FORT WORTH, Tex. — Presbyterian leaders voted solidly in favor of marital fidelity during their denomination’s annual meeting in late June.
At issue was the constitutional clause that requires clergy to maintain “fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness.” By definition, this excludes active homosexuals from ordination
To force this issue, a church committee voted on June 22 to strike the fidelity clause from the constution. To go into effect, that decision needed the approval of a majority of the denomination, 173 presbyteries, or regional governing bodies.
Delegates to the 211th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted 398–198 against even allowing the church’s regional bodies to vote on the question.
While the debate over the sanctity of homosexual behavior is behind the move to strike the “marital fidelity” requirement for church leaders, the Rev. Stephen Moss of Salisbury, N.C., pointed out that the clause does not only affect gay and lesbians. “This is also about not ordaining heterosexual sex outside the bonds of marriage,” he said.
Human sexuality was the focus of another decision made by the PCUSA General Assembly. The church’s sex education curriculum is to be revised to emphasize abstinence outside the bonds of marriage. The revisions will remove teachings in the church’s sex education curriculum that have been gradually phased in since 1989. In particular, literature that prominately features the use of contraceptives will be targeted for revision. The original proposal would have stricken all mention of contraceptives from the curriculum; the measure that passed is less sweeping.
Donna Riley of Princeton, N.J., said that abstinence-only curriculum “doesn’t respond to reality. The church has a responsiblity to protect teenagers from things like unwanted pregnancies, not to mention diseases.” (However, the correlation between sex education for teenagers and the current epidemic of sexually transmitted disease among the youth of America suggests that abstinence-only curriculum is, in fact, the best response to reality. Studies indicate that educating teens on “the right way to have sex” has had a detrimental effect on young people across the country.)
Members who proposed the changes said preaching anything but abstinence sends the wrong message. “(The current curriculum) lacks Biblical integrity,” said Katherine Goyette of San Joaquin, Calif., youth advisor to the assembly. “We can teach the joy of sexual relationships, but we are called to live a life that proclaims Jesus. We cannot conform any longer.”
Congregations, parents and some church schools within the denomination widely use the church’s sex curriculum, but it’s not mandatory. The curriculum must now be modified and submitted to a committee for approval within two years.
On other issues, the Assembly affirmed the denomination’s support of “legitimate possession and use of firearms” in hunting, maintaining a substitence lifestyle, target shooting, collecting and other recreational sports. The assembly also voted to remain in the Religious Coaltion for Reproductive Choice, an abortion advocacy group.