Sexuality has never been one of Christianity's easiest issues. From requirements in the Roman church that priests be celibate to prohibitions against divorce, sexual issues of one kind or another are sprinkled through the history of the Christian church. This week in Baltimore, the nation's largest Presbyterian group will confront yet another chapter in Christianity's continuing efforts to reconcile body and soul.
When the annual General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) convenes here tomorrow, the overriding topic of conversation will be, "Keeping Body and Soul Together: Sexuality, Spirituality and Social Justice," a report commissioned by the denomination four years ago. It attempts to broaden the discussion of Christian sexual ethics beyond the familiar boundaries of upholding the goodness of sex only within the bounds of marriage. In doing so, it presents recommendations that are bound to stir controversy -- such as its frank discussions of sex outside marriage and its suggestion that the church undertake a careful study of ordaining non-celibate homosexuals.
Not surprisingly, opposition to the report is widespread, and the most pressing issue is not whether the church will approve the report (its defeat seems a foregone conclusion), but whether the report will even reach the stage of formal discussion.
In our view, Presbyterians are to be commended for even attempting to confront sexual issues in a thoughtful way, even if the result is a report that strikes most Presbyterians as being too far from their own beliefs. As Presbyterians go about their debates in the coming days, perhaps the fact that their meeting takes place in a state founded on the principle of religious tolerance will lend to the proceedings an extra measure of good will.