Episcopal Diocese Votes to Secede

By Jordan Robertson
Associated Press
Sunday, December 9, 2007

SAN FRANCISCO, Dec. 8 -- An Episcopal diocese in central California voted Saturday to split with the national denomination over disagreements about the role of gay men and lesbians in the church.

Clergy and lay members of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin voted 173 to 22 at their annual convention to remove all references to the U.S. church from the diocese's constitution, said the Rev. Van McCalister, a diocesan spokesman.

The diocese, in a later vote, accepted an invitation to join the Anglican Church of the Southern Cone, a conservative South American congregation of the worldwide Anglican Communion. The Episcopal Church is the U.S. member of the global Anglican Communion.

The Episcopal Church's presiding bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, said she was saddened by the action.

"We deeply regret their unwillingness or inability to live within the historical Anglican understanding of comprehensiveness," she said in a statement. "We wish them to know of our prayers for them and their journey. The Episcopal Church will continue in the Diocese of San Joaquin, albeit with new leadership."

The Fresno-based congregation is the first full diocese to secede because of a conservative-liberal rift that began decades ago and is now focused on whether the Bible condemns gay relationships.

"We have leadership in the Episcopal Church that has drastically and radically changed directions," McCalister said. "They have pulled the rug out from under us. They've started teaching something very different, something very new and novel, and it's impossible for us to follow a leadership that has so drastically reinvented itself."

The decision is almost certain to spark a court fight over control of the diocese's multimillion-dollar real estate holdings and other assets.

The Fresno diocese had explored breaking ties with the U.S. church since 2003, when Episcopalians consecrated the church's first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. The resulting uproar throughout the world Anglican fellowship has split the 77 million-member communion.

Christian advocates for accepting gay relationships, including Jefferts Schori, say they are guided by biblical teachings on social justice and tolerance. But Bishop John-David Schofield and other conservatives believe Scripture bars same-sex relationships.

San Joaquin is one of three Episcopal dioceses that will not ordain women. Last year the Episcopal Church elected Jefferts Schori as its first woman primate.

About 55 conservative Episcopal parishes have split from the church in the last few years and some have affiliated directly with Anglican provinces overseas, according to national church statistics.

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