Delegates to the 139th annual convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh overwhelmingly passed a constitutional amendment that would allow the local chapter autonomy over the national denomination when the national church laws become contrary to Scripture.
The amendment to Article I, Section 1 states that “Local determination shall prevail” in cases where the constitutions and canons of the national church are “contrary to the historic Faith and Order of the one holy catholic and apostolic church ... "
In essence, the new amendment would prevent the national church from imposing its “progressive” views on homosexuality to the traditional churches of Pittsburgh – the most conservative diocese in the Episcopal Church.
Last year, in rebellion to the Episcopal Church’s appointment of an openly homosexual bishop and speculation of “blessing” homosexual unions, Pittsburgh’s Bishop Rev. Robert Duncan Jr. established a network of conservative churches within the denomination to voice opposition. The Anglican Communion Network of diocese and parishes adheres to the traditional interpretation of the Bible, and allows conservative, traditional, and biblically-minded Episcopalians to stand against the contested actions of the national church.
The majority of the members in the Anglican Communion Network, including 53 of the 68 Pittsburgh parishes, have halted financial offerings to the national church, significantly decreasing the yearly budget of the denomination.
At the 139th convention, a similar majority passed the amendment: 85 percent of clergy participants and 74 percent of lay participants voted in favor. About 350 people in total attended the two-day conference at the Embassy Suites hotel in Moon.
Joan Gundersen, a liberal scholar of Episcopal Church history and vice president of Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh, criticized the amendment, calling it “poorly drawn.”
"It exceeds the convention's authority in changing its relationship to the national church,” said Gundersen.
Other liberals also criticized the amendment, calling it set-up for the diocese to leave the Episcopal Church.
"He is interested in separating," Lionel Diemel, president of the Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh, said of Duncan.
Critics pointed that the diocese’s involvement with the Ugandan bishop Rev. Henry Orombi is proof that Duncan has intentions to leave the Episcopal Church. Orombi, archbishop of the Uganda, has been known to have one of the strongest voices against the adornment of homosexuality in the worldwide Anglican Communion of which he and the Episcopal Church takes part. Orombi had been highly criticized for agreeing to supervise three break-away Episcopal churches that left the American denomination last month over the contentious issue of homosexuality.
As the convention’s keynote speaker, Orombi took note of the darkness looming over many of the Western countries.
“the darkness has shifted from Africa and come to Europe and America,” said Orombi.
Meanwhile, he thanked members of the Pittsburgh diocese for supporting the Ugandan Christians.
"I come here with a lot of gratitude in my heart," he said to a standing ovation. "God is enabling you to stay in the Anglican Communion."
Duncan, meanwhile, shrugged off critics’ comments that he is intending to separate from the national church. While he acknowledged the disputes between the diocese and the national church, Duncan said speculation about the diocese leaving the church was “nonsense.”
“The amendment shouldn't be taken for anything beyond its face,” he said. “It is simply to allow the diocese and its more than 20,000 members in 11 counties to avoid being party to what they view are wrongful actions of the national church.”
The Rev. Geoff Chapman, rector at St. Stephen's Church in Sewickley agreed, saying, “the diocese is determined to stay inside the national church and the Anglican Communion while at the same time holding faithful to the authority of the Bible."
The attendants to the conference, set to end on Saturday, November 06, 2004, will vote on several other resolutions beginning 10 a.m. today.