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When I asked Orlando Sentinel religion reporter Mark Pinsky if he'd covered the February meeting where as many as 150 Presbyterian Church (USA) congregations made plans to leave the denomination, I wasn't terribly surprised when he answered no.

The New Wineskins meeting was within walking distance from his office, Pinsky said, but "we sense some fatigue among general readers on the 'maybe this mainline denomination will split' story. Editors are saying, 'Get back to us when there is a split.' It's the Lucy and the football thing from Peanuts."

It's a sentiment shared widely by religion reporters, including many of us here at CT. Rarely does a week go by that we don't hear rumors of denominational departures. But discussion and dissatisfaction typically trump actual decisions to leave.

Not that the mainline exodus is a myth. Within the past year, entire regions of the American Baptist Churches USA, representing hundreds of churches, dropped their ties to the national body. Due to a few dramatic votes, the departures got more attention than 225 congregations that left the United Church of Christ (UCC). They left after the UCC adopted a resolution in July 2005 that endorsed same-sex marriage. The 67 "Faithful and Welcoming" orthodox churches who work from within the UCC face an uphill battle for mere tolerance: The denomination's official blogger, on the UCC's site, characterized one such group as dedicated to destroying the UCC from the inside.

Though not universal across the mainline, the exodus seems to be happening on a scale not seen since the fundamentalist-modernist battles of nearly a century ago. That's fundamentalist in the historical sense, referring to the group of orthodox Protestants who opposed the rise of scientific ...

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April 2007

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