The Presbyterian Church (USA) ended its national convention in Denver on Saturday without reconsidering its ban on gay clergy, but opponents of the policy vowed to keep pressing for change. "We'll be back," read a sign held by a gay rights activist at the Colorado Convention Center, where the church's 215th General Assembly was held. The assembly, made up of the church's elected policy makers, has asked its members twice since 1997 to repeal the ban only to see regional governing bodies--presbyteries--vote overwhelmingly to keep the provision. This time conservatives and moderates fearful of splits in the church teamed up to block a vote. "If we go through this again, we're not going to get a different answer. It has wreaked havoc in my church," said the Reverend Scott Mason of Riverside, Calif. Assembly members voted Friday to send a proposed repeal of the ban to a task force that will report on several issues in 2006.
The Reverend Cathy Chisholm of Weyauwega, Wis., said she supports gay ordination but agrees that more time is needed to debate the issue. "I think when we see more gays and lesbians in leadership in other places in society, the church will be more willing," Chisholm said. "It should be the other way around. According to our theology, the church should be out in front."
Many people don't want to wait until 2006, said Cynthia Burse, a seminary student from Atlanta who voted in committee to ask the General Assembly to drop the ban. She said black and female Presbyterians also were told to be patient about gaining equality in the church but that they finally gave up and began demanding their place in the church. "Now we have one remaining group that's waiting," Burse said. "Fear is a major factor for a lot of people."
The Presbyterian Church does not specifically single out gay men and lesbians. It limits ordination to faithful married people or chaste singles, but in practice that policy has targeted only gay people in relationships. The ban applies to elders and deacons, lay officers elected by a congregation, as well as to pastors.