Unhappy Presbyterians Urge, Legitimize Separation

Unhappy Presbyterians urged fellow members to separate from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in their attempt to counteract the leeway granted for gay ordination.

Constitutional Presbyterians and other opponents of gay ordination discussed when it is proper to leave a denomination at a weekend gathering in Greenville, S.C. Some already believe that departure is necessary from the PC(USA) and have denounced it as not being a "true church."

"Here in your hearing I publicly want to say that I denounce those leaders of our denomination who dare to suggest that the PC(USA) is the true church," said the Rev. J. Howard Edington, pastor of the Providence Presbyterians Church on Hilton Head Island, S.C., according to the Presbyterian News Service. "Rubbish!”

A "true church," as James C. Goodloe IV, pastor of Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church in Richmond, Va., described it, is "tied to the Word of God."

"When the Christian faith is abandoned, there is no Christian church ... Surely the repudiation of the plain content of the scriptures, and therefore the rejection of the authority of Scripture ... constitutes nothing less than the rejection of the foundation of the Christian faith and therefore the rejection of the Christian faith itself, and therefore indeed the very rejection of the Lordship of Jesus Christ," he added.

Some 215 persons at the Greenville meeting expressed unhappiness over the 217th General Assembly's adoption of an "authoritative interpretation" of the church's constitution. Such an interpretation, many fear, would grant ordaining bodies greater leeway in determining individual candidates' fitness for ordination and would thus open the way for the ordination of non-celibate gays and lesbians.

Goodloe said the General Assembly "fallaciously misinterpreted" the constitution of the church.

Insisting that the PC(USA) no longer meets the "pure, true, uncorrupted, unrepudiated" qualifiers that Calvin used to define the church, Goodloe pointed out, "When that happens, departure is not only allowed, but we must think, mandatory, precisely in order to continue to be the church.”

“Surely such an action would form the basis for legitimate separation," Goodloe maintained. "We may have to wait for the General Assembly Permanent Judicial Commission to determine whether the authoritative misinterpretation constitutes such an action, but that is our concern."

A handful of PC(USA) congregations, including a large megachurch in Tulsa, Okla., have withdrawn from the denomination since the General Assembly's approval vote.

Goodloe went on to insist that the separation would, however, not be "schismatic."

“It would be instead acknowledgement a body that used to be a part of the church of Jesus Christ was by its own actions is no longer so.”

Edington indicated more harsh consequences of the PC(USA)'s recent action.

"If that [authoritative interpretation] prevails, then mark my words, the PC(USA) branch of the body of Christ will cease to exist, and that will happen sooner, not later," he stated.

Still, Edington was optimistic to preserve the Presbyterian Church.

“Yet I am here to say to you that all of the powerful, faithful witness of the Presbyterian Church seen so clearly throughout history is worth preserving,” he said. “And I believe that even if our denominational structure collapses into dust and ashes as I fear it shall, then I believe that out of the ashes there will rise a whole new form of the Presbyterian witness set and targeted for the 21st century.”