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Presbyterian talks focus on sex

Amid a furor over a denominational report on human sexuality, about 6,000 members of the Presbyterian Church (USA) will convene here next week for the church's 203rd annual General Assembly. Although members are to begin arriving today, the assembly officially opens Tuesday and concludes June 12.

Official business will be debated and voted on by 602 "commissioners," or chosen representatives of the denomination's 2.9-million members.

In the United States and Puerto Rico, there are 11,000 churches and 171 presbyteries of the denomination.

The assembly's agenda includes about 200 "overtures," or bills, to be considered by the commissioners. They will debate the church's official stand on health care, sexual misconduct within the church, higher education, racism, child advocacy, a decline in membership, the environment, family violence, and theological issues.

A bill can be approved, voted down or tabled. If approved, it is considered for a year by all the presbyteries. If approved by a majority of the presbyteries, the bill becomes church policy.

But other matters on the agenda probably will be overshadowed by the controversial sexuality study prepared by a committee of church leaders and theologians.

Titled "Keeping Body and Soul Together: Sexuality, Spirituality and Social Justice," the 200-page document takes a wide-ranging look at sexual issues, from birth control to sex abuse and homosexuality.

Since its release Feb. 25, the report has raised a furor among critics who perceive an overly liberal content that defies biblical tradition and an arrogant tone that discourages open debate.

For example, the report calls for more sexual freedom among young people, singles and homosexuals.

The sexuality study is scheduled to be discussed June 10.

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