Two weeks after leaders of the Episcopal Church USA confirmed the election of the church's first openly gay bishop, a board of church members at Trinity Episcopal Church in Columbus, Ga., has voted to withhold, for now, money it pays to the Diocese of Atlanta. The board, which pays about $80,000 a year to the diocese, voted 6-4 Monday night to stop payment. Two board members were not present for the vote. Two weeks ago deputies and bishops at the Episcopal Church's triennial General Convention in Minneapolis voted to ratify the election of the Reverend Canon V. Gene Robinson, a gay priest, as bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire. The bishop of the Diocese of Atlanta, the Right Reverend J. Neil Alexander, voted to confirm Robinson.
The Reverend Tom Jones of Trinity Episcopal said withholding the money isn't meant to punish the broader church. But in a letter sent recently to Trinity members, Jones wrote, "[Homosexuality is] contrary to the consistent teaching of Holy Scripture." Alexander said Wednesday, "What saddens me...is that they have taken this action without any conversation or consultation with me, their bishop. This is not representative of the way Episcopalians normally work together on issues." So far this year, Trinity has paid about half of its 2003 commitment to the diocese, said Jones, who has been a priest at Trinity for 17 years. The church plans to withhold funds to the diocese for about two months, until the board can gauge whether members of the church will stop contributing, as some have pledged to do.
Pat King, a board member since 1987, was one of the six who voted to withhold church funds. King said the board didn't intend to make a "political statement" but that the parish could be jeopardized if the board didn't do something. Michael Ankerich, who voted against withholding funds, said he didn't think
it was appropriate to withhold the parish's money. "I think it sends a negative message, to use money to punish the diocese for votes that Bishop Alexander and our deputies made after much prayer and contemplation," Ankerich said. The Reverend Richard Callaway of the Diocese of Atlanta said Trinity had not notified the diocese of its plans as of Wednesday. "We are disappointed that they chose to express their feelings in this way," Callaway said in a statement. "Doing this undermines mission initiatives throughout the diocese."
Trinity, the largest of three Episcopal churches in Columbus, is the only congregation in the 93-parish Atlanta diocese to withhold funds so far, said diocesan spokesman Cary Patrick on Wednesday. It is one of the largest financial contributors in the diocese, which includes parishes in north and middle
Georgia. None of the 72 congregations in the Diocese of Georgia, which includes parishes in the rest of the state, has announced plans to withhold contributions, spokeswoman Jacqui Belcher said. But such actions are being taken by conservative Episcopalians around the country. At least 52 Episcopal parishes in 20 states, 320 priests, and 16 bishops have endorsed an online protest petition that recommends signers withhold contributions from the national denomination.