By Harriet McLeod
CHARLESTON, South Carolina (Reuters) - The national Episcopal Church's acceptance of homosexuality has plunged it into "crisis," the South Carolina Episcopal diocese said on Wednesday, and the conservative diocese suggested that it could break from the national church.
"The question is not whether we can stay. It is whether they will let us stay and follow what we believe," the Rev. Jeffrey Miller of the South Carolina diocese said in the statement.
The statement followed the national church formally charging South Carolina Bishop Right Reverend Mark J. Lawrence recently with "abandonment" of the church's doctrine, discipline and worship.
Lawrence and many in the South Carolina diocese disagree with the tolerance of the national denomination for gays in the church.
The South Carolina bishop accused the national church of preaching a "false gospel of indiscriminate inclusivity ... that has suffocated the mission of the Church," according to the charges leveled against Lawrence.
About 100 clergy members met Tuesday in Charleston to respond to the charges. The South Carolina diocese is one of the conservative Episcopal groups distancing themselves or leaving the national church over the issue of allowing homosexual ministers, and other disagreements.
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 week in Wisconsin, and an openly gay Methodist minister in the same state was sanctioned earlier this year for performing a same sex marriage.
The South Carolina clergy believe the national church is on a "fast track" to depose their bishop, according to the statement.
In 2003, the Episcopal Church ordained an openly gay man as bishop in New Hampshire. Conservative churches around the country distanced themselves from the national denomination.
Two churches in South Carolina left the national denomination and joined Anglican organizations.
Lynn Pagliaro, 70, a member of Grace Episcopal Church in Charleston, a city that is home to several historic Episcopal churches, said the differences go beyond homosexuality.
He said many parishioners believe the national church has gone too far in its openness.
"In the last eight years or so, those Episcopalians who feel very strongly on the evangelical side have coalesced on the homosexuality issue," he said. "They've really worked themselves to the point that they can define what they disagree with and can't coexist with."
(Editing by Greg McCune)