SAN FRANCISCO, Ca. -- As much as the nation is struggling over the issue of homosexual “marriage, mainline churches are “ripping at the seams,” experiencing a sort of bi-partisan polarization within its own walls. Of the American denominations, the United Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church USA have undoubtedly experienced the most turbulence as the split between the “evangelicals” and “ecumenical” became more and more visible over the past decade.
While both denominations reject ordaining “actively homosexual” persons to leadership position and prohibit holding “marriage” ceremonies for gay couples, dissenting individuals and groups feverishly challenged these laws, and nearly succeeded in breaking down the majority’s belief that homosexuality is a sin.
"One side says we understand Scripture to say homosexual behavior is sinful, the other says it is a gift from God. Those are pretty disparate positions." Bob Davis, director of Presbyterian Forum, said at the 212th General Assembly in 2000.
Despite the ongoing debates, the rightful belief that homosexuality is a sin remained intact within the constitution of both denominations. Both the UMC and the PCUSA agreed that practicing homosexuals cannot and should not be ordained, and that homosexual “marriage” must not be performed nor celebrated within the church.
However, reflecting the unlawful acts of the homosexuals in the nation who received illegal “marriage” certificates, homosexuals within the denominations also directly challenged the churches’ authority by performing gay “marriages” and by performing sexual acts with people of the same gender.
This March, a disciplinary case has been filed against the lesbian minister Ann L. Petker of Berkeley California, who not only conducted a “marriage” service for a lesbian couple in her church, but also got “married” at the San Francisco City Hall to her lesbian partner in February.
Petker was charged with breaking the church law before, when she announced that she was a practicing lesbian after her ordination in 2002. At that time, Paul Rolf Jensen, a Reston, Va., lawyer called for her indictment for deliberately and willfully violating her ordination vows. However, Rev. Frank Marshall, stated clerk of the presbytery in which Petker ministers, dismissed the case because of a failure to “provide the required information.”
In his latest complaint, Jensen said, "Petker publicized these events [in San Francisco] in order to further her activist pro-gay agenda to change the church's constitution. In so doing, she crossed the line of acceptable advocacy. She has no right to disregard her solemn vow to obey the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church. She should meet with the same fate as the Rev. Steve Van Kuiken."
Van Kuiken is the former pastor of Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church in the Presbytery of Cincinnati, who publicly announced that he had conducted a number of "marriage" ceremonies of homosexuals despite prior warning against such avid violations to the Church constitution.
Jensen had filed the initial charges in the Van Kuiken case. Eventually, the presbytery declared that he had renounced the jurisdiction of the PCUSA and Van Kuiken was removed from the pulpit at Mount Auburn.
Petker also, if found guilty by the Presbyterian court, will be defrocked and excommunicated. Meanwhile, a presbytery investigating committee is reviewing the complaint and deciding on whether to recommend a trial before the presbytery's Permanent Judicial Commission. This complaint officially blocks Petker from assuming any other validated ministry in the PCUSA until the case is resolved.
According to a column by Janie Spahr, Petker may run away from the PCUSA, and instead serve as a minister to the United Church of Christ – a denomination that welcomes homosexual ministers.
Within the UMC, a similar trial has been set for the Rev. Karen Demmann of Ellensburg, Washington. Demmann will face a United Methodist clergy trial for violating church law by living and practicing an active homosexual relationship.
She is charged with "practices declared by the United Methodist Church to be incompatible with Christian teachings." A complaint was filed against Dammann after she informed her bishop in February 2001 that she was "living in a partnered, covenanted homosexual relationship." United Methodist law forbids the appointment of "self-avowed practicing homosexuals." Demmann faces trial March 17.