The inevitable splintering of Canada’s largest Protestant denomination—over the issue of the ordination of practicing homosexuals—should be handled like a marital breakdown, according to the new moderator of the United Church of Canada (UCC).

But the leader of Community of Concern (COC), representing the church’s evangelical and moderate wings, believes the church hierarchy is forcing them either to conform or get out.

The United Church of Canada’s General Council, the denomination’s highest court, meeting in London, Ontario, voted 302 to 74 on August 21 to reaffirm a 1988 decision to open the door to ordaining openly practicing homosexuals. The affirmation conceded that the church “is not of one mind” on the human sexuality issue, and that “further struggle, dialogue and prayer are necessary to discern fully where God is calling us as a church.”

For incoming moderator Walter Farquharson, 54, a long-time rural Saskatchewan pastor and hymnwriter, a major goal for his two-year tenure is to promote “the greatest possible respect for one another and the honoring of each other’s integrity.”

But for Gordon Ross, executive secretary of the COC, the fight is almost over. And, he maintains, the people who want to use gay ordination to change the United Church’s 65-year-old Basis of Union have won the battle. The COC will, in fact, meet September 15 to decide its future. On the agenda will be at least two options: the forming of an association of dissenting congregations within the UCC and the possibility of churches leaving the denomination to affiliate with, for example, the Reformed Church of Canada.

The rapport between COC and UCC’s head office has been rocky at best since the dissident group was formed two years ago to fight both the gay-ordination issue and the church’s clear drift toward theological radicalism. The rancor peaked earlier this year when general council secretary Howard Mills described COC as “seemingly demonic” in a letter to a UCC member. Ross sued Mills for libel, asking $2 million in damages. Some weeks later, Mills withdrew the comment, and Ross cancelled his suit.

But to Ross, the structures at the denomination’s head office, located in midtown Toronto, not far from one of Canada’s largest gay communities, have been captured by the homosexual lobby.

Indeed, the emerging scenario since the 1988 general council has been that the COC position against ordaining practicing homosexuals—according to several surveys—had strong support at the grassroots level, but the gay lobby had the political skills to organize the general council vote.

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Since the 1988 general council, some 10,000 of the 829,000-member denomination have left the church over the gay-ordination issue, most of them in about 60 congregations that subsequently affiliated with the tiny Congregational Christian Churches of Canada (CCCC). But leaders on both sides of the issue had expected the major fallout to come this fall, based on the apparent withdrawal of some 60,000 identifiable donors to the UCC’s Mission and Service Fund over the past two years.

Now, predictions are that anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 members will leave, and, says Betty Saito of the evangelical United Church Renewal Fellowship, “they are the pillars of the church: the Sunday school teachers, the elders, the women’s group executives.”

When the 1988 exit occurred, it appeared that the CCCC was the only place to go. But increasingly, the Reformed Church of Canada (RCC, affiliated with the Reformed Church of America) has become an attractive alternative.

RCC executive secretary Jonathan Gerstner cites three reasons: “We are ecumenically related to the United Church through the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, we have accepted the United Church’s Basis of Union as the vehicle by which we will accept incoming ministers, and we have an unambiguous statement [critical of] homosexual practice.”


Fetal-tissue fight: Round 2?

If Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) has his way, the battle over government funding of fetal-tissue research will be resurrected this month as Congress hammers out next year’s budget. Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Louis Sullivan ended the battle last year when he indefinitely extended a Reagan administration ban on funds for research that includes experimentation with fetal tissues obtained from induced abortions.

Waxman has introduced a bill that would not only overturn the ban, but also give the National Institutes of Health (NIH) permanent authority to fund such research. The measure would also forbid the HHS secretary to deny any research on ethical grounds, unless an independent panel also deemed the experimentation unethical.

Waxman has included his bill as part of the NIH reauthorization package, and prolife opponents have vowed to hold up the entire reauthorization over the issue. Sullivan has not commented directly on the bill, but the Los Angeles Times quoted him as saying the chances of President Bush vetoing it “would be quite high.”

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The children’s commission

A bipartisan, 36-member commission appointed by the President has begun research and discussions about the issues facing the nation’s children. And in a round-table exchange in Washington, the National Commission on Children focused its attention on how children develop their values. Among those addressing the commission was Ted Ward, a professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois. The commission is holding a series of hearings, town meetings, and round-table discussions and will issue a report to President Bush in March 1991.

Pushing for the traditional family

Concerned by reports that the White House is increasingly reaching out to homosexual groups (CT, Sept. 10, p. 60), Rep. William Dannemayer (R-Calif.) is urging the administration to issue an executive order affirming “traditional family values” in the area of human sexuality. Dannemayer has sent the White House a sample executive order for the President to consider signing. Dannemayer’s document would mandate that the federal government advance traditional family values in all regulations, legislative initiatives, grants, and agency policies. The order defines “traditional family” as “a man and woman joined in lawful marriage, and includes blood relatives, legal adoptions, and foster children.” The order further affirms “heterosexuality, pre-marital sexual abstinence, and post-marital monogamy.” So far, the White House has not commented.

Falwell’s political fund raiser

Jerry Falwell may have pulled back significantly from the political arena, but he has not disappeared altogether. The founder of Moral Majority has joined the fund-raising efforts of conservative Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), who faces a tough re-election race in November. In a fund-raising letter, Falwell noted that Helms’s opponent, Harvey Gantt, is supported by such groups as the National Organization for Women and the prohomosexual Human Rights Campaign Fund.

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