JONATHAN MERRITT JAN 18, 2016 POLITICS
For the worldwide Anglican Communion, the world’s largest Protestant denomination, sexuality has become a line in the sand.
The Episcopal Church, Anglicanism’s American branch, was suspended on Thursday for three years for its willingness to consecrate same-sex marriages. But the punishment is not expected to dissuade Episcopalian leaders. As Jim Naughton, a communications consultant for the Episcopal Church said, “We can accept these actions with grace and humility but the Episcopal Church is not going back. We can’t repent what is not sin.”
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But the denomination’s decision should not be interpreted as a theologically orthodox parent lovingly disciplining its rebellious child. Beneath the Anglican Communion’s actions against the Episcopal Church lies selective outrage, with the Episcopal Church being punished for its attempt to interpret doctrine, while unambiguous sins of other leaders have gone unaddressed.
The Episcopal Church has been embroiled in controversy over LGBT issues since at least the mid-1970s, when it declared that gay men and lesbians “have a full and equal claim with all other persons upon the love, acceptance, and pastoral concern and care of the Church.” It later moved to accept the ordination of LGBT clergy, even consecrating Gene Robinson as its first openly gay bishop in 2003.
During this same period, the Episcopal Church began bleeding worshippers—losing half its membership since 1966—with donations falling alongside. While some vibrant Anglican congregations began sprouting across America in recent years, many have chosen to sidestep the Episcopal Church and align with foreign bishops instead. The Episcopal Church has become a mangled mess of a denomination, divided among itself and drifting rapidly from its global compatriots.
The final collision came last year when the Episcopal Church decided to officially bless same-sex marriages. For its more conservative leaders, this was a bridge too far.
The Episcopal Church is being punished for its sincere attempt to interpret doctrine, while sins of other leaders have gone unaddressed.
So the vote to suspend the Anglican Communion’s U.S. arm on Thursday is only somewhat surprising. Many have predicted that some kind of schism is inevitable. But the way in which the vote occurred is deeply troubling. It passed by a two-thirds majority and “included prominent voices among African bishops who have loudly condemned the American church for its liberal stance on gays.”
Africa is a continent that is regressive, even oppressive, in its treatment of LGBT persons. In approximately 70 countries, including 34 in Africa, gays and lesbians can be imprisoned for years or even receive life sentences. In Nigeria, it is illegal for LGBT people to hold meetings or form clubs. In countries like Somalia, they can be executed by the state under Sharia law. In Mauritania, men convicted of homosexual acts can be stoned to death. In Angola, cross-dressing will earn you jail time. And famously, Uganda offers life sentences for those convicted of “aggravated homosexuality,” whatever that means. An earlier version of their anti-gay bill allowed for the death penalty.
Anglicans maintain strong presences in many of these countries, and Christian religious leaders, including Anglicans, have supported the oppressive treatment of gays and lesbians there. Uganda’s anti-gay law, for example, was backed by its Anglican Church. Such laws are wildly out of step with any ethical code bearing the label “Christian.”
This excellent article by Jonathan Merritt fairly accurately summarises the situation in the Anglican Communion vis-a-vis the cause and effects of its progressive Provinces, especially TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada, moving forward on issuies of gender and sexuality – a situation that has aroused the ire of the more conservative Provinces of the Communion mostly in the ‘Global South’ but especially in the African Provinces, of the Gafcon sodality, which have formed themselves into a new society ruled by their own Statement of Faith in the ‘Jerusalem Declaration’, binding them together, as an alternative to the commonly observed ‘Instruments of Unity’ under the provenance of the ‘Lambeth Quadrilateral’.
There is just one point that Jonathan’s article did not fully explain, and that is that TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada have not actually been ‘suspended’ from the Communion. What has actually happened is that the Primates Meeting (which has no juridical power to ‘suspend’ the membership of any of the Provinces) has suggested that the two official Provinces of the Anglican Church in North America (TEC and the A.C. in Canada) resile from participation in any official executive meetings of the Communion for a period of three years. This does not mean suspension from the Communion, only a request to resile from executive activity at the Communion level.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand