focusing on issues such as bad government and poverty rather than obsessing about issues of sexual orientation.

“We have been made to feel that we are nobody. That is not what the Church should do. God created all of us,” he told Reuters just outside the cathedral.

In a video statement from Canterbury, the Episcopal Church’s primate, Michael Curry, conceded that the decision was “not the outcome we had expected.”

“There will be heartache and pain for many,” he said, “but it’s important to remember that we are still part of the Anglican Communion, we are the Episcopal Church, and we are part of the Jesus movement, and that movement goes on.”

Speaking on the BBC’s Radio Four, Bishop of Buckingham Alan Wilson expressed regret at the sidelining of LGBT Christians.

Wilson was one of the 107 senior Anglican leaders who last week, sent a letter to Welby urging Anglicans to repent for the way gay people have been treated by the church.

He said the message was: “Please remember the people in the middle of this. Not the ecclesiastical politicians, not the bishops in Canterbury Cathedral but the LGBT people all over the world who experience discrimination, who experience injustice, hatred and violence.”

Details of the suspension were first reported by Anglican Ink, a Connecticut-based publication that said they came from a leaked communique. The vote passed by a two-thirds margin, the publication said, and included prominent voices among African bishops who have loudly condemned the American church for its liberal stance on gays.

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The dramatic demotion follows a string of Episcopal Church decisions stretching back to 2003, when it elected Gene Robinson, an openly gay man, as a bishop of New Hampshire. That decision led dozens of U.S. churches to break away from the Episcopal Church and declare their allegiance to a series of rival groups, including the Anglican Church in North America.

In July, the Episcopal Church voted to allow its clergy to perform same-sex marriages, a move not taken by the majority of churches in the Anglican Communion.

“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,” a statement issued by the Anglican Communion reads. “They will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity.”

Two guides stand behind tape at Canterbury Cathedral which is closed due to the Primates of the Anglican Church meeting, in Canterbury, January 11, 2016. REUTERS/Eddie Keogh.

Two guides stand behind tape at Canterbury Cathedral, which was closed due to the Primates’ Meeting of the Anglican Church, in Canterbury, England, on, Jan. 11, 2016. REUTERS/Eddie Keogh.

The Episcopal Church, the predominant church of many of the 13 original colonies, has had a disproportionate influence on public life in the United States. Its influence still far surpasses its 1.8 million U.S. members, who now find themselves without a voice in Anglican Communion decisions.

The three-year term of the suspension is the amount of time until the next denominationwide meeting of the Episcopal Church, when it will vote on a response, though other church groups could respond sooner.

The suspension comes after four days of discussions among church leaders — “primates,” in church parlance — over the Episcopal Church’s position on gay marriage in relation to the position of the broader Anglican Communion.

The meetings apparently got testy; church media in Britain reported that the archbishop of Uganda, among the most conservative churches in Anglicanism, walked out amid disagreements.

Bishop Ian Douglas of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut wondered whether the Anglican primates wanted the Episcopal Church to repent for its position on same-sex marriage. “Or were they asking for an apology for how the (church’s governing body) went about opening all the roles and rites of the church, including marriage, to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Episcopalians?”

Kevin Eckstrom, chief communications officer for Washington National Cathedral, the seat of the newly installed presiding Episcopal bishop, said that while this suspension will be greeted by sadness in the Episcopal Church, it has been on a parallel track with the Anglican Communion for a while.

“It is not unlike a couple who are having marital problems and are sleeping in separate bedrooms,” he said. “Maybe now they are going to formalize the separation.”

Curry told Episcopal News Service the sanction would be painful for many in the Episcopal Church to receive. “Many of us have committed ourselves and our church to being ‘a house of prayer for all people,’ as the Bible says, when all are truly welcome,” Curry said.

Communion leaders also reportedly wanted to censure the Anglican Church of Canada, but because it has not yet adopted same-sex marriage rites, no action was taken.

Welby announced that the primates had agreed to hold the next Lambeth Conference in 2020 The last was held in 2008. Gay issues dominated that gathering when Rowan Williams was Archbishop of Canterbury.

(Trevor Grundy reports from Britain for RNS. Additional reporting by RNS Editor-in-Chief Jerome Socolovsky and National Correspondent Kimberly Winston)

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  • So….life will go on…we’ll keep praying, worshiping and doing our work, gays will keep on marrying and creating loving families, will keep on living in committed relationships, no matter of what an African bishop may say or do. I just hope TEC stops funding bureaucratic structures…out of sheer dignity the Anglican Communion should refuse any funding from us, after all our money is sinful and will taint the holiness of their churches

  • “You, sinful you !” …yelled the African bishop from the pulpit…while his three wives listened attentively from the pews

  • and after three years of penance ? is the Episcopal Church being sent to sit in a corner to contemplate itself? are the decisions that put it there expected to be changed?

  • Of course the leaders of the Anglican Communion, at least in England, are downplaying the current baby schism. It is in their interests to do so.

    Meanwhile, there is this:

    So Welby is apologizing for 1900 years of antigay persecution on the part of his and every other Christian Church. I’m sure he is dropping a briny tear– just the one– even as I write. Meanwhile, the African bishops and catholic counterparts and fundelibangelist fellow travelers are at the forefront of that persecution, demanding exclusion and secular punishments for gay people in their own countries. Is Welby demanding any changes from them, or is church unity far more important than destroyed lives and institutional bigotry?

    sorry for all the hurt, says welby. but we’ll just keep on doing it, anyway.

  • For those who advocate for a “traditional” and “biblical” marriage

    If brethren dwell together, and one of them die, and have no child, the wife of the dead shall not marry without unto a stranger: her husband’s brother shall go in unto her, and take her to him to wife, and perform the duty of an husband’s brother unto her … And if the man like not to take his brother’s wife …Then shall his brother’s wife … loose his shoe from off his foot, and spit in his face. Deuteronomy 25:5-9

  • “we are part of the Jesus movement, and that movement goes on.”

    Religious philosophy blocks progress, as it always does.
    What good can come from inserting into such an important discussion the immoral, bigoted, irrelevant, absolutist decrees from a 2000 year old revenge fantasy?

    “Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents…and over
    all the power of the enemy: and nothing
    shall by any means hurt you.”
    – Jesus (Luke 10:19-20)

    Divisive and dangerous.

    It is time to start working on a post-religion society
    with equality for all – and the ridiculous superstitious search for demons in our midst can be abandoned.

  • As an American, raised in Christ Church Episcopal in Cambridge, Mass., and a retired minister within the Reformed Churches of The Netherlands, I am suprised and thankful that the leaders of the worldwide Anglican church have taken this positive step. I deplore the cheap shots made by some commenting on this story. The Lordship of Jesus, the authority of the Bible, the validity of historic Christian ethical norms, and Christian unity across the world are at stake.

  • Dear William, Any course on Christian hermeneutics and Biblical exegesis can do wonders, even for deep-seated ignorance.

  • No they are not at stake.

    Christian unity? eXactly how many denominations are there that tell us all othe rest of them are not true Christians. Hint– most of them. The only things some Christians c agree on is “get the bus.”

    The validity of historic Christian ethical norms? lIke divorce and fornication? The Anglican Church was founded on divorce and fornication. Norms like reviling and slandering, getting drunk, burning witches, burning heretics, and some 250 years of war?

    These aren’t cheap shots at all. The Africans want to keep women in their place and continue to demonize gay people. The church has decided that unity and appeasing them is far more important than treating gay people decently, let alone like all other people they believe or going to hell.

  • Scripture Reason and Tradition leave a door open to subjectivity and conjecture. However, the Kingdom of God is not a democracy. Does inclusivity mean behavior has no boundary? Because I am something does not mean I deserve something. “me’ism” dominates the Americn Church and society.

  • These bishops have blood on their hands. Their adoption of this sanction of the Episcopal Church of the United States because it accepts gay people fully will only encourage the violence and hatred experienced by gay people in Africa. These bishops have chosen homophobia over love.

    I hope that the Episcopal Church will withhold all contributions to the Anglican Communion and to any national churches that voted in favor of this sanction as long as the sanction is in place.

    I think gay people and those who are in favor of equal rights in England will simply give up on the Church of England.

  • Good…you should go to Africa and teach a few courses, especially in Anglican dioceses where the clergy get no formal academic training, or no training whatsoever…set them free from their ignorance, bring them into the light.

    Your professors at EDS will be proud of you

  • John M.,
    ” However, the Kingdom of God is not a democracy. ”

    And it’s not the church or scripture either.

    The Kingdom of God is not in ‘word’ (scripture verses), but ‘power’ (Spirit of God in us)……it’s not food and drink but ‘righteousness’ (good works and deeds) and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit”……………1 Cor 4:20 plus Rom 14:17

  • You either go with the truth of God’s Word, the Bible, or you dont. That is everyone’s choice on the earth.

  • Yes, the kingdom of God is not any of man’s imperfect, corrupt and greedy governments, but a theocracy, or heavenly rule by God over humans on earth. It will soon put an end to all human governments, (Daniel 2:44) and rule over man by Jesus, its heavenly King (Isaiah 11:1-10). Oh, what happy days that millennial rule will bring to people of all nations (Rev. 21:3-4)!!

  • All right, all right…let´s begin by stoning remarried women…then we can move on to the onanists

  • Rev. John M. (Kim) Batteau,

    Hermeneutics and exegesis are key tactics in the deceptive art of making religious nonsense appear sensible. They “can do wonders” for making “deep-seated ignorance” appear to be sophisticated discernment.

  • And while at that let’s find some slaves to work for me for free…any ideas where I could find some ?

  • Scripture says that no one who loves God is “unclean.” I recently lost my partner of 44 years. We’ve both served in the church for each of those years knowing that God loves us and blesses our response to the gift of love in our lives via each other and our relationship. The Anglican communion issued a slap in the face to gays and lesbians and to the American church. “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.” Our love didn’t need the American church or the Anglican communion to bless it– God did that. In the meanwhile you can get married and divorced over and over if you’re a “mixed” couple. Pathetic– It’s a kowtowing to conservative social agendas worldwide. And in the case of the church in Africa, it’s being complicit in violation of basic human rights and even murder in the name of God. Surely this grieves the heart of God.

  • James K.,
    ” Our love didn’t need the American church or the Anglican communion to bless it– God did that. ”

    That’s quite understandable. To be ‘Spiritually minded is life and peace’. You were blessed to experience it.

  • Really, gays will keep on creating families. I have surly missed something somewhere. We have come a long way from be fruitful and multiply and a man will leave his parents and cling to his wife to it is ok to pick and choose what you like about gods word.

  • For the record, the Episcopal Church was promoting same-sex marriage and the ordination of gay men and women much earlier. In the early ‘90s the Church organized ‘dialogs on human sexuality’ in parishes to set the benighted laity straight. Soon afterwards the Church commissioned a committee to write a liturgy for the blessing of same-sex unions and ‘Bishops’ Teaching Document on Human Sexuality’, supporting the cause, was leaked. The ordination of Bishop Robinson was supposed to be the grand symbolic political gesture that pushed the program over the top.

    Other mainline churches have affirmed the right of gay men and women to be married and ordained without the sturm and drang. Only the Episcopal Church, with its usual arrogance, grandstanding and hamfistedness, has torn itself apart.

  • I’ve read through the posts debating on this subject. My first thought is, What a Hell of a way to debate the love of God.