Presbyterian church presses for gay ban

BY Advocate.com Editors

January 24 2003 1:00 AM ET

An Ohio Presbyterian church has filed a complaint with national church leadership in hopes of forcing the denomination to enforce a ban on gays in the ministry. The complaint, filed Tuesday by the Westminster Presbyterian Church, argues that church leaders are violating the denomination's constitution by delaying a national meeting on church policy regarding gays.

The dispute centers on a 1997 policy adopted by the Presbyterian Church (USA), based in Louisville, Ky., that prohibits the ordination of noncelibate gay people and the extension of marital rites to gay couples. 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.

Using an obscure clause of church law, 26 ministers and 31 elders signed a petition seeking to reconvene last year's General Assembly in a special session to push for strict enforcement of church policy on ordaining noncelibate gays. The church has never held such a special session.

Paul Rolf Jensen, attorney for the Westminster Presbyterian Church, said the church constitution requires only 25 ministers and 25 elders to request a meeting.

Clifton Kirkpatrick, the church's top ecclesiastical officer, said Thursday that he is still verifying whether enough leaders requested the special session. That process should be finished by next week. Kirkpatrick said he is skeptical of the claim filed by the Ohio church. But if the votes are there for the special session, he said, he would be forced to call it; such a special session would likely convene in mid May.

The Reverend William Pawson, pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church, said Wednesday that he believes the church leadership is stalling. "We have been asked to trust the process, but we are seeing that the process is not working," he said. Pawson said two dozen complaints have been filed against Presbyterian churches for ordaining gay ministers or blessing gay marriages and "not one of them has resulted in a correction."

Michael Adee, a national organizer for More Light Presbyterians, which seeks a more inclusive church, said the complaint "seems to indicate a lack of trust and a lack of faith in God's spirit being at work within the church and other persons. These kinds of complaints or attacks do not foster trust but create a divisiveness and a distrust, but I keep believing we can find a way to get along in the church."

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