VITAL SIGNSrnRELIGIONrnThe ChastityrnAmendmentrnby Mark TooleyrnThe appearance of an article aboutrnAmerican church Hfe on the frontrnpage of the Washington Post is a rare occurrence.rnBut the approval by the PresbyterianrnChurch (United States) of arnchurch law requiring celibacy of its nonmarriedrnclergy gained front-page attentionrnin the Post not just once but hvicernthis year.rnTreatment of the issue in both articlesrnby religion writer Laurie Goodstein carriedrnthe tone of surprise and chagrin thatrna mainline church should be so intolerant.rnThe opposition of only 40 congregationsrn(out of over 11,000 within the 2.7rnmillion member denomination) wasrnheadlined, with the suggestion later inrnthe story that a church split was a realrnpossibility. According to the subheadlinernin the May 16 story, the church lawisrn”aimed at gays.”rnThe “Fidelity and Chastity Amendment”rnhardly represents the advent of arnnew teaching, much less an inquisitionrnwithin mainline Protestantism. And it isrnnot “aimed at gays.” The church lawrnprohibits nonmarital sexual activit}’ byrnall clergy. Although not mentioned in eitherrnpiece by Goodstein, almost everyrnmajor Christian denomination in therncountr)’ has nearly the same policy, eitherrnspecifically codified or in practice,rnas that which the Presbyterians have nowrnformally ratified.rnAmong large, mainline churches,rnonly the 1.5 million-member UnitedrnChurch of Christ officially ordains practicingrnhomosexuals and condones otherrnsexual behavior outside of marriage. NumerousrnEpiscopal bishops, on their ownrnauthority, have ordained noncelibate homosexuals,rndespite their denomination’srntraditional teaching. Otherwise, Baptists,rnMethodists, Orthodox, Lutherans,rnand countless evangelical denominationsrne.xpect their clergy to abide by thernbiblical standard that sex is confined tornmarriage. Catholics, of course, prohibitrnmarriage for their clergy, who must remainrncelibate for life.rnBut to read the Post’s coverage of thernPresbyterian action, you would thinkrnthat the church was trying to resurrectrnchattel slavery or concubinage. ThernMarch 20 Post story even implied thatrnthe church law represented a backlashrnby conservatives, who have supposedlyrnfumed for 30 years over the ordination ofrnwomen. No mention was made that anrnordained woman chaired the committeernthat drafted the new church law.rnMost hilariously, the May 16 storyrnquoted the pastor of the New York AvenuernPresbyterian Church in Washington,rnwho fretted that the new restrictionrnwill impede his church’s evangelism program,rnespecially among young adults.rnThe reader is left wondering what preciselyrnthis church wishes Washington’srnyoung people to convert to, since the traditionalrnChristian faith, and its standardsrnof conduct, seem to be unacceptable.rnTo be fair to the Post, most coverage inrnthe secular media has portrayed the Presbyterianrnchastih’ amendment as a bizarrernaberration in American religious life. Itrnis rarely acknowledged that this “new”rnchurch law merely reiterates an ancientrnChristian (and Jewish) teaching that beganrnin the Scriptures and has been sustainedrnby ever’ major branch of Christianityrnfor 2,000 years.rnMy own United Methodist Churchrnadopted a similar church law in 1972.rnAlthough we are the third largest religiousrnbody in America (behind RomanrnCatholics and Southern Baptists), thernMethodist requirement that clergy bernmonogamous in marriage and celibaternin singleness has not been mentioned inrnany of the many news accounts I havernread. This church law has been reaffirmedrnby every quadrennial meeting ofrnour governing General Conference forrnthe last 25 years.rnOur denomination also declares thatrnhomosexual practices are “incompatiblernwith Christian teaching” while affirmingrnthat persons who struggle with homosexualrndesire have “sacred worth” and arernentitled to the church’s ministry. Lastrnyear, there was a tremendous lobbyingrneffort to overthrow Methodism’s teachingrnon sexual conduct. Fifteen bishopsrnopenly opposed the church’s standard,rnand several homosexual groups vigorouslyrnprotested at the General Conferencernin Denver.rnEven First Lady Hillar}- Clinton (herselfrna lifelong Methodist laywoman)rnjoined the fray (perhaps inadvertently)rnwhen she repeated the slogan of the prohomosexualityrnlobby (“Throw Open thernDoors!”) in her speech to the convention.rnHowever, only minutes after herrndeparture, the delegates voted, by over arn60 percent margin, to reaffirm the traditionalrnChristian position on sexualit)’.rnA poll conducted by the UnitedrnMethodist Church several years agornfound that over 70 percent of its membersrnsupported the current church positionrnon sexual morality and the standardsrnfor clergy. There was a similar poll in thernPresbyterian Church (United States)rnfinding even a larger majority favoringrnthose standards. As has been the case onrnso many other issues, whetiier political orrntheological, the revisionist position onrnsexuality has been trumpeted by thernchurch’s ecclesiastical elites, while thernaverage local church member is baffledrnas to why there is even a debate.rnFor different reasons, these debatesrnon sexuality within the churches alsornleft the self-appointed spokesmen ofrnAmerica’s popular culture dumbfounded.rnThey have been disengaged fromrnchurch life for so many decades that theyrnare astonished b)- any a.ssertion of traditionalrnreligious belief For many of thesernsecular elites, the only moral restrictionrnon sexual behavior is “consent.”rnBut for believers in a transcendentrnmoral authority and in fixed moral absolutesrnbased upon divine revelation, merern”consent” does not pass muster. Contraryrnto many public misperceptions,rnmost people of traditional faith are notrntrying to “impose” their morality uponrnsociet)- at large. But the= do expect thernsalaried employees of their own religiousrninstitutions to uphold the teachings thatrnare central to their faith.rnMany editors and religion reportersrnmay not be pleased by that development.rnBut since over 160 million Americansrnbelong to churches that uphold traditionalrnChristian teachings regarding sex-rn42/CHRONICLESrnrnrn