This Week

Issue: "Larry Woiwode: By the book," July 4, 1998

Win a few, lose a few

Moderates and conservatives won some and lost some important issues and votes in their most recent showdown with liberals at the 210th General Assembly of the 2.6-million-member Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) at Charlotte, N.C. With little discussion, the commissioners (delegates from presbyteries) rejected by a vote of 412-92 a bid by the Milwaukee Presbytery to make ordination standards more palatable for homosexuals. They also turned down a denominational committee's proposal that would have led to rewording the Heidelberg Confession, part of the PCUSA's doctrinal standards. The editing would have omitted a reference to "homosexual perversion" as one of the sins God condemns. Also, they voted 322-185 to require abstinence teaching and an emphasis on sexual purity in PCUSA youth education materials. A substitute motion that would have replaced the word purity with responsibility was rejected 261-246. However, moderates failed 265-264 in an attempt to inject a stronger biblical emphasis in pre-school sexual guidelines for parents and congregations. Sent back to committee was a controversial study paper on social witness, "Building Community Among Strangers." Among other things, it contained universalist concepts of salvation. The commissioners ordered a rewrite centered on confessional and biblical teaching, with Christ portrayed as Lord of all the world and its only hope of reconciliation. The assembly sent to churches two new catechisms designed to introduce basic doctrinal teachings of the Christian faith to 10- and 11-year-olds and to older youth and adults who may be biblically and theologically illiterate. Liberals complained they are a return to outdated pedagogical methods and are too centered in the New Testament. After twice voting to withdraw PCUSA sponsorship and funding from the National Network of Presbyterian College Women, commissioners succumbed to a carefully choreographed floor demonstration and emotional appeal from the podium, restored about $50,000 for another year, and ordered a committee to analyze the NNPCW's programs, content, and resources, and report back at next year's assembly. The NNPCW, tied closely to homosexual interests, claims to have 250 representatives on some 80 campuses but attracted only 17 people to its first national conference; fewer than 40 are expected at this year's event. Troubling to many moderates and conservatives was the 355-179 adoption of an "authoritative interpretation" of the PCUSA constitution to "consider the lives and behaviors of [ordination] candidates as individuals ... and not to exclude anyone categorically [such as for sexual orientation]." Ostensibly aimed at distinguishing between homosexual proclivity and homosexual practice, it nevertheless seems to open the door to off-center constitutional opinions by gay-friendly church courts. "Over the last year or so, we have been successful in putting the doctrine of Jesus Christ-Christology-at the center of our [denominational] conversations once again," Pittsburgh Seminary professor Andrew Purves told a breakfast gathering sponsored by Presbyterians for Renewal. "This renewed interest in doctrine is a watershed event."

World in brief

Still tense
The 45th anniversary of the outbreak of the Korean War brought vivid evidence that tensions between north and south remain high. South Korean Navy divers recovered a North Korean submarine, along with the bodies of eight North Korean soldiers onboard, after the sub was snagged by fishing nets in South Korean waters just one mile from the naval port of Donghae. The soldiers were believed to have committed suicide after the Yugo-class sub, built to carry seven men and used for spy infiltration, was captured. The sub sank when a tow-cable attached by South Korea's Navy snapped, and divers used large airbags to raise the vessel during monsoon rains. Opposition leaders criticized President Kim Dae-Jung for not taking the incident seriously enough and botching the towing operation. Chemical reaction
The UN's chief weapons inspector for Iraq told the Security Council that lab tests confirmed Iraq loaded the deadly VX nerve agent into missile warheads. The council voted to extend sanctions against Iraq another 60 days based on the findings, but also decided to perform further tests on the weapons fragments in Europe because the Iraqis contended the U.S. laboratory analysis was biased. The Iraqi government originally denied ever producing VX, just a few drops of which is lethal. Then it admitted to producing the nerve agent but not loading it on weapons. Now it says all stores of the chemical compound have been destroyed. UN weapons inspector chief Richard Butler said he doubts the latest assertion and called the test results "utterly unambiguous" in detecting traces of VX on warhead fragments retrieved at Nibai, Iraq, last March. Consenting to teen sex
Britain's lower house of Parliament voted June 22 to lower the age of consent for sex between homosexuals to 16 from 18 years old. The measure passed 336-129, with active support from Prime Minister Tony Blair, as well as leaders of the main opposition parties, the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats. Hundreds of gay-rights activists, who charged that the consent laws were a form of discrimination, held a vigil outside Parliament during the vote. They vowed to continue a campaign to liberalize laws against homosexuals, including mandating a right to adopt and be foster parents to children.

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