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Presbyterians Tackle Statement of Faith in Utah Meeting

May 29, 1990

Undated (AP) _ The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is meeting in the Mormon heartland to act on its first statement of faith since a 1983 merger healed a Civil War-era split over slavery.

In its first meeting in Salt Lake City, the General Assembly is scheduled to vote on ″A Brief Statement of Faith″ that mixes traditional Christian beliefs with more modern concerns for the environment and sexual equality.

Resolutions on the environment, U.S.-Cuban relations and Northern Ireland also have been placed before the chief policy-making body of the 2.9 million- member Protestant denomination.

No official dialogue is planned between the Presbyterians and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but private meetings are scheduled between Mormon leaders and the Presbyterian Inter-Faith Office.

There are 5,000 Presbyterians in Utah, where an estimated 70 percent of the 1.6 million residents are Mormons. Roman Catholics make up the next largest group with an estimated 80,000 members.

It is unusual for the denomination to hold its annual assembly in a place where it has so few members, but the church was heeding a call from local Presbyterians who were seeking recognition in Utah, according to church spokeswoman Marj Carpenter.

″They just kind of wanted a little reinforcement,″ she said.

The more than 600 commissioners attending the 202nd General Assembly, which opened Tuesday, have their first major business meeting Wednesday when the election of a moderator is scheduled. The meeting runs through June 6.

Six candidates, all male, were nominated to succeed the Rev. Joan SalmonCampbell of Philadelphia.

The candidates are: Josiah Beeman, 54, clerk of session of Capitol Hill Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C.; Price Henderson Gwynn III, 67, an elder at Steele Creek Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, N.C.; the Rev. M. Douglas Harper Jr., 62, pastor of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Houston; the Rev. Allen Maruyama, 63, co-pastor of Montview Boulevard Presbyterian Church in Denver; the Rev. Herbert Meza, 67, pastor of Fort Caroline Presbyterian Church in Jacksonville, Fla.; and the Rev. Fred A. Ryle, 55, pastor of Grace First Presbyterian Church in Weatherford, Texas.

Stated Clerk James E. Andrews, the denomination’s chief executive, said the proposed statement of faith reflects the theological maturity of the church since the northern and southern branches reunited in 1983, following a 122- year-old split.

The 80-line statement upholds centuries-old church teachings that Christ was fully human and fully God, and that he rose from the dead to offer eternal life.

Reflecting more recent church developments, it also declares that God calls women and men to all ministries of the church and uses the images of both mother and father in references to God.

The statement also calls upon the denomination that was once divided over slavery to proclaim: ″In sovereign love, God created the world good, and makes everyone equally in God’s image, male and female, of every race and people, to live as one community.″

If approved, the statement will be sent to the church’s 171 presbyteries. If two-thirds of the regional bodies approve the statement, it will come before the 1991 General Assembly for a final review and vote.

Among other issues:

-In a document titled ″Restoring Creation for Ecology and Justice,″ the Committee on Social Witness Policy recommends the church establish an office on environmental justice and stewardship. It also calls for incorporation of environmental concerns into worship and preaching, education programs and community ministries.

-The resolution on normalizing relations with Cuba calls for relaxing trade, travel and currency restrictions and negotiating agreements on issues such as radio and television transmissions, drug trafficking and immigration procedures.

-The resolution on Northern Ireland calls for cooperative efforts among U.S. and Irish Presbyterians and Catholics to work toward a non-violent solution to the sectarian conflict.

Several presbyteries submitted overtures on abortion and homosexuality, two issues that have continually divided the denomination, but task forces appointed by previous assemblies to study the issues have not finished their work.