Presbyterians are latest group with widening rift over Scripture

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) - The Episcopal Church isn't the only mainline Protestant group shaken by open conflict between theological liberals and conservatives.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is facing similar trials, with traditionalist congregations planning to bolt and a conservative denomination preparing to take them in.

About 30 of the nearly 11,000 Presbyterian congregations have voted to leave the national church since the denomination's national assembly session in 2006, according to The Layman, a conservative Presbyterian publication that has been tracking the breakaways. Denominational leaders say they could lose an additional 20 congregations as a result of this latest rupture.

The Evangelical Presbyterian Church, a conservative group separate from PCUSA, has voted to accept any of the departing congregations. Presbyterian conservatives are meanwhile organizing themselves through groups such as the Presbyterian Global Fellowship and the New Wineskins Association of Churches.

Presbyterian leaders emphasize that only a fraction of their congregations are leaving. But any litigation over church property could hurt the church's reputation and its bottom line. And the departures come after years of dwindling congregational membership and recent budget woes.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is the country's ninth-largest Christian group, but its membership has shrunk from about 3 million in 1986 to 2.27 million at the end of 2006. The denomination last year eliminated 75 jobs at its headquarters amid budget cutbacks.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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