After three years of study, a 17-member committee of the Presbyterian Church has prepared a report suggesting that the church liberalize its views on sexuality.
However, many church members disagree withthe recommendations of the Special Committee on Sexuality.
Among other things, the 200-page study -- to be presented at the church's 203rd General Assembly in Baltimore, June 4 through June 12 -- calls for ordination of homosexuals and accepting relationships outside of heterosexual marriage.
The members of the committee who support this report are asking the assembly to accept it for study fortwo years, and then consider it for policy.
The Rev. James W. Dale, pastor of Springfield Presbyterian Church in Sykesville, said the committee was formed after Presbyterians nationwide asked that the church study sexual issues and review current policies.
Rather than deal with the requests on an issue by issue basis, as the Presbyterian Church has done in the past, members of the assembly chose to combine all the concerns into one study, Dale said.
"Reports have been issued specifically on abortion, pornography, single-issue things," he said. "This is a much broader attempt, dealing with women's issues and men's issues."
Many Presbyterians have voiced concerns that the report is based on a "justice-love" model rather than Biblical texts, said Dale.
Justice-love, as defined by this study,
calls forloving people and accepting them the way they are. This includes notscorning or forbidding any manner of sexual relationship, since God gave mankind sexuality and commanded that everyone love one another.
"God created human sexuality and created it very good -- I have noproblem with that," said the Rev. Steven Fleming, pastor of First United Presbyterian in Westminster. "Unfortunately, humankind has not been able to deal with that goodness."
While both pastors said the report contained some insights -- particularly about teaching adolescents about sex and not treating older or disabled people as asexual -- they were concerned about condoning sex outside of marriage.
"Itworries me about replacing heterosexual marriage as the norm," said Dale. "I think they missed the boat in understanding what fidelity means within a relationship.
"The way it is written would allow for adultery, and the reasoning gets silly at some points."
Ministers were also disturbed by passages in the report calling for making homosexuals equal in the church.
While Presbyterians have welcomed homosexuals into their congregations under a church policy accepted in 1978, they cannot be ordained.
"The report says that homosexuals and lesbians are a form of the created expressions of sexuality and arenot in and of themselves sinful," Fleming said. "This flies in the face of significant Biblical witness tothe contrary."
Controversy also surrounds the report's call for abolishing any remains of a patriarchal society.
"There is scriptural support that a patriarchal culture is not what God intends," Dale said.
Dale supported his position with Biblical passages such as Galatians 3:28 where Paul wrote that everyone is equal when they become Christian.
However, Flemingsaid he read the report's statements on patriarchy differently.
"It basically says the Bible is a patriarchal code in an era of male-dominated tribes and that it is no longer an appropriate work for our day," he said.
Both pastors agreed the report does not provide enough scriptural support for its theories.
"There's a lack of a scriptural basis for people to have a common ground to discuss what they want to discuss," said Dale. "People are talking past each other."
Fleming said he felt the report read more like a sociological dissertation than a church document.
"Presbyterians can make a significant statement about these concerns using a biblical and theological perspective," he said. "This is the first major report I've seen that quotes 'The Color Purple,' and I'm not used to seeing the church quote'The Color Purple.' "
Fleming also said that if the committee hadsupported its position with Biblical references, parishioners would be more likely to accept the report even if they didn't agreewith thetheories presented.
The report has caused widespread discontent among Presbyterians nationwide, with members not speaking in some congregations and openly hostile in others. Carroll ministers said the reaction here has not been as strong.
Fleming said he has spoken with his congregation about the report and that his church's Board of Elders has studied it.
Dale said he has encouraged members of his congregation to read and study the report.
"Of the people who say they oppose it, most have not read it," he said. "I always encourage (my parishioners) to read it so they know what they are talking about.
"The ones who have looked at it say there are a lot of good thingsin it, but have not supported it as a whole."
The pastors say it is unlikely the report will be passed in its present form.
A minority opinion has been prepared by the six Special Committee on Sexuality members who voted against the report and is also being submitted next week.
"There is a chance that the minority report -- which looks at it from a scriptural and theological basis -- may be used as a study document," said Fleming.
Fleming said the majority report simply blesses current liberal trends in society rather than challenging people to make society fall in line with traditional Christian and Biblical beliefs.
Dale said he would prefer that the church study the report over the next two years.
"The issues will not go away,"he said. "Even if the report is rejected out of hand, the issues will keep coming back."