The Reverend Sandra DePriest has become the first Mississippi Episcopal priest to step down in protest of the ordination of the church's first openly gay bishop. DePriest told The [Columbus] Commercial Dispatch that she could no longer actively serve as a priest until the gay-bishop issue is resolved. DePriest ended her association with the Church of the Good Shepherd in Columbus and St. Johns Episcopal Church in Aberdeen on Christmas Day. DePriest told the Commercial Dispatch that she was not resigning her vows for the time being but could no longer actively serve as a priest until the controversy is resolved.
Earlier this year Bishop V. Gene Robinson became the first openly gay man elevated to that rank in any major Christian body. Robinson was ordained after an August vote at the Episcopal Church (USA) General Convention in Minneapolis. Many Episcopalians who believe in a traditional interpretation of the Bible want Robinson removed as bishop and have won the support of several American bishops. DePriest said she is one of those opposed to Robinson's ordination and that her stance on the issue means she cannot continue leading worship. "I believe that my vows have been placed in conflict," DePriest said. "I took vows to uphold Scripture when I was ordained...and at the same time I took vows to uphold the doctrine and discipline of the Episcopal Church of the United States. And I cannot teach those doctrines and disciplines."
DePriest said the appointment of Robinson to a senior position within the church is a deal breaker for Episcopalians who believe in a traditional interpretation of the Bible. She said these Episcopalians consider homosexuality a sin that must be repented--a belief completely at odds with Robinson's openly gay lifestyle. DePriest said that for the moment she is not willing to leave the church completely while there is hope that the rift can be repaired. DePriest said the Episcopal Church is willing to provide alternative pastoral care for priests and congregations who are opposed to Robinson's ordination. This arrangement, she said, is supposed to keep disgruntled members of the faith under the Episcopalian banner by allowing them to shift their churches under the authority of another bishop. DePriest said this is unacceptable to members of the faith who are thinking about splitting from the church because they no longer support its leaders. DePriest said that under present arrangements, those Episcopalians would have to abandon their churches and sever financial links with the church.
Bishop Duncan Gray of the Mississippi diocese said the Anglican faith that Episcopalians practice--founded in England over 400 years ago--is based upon diversity of belief and tolerance. "We were founded in theological conflict," Gray said. Gray said the church has the ability to broker a compromise. He claimed a number of the 13 bishops who had been identified as working against the church's leadership have since clarified and even retracted earlier statements. Gray said a great deal of work is going on behind the scenes to broker a compromise. "This is certainly something that will be ongoing, but I'm very pleased with the efforts [of the church] to respect individual conscience," Gray said.