- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 21, 2009

About 300 Presbyterians meeting Tuesday night at National Presbyterian Church on Nebraska Avenue will vote on an amendment to the constitution of their national church body that would allow practicing gay clergy.

The new language only specifies clergy will “declare their fidelity to the standards of the church.” It would replace language in the constitution that requires clergy to maintain “fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness.”

There are homosexual clergy members in the 2.2-million-member Presbyterian Church, USA (PCUSA), but they have been required to stay celibate since the denomination voted in that requirement in 1978.

Three times in the past decade, PCUSA delegates at their national meetings have voted to scrap that mandate, only to be rebuffed by local presybteries. Last June was their third effort, but the decision cannot take effect until it is ratified by at least 87 out of the nation’s 173 presbyteries - geographic regions similar to a diocese.

With a little more than a month to go before the ratification deadline, 65 presbyteries have voted to ratify the amendment while 85 presbyteries have voted against it. Of the 23 presbyteries left to vote, 22 would have to approve the amendment for it to pass.

Members of the National Capital Presbytery, which represents 34,000 Presbyterians in the District, Northern Virginia and five Maryland counties, “vote 60-to-70 percent on the liberal side,” according to G. Wilson Gunn, general presbyter, and so are expected to approve the new amendment.

But it’s unlikely the amendment will get enough votes nationwide to survive.

“If two more presbyteries vote negative, it will become a moot issue,” Mr. Gunn added.

Local Presbyterians have taken some heat for their stand. In 2004, the 4 million-member Presbyterian Church of East Africa broke off relations with National Capital Presbytery for the latter’s advocacy of gay clergy.

“Everyone already knows how they’re going to vote,” Mr. Gunn said of today’s meeting, which is scheduled to run from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. “We’re listening, caring and appreciating each other’s perspective.”

There is at least one homosexual clergyman in the Washington-area presbytery - the Rev. Eric Scott Winnette, associate pastor of Bradley Hills Presbyterian in Bethesda. In a 2004 interview with The Washington Times, his former boss, the Rev. Susan Andrews, said her assistant has never told her he is sexually active and that he only discovered his homosexuality two years after his 1998 ordination.

Attempts to contact Mr. Winnette or his current superior, the Rev. David E. Grey, at the church Monday were unsuccessful.

• Julia Duin can be reached at jduin@washingtontimes.com.

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