Valley Presbyterians Consider Split from National Church

September 28, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
Another valley church is taking steps to separate with its national leaders citing differences in biblical interpretation. Elders at Fresno's First Presbyterian Church believe the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. is diluting scripture to conform to what are now considered cultural norms, including the role of homosexuals in the church.

Church leaders at Fresno's First Presbyterian Church believe the denomination they once knew no longer exists. They're upset about the national church's recent decisions regarding scriptural interpretation. "They're watering them down and just changing them to suit present day culture," said church member Richard Samuelian.

"To too large of a degree, the folks that are changing the church think as long as they think it through, that may be a new revelation as to how we're supposed to behave. We don't agree with that. We think the bible is the authority," said church member Vince Correll.

Among the issues causing disagreement is the role of homosexuals in the ministry. The 2008 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. voted to drop the requirement that church leaders either be single or in a marriage between a man and a woman. The decision could lead to the ordination of gays and lesbians, but church members at First Presbyterian say that vote is just part of a larger problem. "We don't believe in gay ordination because we believe the bible doesn't tell us that. There's a lot of other things, that's only the tip of the iceberg. The real issue is, 'where do you look for authority?' We look to the bible for authority," said Correll

Greg Camp, the director of Biblical and Religious Studies at Fresno Pacific University, says these shifts in ideology are a part of religion. As times change, churches must make decisions on issues they didn't have to think about in the past. "Most of the issues that have come up that have split churches are very connected with whatever is happening at culture at that time," said Camp.

Members of Fresno's First Presbyterian Church are now considering a move to a different denomination called the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. They say it's not a move for change, but instead, to keep things the way they've always been.

Fresno's First Presbyterian Church is one of at least three in the valley considering a move. Members say they sympathize with people in the valley's Episcopal Diocese of the San Joaquin, who left their national church last year because of a disagreement over biblical interpretations, as well as women and gays in leadership positions.

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