Anglicans penalise U.S. church over gay marriage to avoid schism

U.S. Episcopal Church sanctioned for gay marriage support, formal schism averted but Anglicans remain deeply divided.

WASHINGTON, D.C., UNITED STATES (JANUARY 15, 2016) (REUTERS) – The Anglican Church slapped sanctions on its liberal U.S. branch on Friday (January 15) for supporting same-sex marriage, a move that averted a formal schism in the world’s third-largest Christian denomination but left deep divisions unresolved.

The Anglican communion, which counts some 85 million members in 165 countries, has been in crisis since 2003 because of arguments over sexuality and gender between liberal churches in the West and their conservative counterparts, mostly in Africa.

Following four days of closed-door talks, the heads of the world’s 38 Anglican provinces said the liberal U.S. Episcopal Church would be barred for three years from taking part in decision-making on doctrine or governance.

Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael Curry told his peers at the talks that he remained “committed to ‘walking together’ with you as fellow primates in the Anglican family”, but lamented their decision.

“It is disappointing and yet it is not the end of the road. It means that we have more work of love to do and that worker who is helping our story and the story of many faithful Christians who are part of our church who may be gay lesbian bisexual or transgendered. Helping their stories to be told and heard,” Curry said.

The sanctions also prevent the U.S. church from speaking on behalf of Anglicans on interfaith or ecumenical bodies and bar it from certain committees for three years.

There were widespread fears of a schism ahead of the talks, which were convened by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, the spiritual leader of Anglicans.

The slap on the wrist for the Episcopals appeared to satisfy no one, with gay and lesbian Anglicans expressing outrage while conservatives said the sanctions did not go far enough.

A conservative Anglican body the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON), which many think could form the basis of a breakaway communion in any schism, said it doubted the effectiveness of the sanctions because the Church had so far been “unable to guard biblical truth and restore godly order”.

The Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), which includes many conservatives who broke away from the Episcopal Church over its approach to marriage, said the sanctions were “a good step back in the right direction” but insufficient.

But at Canterbury Cathedral, the mother church of Anglicans where the talks took place, a group of about 40 angry gay and lesbian Anglicans from African countries demonstrated outside the cathedral shortly before his news conference.

They were bearing placards with slogans such as “Anglican Archbigots, shame on you” and “Homosexuality is African, homophobia is not”.

A Nigerian gay Anglican 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.