A Texas congregation has split over a vote taken to leave the Presbyterian Church (USA) over theological differences, with a sizable minority of voting members opting to stay with the mainline denomination.
Of 370 members of First Presbyterian Church of Longview, 282 voted in favor of leaving the PC(USA) while 84 voted against leaving and six voted to be with whatever side kept the church property.
Until the issue over the church property is addressed, the two congregations will worship at different facilities. The breakaway majority decided to start holding worship services at a building formerly used by a Lutheran congregation. The remaining minority will continue to hold services at the FPC Longview building.
Jonathan Jehorek, the head pastor for First Presbyterian, left with the departing majority, having renounced his ordination in the PC(USA). The breakaway group is now known as Evangelical Presbyterian Church Longview, having decided to join the EPC – a smaller and more conservative denomination.
"We have found ourselves to be Christians who see things very, very differently," said Jehorek to the Longview News-Journal before the vote. "We have tried to see each other, not as doing battle with a warring sect; we are wrestling with brothers and sisters in the faith."
Across the country Presbyterian congregations have voted on the issue of leaving the 2 million-member PC(USA) due to its growing acceptance of homosexuality and an overall sense that the denomination's leadership has abandoned biblical teaching.
Around the same time most members of First Presbyterian Longview voted to depart, 97 percent of the congregation of First Presbyterian Church of Greenville, S.C., voted to sever ties with the denomination.
In late April, the Mississippi congregations of First Presbyterian Church of Ocean Springs and First Presbyterian Church of Pascagoula also both voted overwhelmingly to leave the PC(USA).
Grace Presbytery, the PC(USA) regional body that First Presbyterian Church of Longview belongs to, declined to comment at this time on the matter and FPC Longview did not return a request for comment by press time.
In an earlier interview with The Christian Post, Matt Mitchell, pastor of Pascagoula, said that his congregation felt that the mainline denomination had left its "biblical center."
"For many years our church has struggled with the PC(USA)'s continued shift away from a biblical center," said Mitchell. "Our members feel that biblical integrity will and should always trump social desires and therefore felt it was an appropriate time to make this move."
The many departing congregations are going to different smaller conservative Presbyterian denominations. FPC of Greenville voted to join the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians, a new body created in January at a conference in Orlando that has about 47 congregations affiliated with it. The two Mississippi churches both decided to join the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, which was founded in 1981 and has 13 regional bodies.