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Group Wins Fight Over Gay Clergy

February 19, 2002

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) _ Conservatives in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) killed a proposal Tuesday that would have allowed gays to hold positions of authority within the denomination.

The conservatives won the support of a majority of the church’s regional legislatures, thereby thwarting an effort to lift a 1997 ban on the ordination of noncelibate gays.

Church law says that clergy and lay officeholders must ``live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness.″

The church’s General Assembly voted last summer to recommend a reversal of that law. Since October, the church’s regional legislatures, known as presbyteries, have been voting on whether to repeal or keep the ban, with a decision requiring agreement by a majority, or 87 of the 173 presbyteries.

Conservatives got an 87th vote in favor of the ban on Tuesday. It was cast by the Presbytery of South Louisiana, said Jerry VanMarter, director of the Presbyterian News Service.

The church-run Web site, which closely tracks voting, says if trends continue, the conservatives will carry at least 72 percent of the presbyteries, and probably more.

``Hopefully, this strong vote will conclude the decades old repetition of attempts to alter the church’s position on these matters,″ said Joe Rightmyer, executive director of the conservative Presbyterians for Renewal. The vote ``reaffirms that the historic witness of scripture and our confessions regarding sexual morality is clear and to be preserved within our denomination.″

The Presbyterian church doesn’t exclude homosexuals. But liberals within the church say the ban on gay clergy unfairly excludes gays and lesbians from reaching the upper echelons of local church leadership.

Despite Tuesday’s setback, liberals have made inroads in the church.

The church judiciary has allowed congregations to conduct blessings for same-sex couples, so long as they aren’t called marriages. Last year, 58 percent of presbyteries voted to uphold that loose interpretation of church practice.


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