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Presbyterians likely to debate gay marriage issues at gathering in city

Jason Cato
| Saturday, June 30, 2012, 9:58 p.m.

The Episcopal Church's first openly gay bishop on Saturday told several hundred Presbyterians committed to advancing gay equality issues that their work soon could pay off.

“This is hard work, but we can do it because it is worthy work and it is Godly work,” Bishop Gene Robinson, 65, of New Hampshire told those attending a dinner hosted by More Light Presbyterians, a pro-gay rights group of the Presbyterian Church (USA), in the Westin Convention Center Hotel, Downtown. “We will live to see the day that the church of Jesus Christ, in whatever form it is, will repent from what it has done to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people the way it has repented for slavery.”

The Presbyterian Church (USA), the country's largest Presbyterian group with 1.95 million members, is holding its 220th General Assembly in the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown, through Saturday.

Various proposals concerning gay marriage could lead to contentious debate within the Louisville-based Protestant denomination.

Those proposals include calls to confirm the church's traditional definition of marriage as between a man and a woman, calls to change the definition to being between “two people,” and a request that the General Assembly, the church's ruling body, deem it acceptable for Presbyterian ministers to conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies in states where such unions are legal.

About 200 Presbyterian congregations, including several in Western Pennsylvania, have left the denomination in recent years, largely over gay issues.

The denomination last year voted to allow presbyteries and congregations the option of ordaining ministers and lay clergy in openly gay relationships.

The Pittsburgh Presbytery, which represents 145 congregations and 37,000 members in Allegheny County, voted 2-to-1 against the measure.

“A departure from the traditional definition of marriage will accelerate the departure of more congregations from the church,” Carmen Fowler LaBerge, president of the conservative Presbyterian Lay Committee, told the Tribune-Review.

Robinson's election in 2003 led to major turmoil in the Episcopal Church of the United States and the worldwide Anglican Communion. More than 350 congregations have left the American denomination since 2003, according to West Chester, Pa.-based VirtueOnline.com, an Orthodox Anglican news service.

Robinson, who plans to retire next year, said he finds inspiration from the civil rights movement of the 1960s. He called what is happening now in the Episcopal and Presbyterian churches “holy chaos.” Gay equality work in both denominations has caused a sense of confusion, which he called a step forward from the certainty that most Christians felt when it came to what God and churches thought of homosexuals.

Christian history teaches that standing for the right thing often comes with a price, Robinson said.

“So the real question for your church and mine is this,” he said, “If you're not in trouble for the gospel you preach, is it really the gospel?”

Jason Cato is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7936 or jcato@tribweb.com.

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