Anglicans Step Back From the Brink, Suspend Episcopal Church for 3 Years

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby (photo: Photo: Foreign and Commonwealth Office, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

The primates of the Anglican Communion have suspended the Episcopal Church from full participation for three years following their unilateral decision last year to authorize same-sex “marriages”.

In a statement released this evening, the primates said the “recent developments” in the American branch of the Anglican Communion “represent a fundamental departure from the faith and teaching” held by the majority of the 38 provinces of the ecclesial community.

It also warned that “possible developments” in some of the other provinces “could further exacerbate this situation.”

Instead, the primates chose to uphold “the traditional doctrine of the church in view of the teaching of Scripture,” re-stating that marriage is “between a man and a woman in faithful, lifelong union” and that “the majority of those gathered reaffirm this teaching.”

The Episcopal Church had already caused deep division and pain within the Anglican Communion when it made an actively homosexual man a bishop in 2003.

The primates said today that their latest decision has “caused further deep pain throughout our Communion.”

They specified the Episcopal Church will no longer represent the Anglican Communion on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, and have no decision-making powers on “doctrine or polity.”

Observers warned that this week’s meeting in Canterbury, England, could have resulted in the Anglican Communion going into formal schism, with largely African and Asian primates opposed to greater acceptance of homosexual lifestyles and same-sex “marriage”, and a minority of largely Western primates who were in favor of the opposite.

Today’s statement said the agreement demonstrates the “commitment of all the primates to continue the life of the Communion with neither victor nor vanquished.”

The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity will be relieved by the development as it believes effective dialogue can only be possible with Anglicans if they remain as one body. 

The proceedings may have been helped by the Vatican sending some important relics of British Christianity to be displayed in Canterbury Cathedral during the crucial summit.

But the tensions are likely to continue as they reflect deeper differences not only among Anglicans but across all Christian denominations between modernists whose faith is faltering but who do not wish to lose their Christian culture and identity, and those Christians wishing to adhere to established doctrine, scripture and tradition.  

Read the full text of the Anglican statement.