Three Presbyterian churches in Indiana have been granted dismissal from their denomination this week.
Citing concerns over the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)'s liberal direction, the three churches will be leaving to join the smaller and more conservative Evangelical Presbyterian Church.
For Covenant Presbyterian Church in West Lafayette, Ind., their dismissal was granted on Tuesday by the Wabash Valley Presbytery – a regional governing body in the PC(USA). The presbytery voted 115 to 2 in favor of dismissal.
The West Lafayette congregation, which has over 1,000 members, had been trying to leave the PC(USA) for more than a year but the presbytery had placed an administrative commission in charge of the church to prevent a split.
Similar events took place for First Presbyterian Church of Frankfort and First Presbyterian Church of Nappanee, which were both also granted dismissal this week.
David Henderson, pastor of Covenant and also part of the leadership for New Wineskins Association of Churches – a network of churches discontent with the PC(USA) – explained that there was concern the denomination was accepting a wider range of theological positions that local leadership didn't agree with, as reported by the Journal and Courier.
"There was also disagreement over what it meant to be faithful to Jesus' teaching in certain areas of ethics, such as in the area of sexuality," Henderson explained, according to the local newspaper.
The dismissal agreement with the Presbytery of Wabash Valley includes a payment of $975,000 by the three churches and a transfer of ownership by the presbytery of each church's property, the Journal and Courier reports.
"We were determined to let love have the last word, not disagreement or frustration or hurt. And I think it has," Henderson commented to the local newspaper.
The three churches will officially split on April 15, according to the local publication, and a joint closing worship service with the Wabash Valley Presbytery will be held around that time.
In recent years, a growing number of congregations have voted to leave the PC(USA) – the largest Presbyterian denomination in the country – and join the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. Some date the beginning of the exodus to 2001 when the General Assembly – the highest governing – would not affirm the singular saving Lordship of Jesus Christ. Also, a 2006 decision by the General Assembly that some believe allowed leeway for the ordination of partnered homosexuals led to more splits.
This year, the denomination's 173 presbyteries are voting on a proposal to delete language in the constitution that requires clergy to live in "fidelity within the covenant of marriage between and a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness." Approval by a majority of the presbyteries would allow for the ordination of non-celibate gays and lesbians.