By Alva James-Johnson, The Ledger-Enquirer (Georgia).
A proposal for First Presbyterian Church of Columbus, Ga., to separate from the Presbyterian Church (USA) failed Sunday by eight votes.
The 900-member congregation, which has been divided over gay marriage and other doctrinal issues, voted 266 to 146 in favor of the measure. But the number fell short of the 274 votes needed for dismissal from the denomination, which required a two-thirds vote.
Some members were seeking to separate from the national denomination, which has become more liberal about same-sex marriage and other doctrinal issues in recent years. They had hoped to join the ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians, a new denomination formed out of churches that have separated from the national church.
Doctrinal differences with PCUSA, the largest Presbyterian denomination in America, escalated in June 2014 when the General Assembly approved an amendment in the Book of Order that allows ministers to marry gay couples in jurisdictions where such marriages are legally permitted. Some members also disagreed with the denomination’s decision to divest from companies doing business with Israel and they were disappointed when a motion to identify essential tenets was defeated.
The marriage amendment has since been ratified by a majority of the denomination’s presbyteries, which are regional governing bodies throughout the organization.
A total of 412 members voted Sunday at a special meeting held directly after the congregation’s 11 a.m. service. Before the vote, a motion was made for First Presbyterian’s “dismissal to another Reformed body of its choosing.” Then members representing both sides of the debate lined up to express their views.