Leaders of the Anglican communion in Canterbury, England, have barred a liberal US branch from voting and decision-making for three years, for supporting gay marriage.
The decision came this week after years of deliberation. The US Episcopal Church supports same-sex marriage and ordained an openly gay bishop in 2003.
The Guardian reports:
But even Welby’s tantalising distraction that Anglicans may be ready to fix the date of Easter – something that has been hotly debated since the early church – cannot mask the message being sent out to the LGBT community: you are a problem, and we will establish our unity on the basis of your exclusion. Of course, the communique from the Anglican primates is full of various handwringing denials of their homophobia: they “affirm again that God’s love for every human being is the same, regardless of their sexuality, and that the church should never by its actions give any other impression”. Except, that is precisely the impression given. Those who have been celebrating the love that gay people can share in faithful relationships have been punished. And those who prefer to send homosexual people to prison have been rewarded by the exclusion of the American church.
So is the Anglican communion any longer worth the ecclesiastical candle? Its proponents talk of the need for all Christians to walk together. Their argument is couched in the touchy feely language of relationship. But this togetherness is now being maintained through the marginalisation – and still in many places – the outright persecution of gay Christians.
The Anglican communion was originally a byproduct of empire – perhaps its most lasting legacy. But never has it claimed this level of authority over the mother church in Canterbury. For most of the 20th century, and indeed since Henry VIII’s withdrawal from Rome, the official church in England has been nationally governed.
The idea that the Anglican communion sits above the Church of England is a relatively recent development and the invention of anti-gay conservatives who began to fear that they were losing their domestic majority on sexual ethics. Before the Church of England’s attempt to make the gay priest Jeffrey John a bishop in 2003, they had little interest in the wider Anglican communion. But by reinventing the English church as a constituent part of some worldwide community, they immediately re-established their anti-gay majority and halted the church’s movement towards gay bishops and equal marriage. It was an inventive piece of ecclesiastical boundary changing.
But the effect of this shift will be to further marginalise the English church on the home front and lead to greater pressure for disestablishment. For how can a national church maintain the various privileges of its institutional position when it is set at such a distance from the default moral perspective of the majority of the population in general. In a country where cabinet ministers can come out as gay with nothing but applause and respect, and where gay marriage is rapidly becoming normalised, the Church of England is shrinking into a sectarian corner.
The best thing about the Church of England, indeed a part of the reason for its very existence, was that is was a big tent in which many different theological views are given room to flourish. This live and let live philosophy is now being dismantled by those who want a more doctrinaire church that takes its theological lead from deeply reactionary archbishops in the global south. Among its many enemies, the Church of England has now given birth to another: the Anglican communion itself.
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