- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 24, 2003

DENVER — The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is preparing once again to tackle the issue of homosexual ordination at its 215th General Assembly, which meets here this week.

This time, however, the momentum is with the opponents of homosexual ordination. After two failed attempts to repeal the church’s ban on ordaining noncelibate homosexuals, some proponents concede they have little chance of overturning the policy this year at the annual gathering.

Instead, they are expected to play defense as foes of homosexual ordination push for a crackdown on churches that have defied the denomination’s constitutional call for “fidelity in marriage and chastity in singleness.”

“Our concern isn’t just about gay ordination; it’s about the integrity of the church constitution,” said the Rev. Henry Greene, pastor of the Central Presbyterian Church in Merced, Calif., and a board member of the traditional Presbyterians for Renewal.

More than two dozen cases citing violations of the church constitution are pending in church courts, but traditionalists say church authorities have done little to stop defiant churches from ordaining homosexuals.

“There’s much discontent that the church courts are not dealing strictly enough with those who are defying these bans,” said denomination spokesman Jerry Van Marter.

In November, The Layman Online, a Presbyterian news service, counted 17 churches that had defied the homosexual-ordination ban by issuing statements opposing it, ordaining active homosexuals or blessing unions of homosexual couples.

“I think our faith calls for us to continue to openly disobey our denomination’s current law, regardless of the consequences,” the Rev. A. Stephen Van Kuiken of the Mt. Auburn Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, said in an October statement.

The uproar over such defiant churches grew so intense last year that supporters circulated a petition calling for a special assembly to consider how to enforce the ban. Although they gathered enough signatures to force an assembly, they ultimately abandoned the petition after 13 signers withdrew their names.

The 548-member General Assembly, which decides policy for the denomination, will consider for the third time an overture, or proposal, to repeal the homosexual-ordination prohibition. The assembly passed similar overtures in 1997 and 2001, only to see them soundly defeated when they came before the regional presbyteries.

Those defeats have prompted officials at the Covenant Network of Presbyterians, a repeal supporter, to announce that they won’t lobby for the proposal this year. Instead, the group plans to focus on working behind the scenes to create “a climate in which change can and will occur.”

Other hot-button social issues on the weeklong agenda include abortion and nontraditional families. Under consideration are several overtures that would declare late-term and partial-birth abortions morally unacceptable. The church calls abortion a matter of “grave moral concern” but says the decision should be private, not subject to legislation.

The assembly also plans to consider a paper from the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy that urges the church to strengthen its ministry to nontraditional families, including single-sex couples.


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