Sunday, June 17, 2001

Leaders call for stop to gay minister ban

Presbyterians vote at national meeting

By Bruce Schreiner
The Associated Press

        LOUISVILLE — Presbyterian leaders headed home Saturday expecting their national assembly's action on gay ordinations to garner almost as much attention in churches as the Sunday sermons.

        The General Assembly's decision to recommend lifting the church's ban on ordaining homosexual ministers will stir emotions that reflect divisions in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), church activists said.

        “I go back to a congregation that will rejoice,” Tammy Lindahl, an openly gay Presbyterian minister from Minneapolis, said after Friday's debate.

        The Rev. Ms. Lindahl was ordained before the church adopted policy in 1978 denying ordination to “self-affirming, practicing homosexuals.” The ban was inserted into the church's constitution in 1997. It requires ministers, deacons and elders to “live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness.”

        Joe Rightmyer, executive director of Presbyterians for Renewal, an evangelical organization based in Louisville, said conservative congregations would mourn the assembly's action Friday.

        Russ Ritchel Jr., a pastor from Winston-Salem, N.C., who supports keeping the ban on gay ordinations, said the debate exposed the split that exists in the church, the nation's sixth-largest Protestant denomination.

        “To a certain extent, we as Presbyterians are like one of those British sitcoms where two or three people are handcuffed together, and they see what it is like to live for three days handcuffed to another,” the Rev. Mr. Ritchel said after Friday's debate. “We are handcuffed together by our property.”

        The Rev. Mr. Ritchel referred to church law under which congregations leaving the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) have to relinquish their church buildings and other property to the denomination.

        Homosexuals are accepted as members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). But conservatives point to the Bible in opposing the ordination of homosexuals, a lifestyle they consider sinful. Liberals say the church should welcome diversity and that sexual orientation should not deny someone from fulfilling a calling into ministry.

        “Jesus would never categorically condemn a whole group of people based on their sexual orientation,” said the Rev. Stephen Van Kuiken, a Cincinnati pastor and activist in support of ordaining gays and lesbians.

        In coming months, the debate will shift to the church's regional governing bodies.

        A majority of the 173 presbyteries still must ratify the proposed repeal of the ban before it can take effect.


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