More than 200 Presbyterian congregations nationwide have been torn asunder over the Presbyterian Church USA’s new rules and the ordination of its first gay minister.
The rift has resulted in lawsuits, sold churches, broken friendships and scattered congregations.
The Presbyterian Church, with roughly 3 million congregants across the country, has attracted independent thinkers dating back to 16th-century followers of John Calvin, a leader of the Protestant Reformation, Wilkins said. Five Presbyterians signed the Declaration of Independence.
But the church split during the Civil War over how the Bible was interpreted. Many Southerners felt the Bible provided justifications for slavery, and Northerners said there was no justification. That battle was laid to rest in 1983 with the unification of the two churches.
Last year, a new schism began when the Presbyterian USA church instituted new rules permitting gay clergy. More conservative congregations split from the church as a result.
Even before that, there had been churches who separated over attitudes toward homosexuality. The consequences for some splintered congregations have in some cases been harsh.
“Many of them are doing it at incredible cost: They’ve lost their buildings, the Presbytery’s locked their doors and closed their bank account. But they’re willing to pay that price for what they believe,” said the Rev. Don Baird, a traditionalist who has been pastor since 1995 of Fremont Fremont Presbyterian Church in California.