The Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth took the first steps on Saturday to withdraw from the US Episcopal Church as part of a growing rift over scriptural interpretation and homosexuality, giving preliminary approval to constitutional amendments.
The conservative Texas diocese is among four of the 110 Episcopal dioceses -- including Pittsburgh, San Joaquin, California and Quincy, Illinois -- that have approved similar measures to break away and align with an overseas Anglican leader.
The dioceses contend the US church leadership has wrongly abandoned scriptural authority and traditional teachings on truth, salvation and the divinity of Jesus Christ.
The Fort Worth convention followed a testy exchange of letters between the national church's presiding bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, and the Fort Worth diocese's Bishop Jack Iker.
Jefferts Schori warned Iker he could face disciplinary proceedings if he continues to back proposals to separate from the US church. Iker responded by accusing her of "aggressive, dictatorial posturing."
Jefferts Schori was attending a peace conference in South Korea and had no immediate comment, said Canon Robert Williams, a spokesman for the presiding bishop.
A series of amendments relating to the proposed split passed overwhelmingly, including an amendment that deleted reference to the authority of the Episcopal Church and replaced it with the Anglican Communion. That measure passed in votes of 69-14 by clergy and 95-28 by lay delegates.
Iker said the decision showed firmed resolve about moving forward. He said that he recognized that not everyone fully supported the decision, but that the debate was characterized by respect and honesty.
The measures will be up for final approval at next year's convention.
The convention said the diocese wishes "to remain within the family of the Anglican Communion while dissociating itself from the moral, theological and disciplinary innovations of the Episcopal Church."
A majority of the 77 million-member Anglican Communion holds traditional views that homosexuality is condemned by scripture, while a majority in the Episcopal Church do not.
The division between conservatives and the Episcopal Church, the Anglican body in the US, has sharpened since the denomination consecrated New Hampshire Bishop Gene Robinson, who is openly gay, in 2003.