First Presbyterian, Columbus, GA, Separation Proposal Defeated

A proposal for First Presbyterian Church to separate from the PC (USA) failed Sunday. April 19, 2015, by eight votes.

The 900-member congregation, which has been divided over gay marriage and other doctrinal issues, voted 266 to 146 in favor of the measure. But the number fell short of the 274 votes needed for dismissal from the denomination, which required a two-thirds vote. Some members were seeking to separate from the national denomination, which has become more liberal about same-sex marriage and other doctrinal issues in recent years. They had hoped to join the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians, a new denomination formed out of churches that have separated from the national church.

 

A proposal for First Presbyterian Church, Columbus, Georgia, to separate from the PC (USA) failed Sunday. April 19, 2015, by eight votes.

The 900-member congregation, which has been divided over gay marriage and other doctrinal issues, voted 266 to 146 in favor of the measure. But the number fell short of the 274 votes needed for dismissal from the denomination, which required a two-thirds vote.

Some members were seeking to separate from the national denomination, which has become more liberal about same-sex marriage and other doctrinal issues in recent years. They had hoped to join the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians, a new denomination formed out of churches that have separated from the national church.

Doctrinal differences with PC (USA), the largest Presbyterian denomination in America, escalated in June 2014 when the General Assembly approved an amendment in the Book of Order that allows ministers to marry gay couples in jurisdictions where such marriages are legally permitted. Some members also disagreed with the denomination’s decision to divest from companies doing business with Israel and they were disappointed when a motion to identify essential tenets was defeated.

The marriage amendment has since been ratified by a majority of the denomination’s presbyteries, which are regional governing bodies throughout the organization.

A total of 412 members voted Sunday at a special meeting held directly after the congregation’s 11 a.m. service. Before the vote, a motion was made for First Presbyterian’s “dismissal to another Reformed body of its choosing.” Then members representing both sides of the debate lined up to express their views.

Joan Cheves, in her 80s, has been a member of First Presbyterian since 1968. She told the congregation that she had just returned from Tallahassee, Fla., where she attended a same-sex wedding for her nephew and the partner he has lived with for 15 years. She said it was a double-wedding shared with an assistant district attorney in Tallahassee and his partner.

Cheves said she was concerned about people like her nephew not being accepted at First Presbyterian in the future. “I think we’ve been so busy in the church being Presbyterians that we’ve forgotten to be Christians,” she said.

Emmie Van Doorn, a teenager, said she has gay friends in school who are wonderful people.

“I make them smile and they make me smile,” she said, soon breaking into tears. “I just want to say that this a good church and I hope everyone can see that everyone is God’s child.”

Among those representing the other side was Frank Lumpkin, 57, who said his family has roots at First Presbyterian dating back to 1848.

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