The Episcopal Church formally embraces gay marriage
Less than a week after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage, the Episcopal Church formally amended its canons and liturgy so that two people of the same sex can marry in the denomination’s churches. Yesterday’s decision in Salt Lake City completes a decade-long trajectory towards the mainstreaming of homosexuality in the mainline denomination and raises further questions about the health of the worldwide Anglican communion.
Wednesday’s votes were hardly close. Episcopal deputies voted 184-23 in favor of the new marriage liturgy and 173-27 in favor of redefining marriage, according to the Deseret News. Because the Episcopal House of Bishops voted similarly earlier this week, Episcopal marriage is now between two people, not a man and a woman.
George Conger, an Episcopal priest who writes on denominational issues, wrote in the Washington Post that conservative bishops expressed their gratitude to the majority for concessions given to the minority view. Specifically, bishops can prohibit same-sex weddings in their dioceses, and individual priests can refuse to participate in such ceremonies without censure. Conversely, clergy who flout an individual bishop’s prohibition against gay marriage can be punished for disobedience.
The Episcopal Church’s ever-increasing acceptance of homosexuality has frustrated many in the worldwide Anglican communion for some time. The Episcopal Church’s consecration of a practicing homosexual, Gene Robinson, as bishop of New Hampshire in 2003 forced Anglicans to address this and other issues. In 2008, Anglican leaders from around the world gathered in Jerusalem at the first Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON), just weeks before that summer’s Lambeth Conference, the official Anglican gathering held once every 10 years. GAFCON primates—the Anglican archbishops and chief bishops at the conference—promoted the creation of an alternative Anglican body, which eventually became the Anglican Church in North America, or ACNA.
This week’s decision festers a wound in the Anglican communion centered around the United States. Two rival denominations now claim to be the authentic representatives of Anglicanism in America. With the support of GAFCON primates, ACNA claims the support of—and formal recognition by—leaders representing 70 percent of active Anglicans worldwide. ACNA believes “the Episcopal Church in the United States and the Anglican Church of Canada have increasingly accommodated and incorporated un-Biblical, un-Anglican practices and teaching.”
“ACNA is a separate church,” he told the Church of Ireland Gazette late last year. “It’s not part of the Anglican communion.”
But after this week, it’s the ACNA and not The Episcopal Church that formally shares the archbishop’s own views on same-sex marriage. As a member of the British House of Lords, Welby voted against the legalization of gay marriage. In fact, The Episcopal Church made its decision this week in the face of the archbishop’s own concern.
“While recognizing the prerogative of The Episcopal Church to address issues appropriate to its own context, its decision will cause distress for some and have ramifications for the Anglican Communion as a whole, as well as for its ecumenical and interfaith relationships,” Welby said in a formal statement.
Commenting from the convention in Salt Lake City, Jeffrey Walton, Anglican program director for the Institute for Religion and Democracy, offered a similar assessment.
“The vast majority of global Christians affirm traditional marriage,” Walton said. “Unsurprisingly, there are no bishops in an official capacity from the Church of England here at General Convention, let alone from Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox churches.”
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