The general council of the 1.4 million-member Assemblies of God, meeting in Indianapolis in August, defeated a proposal that would have changed the church's bylaws to permit the ordination of divorced persons.

Delegates defeated the resolution by a 1,707-to-996 margin after two days of spirited debate. The Springfield, Missouri- based Pentecostal denomination has 18,932 ordained ministers.

Current bylaws deny ministerial credentials to persons who have been divorced, or to those whose spouses have been previously divorced. The defeated measure would have added the words "unless their divorce occurred prior to their conversion" in the bylaws.

"The idea that we can credential people who are divorced and remarried before conversion … is but a first step toward a total breakdown of biblical standards," said Stanley Horton, a retired seminary professor. "All of our sins are cast into the depths of the deepest sea, but not the former wife and children. The question is not about forgiveness, but about qualifications for office."

David Stocker of Miami said, "This resolution fails to be based in Scripture and is entirely emotion-driven."

Supporters of the resolution argued that current practice excludes divorced people while allowing converted persons with criminal backgrounds to be ordained. "To make divorce an unpardonable sin by voting against this resolution is to say that the blood of Jesus was good for adultery, fornication, pornography, murder, homosexuality, lying, and so forth, but not for divorce," said Zollie L. Smith, Jr., of Somerset, New Jersey. "The calling of God on a person's life is not predicated upon their past, but upon their future as servants fit for the Master's use."

A resolution to deny ordination credentials to any person convicted of child sexual abuse was referred to an interim body for study. While without apparent opposition, delegates voted for referral after General Secretary George Wood, an attorney, warned of potential civil liability for the church in its current wording.

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