Associated Press, 27 Jan 03
Presbyterians Won't Consider Gay Clergy Ban
By BRUCE SCHREINER
Associated Press Writer
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP)--Conservatives in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) have failed in their bid to force the denomination into an unprecedented showdown over enforcing a ban on gay clergy.
Thirteen people who had signed a petition for a historic national meeting on the issue withdrew their names, church leaders said Monday. That left conservatives short of the minimum number of signatures required under church law to call the meeting.
The special assembly would have been the first ever held by the 214-year-old denomination.
The Rev. Fahed Abu-Akel, an Atlanta minister and the denomination's moderator, or titular leader, said ``there are no winners in this situation.'' He prayed for ``unity in the midst of our diversity.''
Abu-Akel had written to petitioners, lobbying against the special assembly that he said would cost $500,000 and divert attention from other church work.
Alex Metherell, the California layman who spearheaded the petition, said Monday it seemed ``pretty hopeless'' to seek more signatures. He needed 25 clergy and 25 lay members of last year's General Assembly--the faith's main legislative body--to compel the denomination to recall the assembly delegates.
Metherell accused church officials of putting intense pressure to recant on the 26 clergy and 31 lay elders who signed the petition.
``It's blatant manipulation of these poor people's lives,'' he said in a telephone interview. ``It took real bravery for these people to sign this petition in the first place, and we can see here why that is so.''
But the Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, the denomination's top staff officer, denied the church tried to influence petitioners. Kirkpatrick said that some signers had second thoughts as soon as the petition was presented to Abu-Akel at a church meeting this month.
``There were a number of them that did not feel at the time the petition was presented that calling a special assembly would be good for the church,'' Kirkpatrick said.
However, a church in Ohio filed a complaint last week with the denomination's highest court.
In it, the Rev. William Pawson, pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Canton, argues that the meeting still should be held because church leaders had no right to ask people to reconsider signing the petition.
The denomination has asked the court to dismiss the complaint.
The petition campaign underscored the tension within the 2.5 million-member denomination. Conservatives have been critical of what they view as the refusal of higher church officials to discipline congregations that proclaim willingness to ordain non-celibate gays in defiance of church bans.
Metherell, an elder at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, Calif., has said defiance of church law extends beyond homosexual issues. For instance, he said, some Presbyterian ministers have conducted communion services for non-Christians, a violation of church law.
Kirkpatrick said the decision not to convene a special session ``in no way reflects a lack of concern for upholding'' church law. He said he was confident that the next regular General Assembly meeting May 24-31 in Denver will take up these issues.
But Metherell had little hope for the denomination's future. ``It's headed toward disintegration,'' he said.