Presbyterian church split hovers over decision to ordain openly gay clergy
A widening rift is forming in the Presbyterian Church of the USA, and threatens to render it apart, as conservative elements continue to slam its decision to ordain openly gay clergy.
The most recent indication of the split came with the National Mexican Presbyterian Church of Mexico, which determined on a 116 to 22 vote to part ways with the PCUSA.
The NMPC parted ways due to the PCUSA decision last May to allow gay clergy who are involved in same-sex relationships to be ordained. The Mexican church is traditionally more theologically conservative than the PCUSA.
The PCUSA expressed sadness at the decision of the NMPC. On its website, it said it is likely the split will affect the work of U.S. missionaries in Mexico and along the U.S. — Mexican border.
The split will further affect some 24 partnerships that have been forged between PCUSA and NMPC, as well as short-term mission trips to Mexico that were slated in the near future.
The NMPC voted that the relationship with the PCUSA could only be re-established if the decision to ordain homosexual clergy with committed relationships is revoked.
Earlier, the NMPC also voted overwhelmingly against ordaining women by a vote of 158 to 14; and decided on a 103 to 55 vote against granting a grace period to presbyteries that already ordained women priests on their own.
“We have had initial conversations with Mexican church leaders since the decision, and together we shared a hope for healing and a renewed ability to engage God’s mission together,” Hunter Farrell, U.S. head of World Mission said in the PCUSA website. “But at this moment, this is not possible and it brings me great sadness.”
“Presbyterians do mission in partnership here and around the world, so we take the voice of the Mexican church very seriously,” Farrell said on the website.
The PCUSA, whose mission work included building clinics, hospitals and academic institutions in the U.S. and overseas, has a number of missionaries in Mexico and South America.
The PCUSA is also hounded by a 2,000-member group of conservatives within the church who met last Aug. 24-25 in Minneapolis to discuss how they would respond to the decision to allow ordination of openly gay clergy.
The conference was organized by the umbrella group, Presbyterians for Renewal, and convened by the newly-formed group, Fellowship of Presbyterians.
The conference became a venue to examine ways that churches who oppose the new ruling can respond. Options include the possibility of forming a conservative group within the PCUSA, or to completely break ties and form a separate denomination.
The PCUSA has been facing a decline in membership for decades. At its peak in the 1960s, it had four million members. Today, its membership has fallen to almost half, at two million.
During the convention in Minneapolis Dr. Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary, suggested the formation of a subset within the denomination, with the aim of returning the PCUSA to its original theological roots.
Mouw cited the example of the Catholic Church, saying, “[When] Catholics felt the church had gone astray, they didn’t leave. They formed special orders who took special vows according to their commitments. The commitment to theological orthodoxy for many of us should take the form of a special vow, to witness to the essential tenets and the power of the Reformed faith,” The New American reported.
Others, however, feel there is no longer any hope for the PCUSA. Rev. John Crosby of Christ Presbyterian Church in Edina, Minnesota, told the Huffington Post, “We have tried to create such a big tent trying to make everybody happy theologically. I fear the tent has collapsed without a center.”