Nearly 2,000 conservative members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) began discussing on Thursday how to move forward after a decision in May to allow ordination rights to openly gay and lesbian clergy has some leaders looking to start another denomination.
PC(USA) officials at the two-day conference in Minneapolis ending Friday are leading table discussions about the options churches opposed to the decision might have. The ratifying amendment to the church’s rules on homosexuality and chastity went into effect in July.
"The PC(USA) decision to abandon Christian sexual ethics predictably is fueling accelerated membership decline and schism," said Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion & Democracy (IRD), in a statement Wednesday. "Some traditionalists are struggling to stay within the PC(USA) while creating new forms of accountability to compensate for the denomination's failure."
One of the main topics being discussed is the possibility of joining a “new Reformed body” distinct from the PC(USA).
Alan F.H. Wisdom, who is an Adjunct Fellow of the IRD, told The Christian Post that although he had a positive view of the meeting because of so many representatives of congregations coming together, he was not sure about the future of PC(USA) – the largest Presbyterian denomination in the country.
“This meeting is to consider options for people who feel that a line that was crossed by the PC(USA), which took a stand that clearly departed from biblical teaching,” Wisdom said.
In May, the progressive faction of the denomination led a majority of the PC(USA) in voting to delete the so-called “fidelity and chastity standard” which required church officers to be faithful to the marriage of one man and one woman or chaste as single, Wisdom said.
“Progressive leaders have expressed their hope that the church could remain united, that people would not leave. They say that they want to have the contributions and involvement of more conservative Presbyterians in the denomination,” he explained. “However, the problem that many of us see is that [progressive Presbyterians’] rationale for deleting fidelity and chastity was justice. They regard it as discrimination that people would affirm marriage, but that they (at the same time) would not affirm people in same-sex relationships.”
“That being the case, they would not in the long run seem to be able to tolerate those of us who engage in what they see as discrimination and injustice,” Wisdom said.
Tooley also expressed skepticism in his statement. "Every denomination that has embraced sexual liberation over Christian orthodoxy has similarly faced schism and spiraling membership," he said. "Sexual liberationists in the churches clearly are choosing their faddish brand of social justice over the church's health. Love for the church should instead compel us to contend against the secular culture's baser demands rather than surrendering to them."
There are no ruling actions scheduled to take place at the conference. Although it is still not officially recognized by the PC(USA), the new Reformed body is scheduled to meet in January in Orlando, Wisdom said.
“The PC(USA) structures will need to accept the legitimacy of this new body and the speakers at the podium have indicated that they have gotten less help on that point than some of the other options,” Wisdom said. “The other options have to do more with churches trying to remain in the PC(USA), but cultivate relationships among themselves with those that wish to maintain biblical teaching on sexuality and other issues.”
It appears that in the future, churches will face a choice as to whether they want to remain under the authority of the PC(USA) or go under the authority of “this new Reformed body which would in affect become another denomination,” he said.
“I do hope that wherever people end up in one church structure or another, that they will be united in the same call to an evangelical mission and that we can work together. Denominations are becoming less important and the troubles of the PC(USA) don’t need to stop us from working together for Christ’s mission,” he added.
The PC(USA) has a membership of over 2 million people and became the fourth Protestant denomination in the U.S. to give the ordination rights to openly gay and lesbian clergy.