Gay Issue Roils Conservative Episcopalians

Conservative Episcopalians overwhelmingly backed a declaration Thursday that repudiates their denomination for becoming more accepting of gays and calls on a meeting of world Anglican leaders "to intervene in the Episcopal Church."

By confirming the election of an openly gay bishop this summer and acknowledging that some bishops are allowing blessings of same-sex unions (search), the denomination's General Convention has "broken fellowship with the larger body of Christ," the statement said.

The declaration also demands that the leadership of the Episcopal Church (search) "repent of and reverse the unbiblical and schismatic" actions.

It asks Anglican leaders to discipline Episcopal bishops who "have departed from biblical faith and order" and "guide the realignment of Anglicanism in North America." The Episcopal Church is the U.S. branch of the worldwide Anglican Communion (search).

The statement was approved on the last day of an emotional gathering of about 2,700 Episcopal conservatives upset about the church's latest actions. Those who agreed with the statement were asked to stand -- virtually everyone did.

The possibility of a schism between the conservatives, who admit they're a minority in the U.S. denomination, and the rest of the church is looming ahead of an Anglican leaders' meeting next week in London.

The primates of the Anglican Communion's 38 branches will discuss the American split and a similar dispute in Canada over homosexuality. The majority of the world's Anglican leaders favor the conservative position that there is a biblical prohibition on gay sex.

Diane Knippers, a layperson from Fairfax, Va., said the meeting's message to Anglican leaders was that "we are begging you to act quickly and decisvely."

Frank Griswold, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, responded with a statement Thursday reaching out to conservatives.

"Regardless of what has been said or concluded, those gathered in Dallas are our brothers and sisters in Christ," Griswold wrote. "We must take seriously their grief and anger and seek as best we can to stand with them."

But he also expressed concern about inflammatory rhetoric. "In such a climate, mutual pursuit of ways to build up rather than tear down is made more difficult," he said.

The conservatives' statement also asks "orthodox bishops" to take like-mined congregations under their care -- even if that means crossing diocesan boundaries. Such a move would be sure to anger the local Episcopal bishop.

The statement also says conservative Episcopalians should redirect their financial giving "to the fullest extent possible" toward conservative ministries and away from the national denomination and other agencies that support its policies.

After approving the declaration, people at the conference were asked to sign their copies of the document, which were then collected.