An Episcopal diocese in central California voted Saturday to split with the national denomination over disagreements about the role of gays and lesbians in the church. Clergy and lay members of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin voted 173-22 at their annual convention to remove all references to the national church from the diocese's constitution, according to spokeswoman Joan Gladstone.
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. The diocese, in a later vote, accepted an invitation to join a conservative South American congregation of the Worldwide Anglican Communion [the Anglican Church of the Southern Cone of America]. The Episcopal Church is the U.S. member of the global Anglican Communion.
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 head of the U.S. denomination had warned Bishop John-David Schofield of the Fresno-based diocese against secession. "I do not intend to threaten you, only to urge you to reconsider and draw back from this trajectory," Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, head of the U.S. denomination, wrote in a letter to Schofield earlier this week.
Schofield responded that the Episcopal Church "has isolated itself from the overwhelming majority of Christendom and more specifically from the Anglican Communion by denying Biblical truth and walking apart from the historic Faith and Order." The Fresno diocese has explored breaking ties with the American 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 moved the 77 million-member communion toward the brink of schism.
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