Presbyterians assail sex report as rewriting biblical morality Critics say that it rejects teachings.

June 07, 1991|By Patrick Ercolano | Patrick Ercolano,Evening Sun Staff

For a document whose chances of approval are somewhere between slim and none, the human sexuality report of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) seems to be getting more than its share of criticism.

In other words, why kick a report when it's down and almost out?

But that's what happened yesterday, as church officials took turns blasting the 200-page study in a hearing at the Convention Center before the five-member committee responsible for the document.

More than a dozen speakers synopsized roughly 86 "bills," or statements of policy, filed against the study -- reportedly the largest number of bills on one issue in the history of church deliberations.

About 5,000 members of the 2.9 million-member denomination are in town for the church's 203rd General Assembly. Various matters of Presbyterian business are being discussed and voted on during the nine-day gathering that began Tuesday. However, the headline-grabbing sexuality report has hogged center stage.

Critics say the report goes against biblical teachings on human relations and goes too far in advocating sexual freedom for unmarried people.

One group of report opponents said they represented 35 presbyteries from New England to California and from Washington state to Florida, encompassing some 2,500 churches and 500,000 members.

Gary Tate, an elder from the Seattle Presbytery, told the committee, "the Bible would become a guidebook to fit current culture" if the report were approved.

Tate criticized the study for failing to "consider the far-reaching effects of our sinful heart." He said it mentions sin only in the context of heterosexual relationships, ignoring judgment on other sexual relations -- such as those between teens, gays and unmarrieds -- that the church must denounce.

Charles Sherman, a youth delegate from Colorado, spoke against the report for its alleged references to "different levels of holiness" and for rejecting biblical concepts of morality.

"C'mon," Sherman said. "Can we do that?

"To accept this," he said, holding up a copy of the sexuality report, "is to reject this," he said, holding a Bible in the other hand. "To reject this," he said of the Bible, "is to reject God."

An Alabama official said he is certain that the ethnic and racial diversity of his presbytery will be destroyed if the report is approved.

"We are proud that we have five Korean and 13 Afro-American congregations in our presbytery, but I know for a fact that these churches will definitely leave if we pass this document," the official said to the committee.

Jim Daniels, a college administrator and a church official from South Carolina, tried to convince the committee that the report must be voted down because the eyes of the world are on the actions of the General Assembly.

Daniels said a waitress at a local restaurant talked with him, his wife and their daughter Wednesday night. After learning that the family was in town for the assembly, the waitress explained that she is Roman Catholic and a native of Poland.

According to Daniels, she said to them, "We are all anxiously awaiting the decision of the Presbyterian church."

The waitress and all other interested parties will have to wait until Monday, when the assembly is scheduled to decide the fate of the sexuality report. By all accounts, it will be a major upset -- in every sense of the word -- if the report is approved.

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