As Presbyterians wind up their General Assembly here today, they probably feel as if they have been in Baltimore for weeks. For a church convention, this nine-day meeting has had more than the usual drama and controversy.
The drama peaked Monday night, when commissioners to the assembly voted overwhelmingly to uphold traditional teachings about homosexuality and the sanctity of heterosexual marriage -- thus rejecting the recommendations of a special task force that had spent four years studying issues surrounding human sexuality.
Even so, after the decision the assembly allowed a silent demonstration in support of gays and lesbians for whom the outcome of the meeting was a disappointment. In that context, the protest was not just a statement from people who feel rejected by the church, but also a symbol of the fact that even though the vast majority of Presbyterians resist changing church teachings on sexuality, they are not willing to take the easy road of shutting out all discussion of the issue.
When the assembly opened last week, it seemed likely that Baltimore would be remembered in Presbyterian lore as the site of the "sex debate." But as the assembly closes today, what Presbyterians can be proud of -- and remember Baltimore for -- is something better. This was the place they confronted one of the most potentially divisive issues a church can face and, while agreeing to disagree, retained a healthy respect for dissent.