- The Washington Times - Friday, July 2, 2004

RICHMOND — Presbyterian leaders decided last night to delay until 2006 a decision on whether to ordain homosexuals upon hearing multiple pleas by delegates to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA in order to keep unity in the fractured denomination.

Immediately after the 297-216 vote, newly elected moderator Rick Ufford-Chase, a church liberal from Tucson, Ariz., announced a special meeting for “our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters” who were “deeply disappointed” with the decision.

Church leaders were asked to choose between approving a series of resolutions setting aside church language condemning homosexuality or a minority report that kept the language and refer the matter to a theological Task Force on Peace, Unity and Purity of the Church. The task force will make its final report at the 2006 Assembly in Birmingham, Ala. The vote to replace the series of resolutions with the minority report barely passed, 259-255.

Also at the meeting, the current church head, the Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, easily defeated three conservative challengers yesterday to win a third term as the denomination’s stated clerk.

Mr. Kirkpatrick said one of his jobs will be to reverse the denomination’s steep membership losses — about 1.8 million over the past 20 years — by supporting immigrant and ethnic churches.

Presbyterian “commissioners” (delegates) yesterday also approved a resolution calling the U.S. invasion of Iraq “unwise, immoral and illegal,” while at the same time voting down an amendment supporting conscientious objectors.

“Do we understand what this means for our troops in Iraq?” said John Judson, a commissioner from San Antonio. “If we declare this war ‘illegal,’ we are declaring our soldiers are engaged in an illegal war, which makes them war criminals. I think this is a dangerous step for us.”

The commissioners overwhelmingly approved a second resolution calling on Presbyterians to “engage in repentance” for treatment of prisoners at the U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

“I am grateful to God to serve this church, which I love, to serve Jesus Christ, who I love, and to be a witness throughout the world,” Mr. Kirkpatrick said when the results were announced.

Parker Williamson, CEO of the Presbyterian Lay Committee, a conservative group, called Mr. Kirkpatrick’s re-election “a disappointment.”

“It means more of the same,” he said, “the predictable loss of members, fewer contributions to the General Assembly budget, a continued weakness on the part of the stated clerk to defend the [PCUSA] constitution and continued erosion in the life of the Presbyterian Church USA.”

Mr. Kirkpatrick acknowledged that many church members are unhappy with his perceived reluctance to discipline presbyteries (regional church bodies) who have ordained practicing homosexuals to the ministry. The PCUSA constitution does not allow sexually active homosexuals to minister.

“Obviously, there are some folks who feel alienated and that the standards of the church aren’t being upheld,” he said. “But I think the constitution is being honored and upheld. … I don’t know of a single case where an allegation has been brought up that has not been followed up by a committee.”

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