Wednesday, June 13, 2001

Church's ban on gay clergy renounced

By Bruce Schreiner
The Associated Press

        LOUISVILLE — Presbyterians' ban on ordaining gay ministers was renounced by a church committee Tuesday, sending the divisive issue to the national assembly for a showdown vote.

        After hours of emotional debate, the committee on ordination standards voted 31-25 to approve the resolution, a first step toward possible repeal of the ban. The committee recommended the measure's passage this week by the 213th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

        “I do believe this is the will of God,” said Molly Douthett, a pastor from Dayton, Ohio, and a leading supporter of the measure.

        The Rev. Ms. Douthett, who tearfully hugged fellow supporters after the vote, said she has gay friends barred from becoming ministers, elders or deacons.

        “They have been excluded from using their gifts for too long,” said the Rev. Ms. Douthett, who predicted a close vote by the General Assembly.

Struggled with issue

        The Rev. Robert Thornton, an outspoken opponent of lifting the ban, predicted the measure will pass the General Assembly but will lose when sent to the presbyteries, or regional legislatures, for ratification.

        The Rev. Mr. Thornton, representing the Abingdon Presbytery in Virginia, said the ultimate outcome might prompt a few disgruntled congregations to leave the church, but he predicted the Protestant denomination will hold together.

        “I don't think this is going to destroy our church,” he said.

        The Presbyterian church, the nation's sixth-largest Protestant denomination with as many as 3.6 million members, has struggled with the issue of gay clergy and same-sex unions in recent years. Presbyterian churches accept practicing gays and lesbians as members who can take part in baptisms and communion, but are denied ordination as church officers.

"Room for all'

        The ban on gay ordinations shaped up as the most divisive issue during the weeklong meeting of the national assembly in Louisville, the hometown of the denomination's headquarters.

        The measure that won committee approval was proposed by the New York City Presbytery. It seeks a referendum on whether to repeal a provision in the denomination's constitution that requires “fidelity in marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness.”

        The dividing lines formed quickly Tuesday as committee members spoke out in a debate that dragged on for hours.

        Supporters of lifting the ban called it unfair to exclude a segment of society from the ministry simply because of sexual orientation.

        “We need to stop pointing fingers at others and have compassion for all,” said Cathy Haley, an elder from Whitewater Valley Presbytery in central Indiana.

        Elder Kathryn Morgan of West Jersey Presbytery based in Haddon Heights, N.J., said Presbyterians should be able to disagree about gay ordinations without splintering the church. Ms. Morgan said she supports allowing gay ordinations but her mother opposes them. Yet they live and worship together.

        “There is room enough for all,” she said.

        Supporters of the ban repeatedly pointed to the Bible to justify excluding homosexuals from the ministry.

        “It is wrong to accept people who may or may not continue to live in what is sin,” the Rev. Mr. Thornton said. “If it is not sin, then please show me.”


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