From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Same-Sex Union Issue Tops Agenda for General Assembly

Date 25 Apr 2000 10:58:28

Note #5869 from PCUSA NEWS to PRESBYNEWS:


	Same-Sex Union Issue Tops Agenda for General Assembly

	Delegates also will discuss abortion, gambling, police accountability

	by Jerry L. Van Marter

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)'s long-running debate
over issues of human sexuality -- dominated in recent years by the question
of the ordination of gay and lesbian Presbyterians to church office -- seems
certain to turn in the direction of same-sex unions when the 558
commissioners (delegates) to the 2.6-million-member denomination's 212th
General Assembly (GA) convene in Long Beach, Calif., June 24-July 1.

	While same-sex unions will attract the most attention, commissioners also
will be asked to address such issues as the ordination of church educators,
abortion, funding for ecumenical bodies such as the National Council of
Churches and World Council of Churches, and controversial resolutions on
police accountability and gambling.

	Same sex unions

	Last year's GA sought a two-year moratorium on further legislation
addressing the church's current ordination standard of "fidelity in marriage
between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness."  This Assembly is
expected to honor the moratorium, and to hear a progress report on
church-wide dialogues designed to explore "the nature of the unity we seek
in our diversity" during the moratorium.

	However, a church-court case in New York has prompted a flurry of overtures
(resolutions) seeking to outlaw same-sex unions in the PC(USA). Current
church policy, dating to 1991, prohibits ministers from performing same-sex
unions understood "to be the same as a marriage ceremony." The PC(USA)'s
"Book of Order" (constitution) defines marriage as between a man and a
woman, but is silent on the specific topic of same-sex unions.

	In a case that is now under appeal to the General Assembly's Permanent
Judicial Commission (the church's highest court), lower courts have ruled
that amending the church's constitution to flatly prohibit same-sex unions
is a better way of resolving the issue than depending on court cases. At
least three presbyteries (district governing bodies) have submitted
overtures to that effect.

	The GA approved such an amendment in 1995, but the denomination's 173
presbyteries failed to ratify it. A majority of the presbyteries must
approve proposed amendments in order for them to become part of the "Book of

	Ordination of church educators

	The role and status of church educators has been studied for many years in
the PC(USA), with the debate usually focused on whether to created a fourth
ordained office in the church. The church now ordains ministers, elders (lay
people ordained for governance) and deacons (lay people ordained for
humanitarian service).

	A task force studying the role of church educators is recommending strong
measures to improve the status of these church professionals -- granting
them some of the same employment rights and protections as ministers,
expanding their rights and powers in presbyteries, seeking a
"specialization" curriculum for them in seminaries -- but stops short of
recommending creation of the fourth ordained office.

	In response to the task force's report, Chicago Presbytery has submitted an
overture calling for ordination to a fourth office, church educator.


	Abortion, a perennial hot-button issue, will be deliberated by this GA in
two ways. A team assigned by the 1999 Assembly to review the implementation
of the church's abortion policy will report that church entities have
downplayed a moderately pro-choice policy statement from 1992 in favor of an
unreserved pro-choice policy adopted in 1983.

	Santa Barbara Presbytery has submitted an overture calling for a study of
abortion from a theological and Biblical perspective, rather than from a
public-policy angle, which has been the primary focus of previous

	Ecumenical funding

	Long-simmering dissatisfaction with the 50-year-old National Council of
Churches nearly boiled over this winter when the PC(USA) donated half a
million dollars to help cover the NCC's $4 million deficit for 1999.

	Savannah Presbytery has submitted an overture that would restrict the
denomination's NCC contribution to the average of the six largest
contributing churches. Because the PC(USA) is one of the highest
contributors, the effect of the overture would be to drastically reduce the
church's support.

	The same overture would have a similar effect on PC(USA) funding for the
World Council of Churches. It calls for the church's contribution to be
equal to the average of the six highest U.S. contributors. German, Swedish
and Dutch churches are by far the highest contributors to the WCC.

	Police accountability and gambling

	Resolutions from the church's Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy
on police accountability and gambling are likely to generate spirited

	The resolution on police accountability -- sparked by recent incidents in
New York City, Los Angeles and Louisville, among others -- focuses on "abuse
and misuse of authority by law enforcement" and calls on the church to
support such controversial measures as the creation of civilian review
boards. Critics charge that the resolution is anti-police because it fails
to take into account the dangers law-enforcement officers face. A group of
Presbyterian police officers has condemned the resolution.

	The resolution on gambling urges Presbyterians to "refuse to participate in
organized and institutionalized forms of gambling as a matter of faith," and
to work to eliminate state-sponsored gambling, such as lotteries. It also
asks Native American leaders to curtail casino gambling, which has become a
primary source of revenue on many reservations.

(Eva Stimson, editor of "Presbyterians Today," also contributed to this

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