Dispatches > In Brief

In Brief

"In Brief" Continued...

Issue: "Jim Talent: Majority maker," Nov. 23, 2002

By the book?

Crisis? What crisis? That was Clifton Kirkpatrick's response to widely circulated reports of a "constitutional crisis" looming in the 2.5-million-member Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Mr. Kirkpatrick is the PCUSA's moderator (top executive). In a memo to denominational leaders this month, he denied any such crisis exists.

Conservatives in the PCUSA beg to differ. They point to a number of churches and pastors in open violation of provisions of the PCUSA Book of Order, the church's constitution, with little or nothing being done to bring them to account. Mainly, these churches and pastors oppose the constitutional standard of fidelity in marriage and chastity in singleness for pastors and church officers, and they chafe at the prohibition against "marrying" couples of the same sex.

For example, one of the rebels is Pastor A. Stephen Van Kuiken of Mt. Auburn Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati. He has said repeatedly he won't obey church law. His church's November newsletter reported that he and Rev. Judy McBridge conducted a "marriage" ceremony for a lesbian couple in October.

Rev. Van Kuiken is facing disciplinary charges in his PCUSA presbytery (regional governing unit). The charges were filed by conservative Presbyterian Paul Rolf Jensen, a lawyer in Vienna, Va., but the presbytery has been dragging its feet.

Mr. Jensen has similar charges pending in about 20 other cases. One involves Rev. Donald Stroud, a minister in the Presbytery of Baltimore who works with a gay-activist organization. The presbytery itself in a lopsided, stunning vote called on its governing council to adopt a policy of defiance against the PCUSA sexuality provisions. Proposed wording: The presbytery "shall not pursue any disciplinary or remedial complaints growing out of attempts to enforce the provisions ..."

Because the rebels aren't being reigned in, many conservatives want the PCUSA's top governing body, the General Assembly, to intervene-even if it means scheduling a special meeting. But, warned Mr. Kirkpatrick in his memo to PCUSA leaders, the constitution assigns the responsibility of adjudication to the judicial commissions at the presbytery, synod, and national level-190 in all. If governing bodies were to intervene in the judicial process, he said, then the PCUSA indeed would be plunged into "a constitutional crisis." | Edward E. Plowman

Registry outrage

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko on Halloween signed into law one of the most repressive religion laws in all the former Soviet republics. In effect, it establishes the Russian Orthodox Church as the favored state religion. It bans activity by "unregistered" religious groups but makes it nearly impossible for minority religious groups to register. Baptist, Pentecostal, and other Protestant leaders vow not to be deterred. "However difficult, we'll remain faithful to a higher law," one Baptist leader said. | Edward E. Plowman

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