Gay music director resigns following church ultimatum

BY admin

October 30 2003 12:00 AM ET

A gay music director who said he was told by church officials to resign or repent for not taking a vow of chastity has decided to step down, causing a rift among the congregation. The 350 members of the First Presbyterian Church of Downers Grove, Ill., are having their faith tested as they grapple with questions about religion, homosexuality, sin, and whether to stay with the church. "I don't plan on ever setting foot in that church again," said Travis Skupien, 16, who said he got involved in the suburban Chicago church only after meeting Todd Diehl, 43. He said Diehl, who has worked at the church for most of the last 13 years, taught him music theory and how to read music and play piano. Skupien's mother, Donna, has not attended services since Diehl left. "It has created a lot of turmoil within the church," she said. "At this point we are going to start looking for another church." Diehl said he was forced to quit because remaining celibate was an unrealistic option. "As a Christian, I don't believe in what they're doing at all. Jesus said, 'Judge not,"' Diehl said.

Diehl, who describes himself as a nondenominational Christian, said he told church leaders about his homosexuality in June because he no longer wanted to conceal it. He said they first responded by saying they didn't think it would affect his job, but in a letter dated September 30, officials told him to either repent or resign. The Reverend J. David Bianchin declined to comment on the specifics of the case at his church. "We are talking to the Presbytery," Bianchin said. Officials at the Presbytery of Chicago, the governing body for 107 congregations in the Chicago area, are following the situation "with prayerful interest" and will be available to Diehl and the Downers Grove church for counsel, said the Reverend Robert Reynolds, executive presbyter.

Most U.S. religious bodies follow ancient Jewish and Christian tradition and bar actively homosexual clergy, though they usually accept those committed to celibacy. The Presbyterian Church (USA) added a provision to church law in 1997 that requires all clergy and lay officers to observe fidelity in heterosexual marriage or "chastity in singleness."

Nedra Sheridan, 83, who has been a member of the Downers Grove church for 50 years, said she's conflicted about the church officials' decision on Diehl because he "did a great job. In biblical teachings, homosexuality is a no-no. The elders, the Session, had no choice but to make this decision," she said. "I don't think it's a popular one. But we agree to support our governing body, so it's difficult."

Earlier this year in Rockford, Ill., a gay church employee was fired after he refused to renounce his partner of 10 years. Bill Stein had been the choir director at Holy Family Catholic Church but now works for a United Methodist congregation in the same town.

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