The Evangelical Presbyterian Church said Wednesday it is grateful that allegations of solicitation of Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) churches were found to be unsubstantiated.
The statement was released in response to an investigative report by a PC(USA) task force, which looked into the actions and conduct of the EPC in regards to the exodus of churches from the PC(USA).
In its report, the PC(USA) Committee on Ecumenical Relations said there was no evidence that the EPC took the initiative in entering PC(USA) congregations to speak against the PC(USA) or about affiliation with the EPC. Also, EPC leaders have maintained that they did not actively solicit congregations and ministers to join their smaller and more conservative denomination, the panel noted.
Two years ago the PC(USA) General Assembly approved a resolution to investigate charges against the EPC of "actively pursuing a strategy to persuade Presbyterian Church (USA) churches to disaffiliate with the Presbyterian Church (USA) and be dismissed to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church."
Over the last year, an appointed task force met with presbyteries in which congregations had left the PC(USA) and interviewed those who departed and realigned with the EPC.
Though the task force determined that the smaller denomination did not initiate the realignments, it still took issue with the EPC's overall interference and lack of communication.
The EPC expressed concerns about some of the other findings by the committee.
"For example, the report states 'other leaders from within the EPC were also willing to speak to PCUSA congregations, when a session had invited them in, often showing the PCUSA in a less than flattering light,'" the EPC noted. "The task force has ... provided no supporting evidence for this assertion."
The report accuses EPC representatives of breaching "ecumenical protocol" by speaking to congregations that were considering leaving without consultation with PC(USA) leaders.
"In various conversations with PC(USA) presbytery representatives, their expectation that normal, standard ecumenical courtesy would be extended by local or national EPC judicatory leaders was repeatedly frustrated," the report states. "Further, there was evidence that the interference of one denomination in the other denomination’s affairs had a deleterious effect on the conversation between the PC(USA) presbyteries and the congregations involved."
The report also denounces the smaller denomination for creating a "transitional presbytery" in 2007 to facilitate the process of congregations leaving the PC(USA) and joining the EPC.
Some have viewed the transitional presbytery as "inappropriate interference" in the PC(USA)'s internal conflict, according to the report.
The investigation was initiated as a growing number of congregations were severing ties with the PC(USA) – the largest Presbyterian denomination in the country with more than 2 million members. Many of the discontent congregations left, citing the liberal direction of the PC(USA) in regards to Scripture and homosexuality, and affiliated with the EPC, which has a membership of more than 100,000.
While expressing some concern with the report, the EPC said it will not make further comments on it until the PC(USA) reviews the findings during its General Assembly in July. Some of the recommendations that the General Assembly will consider include inviting the EPC to engage in bilateral dialogue and requesting the World Alliance of Reformed Churches to create guidelines offering basic protocols for interactions and behaviors between its member denominations.
The PC(USA) and the EPC are both WARC members.