By a large margin, the 267 delegates to the national assembly of the 1.4 million-member Uniting Church of Australia (UCA) July 17 formally approved the ordination of homosexual men and women on a local-option basis by presbyteries and congregations.
Evangelical clergy and congregations immediately began heading for the exits. Prominent UCA minister Fred Nile, a national political leader, condemned the action as unbiblical and bailed. If he had stayed, he said, "people would assume I supported it." But well-known minister Gordon Moyes, who heads a large evangelistic and welfare ministry in Sydney, said he would stay and fight for a return to biblical standards from within.
UCA leaders appealed for calm and insisted nothing had changed; the assembly merely formalized what already was standard practice. They said no congregation would be forced to accept a homosexual minister.
The UCA was formed by a merger of Presbyterian, Methodist, and Congregational churches in 1977, making it the country's third-largest denomination at the time. With many members having slowly drifted back over the years to conservative remnants of the former denominations, it has since slipped to fifth place, and is bound to sink lower.