In an unprecedented move, the top-ranking bishops of the Anglican Communion (called primates) have asked the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada to dismiss themselves from a key Anglican body until the next Lambeth Conference in 2008.

The primates asked the Episcopal Church to explain why it consecrated an openly gay bishop, and asked both churches to explain why they allow pastoral blessings for gay couples. They have asked that the Episcopal Church not approve more openly gay bishops without a broader consensus in the Anglican Communion, and that both churches refrain from blessing gay couples.

Archbishop Andrew Hutchison of the Anglican Church of Canada suggested that his church might not withdraw its three representatives from the Anglican Consultative Council, which meets in June in Nottingham, England. The Episcopal Church's House of Bishops has deferred to the church's national board, the Executive Council, which planned to hold a special meeting April 13.

The U.S. House of Bishops has imposed a moratorium on consenting to the election of any new bishops before the next General Convention. The convention meets in June 2006.

"I think the primates proposed something that would have fallen disproportionately on the backs of gay and lesbian people," Bishop Gene Robinson told CT. "I sensed no stomach in the House of Bishops to do that."

The bishops also said they would not authorize official rites for blessing gay couples—something only a General Convention can do. But some bishops said they would not forbid priests from performing such blessings.

U.S. conservatives were critical of the bishops' actions, which they said defied the primates. "The bishops' statement didn't do what the primates asked them to do," said Kendall Harmon, canon theologian in the Diocese of South Carolina. "These are apostolic leaders acting like lawyers."

Related Elsewhere:

A collection of all Christianity Today's coverage of the Anglican Communion is available on our website, including:

Canterbury Crackup | Eschewing church discipline has come back to haunt Anglicans. (Dec. 03, 2004)
In Anglican Report, There's Something for Everyone, Once Again | But can Via Media approach continue to keep the churches together? (Feb. 28, 2005)
Anglicans Sanction Episcopalians Over Gay Bishop, Gay Unions | U.S. and Canada churches asked to "voluntarily withdraw" from panel. (Feb. 28, 2005)
Conservative Anglicans Elated and Cautious | Withdrawal request welcomed, but some wish statement had been stronger. (Feb. 28, 2005)
Advice Rejected | Lambeth Commission report leaves church in disarray. (Nov. 10, 2004)
'African Church Has Come of Age,' Say African Anglican Bishops | It now faces the dual threat of Western heresy and militant Islam. (Oct. 27, 2004)
N.T. Wright: Anglican Report Is 'Fireproofing the House' | Top theologian on Lambeth Commission talks about what happened behind the scenes, whether the report should have been tougher, and why it's critical of some conservative bishops. (Oct. 21, 2004)
Windsor Report Leaves Conservative Episcopalians Hopping Mad | Conservative network leader: "The disease of the U.S. church has found its way into this report." (Oct. 19, 2004)
Stronger Action Needed, Say Global Anglican Leaders | "The primates will add teeth" to Windsor Report, conservatives predict, hope. (Oct. 19, 2004)
Disappointed Anglican Conservatives Mull Options, Threaten Revolt | Americans must belong to Episcopal Church, report says. (Oct. 19, 2004)
Report Rebukes Episcopalians for Disunity but Declines Sanctions | U.S. church in limbo as conservative dissidents mull their options. (Oct. 18, 2004)
Weblog: Anglican Report Treats Conservatives Harsher than Liberals | News, predictions that commission would sanction Episcopal Church were greatly exaggerated. (Oct. 18, 2004)

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