Episcopal bishop cleared of abandoning church doctrine

CHARLESTON, South Carolina Wed Nov 30, 2011 5:46pm EST

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CHARLESTON, South Carolina (Reuters) - The national Episcopal Church has cleared a conservative South Carolina diocese bishop of accusations that he abandoned the church's principles amid disagreement over the denomination's acceptance of homosexuality.

The Right Reverend Mark J. Lawrence was accused in October of abandonment of the church's doctrine, discipline and worship, amid concern he was taking his flock out of the national church.

Lawrence and many in the diocese that covers the lower and coastal parts of South Carolina disagree with the tolerance of the national denomination for gays in the church, among other issues with the central body over doctrine and worship.

In 2003, the Episcopal Church ordained an openly gay man as bishop in New Hampshire, prompting several churches in South Carolina to leave the national denomination and join Anglican organizations.

Lawrence accused the national church of preaching a "false gospel of indiscriminate inclusivity ... that has suffocated the mission of the Church," according to one of the charges leveled against him.

But in a statement on Monday, church leaders said the bishop's actions did not constitute abandonment.

"Bishop Lawrence has repeatedly stated that he does not intend to lead the diocese out of the Episcopal Church -- that he only seeks a safe place within the church to live the Christian faith as that diocese perceives it," said the Right Reverend Dorsey Henderson Jr, president of the Disciplinary Board for Bishops.

"I presently take the bishop at his word," Henderson said.

The South Carolina diocese is one of the conservative Episcopal groups distancing themselves or leaving the national church. The Georgia Supreme Court ruled last week that an historic church building in Savannah belongs to the national Episcopal Church, not its breakaway congregation that voted to move under the leadership of an Anglican diocese in Uganda.

The Episcopal Church is not the only Protestant denomination struggling with the issue of gays in the church.

The Presbyterian Church ordained its first openly gay minister last month in Wisconsin, and an openly gay Methodist minister in the same state was sanctioned earlier this year for performing a same-sex marriage.

(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Greg McCune)

(Corrects to say that he was accused of abandoning church principles amid disagreement over homosexuality, not because of gays in the church)

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