The umbrella of the “Umbrella Church” did not exactly snap shut at last month’s 187th General Assembly of the United Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A. But it closed enough to leave many conservative ministers within that denomination standing in the rain. At convention’s end whether they would move back under the umbrella or seek shelter elsewhere remained an open question.
Unlike many former General Assemblies, this year’s gathering in Cincinnati, Ohio, of the highest ruling body of the 2.7-million-member denomination was a one-issue assembly. The issue was the “Kenyon Case,” a landmark decision by the denomination’s Permanent Judicial Commission (the UPC’s supreme court) that barred ordination to twenty-seven-year-old seminarian Walter Wynn Kenyon on grounds that he said he could not endorse for biblical reasons the denomination’s position in regard to the ordination of women ministers and elders (see March 28 issue, page 36).
Conservatives had hoped for a shift in policy in order to permit those who felt as Kenyon did to remain within the denomination. Instead, the assembly moved to bar the legitimacy of any mediating position. It also implied that not only new and aspiring ministers like Kenyon but also ministers, elders, and deacons of long standing who think like him are unwelcome.
The focus of debate fell on seven overtures (proposals) from a wide variety of presbyteries, all of which sought to provide some breathing space for dissenters from the official denominational position. But on recommendation from the Bills and Overtures Committee, commissioners voted either no action or non-concurrence on each one. There was not even significant debate. The only real discussion was on a substitute motion by clergyman Wayne ...1
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