- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 27, 2003

DENVER — A Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) committee approved a proposal yesterday that would allow the ordination of practicing homosexuals, sending the issue before the full General Assembly for the third time since 1997.

The Committee on Church Orders and Ministry voted in favor of the proposal, called an overture, which would eliminate from the church constitution the provision that calls for “fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness.”

The provision is frequently cited by opponents of homosexual ordination, who argue that homosexuals must be celibate to serve as pastors, elders or other ordained officers.

The overture goes before the full assembly, which is holding its annual meeting here this week, for a vote that could come as early as today. If approved, the proposal would go before the church’s 173 regional presbyteries for their approval before becoming church law.

That’s a hurdle that proponents of the measure have yet to overcome. In 1997 and 2001, the assembly approved similar overtures, only to have the presbyteries defeat them resoundingly. In 2001, the vote was nearly 3 to 1 against homosexual ordination.

Those defeats prompted some supporters of homosexual ordination to urge others to not act on the issue until more support can be built at the grass-roots level. Leaders of the Covenant Network, which has lobbied for the ordination of active homosexuals, announced earlier this week that they would not “call the question until we have the votes to win.”

But other supporters prevailed upon the committee by arguing that there is no wrong time to “do the right thing,” said Sylvia Thorson-Smith, an elder from the Presbytery of Des Moines, which sponsored the overture.

“Do not fear sending this out to the presbyteries,” said the Rev. Michael Smith yesterday. “Don’t be concerned about the pain if it doesn’t pass the presbyteries. The pain is in the waiting.”

Those opposed to ordaining active homosexuals bemoaned the committee’s willingness to send the issue before the presbyteries even after two resounding defeats.

“The denomination has been consistent since 1978, and it’s clear that there’s not the support in the presbyteries, in the pews, to change this,” said Peggy Hedden, chairman of the traditional Presbyterian Lay Committee.

Traditional Presbyterians have argued that the denomination’s perennial debate about homosexual ordination has cut into its membership. Membership has been declining for more than 20 years, losing 30,000 to 40,000 members annually in recent years.

Even the assembly’s new moderator, the Rev. Susan R. Andrews, has said this is not the year to resurrect the issue, committee members say. She is a supporter of homosexual ordination and serves as pastor of Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church in Bethesda.

“That provision is unjust, but it’s more important to keep the church together,” she said Saturday.

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