Saturday, July 08, 2006

U.S. Presbyterians also mired in tumult over gay issues

By Richard N. Ostling, AP religion writer
July 7, 2006

The Episcopal Church's split over homosexuality is getting worldwide attention, but a U.S. denomination of roughly equal numbers and stature — the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) — is similarly torn. And compromises have left liberal and conservative activists unsatisfied.

The Presbyterian conflict entered a new phase when a June assembly in Birmingham, Ala., approved a two-sided unity plan. For conservatives, a church law remains that requires clergy and lay officers to limit sex to man-woman marriage, in keeping with traditional biblical teaching.

But liberals were granted new leeway for local congregations and regional presbyteries to sidestep that law. An openly gay minister or lay elder could take office if local Presbyterians believe that the Bible is chiefly concerned with love and inclusiveness.

Now both sides are in strategy meetings, where plotting next steps is the order of the day.

The Rev. Michael Walker, executive director of the conservative Presbyterians for Renewal, said the "decision to allow something as central as sexual morality to be a matter for local determination" gutted Presbyterian principles. Still, he urged conservatives not to quit.

Walker spoke in North Carolina at Montreat Conference Center to 1,000 conservatives at the first of four conferences by foes of the Birmingham plan.

The day they departed, about 260 Presbyterians arrived for a radically different "Celebrating Common Ground" rally, where unity plan supporters included presidents of nine seminaries and 16 moderators.

Barbara Wheeler of New York's Auburn Theological Seminary thinks the Birmingham plan provides helpful "space for the exercise of conscience" and will "wrest control from a small number of groups that have a vested interest in keeping the church in combat mode."

Nonetheless, future conflicts seem unavoidable.

By Wheeler's estimate, two-thirds of churchgoers believe that gay sex is sinful, while a majority of clergy disagree. Moreover, activists on both sides are unwilling to relent.

No comments:

The good ship ELCA...

The good ship ELCA...
Or the Shellfish blog...