- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 5, 2002

A regional panel for the Presbyterian Church (USA) is reviewing a decision by Baltimore churches to not discipline an openly homosexual minister for violating a rule that unmarried clergy must be chaste.
The Baltimore Presbytery cleared the Rev. Donald Stroud of the charge, but protests have prompted the Synod of the Mid-Atlantic in Richmond to investigate the procedures of the local decision.
"We felt that a special review was in order, but not because we concluded they did anything wrong," said the Rev. Barry Van Deventer, Synod executive.
"This is a review of the process, not a judicial review," he said of the seven-member panel that began meeting Monday. "Whether or not it has national implications remains to be seen."
He said the Synod panel will issue an opinion early next year.
Since 1996, when the General Assembly adopted the "fidelity and chastity" statute for clergy, the church's conservative and liberal wings battled over keeping it.
Last year the General Assembly rescinded the church rule, but a majority of the nation's 173 presbyteries voted to restore it earlier this year.
In the past year Presbyterian conservatives have filed charges against 20 clergy in 10 presbyteries for openly defying the "fidelity and chastity" rule, and the Stroud case in Baltimore is the first to bring this new round of disputes to the surface.
"There is nothing we did that we feel is in any way inappropriate," said Charles P. Forbes, the stated clerk, or executive director, of the Baltimore Presbytery.
Though some people are unhappy with Mr. Stroud's ministry, he said, "I'm not convinced it's sufficient grounds for the synod to hold a special review."
Mr. Stroud, who was ordained in North Carolina, was welcomed to work in the Baltimore Presbytery in 1999 as leader of That All May Freely Service, which advocates for ordination of homosexuals.
The charge against him "willful and deliberate violation of his ordination vows" was made by Washington lawyer Paul Jensen, a member of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, Calif. Mr. Jensen has lodged complaints against 20 clergy in 10 presbyteries for defying the chastity rule.
"Baltimore is the most pressing case," he told the Presbyterian News Service. "Someone needs to tell these people in Baltimore and elsewhere that they've got to follow the letter of the law."
When Mr. Stroud publicly rejected the chastity rule in remarks to a Baltimore Presbytery meeting earlier this year, Mr. Jensen and others declared a "constitutional crisis" since clergy and presbyteries defied national church laws.
Another case involves the Rev. Katie Morrison of the Redwoods Presbytery in Northern California, a lesbian who was ordained as "field organizer" for a pro-homosexual caucus, the More Light Presbyterians.
During her ordination she declared she was "chaste," but now argues that chastity is not the same as celibacy since Christian literature says chastity is a virtue in marriage, where sexual relations are allowed.
This kind of semantic battle also rocked the church over clergy presiding at ceremonies for same-sex unions. The highest church court said there is no prohibition on the ceremonies as long as they are not called "marriages."
"This debate on the meaning of chastity may set a bigger precedent in the church than our process with Don Stroud," Mr. Forbes said.
After Mr. Jensen and other Presbyterians said that under church legal rules, they were denied a voice in the Stroud hearings, the synod review was necessary, Mr. Van Deventer said.

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