Conservatives in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) turned back a two-front effort to loosen church policy on homosexuality. Their efforts came during the denomination's 215th General Assembly, held during May in Denver.
Rejecting a committee's recommendation, assembly commissioners declined to drop the "fidelity and chastity" clause in the PCUSA's Book of Order. The denomination of 2.5 million members formally bans the ordination of noncelibate homosexuals. A constitutional change would have required ratification by a majority of the church's 173 regional governing bodies (presbyteries). The assembly voted in 1997 and 2002 to remove the clause. Presbyteries rejected those votes by increasingly wide margins.
This year's General Assembly heightened tensions between Presbyterians who oppose the clause. Some want to challenge the law immediately. Others, including the Covenant Network of Presbyterians, believe presbyteries need a respite from the debate and encouraged the assembly to refer the debate to the PCUSA's 20-member Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity, and Purity of the Church. That stance drew criticism from the more radical pro-gay advocacy groups More Light Presbyterians, That All May Freely Serve, and Shower of Stoles.
By a vote of 431 to 92, the assembly approved a resolution saying the task force is already discussing sexuality issues.
The assembly elected Susan Andrews, a pastor from Bethesda, Maryland, as its moderator. Andrews honored her campaign promise to resign from Covenant Network's board, but said she would "never resign the vision … of the hospitality of Jesus Christ."
The assembly also sent "Living Faithfully with Families in Transition," a heavily criticized report, back to committee, by a vote of 279 to 232. Written by the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP), the document said the church should affirm "families of single parents, single persons, couples without children … and families with members of homosexual orientation."
Alan Wisdom of the Institute on Religion and Democracy was an early critic of the report. "The question is whether acswp realizes it needs to bring back a different document," Wisdom told CT, "and whether it's willing to do it."
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Recent articles of interest include:
Presbyterians grapple with changing U.S. culture—The Denver Post (June 1, 2003)
Assembly won't call for vote on G-6.0106b—Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. (May 30, 2003)
Presbyterian panel OKs gay ordination—The Denver Post (May 28, 2003)
Liberal female pastor elected head of Presbyterian assembly—The Denver Post (May 25, 2003)
Church mired in debate over ordaining gays—The Denver Post (May 18, 2003)
Previous Christianity Today coverage of the PCUSA and gay ordination includes:
Weblog: The Gathering Presbyterian Storm (May 22, 2003)
Weblog: Presbyterian Court Says Pastors Must Officiate in Ordination of Unchaste Homosexuals | Court also gives Stephen Van Kuiken a mere rebuke for conducting gay marriage, and even he complains that it only delays the debate. (April 22, 2003)
Session Deep Sixed | Presbyterians gird for gay-clergy battle at assembly. (March 13, 2003)
PCUSA Group Seeks Special Assembly | Conservatives circulate petition to discipline those defying church law on homosexual clergy. (Dec. 10, 2002)
Talk of Presbyterian Split Grows | Homosexual ordination, lordship of Christ are ongoing issues for conservatives. (Nov. 21, 2002)
Presbyterians Reaffirm Fidelity, Chastity Rule | Conservatives gain last needed vote to defeat Amendment A. (March 11, 2002)
Presbyterians Void Ban on Gay Clergy | Presbyteries will vote on national meeting's action during the next year. (July 23, 2001)
PCUSA Opens Door to Gay Ordination and Other Ways to Salvation | The real big news out of the denomination's General Assembly may not be its revoking of its ban on gay ministers. (June 18, 2001)
Presbyterians urged to allow liberals to leave over homosexual ordination | The general assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), will be asked to consider a series of resolutions declaring that "irreconcilable" differences exist over the ordination of gay clergy. (Feb. 28, 2000)
Presbyterians Endorse Fidelity, Chastity for Ordained Clergy (Apr. 28, 1997)
Other Christianity Today articles on related tensions within the Presbyterian Church (USA) include:
Presbyterians Check Divisiveness | PCUSA General Assembly endorses statement affirming the lordship of Christ. (July 17, 2002)
Presbyterians: 'Let's not Fight' | Conservative leaders say they want to "rebuild the church Jesus' way." (April 3, 2002)
Presbyterians Vote Down Ban on Same-Sex Unions | Opponents say vague wording led to defeat. (March 29, 2001)
Editorial: Walking in the Truth | Winning arguments at church conventions is not enough without compassion for homosexuals. (Oct. 30, 2000)
Presbyterians Propose Ban on Same-Sex Ceremonies | Change to church constitution, which passes by only 17 votes, now goes to presbyteries. (July 5, 2000)
Presbyterians Support Same-Sex Unions | Northeast Synod rules 8-2 in favor of continuing church's "holy union" ceremonies (Jan. 10, 2000)
Fidelity Clause Retained | Homosexual ordination under study until 2001. (Aug. 9, 1999)
Leaders Retain 'Chastity' Vow (May 18, 1998)
Assembly Favors 'Integrity' Not 'Chastity' for Leaders (Aug. 11, 1997)
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