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For Ronald W. Scates, senior pastor of the 4,800-member Highland Park Presbyterian Church in Dallas, the future of his denomination looks chaotic.

A majority of the 173 presbyteries, or regional bodies, within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) have voted to remove from the 2-million-member denomination's constitution an ordination requirement of "fidelity in the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, or chastity in singleness."

The change was decided May 10 when the Twin Cities presbytery, which covers Minneapolis and St. Paul, became the 87th region to approve it.

The move is widely seen as giving presbyteries the option of allowing openly gay people in same-sex relationships to be ordained as ministers, elders and deacons.

"It is shattering what little unity was left in the PC(USA)," said Scates, pastor of one of the denomination's largest churches. "You will probably see a lot of silent hemorrhaging of people out of our churches."

Those upset with the vote see it as part of a larger liberal shift by the PC(USA).

"The issues have been diverse and many," Victor Pentz, senior pastor of the 9,000-member Peachtree Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, wrote in a May 10 letter to his congregation. "Central among them are the authority and reliability of the Bible, the essential need of Christ for salvation, and the bodily resurrection of Jesus, along with a range of ethical issues."

Pentz is one of seven pastors organizing the Presbyterian Fellowship, envisioned as a subset of PC(USA) churches with a common theological statement and ordination standards.

"We are viewing the experience of the Episcopal Church over recent years—lawsuits, ruptures in the global communion and public conflict—as a cautionary tale we hope to ...

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In the Magazine

July 2011

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