In July, the general assembly of the 2.7 million-member denomination, its highest governing body, approved by a 313-to-236 vote a report that calls homosexual practice a sin and begins amending the denomination's constitution to clarify its position that active homosexuals should not serve as ministers, elders, or deacons.
To become law, the amendment must be approved within a year by a majority of the country's 172 presbyteries. Since 1978, the denomination has officially prohibited the ordination of "self-affirming, practicing homosexuals," although that ban has not been included in the Book of Order, the church's constitution.
The general assembly vote at its annual eight-day meeting in Albuquerque culminated a three-year moratorium on legislative action so that the denomination could study issues involving homosexuality--an emotionally charged subject that has caused turmoil within the PCUSA and other mainline groups for two decades.
"In some way, we've got to settle this controversy once and for all," says Elizabeth Achtemeier, adjunct professor of Bible and homiletics at Union Theological Seminary in Richmond. "By sending this to the presbyteries to get it into the constitution of the Presbyterian church--if the presbyteries pass it, and I think they will--that will settle the issue. There will be no confusion."
CAREFULLY WORDED AMENDMENT: The proposed amendment does not specifically exclude homosexuals from the church's ordained offices, but it states that officers must practice either "fidelity within the covenant of marriage of a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness."
Craig Barnes, senior pastor of National Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C., praised the wording of the amendment. "It was the wisdom of Solomon ...1