The Anglican Communion—the body that represents all Anglican churches worldwide—has always been known for its troubling anti-LGBT sentiments, but a decision it took recently makes them a whole new level of homophobic.
Last Thursday, it decided to suspend its U.S. affiliate, the Episcopal Church, for a three-year period because it allows its priests to marry same-sex couples, and dealt a significant blow to LGBTQ Christians. The vote was reached when the leaders of Anglican denominations from around the world gathered for a summit in Canterbury, England, and nearly led to a schism in the Communion over the issue. A conservative bloc known as the Global Anglican Future — or GAFCON — was threatening to walk out of the meeting if the Episcopal Church was not reprimanded for allowing same-sex marriage, while another bloc, supported by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby pledged their allegiance to the Episcopal Church. However, accusing the Episcopal Church of “a fundamental departure” from the “majority of our Provinces on the doctrine of marriage“, the conservative Bishops ultimately prevailed in carrying out this upsetting decision.
As a result of this suspension, the Episcopal Church will no longer have a vote in church bodies and will not be able to represent the Communion in ecumenical church congregations worldwide.
The debate over the acceptance of same-sex relationships has always polarized the Anglican Communion, and the US Episcopal church, despite accounting for a relatively small denomination of Americans, has always been in the positive side of the debate. In the wake of this suspension, Michael B Curry, the current presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church said to a news daily: “Our commitment to be an inclusive church is not based on a social theory or capitulation to the ways of the culture, but on our belief that the outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross are a sign of the very love of God reaching out to us all. While I understand that many disagree with us, our decision regarding marriage is based on the belief that the words of the Apostle Paul to the Galatians are true for the church today: All who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, for all are one in Christ.”
And really, why should LGBTQ Christians and their will to marry someone of the same sex be treated differently from any other Christian wanting to get married? This just goes on to show that despite recent encouraging reforms such as the SCOTUS ruling legalizing same-sex marriage in all 50 US states, the dark reality of anti-gay prejudice is still disturbingly deep-rooted. The vote not only heightens the stigma against gay people in Anglican churches, but also puts the LGBT population in danger of further persecution—both religious and otherwise.
Predictably, there has been huge backlash from LGBTQ and liberal Christians globally surrounding this vote. Though the Archbishop of Canterbury, at a press conference on Friday, apologized for the “hurt and pain” this decision has caused to LGBTQ Christians, his stance against the vote was not strong enough. He tried to rationalize the suspension by saying that the Communion was a “global church” and, while the UK and US supported gay marriage, other countries didn’t—which was a glaringly problematic statement. Unsurprisingly, while this press conference was going on, dozens of gay rights activists, many of them immigrants and refugees from African countries, descended on Canterbury Cathedral in protest, chanting slogans such as “Shame on you“, “Anglicans! Repent your homophobia” and “Homosexuality is godly. Homophobia is not“.
Tracey Byrne, the head of the Lesbian & Gay Christian Movement, said that the Anglican Communion’s intervention represents a “phoney unity, which is the result of chucking LGBT people under a bus – again”. Byrne also expressed her displeasure over the Archbishop’s comments, accusing him of prioritising church unity over preserving the basic human rights of LGBTQ individuals. This will lead to an increased prejudice against gay people, and might lead more countries to further criminalize homosexuality and persecute and endanger the lives of LGBTQ people. “This condemns LGBT people to another 3, 5, 10 years of being ‘the problem’, and during that time church attendances are going to continue to plummet,” Byrne continued, “LGBT people in Africa are being put in danger by this. People are going to be harmed.“