NEW YORK (AP) - Three theologically conservative Episcopal
dioceses will soon vote whether to secede from the liberal church
in a dispute over how they should interpret what the Bible says on
many issues, including homosexuality.
In 2006, the Diocese of San Joaquin based in Fresno, California,
became the first to break away. The Diocese of Pittsburgh plan to
vote on secession during a meeting tomorrow. Dioceses in Fort Worth
and Quincy, Illinois, are set to cast ballots on withdrawing next
At stake is church unity, tens of millions of dollars in
Episcopal assets and the shape of Episcopal relations with the rest
of the world Anglican Communion.
The 77 million-member fellowship, which includes the Episcopal
Church, has roots in the missionary work of the Church of England.
Most overseas Anglicans believe Scripture bars gay relationships,
and some Anglican leaders have intervened in the U.S. on behalf of
Here are the key issues behind the votes:
Q: Why are Episcopal dioceses considering secession?
A: Episcopalians have been divided for decades over what
Scripture says on many topics, including salvation through Jesus,
Christ's resurrection and gay relationships. But the rift broke
wide open in 2003 when the Episcopal Church consecrated the first
openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. Some
Episcopal conservatives said they could no longer remain with the
Q: What happens when a diocese secedes?
A: The breakaway Diocese of San Joaquin has affiliated with the
conservative Anglican Province of the Southern Cone, based in
Argentina, in an effort to remain Anglican. Other seceding dioceses
could do the same.
Q: What happens to parishioners who want to stay with the
A: In San Joaquin, parishioners aided by the national
denomination elected a new Episcopal bishop to reorganize the
Episcopal diocese alongside the breakaway diocese. The national
church meanwhile sued the breakaway diocese for control over
millions of dollars in parish assets. In Pittsburgh, parishioners
opposed to secession have spent years planning how they can
reorganize their diocese and parishes, and maintain service
programs, in the case of a split.
Q: Is the entire Episcopal Church coming apart?
A: No. Most of the 2.2 million Episcopalians don't consider
their theological differences cause to leave the church. Although
the exact figure is in dispute, Episcopal leaders say that less
than 100 of their more than 7,000 parishes have voted to split off
since Robinson was elected. Still, it's a significant blow when
even one of the 110 dioceses walks away and tries to take church
assets along. Secessions can lead to complex, costly legal fights.
Q: Are other denominations facing similar conflicts?
A: Yes. Several mainline Protestant groups, including
Presbyterians, Methodists and Lutherans, have also wrestled for
decades with how they should interpret the Bible and whether they
should accept same-sex partnerships. Leaders of those denominations
are monitoring the Episcopal situation for any lessons on how they
can handle their own differences.
On the Net:
Episcopal Church: http://www.episcopalchurch.org/
Diocese of Pittsburgh: http://www.pitanglican.org/
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)