Presbyterian Panel Acquits Gay Minister

In a split decision, a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) panel on Monday acquitted a partnered homosexual minister, who faced charges of violating the church constitution.

The panel of the Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area voted 3-3 after a trial at Oak Grove Presbyterian Church. The decision fell short of the two-thirds vote required to convict the Rev. Erwin Barron.

A complaint was filed against Barron, who teaches at Chabot College in Hayward, Calif., after he married his gay partner, Roland Abellano in 2008. The two married in California during the few months that same-sex marriage was legal there.

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Shortly after the marriage, Barron wrote several commentaries weighing in on the ongoing debate over homosexuality within the PC(USA) – the largest Presbyterian denomination in the country. He suggested that Presbyterians not begin with the Bible when addressing the issue.

"In our debates in the Presbyterian Church over homosexuality, if we begin with the Bible, we will likely reach a polarized stalemate," he wrote. "Bible discussions are too often divisive. When we begin with the Bible, we are not beginning with a natural place for all of us."

Rather than the Bible, the beginning point for discussions on homosexuality, he maintained, should be "the personal experiences we all share."

While Protestants always look to God's word to guide them, Barron contended that Scripture is not the only source of moral authority.

"We also look to the continuing revelation of God in our experiences in history and tradition, in science, in reasoning, and in everyday events to guide us. Scripture and experience both must guide our moral decision-making. And reliance on one without the other can be dangerous and offensive," he stated.

"Experience should lead us into the Bible instead of beginning with the Bible and discounting the importance of personal experience."

Barron testified on Monday that his marriage ceremony in 2008 was planned so that the church would only bless the union and not recognize it.

"I do not consider myself to be married in the eyes of the church," he said, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Brian Wood, the prosecuting attorney, argued that the same-sex union was still a clear violation of the church constitution, which bans noncelibate gay and lesbian clergy and also defines marriage to be between a man and a woman. That definition was reaffirmed by PC(USA)'s highest legislative body last year.

The panel's decision on Monday will likely be appealed.

PC(USA) ordination standards require "fidelity in marriage between a man and a woman" or "chastity in singleness." This year, the 173 presbyteries are voting on whether to approve deleting the fidelity/chastity standard. A majority vote from the presbyteries is required.

Notably, the General Assembly voted three times in the last decade to remove the ban against noncelibate gay and lesbian clergy. The pro-gay measures, however, were voted down each time by the presbyteries.

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