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Sexuality: the Uniting Church is not alone

The Uniting Church is not alone when it comes to talking — and deciding — about sexuality, ministry and leadership.

During the last month, British Methodists, the Church of Scotland, the Episcopalian (Anglican) Church in the United States and US Presbyterians have all been caught up in the same issue.

All of them have also had to deal with the tensions caused by diversity and disagreement.

The United Presbyterian Church in the US voted (June 20) to give presbyteries and congregations greater leeway in deciding whether to ordain non-celibate homosexual people as ministers or lay leaders.

It upheld its standards (fidelity within marriage, chastity in singleness), but ordaining bodies can now decide if any candidate’s departure from those standards “constitutes a failure to adhere to the essentials of Reformed faith and polity”. If they decide it doesn’t, they can ordain the person.

On the same day, US Episcopalians voted to reject a motion to prevent people becoming candidates for bishop if their “manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church” — in effect, a reference to gays and lesbians.

That proposal had arisen from the worldwide Anglican concern about the US church’s consecration in 2003 of Bishop Gene Robinson, an openly gay man who lives with his partner.

On the following day (June 21), the church voted to urge its dioceses to “exercise restraint” by not agreeing to consecration of such ‘challenging’ people.

But only a week later, one diocese announced that a gay cleric who lives with his partner is one of its three nominees to become its next bishop.

In Britain, the issue of sexuality and ministry was focused last month on the law that allows civil recognition of same-gender partnerships, and whether churches should bless these partnerships.

On June 23 the Church of Scotland’s Assembly voted that individual ministers could agree to or decline any requests for a church ceremony to mark such a partnership.

But it also voted to send this decision to all its 46 presbyteries to state their view. Final adoption of the Assembly decision will depend on agreement from a majority of presbyteries.

The British Methodist Church decided (June 27) not to offer formal blessings for same-gender civil partnerships, but its ministers will be able to offer informal, private prayers to couples who make such a request.

While reaffirming traditional teaching (faithful in marriage, chaste in singleness), the Conference also said there was no reason to prevent a Methodist entering into a same-gender civil partnership.

The decision against the blessings was based on resolutions from 1993 that upheld traditional sexual standards but also said that the church “recognises, affirms and celebrates the participation and ministry of lesbians and gay men in the church”.

In two years, British Methodists will decide whether to reopen discussion of these resolutions.

The Uniting Church national Assembly meeting will consider eight proposals relating to Sexuality and Leadership commencing 2 pm Friday July 7 at the UQ Centre in Brisbane. The debate will continue on Sunday morning July 9.

For more 11th Assembly news go HERE.