Conversation under the magnolia trees was perhaps more subdued at the 1976 Presbyterian Church in the U. S. (Southern) general assembly than it was in 1969, but the topics were the same. This year’s assembly, held on the Stillman College campus in Tuscaloosa, was the denomination’s first in Alabama since the Mobile meeting seven years ago.

Some of the Mobile actions, particularly the authorization to draft a new confessional stance, were the signal for an exodus of thousands of conservatives. Many of those who left in the aftermath of the 1969 decisions became a part of the Presbyterian Church in America, which reported a communicant strength of over 60,000 at the end of 1975. Meanwhile, the PCUS continued its decline in communicant strength, recording a net loss of 12,000 in 1975 to a total of 878, 126 on the rolls at year’s end.

One of the committees named to implement Mobile’s major actions brought its final recommendations to Tuscaloosa, and their approval may pave the way for still more defections. The assembly’s 330-to-55 vote for a new doctrinal position is the first of three steps necessary for a change in the PCUS constitution. Before the committee’s package becomes the official theological stance of the denomination, it must be approved by three-fourths of the sixty presbyteries (district governing bodies) and by a subsequent general assembly.

The package that the presbyteries will be inspecting in coming months includes new ordination vows, a book of confessions, and a new contemporary declaration of faith. The United Presbyterian Church adopted a similar, but not identical, package in 1967. If the PCUS proposal becomes its official doctrinal position in 1977, an early vote on union with the United Presbyterian Church ...

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