Conservative Presbyterians in U.S. launch new denomination

“This ‘new Reformed body’ is intended to foster a new way of being the

church, just as traditional, mainline denominations rose to serve in their

day,” wrote leaders of the new Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians

(ECO), Religion News Service reports.

More than 2,000 people attended the ECO’s meeting in Orlando, Fla., this

week, but a straw poll indicated that most have not yet decided whether to

leave the PC(USA), according to the Presbyterian Outlook, an independent

magazine.

The creation of the ECO follows the PC(USA)’s churchwide vote last year to

lift its longtime ban on gay clergy. Though homosexuality is not mentioned

in the ECO’s founding documents, its stated commitment to conservative

theology and the inerrancy of the Bible indicates that gay clergy will not

be tolerated.

The ECO also hopes to distinguish itself by creating peer review systems for

churches, promoting leadership training and instituting a less hierarchical

form of government than the PC(USA), according to a statement.

Incoming congregations will be given the option of pursuing joint membership in both the PC(USA)

and the ECO, or joining the ECO as full members, which would require dismissal from the PC(USA).

Several dozen congregations have already started to leave the PC(USA) to

join another conservative denomination, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. Unlike that denomination,

the ECO says it is “fully committed” to allowing female clergy.

Though still the largest Presbyterian denomination in the U.S., the PC(USA)

lost more than 500,000 members between 1998 and 2009, according to church statistics,

and now has about 2 million members.

In a joint statement, eight PC(USA) elders pleaded with conservatives not to

leave the denomination, even as they acknowledged tensions over the gay

clergy decision. “Do not allow one-sided presentations to be all you

consider as you seek to discern God’s call to you and your congregation,”

the elders wrote.

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