The regional bodies of the Presbyterian Church (USA) yesterday ratified an amendment to the church constitution that sets up tougher rules against adultery by the clergy and ordination of practicing homosexuals.
In a process much like that of states ratifying an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, at least 87 presbyteries, a majority of the 172, had to vote in favor of the "fidelity and chastity" amendment narrowly passed by the church General Assembly last year.
Nine presbyteries voted yesterday. Which one cast the 87th ballot is not clear, though some church officers suggested it was Miami or Charlotte, N.C.
"The consensus I have from groups watching this is that it's already over the top," said the denomination's news director, L. Jerry Van Marter. "There's scores of informal tallies being kept on all sides of the issues."
An official announcement is not expected for another week or two because the presbyteries must mail in the final ballot to church headquarters in Louisville, Ky.
The National Capital Presbytery, which includes churches in the District and suburban Virginia and Maryland, voted in January against the amendment, 226-105.
"Obviously, based on the vote in our presbytery, there will be a number of people in our presbytery who will have difficulty with it," said the Rev. Teri Thomas, general presbyter of the National Capital Presbytery.
"I don't think it's over," she said. "The whole issue of ordaining gays and lesbians has not been settled."
The 86-word amendment requires of clergy "chastity in singleness" and "fidelity within the covenant of marriage between man and woman."
The most contested phrase of the amendment states: "Persons refusing to repent of any self-acknowledged practice which the [historic Presbyterian] confessions call sin shall not be ordained and/or installed."
The amendment does not use the word "homosexuality."
By amending the Book of Order, the church understands that it will be creating a stricter rule for legal proceedings than a 1978 resolution against ordination of self-avowed, practicing homosexuals. …