Citing its parent denomination’s “egregious” decisions to wed same-sex couples and to divest from companies doing business in Israel, members of Houston’s Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church overwhelmingly voted to consider seceding from the Presbyterian Church (USA) and allying with another, more conservative, branch of their faith.
Congregants of the 3,500-member church, one of the 10 largest allied with the 2 million-member Presbyterian Church (USA), Sunday voted 839-277 to initiate a period of “discernment” to consider its options. Memorial Drive Presbyterian, which this year marks its 60th anniversary, is the second Houston church of its denomination to consider breaking away from its national parent. Last year, members of First Presbyterian Church defeated by 36 votes an effort to leave Presbyterian Church USA and join the smaller, conservative Presbyterian Church of America.
Such issues, especially those dealing with the ordination of homosexuals and the performing of same-sex weddings, have loomed large in religious governing assemblies. Among mainstream Protestant denominations, the Evangelical Church of America, Episcopal Church and United Church of Christ have moved to accept gays as clergy and church leaders. The United Methodist Church, the nation’s largest mainstream Protestant denomination, continues to wrangle with the issues.
In June 2014, the governing body of Presbyterian Church USA voted to allow its clergy to perform same-sex weddings in states in which they are legal and to divest its holdings in three companies doing business with Israel. Church leaders said the companies, Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions, profited from Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory. The denomination owned about $21 million of the companies’ stocks. In 2011, the church reversed previous policy to provide for the ordination of openly homosexual ministers, elders and deacons.
Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church also raised concern about the possibility that the national church, at the urging of environmental activists concerned about climate change, also might divest from fossil fuel companies. A vote on the issue may occur at next year’s Presbyterian General Assembly.