Leaders representing 88 million Anglicans have decided to suspend the U.S.-based, theologically liberal Episcopal Church for its pro-gay marriage position.
At a meeting of Anglican Primates hosted by the Archbishop of Canterbury, leaders representing the worldwide body announced Thursday that they were suspending The Episcopal Church.
"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," stated the Primates.
"Recent developments in The Episcopal Church with respect to a change in their Canon on marriage represent a fundamental departure from the faith and teaching held by the majority of our Provinces on the doctrine of marriage. Possible developments in other Provinces could further exacerbate this situation."
The Primates also stated that while it is their "unanimous desire to walk together" with all national churches within the Communion, The Episcopal Church will be suspended for their distance from traditional teaching on homosexuality.
"We formally acknowledge this distance by requiring that for a period of three years The Episcopal Church no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity," continued the Primates.
Over the past several years, the Anglican Communion has been experiencing intense internal debate between theologically conservative and theologically liberal factions.
A major point of contention has been the U.S.-based Episcopal Church's increasing acceptance of homosexuality, including the 2003 ordination of openly gay bishop Gene Robinson.
Last September, Archbishop Justin Welby announced that he was going to call together a meeting of all primates of the Communion to resolve the possibly schismatic differences.
"I have suggested to all Primates that we need to consider recent developments but also look afresh at our ways of working as a Communion and especially as Primates, paying proper attention to developments in the past," stated Welby.
"The difference between our societies and cultures, as well as the speed of cultural change in much of the global north, tempts us to divide as Christians: when the command of Scripture, the prayer of Jesus, the tradition of the Church and our theological understanding urges unity. A 21st-century Anglican family must have space for deep disagreement, and even mutual criticism, so long as we are faithful to the revelation of Jesus Christ, together."
According to the conservative publication Anglican Ink, an effort had been made to also suspend the theologically liberal Anglican Church of Canada.
"Canadian Archbishop Fred Hiltz told the gathering his church had yet to adopt provincial-wide rites for same-sex marriage. It would come before the next meeting of General Synod, he explained, but had not been settled," noted George Conger of Anglican Ink.
"Archbishop Hiltz's explanation appears to have satisfied the group as a whole as the motion proposed and its accompanying debate focused on the Episcopal Church."