Whether or not the average member in the pew knows it, many leaders within some of the nation's oldest Protestant denominations are steering their churches into schism.

Especially on the contentious issue of homosexuality -- but also on the subject of abortion -- denominations like the United Methodist Church (UMC), Episcopal Church USA (ECUSA), and the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) have lurched leftward in a turn that is as breathtakingly swift as it is radical. This deviation threatens to further the rupture between Bible-believing members and apostate leaders.

This was made tragically evident on April 25, when official elements of the UMC, ECUSA and PCUSA co-sponsored a Washington, DC, rally in favor of abortion.

Euphemistically named the "March for Women's Lives," the rally was "a public demonstration of historic size in support of reproductive freedom and justice for all women," according to the event's website. Participating groups were there, it said, "to uphold the fundamental right of women to control their lives through safe and legal abortion." The site also called the recent federal ban on partial-birth abortion a "travesty."

The main organizers included the usual extreme left suspects: the National Organization for Women, Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro-Choice America and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Astonishingly, however, delegates from the UMC's General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) and the United Methodist Women's Division participated in the event. Both groups co-sponsored the march, and 50 to 100 delegates tramped with other pro-abortionists under the banner of the Women's Division. According to the General Board of Global Ministries website, UMC money was donated to help with the overall expenses of the event.

The event's website also listed ECUSA and PCUSA as co-sponsors. The PCUSA site boasted about its participation in the rally: "Be part of history and join the march to save freedom of choice and women's lives."

American Family Association Chairman Don Wildmon, a UMC minister, said mainline Protestant support for the slaughter of millions of unborn children is a tragedy and an outrage. "Members of these denominations ought to carefully consider where they are sending their money. Some of it went to support this pro-abortion death-fest," he said.

Homosexuality: The Fault Line

While the issue of abortion is not likely to split the mainline Protestant denominations, the issue of homosexuality appears to be the developing fault line that may very well lead to schism.

In March, conservative United Methodists were furious when a jury of UMC ministers refused to convict and discipline a lesbian minister for declaring that she was "living in a partnered, covenanted, homosexual relationship." UMC law clearly states: "Since the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching, self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be accepted as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve" in the UMC.

The denomination within liberal Protestantism that appeared to have ignited the open rebellion over homosexuality, the ECUSA, is still feeling the repercussions of the actions it took last summer. At its 2003 General Convention, Episcopal bishops voted to accept as bishop of New Hampshire a practicing homosexual, Gene Robinson.

Despite assurances to the contrary from liberals who supported Robinson, conservatives have not accepted the decision of the bishopric. Within the ECUSA, the 2.3-million-member American branch of the worldwide Anglican Communion, conservatives forged a new alliance last November under the leadership of the American Anglican Council (AAC). Called the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes, the conservative Episcopal group hopes to realign itself with bishops who are orthodox.

In April, for example, five Episcopal congregations in Ohio told Bishop-elect Mark Hollingsworth, Jr. that he is not welcome in their churches, according to The Plain Dealer, a Cleveland newspaper. Hollingsworth supported the consecration of Robinson.

Instead, the congregations are looking to a conservative bishop assigned by the Network, although Hollingsworth may block such a move.

According to the AAC, these same five Episcopal congregations demonstrated their independent-mindedness in March when they bypassed their ECUSA bishop for a confirmation service, and instead brought in retired, but conservative, bishops.

In an official statement, the ECUSA's House of Bishops said they "repudiate and deplore the unilateral actions" of the conservative bishops.

Ironically, the statement also said the actions of the conservative bishops were an act of "defiance" and "a willful violation of our Constitution and Canons," a declaration that drew a derisive reply from the five retired bishops.

"The action of the 2003 General Convention, in repudiating 4,000 years of biblical teaching regarding sexuality and the action of the House of Bishops in repudiating their consecration vows regarding Holy Scripture, were acts of defiance" said their own statement.

In Hackensack, New Jersey, another Episcopal church asked for a conservative bishop to oversee its spiritual life. In a letter from the leadership of St. Anthony of Padua Episcopal Church to liberal Bishop John Croneberger in Newark, the reason cited for the request was ECUSA's acceptance of homosexuality.

"Many homosexual clergy are living with their same sex partners on parish property. Blessing of same-sex partners has been common for many years," the letter said. "This trend culminated in your consent to the elections of  V. Gene Robinson as ecclesiastical authority in the Diocese of New Hampshire."

Voting with Their Pocketbooks