- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 17, 2004

A Presbyterian activist who may be stripped of his ministerial credentials this month for suggesting church conservatives withhold funds from denominational coffers will speak tomorrow at National Presbyterian Church in Northwest.

Parker T. Williamson, 63, the chief executive officer of the Presbyterian Lay Committee, a conservative lobby group that urges Presbyterians to withhold their contributions, is in hot water with a denomination he says has gone soft on homosexuality and abortion.

His group lobbied Presbyterians to withhold $400,000 in contributions last year, so officials in the Western North Carolina Presbytery have initiated a move against the man they say is responsible for the shortfall.

“I understand why they are trying to take away my credentials,” he said. “They’ve been hurt and a wounded animal will bite.”

Hearing of Mr. Williamson’s predicament, the men’s ministry at National Presbyterian invited him to speak to their 10 a.m. Sunday-school classes for adults.

“We’re studying the Book of Jude on contending for the faith,” said W.H.”Bo” Gilliam, who heads the ministry, “and no other person is contending for the faith like he is.”

Presbyterian ministers who propose funds be diverted from the denomination could be charged with violating their ordination vows. Officials with the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) say the amount withheld last year by conservatives is closer to $188,000, not $400,000.

However, the Rev. Susan Andrews of Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church in Bethesda and moderator of PCUSA, said Mr. Williamson’s credentials should not be lifted.

“I hope we can work together,” she said. “I have nothing against Parker. He is an honest and kind — well, an honest man and he speaks from his heart.”

As one of 173 presbyteries in the nation, the western North Carolina office gets to decide which ministries in its area are valid. On Dec. 9, a task force recommended Mr. Williamson, who lives in Lenore, N.C., be stripped of his ministerial credentials because the publication he edits, the Presbyterian Layman, is not a “valid ministry.”

The Presbyterian Layman, which reaches 450,000 readers in 1,300 congregations, is credited with listing which congregations employ homosexual clergy. The tone of the publication has been a thorn in the flesh for liberal Presbyterians for years.

“The issue that brought this to a head is the Layman’s decision to encourage congregations to withhold funds from the denomination,” said the Rev. Jeffrey Krehbiel, pastor of the Presbyterian Church of the Pilgrims near Dupont Circle. “A lot of people think this should have happened a long time ago.”

Those who edit the Layman, he added, “have been the bane of every moderator and denominational official during their entire existence. They clearly don’t represent a majority view and their reputation in the church is as being mean-spirited and nasty.”

But the lay committee defends its work, saying ordinary Presbyterians need to know what’s happening.

“The PCUSA constitution says no practicing gay or lesbian can be ordained, but there are many congregations that are openly defying that,” said Craig Kibler, director of publications for the committee. “It’s a constitutional crisis. The lay committee, similar to the American Anglican Council [a conservative Episcopal group], is upholding orthodox Christianity.”

The nation’s 2.5 million Presbyterians appear to be a mirror image of what’s happening among Episcopalians: homosexual clergy, conservatives withholding money and substantial membership losses since the 1960s

Mr. Williamson’s fate will be decided at a Jan. 31 meeting of the presbytery. He guesses that charges against him will, if brought into a church court, be thrown out for being too vague.

“They say it is ‘due to the character and conduct’ of the Presbyterian Layman, but they won’t say what that conduct is,” he said. “I have sensed this was coming for some time. There have been those who’ve wanted to muzzle me and take away my ministerial credentials for years.”

Not all think Mr. Williamson should be taken out of the ministry.

“I don’t think he should be denied credentials,” Mr. Krehbiel said. “We believe in a big tent.”

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