The top leader in the Presbyterian Church (USA) has asked ministers and elders to reconsider their support for a proposed meeting to discuss strict enforcement of the church's ban on gay ministers and weddinglike ceremonies for same-sex couples. The Reverend Fahed Abu-Akel, moderator of the 2.4 million-member denomination, wrote to 26 ministers and 31 elders who signed a petition seeking to reconvene last year's General Assembly in a special session. "I implore you in the name of Christ and for the good of the Presbyterian Church (USA) to reconsider your decision," he wrote.
The petition reflects the tension within the denomination over gay issues. Conservatives have grown frustrated by higher church officials who, they say, have refused to discipline churches that proclaim their willingness to ordain noncelibate gay people and hold same-sex union ceremonies. Abu-Akel, a minister in Atlanta, said a special meeting would divert church money and attention away from the work of the denomination. He has said that a special session would cost more than $500,000. "In the current economy, congregations and governing bodies are reducing their local programs and contributions to the work of the whole church," he wrote.
Alex Metherell, who is spearheading the petition effort, said Thursday that Abu-Akel has no authority under church law to issue such a letter. "What he is attempting to do is basically recount the votes in a petition after the petition has been submitted," Metherell said. Under church law, a petition seeking a special General Assembly session requires signatures from at least 25 ministers and 25 church elders who were commissioners at the last regular General Assembly. Church officials are in the process of verifying the signatures.
The petition has sparked a constitutional argument over the timing of a special meeting. Metherell contends that the session could convene 60 days after the moderator issues the call for the meeting. Abu-Akel said the special session could not start any sooner than 120 days after he received the petition. Under such a timetable, the special gathering would occur just days before the next regular General Assembly convenes, May 24 in Denver.