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Presbyterians still divided on same-sex unions

| Tuesday, July 3, 2012, 11:20 p.m.
Tribune-Review
George Swanson of San Leandro, Calif., gets a tour of Westminster College as part of the Presbyterian Church (USA), which is having its biennial General Assembly conference in Pittsburgh this week. The group visited Westminster and Grove City College on Tuesday. Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Tribune-Review
Rev. Young Min Ahn, Director of the Presbyterian Church in Korea, gets a tour of Westminster College as part of the Presbyterian Church (USA), which is having its biennial General Assembly conference in Pittsburgh this week. The group visited Westminster and Grove City College on Tuesday. Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review

Same-sex marriage continues to be a major dividing point among members of the Presbyterian Church (USA) as the issue moves closer to a vote this week by the denomination's governing body.

The 220th General Assembly is expected to address the subject of gay marriage and the church before its biennial conference wraps up on Saturday in the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown. Groups on opposing sides of the debate met separately on Tuesday as the church's committee on Civil Union and Marriage Issues considered proposals both for and against gay marriage.

A church survey released in February showed that 51 percent who participated opposed gay marriage.

“Love is not limited by gender or race,” said Michael Adee, executive director of More Light Presbyterians, a pro-gay group within the church that sponsored a luncheon and panel discussion on marriage equality in the Westin Hotel. “We stand on the right side of love, on the right side of history.”

For conservative Presbyterians, the church, which is the largest Presbyterian denomination in the United States, already is on the right side.

“Those people who don't believe what Jesus has to say and do not follow him have a very serious fate in store for them,” said Phil Chatman, 79, of Westminster, Calif., who attended a luncheon sponsored by OnebyOne, a group of “ex-gay” Presbyterians.

Linda Harvey, director of Mission America, a Columbus, Ohio-based Christian pro-family organization, warned more than 100 people who attended the OnebyOne event at Tonic Bar & Grill about the dangers of same-sex marriage on children and anti-bullying campaigns in public schools that promote acceptance of homosexuality.

“No one needs to embrace homosexuality to end bullying,” Harvey said.

Harvey said homosexual urges can be overcome and that when the issues of homosexuality and same-sex marriage come up, people who speak against them “should not be marginalized.”

Churchgoers need only to look to the Bible for guidance on the issue, she said.

“It's very clear in Scripture, in the sexual morality code — it's one man and one woman,” Harvey said. “People are trying to insert the issue and say it's like the Golden Rule (do unto others). That's a clear distortion.”

Sentiment among nearly 200 people gathered at the More Light event was quite different.

“I've got a dog in this fight, and I am tired of being told by my colleagues that this isn't an important issue,” said the Rev. Paul Rodkey of Bethany Presbyterian Church in Spokane, Wash., who is the father of two gay children. “Presbyterian pastors have been absolutely shameful, and they've been to seminary.”

The civil union and marriage committee is considering several proposals. Some want the committee to recommend that the General Assembly confirm the denomination's definition of marriage as “between a woman and a man,” while others call for a constitutional amendment to change the marriage definition to between “two people.”

Others have asked that the church allow pastors to officiate at same-sex wedding ceremonies in states where gay marriage is legal.

On Tuesday, the committee introduced a fourth proposal that would ask for another study on gay marriage that would table the issue for four years.

“That's like punting on first down,” said Arthur Fullerton of New Baltimore, N.Y. “I think we know what the issues are. Now, it's time to choose.”

The General Assembly is expected to consider the committee's recommendation on Friday.

Jason Cato and Bob Kerlik are staff writers for Trib Total Media. They can be reached at jcato@tribweb.com or bkerlik@tribweb.com.

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