A California diocese overwhelmingly voted on Saturday to sever ties with The Episcopal Church, becoming the first diocese in the church's history to do so.
Despite warning from the head of the national church, delegates of the Diocese of San Joaquin voted 173-22 to secede and realign with the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone.
"This is the first time, I believe, that a diocese has finally said 'enough' in terms of the liberal theology of The Episcopal Church," said Bishop John David Schofield of the San Joaquin diocese before the vote.
The break comes after years of conflict over what the diocese and other conservatives contend is The Episcopal Church's departure from Scripture and traditional Anglicanism. While dozens of congregations have already disaffiliated from the national church, Saturday's vote marked the first time an entire diocese has chosen to secede.
"The church will inevitably leave the Bible behind at point after point," said Schofield to the diocesan convention on Friday, "but since on this view the Bible is the word of fallible men rather than of the infallible God, leaving it behind is no great loss," as reported by The New York Times.
Before the vote, Schofield had written to Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, saying, "We are not pining away here in the Diocese of San Joaquin; we are rejoicing in the truth of God's word!"
In the Dec. 5 letter, the bishop noted the national church's "failure to heed the repeated calls for repentance issued by the Primates of the Anglican Communion." He further pointed out the church's "cessation of false teaching and sacramental actions explicitly contrary to Scripture."
The letter was in response to the Episcopal head's warning to draw back from plans for secession.
The Episcopal Church - U.S. arm of the 77 million-member Anglican Communion - had widened rifts when it consecrated openly gay bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire in 2003.
Primates, the top leaders of Anglican provinces worldwide, have asked the American arm not to consecrate another openly gay bishop or authorize same-sex unions and have further called for "true repentance," urging the national church to get back in line with the rest of the Anglican Communion and with Scripture.
In September, U.S. Episcopal leaders passed a resolution to "exercise restraint" in consecrating gay bishops and also pledged not to authorize public rites of the blessing of same-sex unions. Conservatives, however, saw no "genuine change" in The Episcopal Church, which has persistently called for the full participation of gays and lesbians in the church.
While the Anglican Communion calls its leaders to minister pastorally to all, including homosexuals, the global body rejects homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture.
San Joaquin's latest vote follows last year's approval to change the diocesan constitution to remove language that states the diocese accedes to The Episcopal Church's Constitution and Canons. A second vote - which occurred Saturday - was required to approve such constitutional amendments.
"The Episcopal Church receives with sadness the news that some members of this church have made a decision to leave this church," Jefferts Schori said in a statement after the vote. "We deeply regret their unwillingness or inability to live within the historical Anglican understanding of comprehensiveness. We wish them to know of our prayers for them and their journey. The Episcopal Church will continue in the Diocese of San Joaquin, albeit with new leadership."
Three other Episcopal dioceses - Forth Worth in Texas, Pittsburgh, and Quincy in Illinois - have held their first votes to withdraw from The Episcopal Church. Schofield of San Joaquin expects other dioceses to take similar steps to leave.