Conservative Episcopalians prepare to challenge gay bishop decision

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January 15 2004 12:00 AM ET

The "ultimate goal" of conservative Episcopalians opposed to an openly gay bishop is a "replacement" for the Episcopal Church that will be aligned with like-minded Anglican churches in other nations, according to a detailed memo from a key strategist.

News of the memo, first reported in Wednesday's Washington Post, comes as conservatives prepare for a crucial closed-door meeting next week in Plano, Tex., to establish a national group called the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes.

In recent weeks conservative leaders have said this will not be a formal breakaway from the Episcopal Church. But the memo indicates that the Plano meeting may be the setting for a division between those favoring a conciliatory strategy and militants prepared to defy the church. "Our ultimate goal is a realignment of Anglicanism on North American soil committed to biblical faith and values," reads the memo by the Reverend Geoffrey Chapman. "We believe in the end this should be a 'replacement' jurisdiction...closely aligned with the majority of world Anglicanism."

Episcopal Church headquarters had no immediate response to the memo.

The confidential document was sent to interested congregations December 28 by Chapman, of Sewickley, Pa., on behalf of the Washington, D.C.-based American Anglican Council, which is helping organize the network.

The Episcopal Church is the U.S. branch of the international Anglican Communion--organizations that trace their heritage back to the Church of England. Many national Anglican churches have denounced or broken fellowship with the Episcopal Church over the consecration last November of V. Gene Robinson, an openly gay cleric, as bishop of New Hampshire.

Chapman's 2,500-word memo lays out a two-stage process for parishes that have lost faith in Episcopal leadership. In the first stage, parishes would practice "spiritual realignment" but remain "within the letter of" Episcopal Church law in order to hold ownership of their buildings. In stage two, he said, they would seek negotiated settlements on parish property, hiring of future priests, and other contentious matters, with guidance from friendly bishops overseas. If deals aren't reached, "widespread" disobedience would occur.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Chapman said he has spoken with "scores and scores and scores of churches" who say liberal bishops have pressured them not to protest Robinson's consecration, not to join dissenting organizations, or not to withhold contributions. "It's religious persecution, it's very real, and it's happening, and we're trying to figure out how to help these churches," he said.

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