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Presbyterian Church Delegates Call For Reconciliation on Women’s Issues

June 17, 1994

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ Faced with controversy over a conference on women and religion that some said promoted paganism, delegates to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s assembly turned aside their disagreements to join hands, hug and sing hymns.

Conservatives and liberals within the church had clashed over the ″Re- Imagining″ conference held last November in Minneapolis, which was attended by more than 2,000 people from 32 denominations in the United States and abroad.

After considering a large number of proposals, delegates to the Presbyterians’ 206th General Assembly adopted a substitute committee report stressing unity and then sang blessings and embraced. Some people had tears streaming down their faces after the nearly unanimous vote.

″We think perhaps the Holy Spirit was bringing us together ... A vast majority of Presbyterians are ready for name calling to stop and for healing to start,″ said the Rev. John Buchanan of Chicago, who helped create the compromise.

Organizers of last year’s feminist conference said it was an attempt to challenge women to find new ways to view God and spirituality. But critics claimed it was marked by heresy, pagan worship and a celebration of lesbianism.

Some delegates wanted the Presbyterian assembly to condemn the conference and investigate how much money from Presbyterians went to support it. The report that was finally approved called for peace between the two sides.

It did not censure participants in the feminist conference but said some of the religious views expressed there extended beyond traditional Christianity. It promised that officials will look more closely at how the denomination’s money and staff are allocated to controversial programs.

But it also affirmed the role of women in the 2.7 million member Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and said: ″Any attempt to silence or marginalize any voices is not worthy of Christ’s body.″

The Rev. Laurene Lafontaine, a lesbian minister, said the report’s passage did not wipe out the controversy.

″What happened was a faith-based response,″ she said. ″We are nowhere near reconciliation. A few nicely sung hymns is not going to bring about reconciliation. It’s going to take a lot of work.″

Betty Moore, executive director of the conservative group Presbyterians for Renewal, said she was encouraged by the show of unity. But she, too, was cautious.

″These commissioners are going home from here. They can’t box up the tears and good feelings,″ she said. ″They are going to have to give tough answers to tough questions back home.″

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