The Presbyterian Church (USA) voted June 20 to allow local and regional bodies to ordain gays to the church's ministries.

After nearly three hours of debate, delegates voted 298 to 221 to approve a complex proposal that allows local congregations and regional bodies known as presbyteries to bypass the church's current ban on "self-avowed practicing" gay clergy.

Current rules from 1996 that require "fidelity in marriage … and chastity in singleness" will remain on the books, but local bodies can now allow exceptions to those standards. Those exceptions will be subject to review by higher bodies.

The proposal came from a task force that has spent four years studying the issue. "This is not an 'anything goes' proposal," said the Rev. Blair Monie, the task force's chairman. The Rev. Stacy Johnson, a member of the task force, said the report was "not about sexuality but about the church" and how it moves forward in the midst of conflict.

A group of 14 Presbyterian renewal leaders responded in a statement, saying, "This recent decision marks a profound deviation from biblical requirements, and we cannot accept, support, or tolerate it." The 2.3 million–member church has been debating the issue for nearly 30 years.

The so-called third-way proposal of the 20-member Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity, and Purity of the Church revolves around a distinction between "standards" and "essentials." It will allow individuals who cannot abide by Presbyterian "standards" to be ordained if local bodies do not find them in violation of the "essentials" required of new clergy.

The task force's proposal was passed as a new "authoritative interpretation" of church policy that immediately goes into effect. Unlike previous attempts to rescind ...

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