Washington area Presbyterians went on record this week in opposition to the ordination of homosexuals to the church's ministry.
In an emotional session that lasted until nearly midnight on Tuesday, the National Capital Union Presbytery took a stand on the issue that has troubled the United Presbyterian Church across the country and produced threats of schism.
Here as elsewhere in the 2.6-million-member denomination, the emotional issue overshadowed other concerns of the church.
The debate was triggered two years ago when the New York City Presbytery asked the national church's governing body, the General Assembly, for "definitive guidance" on whether it should ordain an otherwise qualified ministerial candidate who is an acknowledged homosexual.
A 19-member task force was appointed to study the question from medical and psychological, as well as biblical and theological viewpoints. The majority of the task force members, in a report of their findings released in late January, concluded that nothing in the church's creeds or constitution "can be construed explicitly to prohibit the ordination of self-affirming practicing homosexual Christians."
That conclusion, which will come before the church's General Assembly next May in San Diego, is supported by a detailed 200-page study document and bibliography.
A minority report, submitted by five of the 19-member task force, would allow ordination only for "the repentant homosexual person who finds the power of Christ redirecting his or her sexual desires toward a married heterosexual commitment" or who remains celibate. Ordination of acknowledged homosexuals would be barred by the minority report.
National church offices have sent summaries of the two positions to every minister in the church. But only a handful of persons attending the presbytery session here indicated having seen the full 200-page report before they were asked to vote on it Tuesday.
The question of ordaining homosexuals is not supposed to come before the regional presbyteries until after the General Assembly acts in May. The Rev. John pharr Sr., stated clerk (secretary) of the local presbytery, explained that the issue was included on the group's agenda because of the desire of many here to express their convictions on the subject.
A number of commissioners at the meeting fought unsuccessfully to prevent any action on the question on the grounds that it was not properly before the presbytery. They argued further that they could not vote intelligently without having seen the study report.
A larger faction, however, pressed to get on with the vote. "There's only one issue here, to ordain or not to ordain," said one lay delegate, adding "all this other talk about it is a lot of baloney."
He was reproved by the moderator, who had admonished the body earlier to "refrain from any language or decorum which might be offensive to another" in the discussion of what he termed "a very, very sensitive subject."
The written ballot produced 71 in favor of the majority report (to permit homosexual ordinations); 116 for the minority (opposing homosexual ordination) and 62 abstentions.
In a related action, the presbytery rejected a proposed resolution brought by the Eastminster Presbyterian Church in Hyattsville, which would have asked every church in the presbytery to "survey their membership with regard to avowed practicing homosexuals and those committing other blatantly sinful acts, to seek to minister to them in a loving, redeeming way and in cases of failure to disuade them, to take appropriate disciplinary action."
While the minority report of the national task force rejects ordination for homosexuals, it also denounces what it terms "homophobia," saying "There is no place within the Christian faith for the culturally fashionable response of mingled contempt, hatred and fear (of homosexuals) that is called homophobia."