Schofield, who once described himself as a “‘cured homosexual,’ led Fresno congregation to secede from national church over gay issues
FRESNO, Calif. The Episcopal Church has banned a California bishop from practicing his religious duties until March after he led his congregants to secede from the national church.
Bishop John-David Schofield drew sharp criticism from the U.S.-based denomination when he urged his conservative diocese to sever its ties to the church last month in a fight over the Bible and homosexuality.
Clergy and lay members of the Diocese of San Joaquin became the first full diocese to break from the U.S. wing of the 77 million-member worldwide Anglican family when they voted to secede Dec. 6.
Schofield cannot give sermons, do confirmations or perform any religious rites until the national denomination’s leaders meet to determine a final judgment by March 13, said the Rev. Canon Charles Robertson, canon to Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori.
“He was aware of the consequences of his action, warned repeatedly, and there comes a time when it is important for the church to hold its own leadership accountable,”‘ Robertson said.
“This allows him time to recant and to steer off this course,” he said.
The bishop who has in the past described himself to congregants as a “cured homosexual” gave no signs of changing direction in a statement issued late on Jan. 11 by the diocese.
“It is the primary duty of bishops to guard the faith and Bishop Schofield has been continually discriminated against for having done so,” the statement read. “How is it that over 60 million Anglicans worldwide can be wrong and a few hundred thousand in the American Church can claim to be right?”
Despite the secession vote, the national church considers the diocese and its property to be still a part of the U.S. denomination, a claim Fresno leaders reject.
“The holdings of the diocese are still holdings of the diocese unless the court rules something differently,” said the Rev. Van McCalister, a diocesan spokesman, in an interview Jan. 10. “There isn’t any law to deal with this because nobody foresaw that such a thing would happen.”
Their decision to affiliate with the like-minded Anglican Province of the Southern Cone, based in Buenos Aires, will likely kick off a legal brawl over the diocese’s multimillion dollar estate.
The Fresno-based congregation had explored breaking ties with the American church since 2003, the year Episcopalians consecrated the first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.
Schofield and other conservatives believe Scripture bars same-sex relationships, and the Fresno bishop counseled his flock that they risked moral decay by staying within the church.
The diocese serves about 8,500 parishioners in 47 congregations in central California.
A brief article printed in the Fall/Winter 1994 Voice of Integrity, a newsletter of the group Integrity, which advocates for the full inclusion of LGBT people in the Episcopal Church, identified Schofield as a member of a “Committee on Prayer Book and Liturgy” who “strongly opposed the study of blessings” for LGBT couples.
According to the newsletter, Schofield told the Foundations Daily journal that his opposition was based on his own experience at the Fresno “ex-gay” program New Creation Ministries.
The Voice of Integrity article noted that while Schofield had previously told members of her clergy that he was a “cured homosexual,” the Foundations Daily article was the first time Schofield had acknowledged his orientation in print.
Schofield reportedly told Foundations Daily journal that he could not support “liturgies which purport to celebrate a lifestyle which I have seen as destructive.” The journal said the Bishop “sees “‘waverers’ falling into the homosexual lifestyle because of the “‘mixed message'” sent by the church.
The article ended with this quote from Schofield: “The church will be held responsible ultimately for the lives that have been destroyed, emotionally and spiritually as well as physically.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 18, 2008