Luling church leaves denomination in row over sex lives of clergy members
At the forefront of the issue is a change in the Presbyterian Church U.SA. (PCUSA) constitution that no longer requires church leaders to commit to fidelity in marriage, described as between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness.
After PCUSA removed the fidelity requirement in 2011, First Union Presbyterian Church in Luling, who has been a part of the denomination since the late 1960s, decided to explore separating from the church.
"They were tired of being in a denomination where there was a big sense that there were folks that were way on the left," First Union interim Pastor Walter Hackney said. "Our denomination has been kind of bleeding conservatives for the past 30 years."
As part of the discussion, Hackney initiated a five-month-long adult Sunday school class studying the church’s history going back to the 1640s and sexuality within the bible. The group also discussed materials produced by pastors within the denomination agreeing with the decision to remove fidelity as a requirement.
After that discussion, the church decided to separate from PCUSA. In addition, First Union Presbyterian stopped providing offerings to PCUSA and began giving it to local charity efforts.
"What we decided to do was take that money and instead of giving it to the presbytery, because we’ve not been on the same page as them, we’ve been giving money to Alpha Daughters of Zion and St. Charles Social Concerns and we have a missionary that goes to Kenya every summer," Hackney said.
Hackney said the decision for the local congregation to leave the national organization was not only based on the constitutional changes, but also due to other views within member churches.
"A number of PCUSA churches have on their websites that even though they believe Jesus is the best way to God, he is not the only way to God," he said. "There are some ministers and elders that are fuzzy about or who don’t believe in Jesus’ virgin birth, Jesus’ physical resurrection and Jesus’ miracles."
Hackney said the local church has come to a point where they feel alienated from the overall organization.
"The spotlight shifted from sexual behavior to theology and Biblical interpretation. The great majority of folks came to the conclusion that they would rather be in a denomination of believers who were more like-minded, rather than remain in the PCUSA," he said. "The predominant feeling was not anger, but sadness."
The 2012 PCUSA General Assembly also voted on the redefinition of marriage within the church from strictly being between a man and a woman to marriage between any two people. Though the vote failed, it fell short by only 30 votes.
Hackney said he believes the church’s removal from the organization is timely as PCUSA will likely vote favorably to redefine marriage at their next national congress.
"Especially with the number and size of the PCUSA congregations that have left the denomination since then, few doubt that redefinition will pass the 2014 General Assembly, get approved by a majority of presbyteries in the year following and go into effect in June of 2015," he said.
After First Union requested to leave the organization, the PCUSA Standing Administrative Commission on Separation and Property voted in December to allow them to do so with a vote of 30 in favor, four against and one abstention.
Under the agreement, First Union will be required to pay a $10,000 fee to PCUSA in order to continue use of their church, located at 134 Lakewood Drive in Luling. However, Hackney said the transfer has not yet occurred and it has been a difficult situation.
"Not much has gone the way I thought it would. It would be premature for me to say this is a done deal," Hackney said.
The church plans to go from the over 1,000-member PCUSA to the much smaller Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians.
"It is a fairly new denomination we are going with. They only have 50 member churches and we think they will have 150 in the next year," he said. "It is group that is more conservative and more evangelical."
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