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For world Anglicans, a semi-schism

"For world Anglicans, a semi-schism" Continued...

Issue: "Home again," July 12, 2008

The 1998 Lambeth voted 526-70 with 45 abstentions to reject same-sex behavior as "incompatible with Scripture." This time Williams changed procedures so the conference will avoid plenary decision-making and policy-setting. Unless the bishops revolt against this, the grandly assembled Anglican hierarchy will settle nothing while both liberal Anglicans and GAFCON continue to busily consolidate their gains.

Presbyterians vote against mandatory 'fidelity and chastity'

By Richard N. Ostling

The Presbyterian Church (USA), long divided over the gay issue, now seems to be moving inexorably leftward. Delegates at its biennial June assembly voted by 54 percent to abolish a law that requires all clergy and lay office-holders "to live either in fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness."

Instead, replacement wording initiated by Boston Presbyterians would commit candidates for office to obey Jesus Christ, "striving to follow where he leads through the witness of the Scriptures" with "fidelity" to unspecified church standards. Local examiners would assess each candidate's "sincere efforts."

Because the "fidelity and chastity" law is contained in the church constitution, this revision must also be ratified over the coming year by a majority of the denomination's 173 regional presbyteries. Traditionalists handily blocked similar proposals in 1997 and 2000, so have reason to hope they can block liberals' latest repeal bid.

But the meeting in San Jose, Calif., also passed two "authoritative interpretations" of church law that take immediate effect in the nation's largest Presbyterian denomination. One abolishes previous assemblies' conservative interpretations of sexual morality. The other reinstates a policy approved by the 2006 assembly that grants local Presbyterians leeway to approve candidates who do not follow national church standards. That overturns a February ruling from the church's highest court, which said the sexual standard cannot be legitimately nullified except by a constitutional amendment.

The 2006 assembly's local-option gambit provoked a small schism, one reason for a net loss of more than 57,500 members from 2006 to 2007, the shrinking denomination's worst annual percentage decline since 1974. Conservatives warn that the 2008 assembly actions may provoke more turmoil. Further roiling matters are liberals' ongoing ordinations of openly homosexual candidates and resulting church tribunals.

One legislative committee complained that the current law limits "Christ's freedom to use his servants as he would choose." After the voting, a liberal caucus rejoiced that the assembly had agreed "to open the door to the gifts and callings of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer members."

But a somber statement from Presbyterians for Renewal declared that moral compromise now requires biblical conservatives to redirect financial giving, create "formally distinct bodies without a formal split in the denomination," and hope for "formal reunification" sometime in the future. This evangelical group also wants a change in church law so disgruntled congregations can quit the denomination without surrendering their buildings.

The assembly also initiated plans to revise the Heidelberg Catechism. Instead of denouncing individuals guilty of "homosexual perversion," the church would adopt other translations of the 1576 text that speak of an "unchaste person." Delegates killed a proposal that the church redefine marriage as being between "two people" rather than a "man and woman," but authorized a committee to ponder the problem of marriage and civil unions.

Richard N. Ostling
Richard N. Ostling

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