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Pittsburgh Presbytery rejects gay minister measure

| Sunday, March 15, 2009

An amendment to the Presbyterian Church (USA) constitution that would have opened the door for gay, bisexual or transgender people to become ministers or elders was defeated in a 206-105 vote Saturday at a special meeting of the Pittsburgh Presbytery.

More than 300 delegates from 150 churches gathered at Northmont United Presbyterian Church in McCandless to debate the hotly contested measure, and vote by secret ballot.

The amendment being considered at all 173 presbyteries nationwide would replace a rule that church officers live in "fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness" with more general language that requires devotion to Jesus Christ and the church.

So far, 43 other presbyteries have voted in favor of the measure and 72 were opposed, a tally on The Presbyterian Coalition's Web site said yesterday. A majority, or 87, presbyteries must adopt the proposed change for it to become church law.

The Rev. Robert Gagnon, an elder at Eastminster Presbyterian Church in East Liberty and a professor at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, called yesterday's vote "consistent with Jesus's position and the entire apostolic witness, consistent with philosophic reason and — I believe — even with scientific evidence."

Gagnon had argued earlier against the amendment known as "08-B," pointing out that relationships between males and females form the foundation of creation, as designed by God.

Advocates of the change had thought Pittsburgh-area church leaders would take a more open-minded stance than they did in 2001, when a similar measure was defeated locally and, ultimately, on the national level. Supporters of 08-B say 19 presbyteries that voted for the status quo in 2001 changed their positions this year.

But in Pittsburgh, "The vote in 2001 was almost exactly what it was this time, two-thirds against and one-third for," said the Rev. Janet Edwards, a pastor at large and parish associate with the Community of Reconciliation in Oakland.

"It's disappointing for me that, in the nine years since that vote, we haven't had more movement of understanding through our conversations together of how the church can include all God's children," she said. Edwards was cleared in October of charges that she violated church law by officiating at a wedding of two women in 2005 in McKeesport.

Mike Fazzini, an elder at Fox Chapel Presbyterian Church, has a son who is gay and is "living apart from the church" now.

"It's not a healthy environment for him to be constantly in the presence of negative messages about who he is and his role in the world," said Fazzini, who also was unhappy with the lopsided vote.

Some delegates said they would have preferred that the church skip votes on divisive issues such as ordination standards, and keep talking.

"The church is not going to legislate its way out of the discussions we need to have," said the Rev. Dave Carver, pastor at First United Presbyterian Church of Crafton Heights.

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