A huge exodus from the Episcopal Church (ECUSA) is underway in the Diocese of Florida, which spans 21 counties across the northern part of the state. Within the past six weeks, more than 20 percent of the diocese's 70-plus congregations from Jacksonville to Tallahassee have voted to leave or announced plans to do so, and still others say they intend to walk this summer, following the ECUSA general convention. ECUSA at that time is expected to reject calls to repent from consecrating an openly gay bishop and from approving blessings for same-sex unions.
The exiting clergy and parish leaders say ECUSA has departed from biblical Anglican faith. They have placed themselves under spiritual oversight of Anglican provinces abroad.
Some of the congregations have voluntarily given up their properties; others vowed to fight to retain theirs. Under church law, the properties belong to the diocese, said Bishop John Howard, who insists he and the diocese are orthodox in faith. He threatened "legal peril" for those who refuse to move out.
Under pressure from leaders of the National Religious Broadcasters, Christian television host Pat Robertson canceled his speech at the NRB convention's closing banquet Feb. 21 in Dallas. The leaders reportedly told Mr. Robertson his appearance as a main speaker could distract from the event. They chose Southern Baptist Henry Blackaby, leader of a prayer ministry, to take his place. The NRB in a statement blamed the switch on "scheduling complexities." A Robertson statement cited demands on his time.
The cancellation was part of the backlash against Mr. Robertson for suggesting to a 700 Club TV audience that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's stroke was divine punishment for the country's withdrawal from Gaza last summer. Mr. Robertson later apologized for the remark amid a storm of protest. But the White House and many conservative political and religious leaders distanced themselves from him.
The apology did lead to a partial turnabout by Israeli tourism officials who had punitively banished him from a project to build a $50 million Christian park on government land in Galilee. The project will remain in place, with Mr. Robertson keeping a low profile.
Catholic Archbishop John Vlazny of Portland, Ore., is fighting a bankruptcy judge's ruling to include church and school properties as assets of the local diocese. Contrary to church law, the archbishop contends the individual parishes own the buildings and land, worth hundreds of millions of dollars. The court wants to include the value of the assets when it decides how much to pay plaintiffs in a clergy sex-abuse case.
After the United Church of Christ last summer approved gay marriage, scores of congregations, with more than 10,000 members, exited, according to UCC statistics. But it appears an influx of gays may help offset the losses. The largest gay-oriented church in America, the 4,300-member Cathedral of Hope in Dallas, is in the process of joining the UCC. Some other gay churches also have scheduled votes to join early this year.
Sweden's clergy union went to bat for a Lutheran priest, fired after he was discovered viewing pornography on church computers. The 50-year-old priest acknowledged logging onto porn sites at his parish office, but inadvertently, while researching homosexuality. The parish council dismissed him, anyway, but in a settlement retracted the dismissal in exchange for the priest's voluntary resignation. The union also secured for him a 32-month severance worth about $100,000. His name was not released publicly.