Churches concerned with the liberal direction they see the country's largest Presbyterian denomination going in are doing their homework and preparing for the worst.
Some joined a meeting of breakaway and discontent Presbyterians earlier this week, researching possible alternative ways to forge ahead with their mission if the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) were to adopt more liberal standards, such as allowing non-celibate homosexual clergy.
"They were very concerned about the removal of G-6.0106b," explained the Rev. Dean Weaver of the New Wineskins Association of Churches, a network of some 200 conservative Presbyterian churches discontent with the PC(USA).
G-6.0106b is part of the denomination's constitution that requires church clergy to live in "fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness." In June, the 218th General Assembly, the denomination's highest governing body, voted to delete the requirement. The proposal requires a majority approval from the denomination's 173 presbyteries.
"If that were to be removed, there would be a tidal wave of churches leaving," Weaver recalled some saying.
The New Wineskins Association of Churches held their fifth convocation on Nov. 9-11 in Cleveland, Ohio, where over 300 people convened to recapture their vision.
"We want to be part of what God is doing," the network, which is comprised of both Presbyterians who have left the PC(USA) and those still in the denomination, states in its vision. "But here at home, mainline denominations struggle with theological confusion, ethical compromise and numerical decline.
"We envision a church, therefore, that is theologically clear and passionate because it is based on shared essential tenets of historic orthodox faith."
Earlier, in August, the network held a separate meeting in response to concerned Presbyterians following some of the actions of the PC(USA) General Assembly in June.
"We presented it as a result of this last general assembly. We knew many would be confused and concerned," Weaver explained.
Over 100 people joined the August meeting in Atlanta. Most attended with the determination to leave the PC(USA), said Weaver, and were looking for advice on how to transition. Many are considering realigning with the smaller and more conservative Evangelical Presbyterian Church denomination.
The New Wineskins network held the separate meeting in Atlanta to address concerns involving the PC(USA) so that the November convocation would be devoted to their vision.
On Tuesday at the convocation, attendees examined candidates for ordination, including women, and heard reports from several task forces. A report on women outlined why they believe that women should be ordained.
"We believe in the whole of the Bible," Weaver summed up, citing a number of examples of women in positions of leadership in both the Old and New Testaments.
The New Wineskins' position on women has sparked a "vigorous discussion" within the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, which had welcomed the network into their covenant family in the form of a transitional presbytery.
Among the EPC's eight presbyteries, two of them allows consideration of women ministers and candidates and two do not. The other two are still working on the issue.
Driving the discussion on female "teaching elders," or pastors, in the EPC is a proposal for a permanent, non-geographic affinity presbytery. The EPC had created a New Wineskins Transitional Presbytery last year to receive an increasing number of congregations that were leaving the PC(USA). The EPC is expected to consider next year whether to make that presbytery permanent.
If made permanent, the affinity presbytery would offer a solution to "the dilemma of women teaching elders," EPC's Committee on Administration stated, as it allows women ordination.
Weaver says the issue on female clergy is a "great discussion" to have and does not equate this to the debate on homosexuality.
"Because it's biblical," Weaver explained. "It's an honest debate to be had among people who have belief in the infallible Scripture."
Whereas, homosexuality is rarely ever debated on grounds of Scripture, he said.