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Episcopal priest resigns over gay supporting article

October 28, 2003

ROME, Georgia — An Episcopal priest who wrote an article sympathetic to the church's confirmation of an openly gay priest as a bishop resigned from a private religious school after administrators asked him to apologize to dozens of people upset with his views.

John Merchant, 57, became chaplain at Darlington School, a nondenominational preparatory school, during the summer. He wrote a column for the student newspaper about the Episcopalian church's confirmation of V. Gene Robinson as Episcopal bishop in New Hampshire. The U.S. Episcopal Church is part of the worldwide Anglican Communion Merchant wrote in the September 3 column in The Darlington that God is more concerned with spirituality than sexual orientation.

"I didn't have to ponder where I stood," Merchant told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution for a story in Monday's editions. "But I took time to keep it brief and try to explain my beliefs. I was trying to convey it in a positive way."

After the column appeared, school president David Hicks and headmaster David Rhodes told Merchant that some school donors were considering withdrawing their support at the academy. They asked him to initiate between 50 and 75 one-one-one meetings over a month to apologize to individuals upset with the article.

Merchant refused, calling the request "morally and academically intolerable," and resigned. He provided the Sept. 30 letter in which Hicks and Rhodes made the demand to the Rome News-Tribune.

Neither Rhodes nor Hicks responded to repeated requests by a Journal-Constitution reporter for interviews. Calls were referred to Atlanta media consultant Chuck Nekvasil.

"We believe in all sincerity that it's time for the healing to begin and time to move on," Nekvasil said. þSapa-AP

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