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SOUTHERN VIRGINIA: Diocese won't reject gay bishop

SOUTHERN VIRGINIA: Diocese won't gay reject bishop
Episcopal group upholds national church's decision

By Michael D. Wamble
Daily Press

2/8/2004

NORFOLK -- Delegates of the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Virginia soundly defeated a resolution Saturday to reject the national church's confirmation of an openly gay bishop.

At its annual meeting in Norfolk, delegates voted to acknowledge "profound differences" over homosexuality and Scripture interpretation. It created a yearlong Reconciliation Commission to discuss differences.

Opinions vary on whether this could dissuade some parishes from leaving the diocese to join a national network of conservative churches likely to form by October.

Bishop David C. Bane Jr. said Saturday's vote - a 3-to-1 margin among clergy delegates - showed that "the vast majority want to stay together to serve Christ together."

The Rev. Coleman Tyler of Galilee Church in Virginia Beach supported the resolution. Tyler said a new commission "prolongs the agony of this discussion." Church members may already have, Tyler said, "irreconcilable differences."

The vote Saturday on Resolution No. 4 ended months of uncertainty over how people in the pews felt about having an openly gay bishop in their denomination.

But tension over this issue didn't begin last year.

Since the mid-'90s, the broader issue of homosexuality has sparked debate in several mainline Protestant denominations, including the United Methodist Church and Episcopal Church. Most of the discussion concerns the status of gay clergy and same-sex unions.

In 1996 conservative Episcopalians formed the American Anglican Council, a network to "affirm Biblical authority and Anglican orthodoxy within the Episcopal Church."

In August 2003, the issues of Biblical authority and homosexuality inched the Episcopal Church closer to a possible rift. A big issue at the General Convention in August was the confirmation of the Rev. V. Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire. Robinson is the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church. A majority of the lay people, clergy and bishops at the convention confirmed his election.

Three of the eight Southern Virginia deputies who voted on Robinson's fate represented churches in Newport News and Hampton.

All eight of the diocese's lay and clergy deputies voted to confirm Robinson.

Bishop Bane was one of 43 bishops who voted against Robinson's confirmation. The other 64 bishops voted for confirmation. Two bishops who abstained from the vote were counted as "No" votes.

Local Episcopalians remain divided on the issue.

A meeting in September to discuss votes by deputies and the bishop packed the hall at Bruton Episcopal Church in Williamsburg.

In November, Robinson was ordained as the denomination's first openly gay bishop.

Since his ordination, the Diocese of Southern Virginia has lost some members and has weathered a budget shortfall of nearly $200,000. Nine of its 123 congregations have joined the American Anglican Council in hopes of becoming part of a new network of churches that reflects their beliefs.

Clergy and parishioners affiliated with the American Anglican Council submitted Resolution No. 4 to the annual diocesan council.

END

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