LONDON (Christian Examiner) – Leaders of the Church of England have decided to punish the Episcopal Church in the U.S. for its unscriptural views and practices on same-sex marriage, a statement from the church's primates (archbishops over the churches of the Anglican Communion) said Jan. 14.
The primates agreed to remain a unified church, but they acknowledged "the significant distance that remains" between churches following the biblical view of marriage and those with heretical views.
The statement from the church leaders was supposed to be released tomorrow, but its content was leaked early. The primates then decided to issue the full statement of the agreement, which demonstrates the commitment of the primates "to continue the life of the Communion with neither victor nor vanquished."
In the agreement, the Anglican primates said "deep differences" exist in the various churches of the Communion:
"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."
"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," the statement said.
The statement also condemned the Episcopal Church's having undertaken the shift in doctrine without consultation from other church leaders, calling it a "departure from the mutual accountability and interdependence implied through being in relationship with each other in the Anglican Communion."
The actions, the statement said, impaired the church and created deep mistrust in the body.
As a result, primates ruled that for three years ministers from the Episcopal Church in America cannot represent the Anglican Communion in any ecumenical or interfaith organization, cannot serve on any internal committee in the worldwide church, and cannot take part in decision making on doctrine or church polity for the Anglican Communion.
Michael Curry, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in the U.S., was allowed to speak to the primates gathered at Canterbury Cathedral before the vote was taken to discipline the American church. He said the sanctions would be a painful blow to Episcopalians in the U.S.
"Our commitment to be an inclusive church is not based on a social theory or capitulation to the ways of the culture, but on our belief that the outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross are a sign of the very love of God reaching out to us all. While I understand that many disagree with us, our decision regarding marriage is based on the belief that the words of the Apostle Paul to the Galatians are true for the church today: All who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, for all are one in Christ," Curry said.
Curry called gays and lesbians in the American church "fellow disciples of Jesus" who have been rejected by family members and the community, so he said the church opened its doors as a "sign of hope."
"The pain [caused by the primate's decision] for many will be real. But God is greater than anything. I love Jesus and I love the church. I am a Christian in the Anglican way. And like you, as we have said in this meeting, I am committed to 'walking together' with you as fellow primates in the Anglican family," Curry said.
Curry's desire to "walk together," however, shouldn't be considered as a sign that the church will change its approach toward homosexuals and same-sex marriage, according to Jeff Walton, director of the ecumenical Institute for Religion and Democracy.
Walton said in a statement the decision of the primates to suspend the church was the equivalent of putting a child in "time out."
"But the goal of 'time out' is to change behavior, and the Episcopal Church has clearly spoken that it will not deviate from its chosen trajectory," Walton said. "There will be no formal schism, but primates will continue — as they have since 2003 — refusing to take the Holy Eucharist with their fellow bishops due to the 'impaired' or 'broken communion' between their provinces and the Episcopal Church."
"The primates who have taken this step have cited three reasons for doing so: the lack of reconciliation between the Episcopal Church and their provinces, obedience to Scripture, and the admonitions of the Book of Common Prayer. For them it's a question of faithfulness to Jesus Christ," Walton said.
Giles Fraser, a liberal parish priest in London, said he was "thoroughly ashamed to be an Anglican."
Fraser told the The Independent in London he was made aware of the primate's decision just after attending a same-sex marriage ceremony. He called the statement issued by the church leaders a "vanity project" that makes little difference in the way he plans to carry out his responsibilities.
He also said the "fearmongering that comes from certain parts of the Communion cannot destroy and should not be able to destroy the love that two people have for each other and the way people feel the need to express that love in marriage."
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Retired Bishop V. Gene Robinson, whose appointment by the Episcopal Church in 2003 led the denomination down the path toward accepting same-sex marriage, commented via social media, "God's judgment against those who include too many will be less harsh than the judgment against those who include too few. I'm just sayin.'"
Robinson married his longtime partner, but has since divorced.
Some conservatives among the primates initially wanted to include the Anglican Church of Canada in the suspension because of the church's leftward drift toward developing a rite of same-sex marriage, but the primates passed on the idea after Canadian Archbishop Fred Hiltz said his province had not yet adopted or been able to vote on any official policies or teachings about same-sex marriage.