Presbyterian Church Stays Its Course

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THE Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) by a large majority has adopted a report on human sexuality that reverses liberal conclusions in an earlier paper. The original report, "Keeping Body and Soul Together: Sexuality, Spirituality, and Social Justice," introduced the premise that sexual expression between unmarried people and homosexuals could have integrity.

The report, which also recommended ordaining gays and lesbians and blessing their unions, offended many people in the church.

"Our report may not have been prophetic," says the Rev. William Jameson, a Pennsylvania pastor on the committee that drafted the new report, "but it reassured people that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) believes in basic truths.

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"What I was hearing when I left home is: We want to know if the church is going to maintain certain standards," Mr. Jameson said.

The new report, which was accepted by 96 percent of the 600 church commissioners meeting in Baltimore, was approved June 10 after a full day of intense discussion.

Efforts to stray from the traditional positions espoused in the approved paper - either by calling for even stricter moral guidelines or for more acceptance of gay and lesbian relationships - collapsed.

The earlier, more liberal report, which was prepared by a 17-member committee after four years of study, suggested that the 2.9 million-member denomination support a new sexual ethic based on consent and mutuality rather than "heterosexist" and "patriarchal" considerations.

The Rev. Gordon Stewart, moderator of the convention's study committee, said members of the task force who wrote the controversial document had been subjected to "name-calling" and received "letters of enormous cruelty."

But church members' concerns, delivered in written and spoken testimony, persuaded the churche's General Assembly Committee on Human Sexuality to drop the 200-page report for a shorter and more cautious statement.

The new report reaffirmed scriptural authority and the "sanctity of the marriage covenant between one man and one woman."

It also reendorsed earlier church positions supporting civil rights for gays and lesbians but barring them from ordination to the ministry.

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