Presbyterians usually don’t make front-page news—except when they talk about sex. Last month, headlines across the country told the story: “Presbyterians Hold to Traditional Norms, Reject Gay Ordination.” But if news is defined as something new or unusual, what happened in Baltimore last month at the 203rd general assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (PCUSA) was hardly news at all.

Going into the convention, the center of attention was Keeping Body and Soul Together: Sexuality, Spirituality, and Social Justice, a report released last February by a denominational task force on human sexuality. The 196-page report discarded traditional norms, including the idea that sex be confined to the institution of marriage.

Few believed the church’s general assembly, its highest policy-making body, would approve the controversial report. (At the assembly, 96 percent of the commissioners [representatives] voted to reject it.) The only questions revolved around how the report would be handled. In the end, it was treated with predictable ambivalence, to the dismay of Presbyterian liberals and conservatives alike, who are growing tired of the 2.9 million-member denomination’s refusal to take a more definitive stand on sexuality issues.

Mixed Signals

“The issue before us … is whether or not we want to continue to be family to each other,” said Gordon Stewart, whose 67-member general assembly committee was charged with addressing the sexuality report.

In fact, it is the general assembly’s pursuit of unity that has frustrated many in the denomination. Both sides in the sexuality debate have regularly pointed to perceived inconsistencies in the church’s stand. Homosexuals have asked why, if they are welcomed by the church, they cannot be ...

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