The Anglican Communion voted to censure its American branch, the Episcopal Church, during a meeting in Canterbury, England, called to reflect on the future of the communion.
The vote on January 14 to suspend the Episcopal Church from voting and decision-making for a period of three years was reported by Anglican Ink. The vote passed by a two-thirds margin, according to the publication, which is based in Milford, Conn., and included prominent voices among African bishops who have loudly condemned the American church for its liberal stance on gays.
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these matters we formally acknowledge this distance by requiring that for a period of three years The Episcopal Church no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies .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.”
“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 statement also notes. “The majority of those gathered reaffirm this teaching.”
The Anglican Communion consists of 44 member churches from around the world representing about 85 million Christians.
The three-year term of the suspension is the amount of time until the next denomination-wide meeting of the Episcopal Church, when it will vote on a response, though other church groups could respond sooner.
Jeffrey Walton, the Anglican program director at the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C., said the suspension of the Episcopal Church is significant but does not, at this point, represent a schism, or irreparable rupture, within the Anglican Communion.
“This is not kicking the Episcopal Church out of the Anglican Communion, but it is saying that by making these decisions for the past 12 or so years the Episcopal Church has created this distance and there will be consequences to those decisions.”
Other Anglican experts were mystified at the Anglican Communion’s statement, which consisted of eight brief points.
Jim Naughton, former canon for the Archdiocese of Washington, called the sanctions a “weird” attempt by the primates to take power away from elected bodies and claim it for themselves.
But Naughton expects no impact in the life of the Episcopal Church. “We can accept these actions with grace and humility but the Episcopal Church is not going back,” Naughton said. “We can’t repent what is not sin.”
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.