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

Donations to ECUSA tumbled in the aftermath of the General Convention. The denomination's executive council was told that revenues were down more than $3 million following the controversy -- representing 6 percent of the ECUSA's expected revenue this year, according to CitizenLink.

The AAC also said dioceses in Missouri, Colorado, Tennessee, North Carolina, New York and Virginia have reported a 10 percent to 30 percent drop in giving since last summer.

"While spokesmen for ECUSA claim the shortfall is a result of economic conditions, churches and dioceses across the nation report they are experiencing lowered giving and/or redirecting funds as a direct response to decisions at General Conference," said a press release from AAC.

AAC spokesman Bruce Mason said last year his group accurately predicted that many dioceses would cut back on their pledges to the national church if Robinson was approved. He believes the financial impact will be much greater than the Episcopal Church is reporting right now.

He said some ECUSA members don't want their money being used "to support a structure that they believe is no longer upholding the historic teachings of the Christian Church and of the Bible."

While some conservatives in the U.S. are refusing to give to the ECUSA, some conservatives outside the U.S. are refusing to take. In April the leaders of the Council of Anglican Provinces in Africa (CAPA) declared that they would no longer accept donations from ECUSA churches or dioceses.

"We do not want any money from the Episcopal Church of the United States," the African bishops said in a statement. "This is not rhetoric. We will not, on the altar of money, mortgage our conscience, mortgage our faith, mortgage our salvation."

CAPA represents a spreading sentiment within the worldwide Anglican community of some 77 million adherents. Especially among the leaders in nations throughout Africa, Asia and Latin America -- who oversee 50 million Anglicans -- a number of bishops have formally cut ties with the U.S. church, while many have publicly denounced the ECUSA's consecration of Robinson.

Also in April, CAPA requested that the worldwide Anglican leadership "call ECUSA to repentance giving it a three-month period to show signs of such repentance. Failing that, discipline should be applied."

Trouble Brewing in ELCA

As if encouraged by fellow radicals in the ECUSA, some segments of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA), the fifth-largest Protestant denomination in the U.S., are also turning their back on orthodoxy.

Three ELCA congregations -- two in California and one in Minnesota -- thumbed their noses at church law and appointed homosexual pastors. ELCA law allows homosexual men and women to serve as ministers if they remain celibate, but the pastors appointed in April are sexually active, according to Gay.com, an Internet news site that caters to the homosexual community.

The defiance by the three congregations is not really surprising, since ELCA has been drifting steadily leftward for some time, even while conservatives fight to hold the line. The Los Angeles Times noted that 10 years ago ELCA leadership expelled two churches in San Francisco after they appointed non-celibate homosexual pastors. However, subsequent defiance by more than a dozen ELCA churches has been ignored.

The rebellion within ELCA is being applauded by those who support the normalization of homosexuality within Christianity. The Rev. Paul Egertson, a former ELCA bishop who participated in one of the recent "gay" minister appointment services in California, told the Los Angeles Times that such actions eventually would carry the day for activists.

"These are all the breaks in a very fragile dam that looks awfully solid but actually, in my view, is going to just either be taken down by deliberate courageous action by church bodies," he said, "or it's going to leak and leak and leak until it's more a sieve than a dam -- and finally go away."

The tragedy is that the sound of dams breaking can be heard in a number of other denominations as well.



Ed Vitagliano, a regular contributor to AgapePress, is news editor for AFA Journal, a monthly publication of the American Family Association.  This article appeared in the June 2004 issue.

Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes (www.anglicancommunionnetwork.org
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