Some unhappy United Presbyterians (UPCUSA) declared what amounted to their spiritual independence last month. Upset by a church government that requires them to ordain women, a small, mostly pastoral, group voted to withdraw from their denomination unless requested constitutional changes are made.

At the same time, they formed an association to pursue those changes. Their elected 11-man steering committee, which will have the power to raise funds to further the cause, included such well-known conservative evangelicals as pastor James Boice and Reformed theologian John Gerstner.

Perhaps appropriately, the group met in historic Philadelphia, where several blocks away and 200 years ago, another deliberative body studied what to do about government controls it could not agree with. The one-day meeting in Boice’s Tenth Presbyterian Church was far from a liberty bell-ringing affair, however. Participants repeatedly denied they were schismatic, and said in their resolution that they would leave the denomination only “as a last resort.”

More than 100 concerned pastors and laymen met all morning October 11 for a question and answer period with UPCUSA stated clerk (chief executive officer) William Thompson. In an afternoon address to a larger group of 225 persons who gathered in the church sanctuary, Thompson said the issue of women’s ordination should not be a cause for schism. He promoted church unity, and said that any decision to withdraw “should not be approached casually.” In an evening session, prior to the association-forming vote, participants lined up behind a microphone for 25 minutes of individual prayers in behalf of their denomination and for the actions of that night.

Pastor David Williams and several other Pittsburgh area ...

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