Sanctions Loom for Scottish Episcopal Church's Pro-Gay Marriage Vote as Anglicans Set for Meeting

(Photo: Reuters/Toby Melville)The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby (L) speaks with protestors in the grounds of Canterbury Cathedral in Canterbury, southern Britain January 15, 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.

The Scottish Episcopal Church is set to face consequences for its decision to approve gay marriage back in June, with leaders of the global Anglican communion set for a major meeting next week.

The Guardian reported on Wednesday that the Scottish Episcopal Church is to face de facto sanctions, along the same lines as the measures imposed on the U.S. Episcopal Church in January 2016 for its own backing of gay marriage.

The consequences from splitting from the Anglican position, which defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman, could include "a bar on membership of representational bodies and an exclusion from decisions on policy."

Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon, the secretary general of the Anglican communion, said back in June following the Scottish vote that it would be discussed at the primate's meeting in October.

"There are differing views about same-sex marriage within the Anglican communion, but this puts the Scottish Episcopal Church at odds with the majority stance that marriage is the lifelong union of a man and a woman. This is a departure from the faith and teaching upheld by the overwhelming majority of Anglican provinces on the doctrine of marriage," Idowu-Fearon declared.

The change to canon law on marriage by the Scottish Episcopal Church was agreed on by the required two-thirds majority in each section of the synod — the bishops, clergy and laity. It decided to remove language stating that marriage is a "physical, spiritual and mystical union of one man and one woman."

The Most Rev. David Chillingworth, bishop of St. Andrews, Dunkeld and Dunblane and Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, who has since retired from the role, said at the time: "This is a momentous step. By removing gender from our marriage canon, our Church now affirms that a same sex couple are not just married but are married in the sight of God."

When deciding to suspend the U.S. Episcopal Church back in January 2016, the primates insisted that the majority of Anglican leaders back the definition of marriage "as between a man and a woman in faithful, lifelong union."

They described the Episcopal Church's position in regard to embracing gay marriage as a "fundamental departure from the faith and teaching held by the majority of our provinces on the doctrine of marriage."

As The Guardian noted, the latest primates meeting comes at a time of uncertainty in the Anglican communion, with 39 primates deciding to boycott the gathering.

Some, such as Archbishops Nicholas Okoh of Nigeria, Stanley Ntagali of Uganda and Onesphore Rwaje of Rwanda, have accused the Anglican communion of failing to stand firm in its defense of marriage.

Okoh has said that orthodox primates are "frustrated" that "false teaching" is "not being corrected."

The Scottish Episcopal Church meanwhile said that it's preparing for next week's meeting through prayer.

The Most Rev. Mark Strange, Bishop of Moray, Ross & Caithness and the new primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, who will be attending the primates meeting, said in a message: "At the meeting, there will be many issues and points of debate, some which may be more difficult than others. I am therefore asking if our congregations and churches across Scotland would engage in an act of prayer alongside me in the days leading up to my journey South."

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