The Presbyterian Church U. S. reached a turning point in its history at the 111th General Assembly last month when commissioners voted by the slender margin of ten votes to restructure its synods along new boundaries. The move was favored by some liberals as a means of smoothing the way for reunion with the more liberal United Presbyterian Church.
But the net result will be almost certain schism as well as possible union. Within moments of the historic vote—amounting to a showdown between factions in the controversy-ridden 958,000-member church—conservatives were grouping around the park-like assembly site in the Shenandoah Valley to plan strategy.
Several synods and a number of presbyteries undoubtedly will refuse to comply with the restructure, ordered by July, 1973.
Conservative forces had earlier made a surprising show of strength challenging the liberal leadership of the denomination and coming within a few votes of reversing well-established directions of ecumenism and reunion. Approval of the majority restructure report came after eighty minutes of volatile but civil debate. The 217 to 207 vote was the closest contest by the midpoint of the six-day conference.
“What you saw today was the death knell of the Presbyterian Church U. S. as a historic entity,” said the Reverend Andrew Jumper, spokesman for the moderate group within the denomination known as the Covenant Fellowship.
The restructure issue appeared to be pivotal in the union question. Changing synod boundaries to reduce the number of synods from fifteen to seven, liberals said, was only to make operation of the church more efficient and relevant. Several denied there was any connection between restructure and the union issue. But the question clearly was simmering ...1
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