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US Presbyterians will allow districts to decide on gay


The Presbyterian Church (USA) has voted to allow flexibility in deciding whether to ordain non-celibate homosexuals as clergy, something that was previously banned outright by the denomination.

"With the vote today, we have not altered the fundamentals; we have the same standards as before," said the Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, the denomination’s stated clerk (chief executive), after the 20 June decision at the church’s general assembly in Birmingham, Alabama.

The denomination’s Book of Order states that clergy must adhere to "fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness".

But the new policy approved by 298 votes to 221 on 20 June gives regional presbyteries (church districts) and congregations greater leeway in ordaining clergy as well as lay deacons or elders, provided they are faithful to the church’s core values.

"The report encourages a more pastoral approach to ordination and encourages our governing bodies to do a thorough work of examining people for office," Kirkpatrick stated during the 15-22 June assembly of the church.

But the Rev. David Miller of Tampa Bay presbytery called the measure "a wrong turn", the Presbyterian News Service reported. He said it was "a license * to overlook clear standards that have been set, a license to ignore the larger discernment of the body of Christ and a license to legislate by interpretation".

The proposal was one of seven contained in a theological task force report that has spent four years looking for ways to help the denomination stay together despite its differences. The report urged all Presbyterians "to avoid division into separate denominations", a warning also sounded by the general secretary of the Geneva-based World Alliance of Reformed Churches.

"I’m afraid that fragmentation has crept into the church," the Rev. Setri Nyomi told an 18 June service gathering of worshippers from the PCUSA and two smaller denominations – the Cumberland Presbyterian Church (CPC) and the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in America (CPCA), without referring specifically to the issue of ordination of homosexuals.

Based in Louisville, Kentucky, the 3.2-million-member PCUSA is the largest Presbyterian body in the United States and has almost 11 000 congregations.

"Everything is seen as a disposable good, including relationships and the oneness of the church," Nyomi said, urging members of the three denominations to "lay aside every weight and sin" – especially divisiveness and fragmentation – in order to run the race of faith properly.

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