A question to the 1976 United Presbyterian Church (UPC) General Assembly set off a burst of evangelical energy that peaked last month when the denomination’s top governing body said a loud “no” to the ordination of practicing homosexuals. The 1978 assembly, meeting in San Diego, California, voted overwhelmingly for a twelve-page committee report that included “definitive guidance” for New York City Presbytery, the UPC regional unit that had asked for direction concerning William Silver, a self-affirmed homosexual candidate for the ministry under its care. Out of the ensuing denominational discussion and uproar came communication and cooperation among evangelicals unprecedented in this generation.

“On the basis of our understanding that the practice of homosexuality is sin,” said the assembly’s pronouncement, “we are concerned that homosexual believers and the observing world should not be left in doubt about the church’s mind on this issue [any longer].” The majority of the 650 commissioners (delegates) said in the document that dialogue and study of the issue should continue but that ordination of unrepentant homosexuals as church leaders should not be allowed.

About five hours of floor debate preceded the decisive vote, but it represented only a tiny fraction of the discussion and controversy that has spread throughout the 2.57 million-member denomination. At the national level the debate was led by a nineteen-member study task force authorized by the 1976 assembly. The release of its report and recommendations in January (see February 10 issue, page 48) sparked intensive talk about homosexuality in regional and local Presbyterian bodies, as well as in national church agencies. The task force majority recommended that otherwise ...

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