Copyright (c) 1996, Roanoke Times

DATE: Saturday, July 6, 1996                 TAG: 9607080058
SOURCE: Associated Press 


Saying the church must speak clearly on scripture and human sexuality, the governing body of the Presbyterian Church (USA) approved a policy Friday allowing the ordination of gays - as long as they remain celibate and disavow their past sexuality.

The policy also would prohibit unmarried heterosexuals who are ordained from having sex.

``This calls for all persons who would be officers in the church to live lives that are in conformity with scripture,'' said the Rev. Roberta Hestenes of Philadelphia, moderator of the church's Ordination and Human Sexuality Committee, which recommended the policy.

The vote of the church's General Assembly was 313-236.

The decision must now be considered nationwide by leaders of the Presbyterian Church (USA), a 3 million-member church formed by a 1983 merger of the northern and southern branches of Presbyterianism.

In the past, church policy has been ambiguous - individual churches and presbyteries have ordained practicing homosexuals, but the church has also considered homosexual sex to be a sin.

Opponents said the decision was a step backward.

``We are asking people again: `Don't ask. Don't tell. Let's live our lives in secrecy.' I don't believe that is the Gospel,'' said the Rev. Myra Kazanjian of Pittsburgh.

Kazanjian was among 300 people who marched through the hall at the Albuquerque Convention Center to protest the vote.

The decision followed similar policies at other Protestant churches in the United States. Only the United Church of Christ allows ordination of non-celibate gays.

The Presbyterian Church has been debating the issue since 1978.

On Wednesday, the Ordination and Human Sexuality Committee concluded that the standards for ordination should be ``fidelity within the covenant of marriage between one man and one woman - or chastity in singleness.''

The new policy also says that people ``refusing to repent of any self-acknowledged practice which the Confessions call sin shall not be ordained.''

``This church must speak now with a clear voice about the understanding of scripture and human sexuality,'' explained Hestenes.

After the vote Friday, hundreds of gay and lesbian church members and leaders gathered to sing, ``We Are Staying in the Church of God.'' But some said the decision would drive people away from the church.

``Oh, yes, a lot of people will leave,'' said Sandy Martin, an elder from Pittsburgh. ``I don't think they realize what kind of pain they bring to gays and lesbians. One of the things that could happen is the church could split [into two separate churches] on the issue.''

Also on Friday, the General Assembly elected the Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick of Harlingen, Texas, to a four-year term as the church's chief ecclesiastical officer. He said he would support whatever position the church takes.

LENGTH: Medium:   64 lines
ILLUSTRATION: PHOTO:  AP. The Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick of Harlingen, Texas, 

was elected to a four-year term as the Presbyterian Church (USA)'s

chief ecclesiastical officer. Beside him is his wife, Diane


by CNB