The growth of the Confessing Church Movement in the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) is accelerating talk of a permanent split in the denomination of 2.5 million.

In seven months, the movement of conservative Presbyterians has grown to more than 1,000 churches, a little less than 10 percent of the denomination. The PCUSA's 173 presbyteries are currently voting on Amendment A, which would remove the existing constitutional clause banning from church office noncelibate gays and sexually promiscuous individuals. The General Assembly voted to send the issue to the presbyteries at its June meeting this year.

This vote is the fourth on the issue of sexual conduct since the assembly banned actively homosexual clergy in 1996. A majority of the presbyteries ratified the ban in 1997.

Robert Howard, chairman of the conservative Presbyterian Lay Committee, says conservatives are weary of repeated votes on the same issue. "People are unwilling to have yearly hassles on something Scripture speaks to so clearly," Howard says.

A recent Presbyterian Panel survey indicates that most PCUSA pastors expect a split within 50 years in the denomination, which has 11,200 congregations. The panel is a representative sample of 5,000 Presbyterians.

Jerry Andrews, comoderator of the conservative Presbyterian Coalition, thinks the church may split in five years or less. Andrews believes Amendment A will fail miserably, but "should it pass, it is unlikely that the PCUSA will remain a united body," he says.

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