The Episcopal Diocese of Alaska on Saturday chose not to pass a resolution denouncing the confirmation of a gay bishop from New Hampshire earlier this year, a decision that could lead some Alaska congregations to split from the church.
Passage of an alternate resolution came during the Alaska diocese's 29th annual convention held this week in Juneau.
In August, Episcopal leaders from across the nation met in Minneapolis for the Episcopal General Convention, and made national headlines upon confirming the openly gay Rev. V. Gene Robinson as bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire.
Several dioceses across the nation have responded by publicly condemning the decision. Priests at two Episcopal churches in Juneau - Rev. Ralph F. Wagner of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church and Rev. George A. Walter of St. Brendan's Church - called on congregations to support the confirmation.
At the Alaska Episcopal Diocese Convention this week Rev. James Basinger, rector of All Saints' Episcopal Church in Anchorage, put forth a resolution denouncing Robinson's confirmation.
The resolution states: "... that the Diocese of Alaska affirm that the lifestyle of Rev. Gene Robinson fails to be a wholesome example to the flock of Christ as required by the Book of Common Prayer and the ordination of the bishop."
Instead of passing Basinger's resolution the Alaska Diocese passed one written by Alaska Episcopal Bishop Mark MacDonald. MacDonald's resolution reaffirms the heterosexual nature of marital unions but does not address the confirmation of the gay bishop.
The resolution states: "(The Episcopal Diocese of Alaska) affirms the traditional teaching of the church that Christian marriage is a life-long commitment of a man and woman to love and live faithfully with each other. We further affirm the Christian ideal that marriage is the place for heterosexuality to be expressed."
The resolution passed on a vote of 57 to 14.
MacDonald, who attended the church's general convention in August, voted in favor of the confirmation. Upon returning to Alaska, Robinson sent letters to Episcopalians stating his reasons for supporting the confirmation.
"I am not happy that we have been forced into a situation that provided no avenue for a decision that does not divide the church," MacDonald wrote in August. "This is a great tragedy."
On Saturday, MacDonald tried to console members of the church who disagree with the confirmation and called for unity in a time of tribulation.
"We feel a lot of pain and division over the issue, and we don't really know what is going to happen," MacDonald said. "The way it appears is that we have opted to say something positive instead of something negative. It affirms the traditional teaching of the church that doesn't condemn anyone. I think that's the bottom line."
Rev. Basinger said he will attend meetings in Dallas next week of the American Anglican Council to discuss breaking from the national church.
"We're still divided over the issue of homosexual practice, but there is also a tremendous desire to be unified," Basinger said.
He described the proposition of breaking from the church as a "realignment of parishes that can no longer accept the leadership of the Episcopal Church."
MacDonald said dioceses in at least three or four states have passed resolutions disapproving the decision to confirm Robinson.
He noted that although the Alaska Diocese chose not to denounce the confirmation the issue is far from over.
"We're going to be dealing with it in one way or another for quite awhile," MacDonald said. "It's a very painful thing for people. I'm happy for what we did today, but I know that we are going to have work this out between everybody as we move along."
There are 49 recognized Episcopal congregations in Alaska with about 4,000 to 6,000 members, MacDonald said.