From the Worldwide Faith News archives

[PCUSANEWS] Familiar diagnosis

Date Tue, 20 Apr 2004 12:37:38 -0500

Note #8204 from PCUSA NEWS to PRESBYNEWS:

April 20, 2004

Familiar diagnosis

Richmond meeting will feature acute debate - of chronic issues

by Jerry L. Van Marter

LOUISVILLE - Issues that have roiled Presbyterian waters for years -
abortion, sexual standards for ordination, Biblical authority and "family
values," among others - will take center stage when the 216th General
Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) convenes in Richmond, VA on June

	The 2004 renewal of the top policy-making body of the 2.5
million-member denomination also will feature contested elections of a stated
clerk - the church's top ecclesiastical officer - and of a new moderator to
preside at the Assembly, then serve as the church's chief spokesperson and
good-will ambassador for two years.

	After the Richmond meeting, the PC(USA) will no longer schedule
Assemblies annually, as it has since 1779, but have such national meetings
only every other year.

	In a time of worsening financial stress, commissioners to the
Assembly will be asked to approve a Mission Work Plan - the latest attempt to
prioritize the corporate work of the denomination, which has an annual budget
of about $125 million.

	For at least the fifth time since 1996, when the Assembly enacted a
constitutional ban on the ordination of non-celibate gays and lesbians -
section G-6.0106b of the Book of Order - opponents of the provision will try
to have it rescinded. The presbyteries of Baltimore, Western New York and
Twin Cities Area have submitted overtures that would repeal the provision.

	Detroit Presbytery has submitted a related measure that would
overturn a 1978 "authoritative interpretation" of the PC(USA) constitution
that also forbids the ordination of non-celibate homosexuals. Church courts
have ruled that both G-6.0106.b and the 1978 interpretation would have to be
reversed to remove the prohibition.

	Two previous attempts to delete G-6.0106b have been approved by
Assemblies but failed in ratification votes of the denomination's 173
presbyteries. Last year's Assembly referred the matter to the Theological
Task Force on Peace, Unity and Purity of the Church, a group charged by 2001
Assembly "to lead the PC(USA) in spiritual discernment of our Christian
identity" and to address contentious issues of "Christology, Biblical
authority and interpretation, ordination standards, and power."

	The task force, which is to finish its work by 2006, will make a
progress report to this Assembly.

	Amid continuing fallout from the war in Iraq and the 9/11 terrorist
attacks, two presbyteries - Eastern Oklahoma and Hudson River - call for a
re-examination of PC(USA) policies on relations with Jews and Muslims.

	On abortion, always a controversial subject, three presbyteries -
Upper Ohio Valley, Charlotte and Beaver-Butler - propose an outright ban on
"late-term" abortions. The Upper Ohio Valley measure would add such a
prohibition to the church constitution.

	Last year's Assembly upheld the current policy, which stipulates four
circumstances under which abortion of a viable fetus is permissible: "when
necessary to save the life of the woman, to preserve the woman's health in
circumstances of a serious risk, to avoid fetal suffering as a result of
untreatable life-threatening medical anomalies, or in cases of incest or

	A controversial policy paper on the changing nature of American
families, which failed to win approval during last year's Assembly, is coming
back this year in an extensively revised form and with a new title. The
document once known as "Living Faithfully with Families in Transition" has
become "Transforming Families."

	The Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy has reworked it in
response to charges that last year's version diminished the importance of
traditional two-parent family structure and elevated non-traditional
families, including those involving unmarried and same-sex relationships, to
moral equivalence.

The General Assembly Council, the elected group that oversees General
Assembly mission programs between Assemblies, will ask the commissioners to
approve a new Mission Work Plan that prioritizes church tasks in four broad
categories - evangelism and witness, justice and compassion, spirituality and
discipleship, and leadership and vocation - and creates 24 concrete
objectives reflecting those priorities.

	The Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, who as stated clerk is the
denomination's top-ranking church officer, is standing for re-election to a
third four-year term. He is opposed by three conservative-evangelical
challengers who have criticized him for failing to act against Presbyterian
officers who they say have "defied" the constitution by ordaining
non-celibate gays and lesbians or conducting same-sex "marriages."
Kirkpatrick argues that Presbyterian polity assigns such matters to church
courts, sessions and presbyteries, and that the clerk's proper role is not to
pre-empt their work but to facilitate it.

	Three candidates are running for moderator: the Rev. K.C. Ptomey of
Nashville, TN (Middle Tennessee Presbytery); the Rev. David McKechnie of
Houston, TX (New Covenant Presbytery); and the Rev. Rick Ufford-Chase, who
work in border ministries along the Mexico-Arizona border in de Cristo

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