Domestic Divisions Arise Within the U.S. Episcopal Church

The dispute over the Episcopal Church USA (ECUSA)’s decision to ordain an actively gay man as bishop has not yet formalized into a full-fledged Anglican division at an international scale, but it continues to shred the fragile fabric of the 2-million member denomination in painful ways at the domestic level.

In the last year since the gay bishop’s ordination, financial offerings and gifts to the denomination dropped a whopping 12 percent. The four million dollar drop in offering was largely due to the decision of entire dioceses to halt their giving to the national church.

In addition to the financial downturn, the ECUSA has continued on a downward spiral in terms of individual and congregational membership numbers.

Last year, three conservative parishes in Southern California rejected the authority of their local bishop as well as the entire ECUSA and opted to be placed under the jurisdiction of a conservative bishop in Africa.

In making its decision, the three churches, St. James Church in Newport Beach and St. David's Church in North Hollywood, alleged the ECUSA has been “veering away from historic Christianity.”

"We felt that perhaps things couldn't be reformed," Rev. William Thompson of All Saints’ Church, explained last year.. "The church had taken a position that was counter to the teachings of the Holy Scripture."

In a similar move Sunday, the largest parish in the Episcopal Diocese of eastern Kansas agreed in principle to separate from the diocese and the entire denomination.

The proposed separation of the Christ Episcopal Church of Overland Park was announced Sunday by the church and Kansas diocese, but was decided upon on Feb. 28. At last month’s meeting, the church’s governing board “recommended approval of the agreement” to separate; the Council of Trustees of the diocese approved the agreement on Tuesday; parish members will vote on April 3 regarding the issue.

In a letter announcing the move, the bishop of the Episcopal diocese of Kansas, the Right Rev. Dean Wolfe, explained that theological differences remained the core of the division.

Differences center on "theology, the interpretation of Scripture, and the doctrine and the discipline of the Church,” wrote Wolfe. "This decision served effectively to sever Christ Church from their responsibilities for the common ministry of this diocese," Wolfe said in the letter.

Meanwhile, the Rev. Ronald McCrary, rector of Christ Episcopal Church, told The Associated Press that the church's vestry — its governing body — unanimously supported the proposed separation.

"The Episcopal Church and the diocese are pulling away from historical Anglican teachings," he said. "The Robinson case is the tip of the iceberg, but the substance of it is theology."