An Episcopal priest who wrote an article sympathetic to the church's confirmation of an openly gay priest as a bishop resigned from a private religious school after administrators asked him to apologize to dozens of people upset by his views. John Merchant, 57, became chaplain at Darlington School, a nondenominational preparatory school in Rome, Ga., during the summer. He wrote a column for the student newspaper about the Episcopal Church's confirmation of V. Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire in which he argued that God is more concerned with spirituality than sexual orientation. "I didn't have to ponder where I stood," Merchant told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "But I took time to keep it brief and try to explain my beliefs. I was trying to convey it in a positive way."
After the column appeared, school president David Hicks and headmaster David Rhodes told Merchant that some school donors were considering withdrawing their support from the academy. They asked him to initiate between 50 and 75 one-one-one meetings during the course of a month to apologize to individuals upset by the article. Merchant refused, calling the request "morally and academically intolerable," and resigned. He provided the September 30 letter in which Hicks and Rhodes made the demand to the Rome News-Tribune. Neither Rhodes nor Hicks responded to repeated requests by a Journal-Constitution reporter for interviews. Calls were referred to Atlanta media consultant Chuck Nekvasil. "We believe in all sincerity that it's time for the healing to begin and time to move on," Nekvasil said.