Under pressure from right-wing African archbishops, the Anglican Church, led by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, has punished the US Episcopal Church for allowing same-sex marriages and ordaining out gay bishops. Welby’s action, barring US representatives from sitting on key bodies and voting on matters of doctrine at international gatherings of the Anglican Communion for three years, came in response to threats from anti-gay critics in the Church that they would bolt from a January 15 meeting of its worldwide leaders.
The vote was 27-3, with six abstentions.
Welby apologized for the “hurt and pain” the move would cause to LGBT people, but it was the African bishops that he sided with. He said that while the national churches have a great deal of autonomy, they are obligated to adhere to a common doctrine.
American Church unrepentant; Canada, Scotland may follow soon
“If you simply ignore that, there will be consequences,” he said.
While the move is not expected to dissuade the US and other liberal national churches from their pro-gay positions, it has sparked outrage from LGBT Anglicans and their supporters even as it has not fully mollified conservatives who make up the bulk of Church’s 85 million members, only 1.2 million of whom are American.
Chris Bryant, a prominent out gay Labour member of Parliament, tweeted, “I’ve finally given up on Anglican church today after its love-empty decision on sexuality. One day it will seem wrong as supporting slavery.”
A group of 50 gay protesters — mostly refugees from African countries that have adopted virulent anti-gay laws — picketed at Canterbury chanting, “African, gay, Christian, and proud — Get over it!”
Edwin Sesange, a gay Ugandan and director of the African LGBTI organization Out & Proud Diamond Group, said, “We asked the primates to listen to our voices of suffering. They ignored us and have punished our friends and allies in the US Episcopal Church. The Anglican Communion has turned its back on LGBTI people, defending homophobic discrimination and exclusion. As African people, we feel threatened and menaced by the Anglican Communion.”
Peter Tatchell, an organizer of the demonstration, said the exclusion of LGBTI voices from the bishops’ deliberations was “not a Christian response to our appeal for dialogue and inclusion.”
A parliamentary petition has been started to remove Anglican bishops from the House of Lords for “being out of step with UK law and indeed common humanity.” Prior to the meeting, more than 100 senior members of the Church of England signed a letter to the archbishops calling for “repentance for accepting and promoting discrimination on the grounds of sexuality.”
Michael Curry, the presiding bishop of the US Church, said that while he was “disappointed” with the outcome, “it may be part of our vocation to help the Communion and to help many others to grow in a direction where we can realize and live the love that God has for all of us, and we can one day be a Church and a Communion where all of God’s children are fully welcomed.”
Andrew M.L. Dietsche, the bishop of New York, wrote to his members, “Our communion is intact” and that “this vote will not impair or diminish the commitment of the Diocese of New York to continue our own mission relationships” around the world. He said that LGBT members should not fear that the Anglican rebuke “will ever cause for this bishop or diocese a scrap of regret for the decisions made here to provide for all people, particularly for gay and lesbian people, the fullest possible inclusion in our common life and full access to the sacramental life of the church, notably the sacraments of marriage and ordination.”
The Canadian and Scottish Anglican Churches are poised to open marriage to same-sex couples in multi-year processes, and there was no sign that they would be deterred now.
Welby was kicking the can down the road with this move, hoping against hope that the US Church will reconsider during its time sitting in the corner. He has delayed the worldwide decennial Lambeth Conference that was set for 2018 to 2020. US Episcopalians are hoping that the rest of the Church will open its eyes to the dignity of gay people by then.
Integrity USA, the LGBT Episcopalian group, cited Jesus in a statement: “It was clear that He abhorred relationships that were based on coercion, abuse, or exploitation. Unfortunately, we see glimpses of such in the statement of the Primates and the actions proposed.”
Father Glenn Chalmers, out gay rector of Holy Apostles Episcopal Church in Chelsea, home to both the largest soup kitchen in the city and the LGBT synagogue Congregation Beit Simchat Torah that meets there Fridays, said he was “greatly disappointed” by the “slap” at his church and the negative message it sends, but “not surprised.” He expects the US Church to hold firm in its full embrace of gay people. “We’re not centralized like Rome,” he said.
“We continue to keep our doors open to all,” he said and estimates that more than half the congregation, which is growing, is LGBT. Reverend Ellen Barrett, the first out lesbian priest in the denomination, was ordained there in 1977 by Bishop Paul Moore, causing an earlier uproar.
Robert Galloway, a gay Episcopalian at New York’s Church of the Incarnation, wrote in an email, “Actually, the controversy only renews my dedication to a church that is risking so much on behalf of its GLBTI members.” He hopes the other national churches “will learn from the Episcopal Church to hear and cherish the witness of their own GLBTI members.”