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Anglicans penalise US church over gay marriage to avoid schism

By Reuters | January 15th 2016

The Anglican Church has slapped sanctions on its liberal U.S. branch for supporting same-sex marriage, a move that averted a formal schism in the world's third largest Christian denomination but left deep divisions unresolved.

The Anglican communion, which counts some 85 million members in 165 countries, has been in crisis since 2003 because of arguments over sexuality and gender between liberal churches in the West and their conservative counterparts, mostly in Africa.

Following four days of closed-door talks, the heads of the world's 38 Anglican provinces said the liberal U.S. Episcopal Church would be barred for three years from taking part in decision-making on doctrine or governance.

Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry said on a church website that the decision would "bring real pain" but told fellow bishops he was "committed to 'walking together' with you as fellow primates in the Anglican family".

Ahead of the talks, convened by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, the spiritual leader of Anglicans, some African primates had threatened to walk out unless "godly order" was restored, and there were widespread fears of a formal schism.

That was averted by the formal slap on the wrist for the liberal Americans, but early reaction suggested deep divisions remained and would continue to disrupt the communion.

Peter Jensen, the conservative former archbishop of Sydney, called the primates' statement "inadequate" for not reaffirming traditional Christian teachings on marriage strongly enough. He did, however, approve of the sanctions.

"This represents something of a warning to liberal-thinking Christians," Jensen told BBC Radio 4. "They need to repent and turn back from this to what the Bible says."


At the other end of the spectrum, Alan Wilson, the bishop of Buckingham in England, said the primates' statement was "a triumph for ecclesiastical politics and diplomacy" but the people at the heart of the issue had been forgotten.

"The unity of the church includes LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transexual) people," he told BBC Radio 4, evoking people all over the world who face discrimination, injustice, persecution and violence.

The sanctions against the U.S. church prevent it from speaking on behalf of Anglicans on interfaith or ecumenical bodies and bar it from certain internal committees for a period of three years.

The statement from the primates said the Episcopal Church had caused deep pain and worsened mistrust within the communion by changing its canon on marriage to include same-sex couples.

"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 majority of those gathered reaffirm this teaching," said the primates.

Other areas of disagreement include the ordination of women and of openly gay men as priests and bishops by the more liberal churches, which conservatives regard as contrary to scripture and morally wrong.

Anglicans are the world's third-largest Christian denomination after the Roman Catholics and the Orthodox.

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