- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 31, 2003

DENVER — The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) turned back efforts to permit the ordination of active homosexuals yesterday, voting down a proposal to change the church’s interpretation of who may serve in church leadership.

At its 215th General Assembly, which ends today, delegates instead referred the matter to the Task Force on Peace, Unity and the Purity of the Church, which was created two years ago to handle the perennially contentious issue.

“You could definitely hear a sign of relief when the vote came,” said Carmen Fowler, executive director of the Presbyterian Coalition, which opposes homosexual ordination. “I really think they bought the church a year of peace with this.”

Earlier this week, a church committee approved a proposal, known as an overture, that would have deleted a 25-year-old prohibition on having non-celibate homosexuals serve as pastors, elders and deacons.

From the start of the weeklong assembly, however, the issue was met with less enthusiasm than in past years. Even proponents of homosexual ordination agreed that such proposals were unlikely to win the approval of the regional presbyteries, which must concur with any changes to the church constitution.

Since 1997, the presbyteries have defeated efforts to repeal the ban on homosexual ordination three times, most recently in 2001, when the vote was 3-1 against the repeal.

Leaders of the Covenant Network, including the newly elected assembly moderator, the Rev. Susan Andrews, said they wouldn’t support this year’s effort, although the group supports ordination of homosexuals.

“The feeling was, this has been before the churches already,” said Chuck Proudfoot, a special press liaison to the assembly. “There was a reluctance to bring it before the presbyteries again.”

For good reason, Ms. Fowler said.

“If they had gone back to the presbyteries, it would have made them mad. Even people who disagree with me agree this would have created animosity with the presbyteries,” she said.

But other proponents of homosexual ordination argued that the church should do what was right, not what was likely to win a vote.

“We cannot be silent about justice,” said the Rev. Charles McLain, pastor of Montclair Presbyterian Church in Oakland, Calif. “I understand that they want unity, but this is too painful to those who have been denied.”

Mr. McLain is an openly homosexual pastor, but he began serving before 1978, when the church issued its “Definitive Guidance” on the issue.

The guidance said that “unrepentant homosexual practice does not accord with the requirements for ordination set forth in the form of Government.”

In 1996, the denomination reaffirmed its position with an amendment to the Book of Order, the church’s constitution, requiring ordained officers to “live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness.”

At yesterday’s meeting, the assembly defeated an effort to set aside the 1978 guidance, which would have allowed individual churches to interpret the church constitution more liberally.

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