Presbyterians, still deeply divided over limitations on sexual behavior of church leaders, have agreed to reword a controversial amendment to require "fidelity and integrity" rather than "fidelity and chastity."

On June 20, the general assembly of the 2.7 million-member Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (PCUSA) approved by a 328-to-217 vote the proposed new amendment to their constitution.

That proposal calls on church officers to "demonstrate fidelity and integrity in marriage or singleness, and in all relationships of life." It must be ratified within a year by a majority of the denomination's presbyteries before taking effect.

On June 21, an amendment that had been proposed by the previous year's general assembly (CT, Aug. 12, 1996, p. 56) and ratified by the presbyteries took effect. The 1996 amendment specifies that church officers must live "in fidelity within the covenant of marriage of a man and a woman or chastity in singleness" and remains in effect—at least unless and until the 1997 amendment would be ratified by local presbyteries.

Since 1978, the denomination has officially prohibited the ordination of "self-affirming, practicing homosexuals." But the vote for the "fidelity and integrity" amendment is being widely interpreted as weakening the ban on homosexual ordination.

DIVIDED DENOMINATION: The general assembly's vote at its annual nine-day meeting in Syracuse, New York, revealed the denomination remains split on issues involving homosexuality.

However, Robert Craig, pastor of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C., praised the newest measure's wording. "I think it's a sign of hope, a sign of reconciliation," he says. "It lessens the tensions and the conflict in the denomination." Craig's church ...

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