Conservatives in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) turned back a two-front effort to loosen church policy on homosexuality. Their efforts came during the denomination's 215th General Assembly, held during May in Denver.
Rejecting a committee's recommendation, assembly commissioners declined to drop the "fidelity and chastity" clause in the PCUSA's Book of Order. The denomination of 2.5 million members formally bans the ordination of noncelibate homosexuals. A constitutional change would have required ratification by a majority of the church's 173 regional governing bodies (presbyteries). The assembly voted in 1997 and 2002 to remove the clause. Presbyteries rejected those votes by increasingly wide margins.
This year's General Assembly heightened tensions between Presbyterians who oppose the clause. Some want to challenge the law immediately. Others, including the Covenant Network of Presbyterians, believe presbyteries need a respite from the debate and encouraged the assembly to refer the debate to the PCUSA's 20-member Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity, and Purity of the Church. That stance drew criticism from the more radical pro-gay advocacy groups More Light Presbyterians, That All May Freely Serve, and Shower of Stoles.
By a vote of 431 to 92, the assembly approved a resolution saying the task force is already discussing sexuality issues.
The assembly elected Susan Andrews, a pastor from Bethesda, Maryland, as its moderator. Andrews honored her campaign promise to resign from Covenant Network's board, but said she would "never resign the vision … of the hospitality of Jesus Christ."
The assembly also sent "Living Faithfully with Families in Transition," a heavily criticized report, back to committee, by a vote of 279 ...1