Gay and lesbian clergy moved a step closer to ordination in the Presbyterian Church after a legislative committee approved a measure that would partly lift the church's ban on gay ministers. The proposal, passed by the panel Tuesday, will go before the national legislative assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) for a full vote later this week.
If passed, the measure would allow individual churches to dismiss a 1978 interpretation of church law that prohibits gays from being ordained as ministers, elders, or deacons. Gay and lesbian clergy in relationships could still be barred from ordination under a separate church law passed in 1997, but liberals said removal of the 1978 restriction would be a major step toward full inclusion for gays in the church.
"It provides opportunities for gays and lesbians they did not have before," said Doug Nave, who serves on the board of the Covenant Network, a group of Presbyterians lobbying for ordination of gays. "We think it will show that Christians can disagree on something and still be part of a single community of faith."
As rifts over homosexuality have deepened among Episcopalians and United Methodists, Presbyterians have debated the issue with relative civility in recent years, though some division remains. While conservatives acknowledge that some individual Presbyterian churches have been ordaining gay ministers for years, they believe that further loosening of the restrictions would undermine the teachings of Scripture.
The assembly passed measures seeking to allow gay pastors in 1997 and 2000, but the proposals were rebuffed by a majority of the country's 173 presbyteries in a referendum. About 8,000 Presbyterians are taking part in the weeklong assembly at Richmond, Va.'s convention center.