A bill that would have given congregations that break away from their denomination leverage to retain control of church property died Monday in the Virginia state senate. Its sponsor, Sen. William Mims, recommended that the measure be referred back to the senate general laws committee, effectively killing the bill.
The bill created an uproar among many of Virginia's religious leaders, who argued it was drafted in response to the 2003 consecration of the first openly gay Episcopal bishop. V. Gene Robinson's consecration angered many Episcopalians, who also protested the church's decision to allow blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples.
Thousands of Episcopalians who opposed the decisions met in Woodbridge last month to discuss forming their own network of dioceses and congregations. Internationally, Anglican church leaders have threatened to cut ties with the 2.3 million-member Episcopal Church, the U.S. branch of the Anglican Communion.
The bill also would have allowed seceding congregations to be independent of any church, diocese, or society. Currently, breakaway congregations are limited to joining another branch of the church or society.
"I would have to accuse the people who wrote this of deliberately trying to make this appear to be a noncontroversial matter," said the Reverend Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. "In the process, what they're doing is taking a position that helps antigay churches."
Mims said the bill had nothing to do with Robinson's consecration and was instead drafted in response to a 2002 federal court ruling that struck down an 18th-century provision in the Virginia constitution prohibiting churches from incorporating. Critics of the bill maintained the legislature has no place involving itself in religious property disputes." If there's one thing we've learned from Senate Bill 1305, it should be this: There's some areas we should just stay away from," said Democratic senator R. Edward Houck of Spotsylvania. (AP)
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