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US Presbyterian body rules out ordination of non-celibate gays


The highest court of the Presbyterian Church (USA) has issued a ruling that bars the ordination of non-celibate homosexual clergy in the US denomination.

Opponents of the decision pledged to take the issue to the denomination’s 2008 general assembly, scheduled for 21-28 June in San Jose, California, after the court stated that ordination rules can only be changed by alterations to the church’s constitution.

"It is time for Presbyterians to end the discrimination against their [gay and lesbian] sisters and brothers and to honour their calls to ordained office," New Light Presbyterians, a Presbyterian gay rights advocacy group, said in an 18 February statement.  The group noted that nine US local presbyteries (church districts) have already stated their public opposition to the ban on ordaining gay and lesbian clergy.

But Presbyterians for Renewal, praised the court’s decision upholding sexual behaviour standards, saying the decision promoted church "peace," "unity" and "purity."  It said, "This standard reflects both the clear teaching of Scripture and the mind of the church."

The 11 February decision by the 16-member General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission upholds long-standing rules that candidates for ordination in the 3-million member denomination who are not married adhere to a commitment to "fidelity and chastity".

A decision by the denomination’s 2006 general assembly permitted a local presbytery some leeway on the question of ordination by allowing homosexual ministerial candidates to publicly declare an objection, or in the Presbyterian tradition, a "scruple," to the celibacy rules.

However, the court ended such leeway. It said that while "scruples" are still permitted, they do not permit departure from the requirement for "fidelity and chastity".  The celibacy rules can only be altered by changes to the denomination’s constitution, something that would require a general assembly decision, it stated.

"Until that occurs," the ruling stated, "individual candidates, officers, examining and governing bodies must adhere to [the standards]."

Ecumenical News International