Presbyterians Uphold Ban on Gay Clerics

Article excerpt

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), by a majority vote of its presbyteries over the weekend, upheld its rule against homosexual practice and sex outside marriage for clergy.

Four presbyteries, including one for central Virginia, voted Saturday to oppose a more lenient measure on clergy behavior, producing a majority - 91 out of 173 presbyteries nationwide - to defeat a change in the denomination's constitution.

The Virginia presbytery, an assembly of clergy and lay delegates, rejected the changes proposed in the so-called "Amendment A" by a vote of 163-to-68.

"It's clear we have a constitutional crisis on our hands in the Presbyterian Church," said the Rev. Tim Hart-Andersen, pastor of Old First Presbyterian Church in San Francisco and a supporter of Amendment A.

"It's not settled yet," he said. "When the dust settles on this vote, there will still be 46 percent of Presbyterians that support Amendment A." But he added that another legislative battle is unlikely anytime soon.

The amendment, passed by the church's General Assembly last June, would have altered the language on sexual standards for clergy set out in the Book of Order, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) constitution.

The change would have replaced the term "chastity" with "integrity" and also would have deleted the words "man and woman" from the reference to marriage.

"The presbyteries seem more committed to defeating the A amendment than they were to putting `fidelity and chastity' in the constitution to start with," said Parker Williamson, editor of the conservative Presbyterian Layman, an independent bimonthly.

In 1996, the denomination waged a pitched battle over the so-called "fidelity and chastity" amendment that for the first time put in the constitution rules on the sexual behavior of ordained members.

Though narrowly passed at the 1996 General Assembly, in voting among presbyteries - much as states ratify a change to the U.S. Constitution - the "fidelity and chastity" amendment won approval 97-75.

Then last year, Amendment A was introduced to overturn the "fidelity and chastity" rule, and was passed at a Syracuse, N. …