Johnnie Byrd, speaker of the Florida house of representatives and a candidate for the U.S. Senate, is leaving the Episcopal Church because of its decision to confirm the election of an openly gay man as bishop. Byrd said he would return to the Baptist Church, the denomination of his youth.
The election of openly gay reverend V. Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire this summer has split the U.S. Episcopal Church. Conservative Episcopalians, outraged by Robinson's confirmation, have asked worldwide Anglican primates to intervene and are urging other church members to stop funding the denomination.
"We decided to make the move when the national church went into the wild blue yonder," said Byrd, a Republican. "We felt like the church left us." Byrd said he and his family are now attending Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Brandon, Fla. "We want to go somewhere that does what we think the Bible says," Byrd said.
Byrd, who had been a chancellor at St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Plant City, Fla., consulted with Episcopal reverend Tom Thoeni before leaving the congregation, which had publicly opposed the New Hampshire bishop's confirmation.
Byrd is seeking the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Democrat Bob Graham, who is in the midst of deciding whether to run again after ending his presidential campaign. Others in the Republican primary include state senator Dan Webster of Winter Park and former U.S. congressman Bill McCollum.