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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Presbyterians Grieve Over Crisis of Conscience

Reprinted by permission of The Christian Post

By Lillian Kwon
Christian Post Reporter
Wed, Jul. 23 2008 01:32 PM EDT

Presbyterians grieved by the pro-gay actions of the highest governing body of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) plan to converge next month to look for a way forward.

The meeting will provide a forum and analysis for around 200 PC(USA) leaders as they lament votes by the denomination's General Assembly in June that favored homosexuality.

The Assembly's actions "have caused a crisis of conscience within the denomination," said Renee Guth, executive director of the New Wineskins Association of Churches, a network of some 200 conservative Presbyterian churches discontent with the PC(USA).

The Assembly on June 27 approved an "authoritative interpretation" of the church constitution, allowing non-celibate gay and lesbian candidates for ordination to conscientiously object the current standard which requires fidelity in marriage between a man and a woman and chastity in singleness. The governing body also voted to delete the fidelity and chastity requirement – a vote that will go to the denomination's 173 presbyteries for approval – and approved changes to a document of the Reformed Christian faith that would delete "homosexual perversion" from a list of condemned behaviors.

Days after the biennial Assembly meeting, the PC(USA)'s top leaders sent a letter to all of its 11,000 congregations acknowledging the anxiety the Assembly created for some and the "storms" that are to come. The leaders urged congregations to stay together and not "act or react immediately" to the decisions.

But some have already begun acting.

"We have had strong interest from many PC(USA) pastors and elders from across the country for the Atlanta meeting," Guth and co-moderators Gerrit Dawson and Carmen Fowler of the New Wineskins network said in a recent announcement.

New Wineskins will be hosting a meeting for PC(USA) leaders in Atlanta on Aug. 6-7, ahead of their annual convocation.

"We are organizing this event around the needs of those in attendance by placing all options on the table, doing a side by side analysis, and spending more time listening than speaking."

Some of those options include being "in the denomination but not of it," they listed, and various forms of non-geographic presbyteries, among others.

While the conservative network typically holds one gathering each year, addressing both PC(USA) denominational issues and the larger missional vision of the New Wineskins, the group has decided to host two meetings this year with the Atlanta one focusing solely on the denominational issues.

"The Atlanta meeting is for PC(USA) pastors and elders who share our commitment to Essential Tenets, who are grieved by the actions of this past General Assembly, and who are now asking new questions and seeking new answers," the network leaders explained.

Attendees of the Atlanta meeting will also be introduced to the vision of New Wineskins, which consists of congregations that have left the PC(USA) over its liberal direction on theology and those that have remained.

The New Wineskins network, representing about 100,000 Presbyterians, was formed in 2001 after the General Assembly of the PC(USA) would not affirm the singular saving Lordship of Jesus Christ. Conservative Presbyterians began discussing what a church in the 21st century and faithful to Christ would look like as they tried to rediscover their Reformed and Presbyterian roots.

Their fifth convocation is scheduled for November in Baton Rouge, La., where they hope to move away from discussing denominational issues and toward the larger vision of the New Wineskins.

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