Sexuality Debate Reverberates In Annapolis Church

June 30, 1991|By Angela Gambill | Angela Gambill,Staff writer

Parishioners in the county's oldest Presbyterian church are squabbling in the pews over a controversial -- though rejected -- report on human sexuality, members said last Sunday.

Earlier this month, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)'s national convention in Baltimore defeated the report, which was sympathetic to non-marital and homosexual relationships.

But the fallout continues to plague some county Presbyterians, such as a group of longtime parishioners at First Presbyterian Church in Annapolis.

At a meeting after the morning service Sunday, about 50 members gathered with the senior and associate pastors to discuss the report and its call for ordaining practicing homosexuals and redefining family values.

Though the minister lightened the atmospherewith gentle humor, many parishioners looked upset and sounded angry as they attacked the report's ideas.

"How did we get a committee that brought such embarrassment to our denomination? I'm ashamed to say I'm a Presbyterian," one woman said, her voice shaking.

"I have 22 family members in the Presbyterian Church, and we're ready to leave."

Then, objecting to the response from another member, she added, "I feel like you're talking down to me, and I don't like it."

Another woman said she was distressed that the report "did not differentiate between loving the person and loving the (person's) behavior."

"All of us who have reared children know that you love your children but you do not always love their behavior," she said, referring tothe church's traditional position condemning sex outside marriage and homosexuality as morally wrong.

But other parishioners at the meeting disagreed.

"The church is trying to be honest with what is going on in our lives," said Edna Capchonick, a member of the Annapolis church for more than 30 years.

"It's us -- it's our congregation, our presbytery. We have (unmarried) young people in our families living together. We have homosexuals in our churches. How do we keep our marginalized members from leaving?"

The dissension arose over a 200-page majority report and its conclusion that "ethical integrity" can exist in sexual relationships outside marriage.

Delegates to the national convention rejected that report and the minority report, which was more theologically conservative. They recommended additional discussion at the grass-roots level.

In a pastoral letter addressed to the denomination's 11,500 churches, the delegates reaffirmed "the authority of the Scriptures" and upheld the church's 1979 position on homosexuality, which stated that the church would not ordain practicing homosexuals.

The pastor of First Presbyterian, the Rev. Timothy J. Havlicek, handed out copies of the letter at Sunday's meeting and attempted a conciliatory middle road.

"Our strength is in our diversity," he told the uneasy church people. "We want to make surethose of us on all sides of the issues don't get so upset we leave the church."

In other Presbyterian (U.S.A.) churches in the county,the pastors have read the pastoral letter to their congregations buthave not arranged special sessions to discuss the issue. Those churches had two open forums to discuss the controversy last month before the national assembly voted on the report.

Several hundred people "with a wide variety of opinions" turned out for those sessions, saysthe Rev. Don Lincoln, pastor of Christ Our Anchor Presbyterian Church in Annapolis.

Lincoln says the report had "some major faults" --but also raised issues that "need to be talked about."

"Some sections I think are helpful in beginning dialogue, and some sections I question their understanding of the traditional Reformed view of Scriptures," he says.

But for other county Presbyterians, such as Gradyand Virginia Ballard of First Presbyterian, the issues are more defined.

Said Ballard, a retired educator, "The people in the pews arerising up and saying no more of this (national) leadership."

Saidanother parishioner at Sunday's meeting, "I don't want to sit there and wonder about the sex life of my minister!"

"These issues are not foreign to us," Havlicek said. "In the '90s, when personal spirituality is in the forefront, the question people will continue to ask is 'How do we live the Christian life in my situation?' "

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.