(CNN)The Episcopal Church, long the church of the establishment in the United States, has been punished by the international Anglican Communion over its acceptance of same-sex marriage.
The decision was made Thursday at a meeting in Canterbury, England, where leaders of the Anglican Communion’s 38 provinces are gathered. For three years, the Episcopal Church will not be allowed to participate in many of the communion’s internal decisions or represent Anglicans in meetings with Christians and other faith groups.
“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,” the Anglican archbishops said in a statement. The statement was hastily arranged after news of the decision was leaked to the media.
Traditional Anglican doctrine, continued the statement from the church leaders, “upholds marriage as between a man and a woman in faithful, lifelong union.”
Last June, Episcopalians voted to change their canons — church law — to allow same-sex marriage and adopted new wedding rites that can be used by straight or gay couples.
By doing so, the international archbishops said, the church contradicted Scripture, impaired the bonds among the provinces in the Anglican Communion and sowed mistrust among its members.
The church of U.S. presidents
Although it has congregations in Haiti and Europe, the Episcopal Church is largely known as the U.S. branch of the Anglican Communion, which dates back to the Church of England and its missionary activities in the 17th century. With nearly 85 million members, including 1.8 million in the United States, the communion is the third largest Christian body in the world, after the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church.
Though it has lost thousands of members in recent decades, the Episcopal Church was long considered religion’s upper crust in the United States, with landmark sanctuaries such as the National Cathedral in Washington and St. John the Divine in New York City. Eleven U.S. presidents, including George Washington and George H.W. Bush, have been Episcopalian, more than any other American faith.
But Episcopalians have long battled more conservative Anglicans, particularly those from Africa, who hold more literal views on the Bible’s sexual ethics. Speculation that the Anglican Communion is on the brink of schism has simmered since the Episcopal Church elected an openly gay bishop in 2003.