Conservative Presbyterians Lay Out Why Mainline Cousins Are Losing Members: ‘Supernatural Battle’
Sean McGowan, who pastors a PCA church in Tallahassee, Florida, echoed Groff’s assertions. McGowan noted how the PCUSA’s recent press release about its “nonbinary/genderqueer” distinction emphasized a desire to be inclusive, which he warned “may get accolades and respect from the culture,” but comes “with a serious cost.” “As the culture has gotten worse, the church has gotten worse,” McGowan said. “So it’s not surprising for many of us why the mainline church is now capitulating on transgender issues and things of that nature.” McGowan said that being a welcoming church is not the same thing as affirming lifestyles and behaviors that he believes the Bible condemns.
The largest Presbyterian denomination in the U.S. has hemorrhaged membership in recent years, which several conservative Presbyterian clergy members partially attribute to a departure from its own historical teachings.
“I believe that the lampstand has been removed, that Christ has removed his blessing from the PCUSA, and the end result of that will be just fading into oblivion,” Presbyterian pastor Zachary Groff told Fox News Digital, referencing the second chapter of Revelation.
The Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA), which is the largest Presbyterian denomination in the U.S., made headlines in October when its Office of General Assembly announced that it would be adding a “nonbinary/genderqueer” option to its official church statistics in a push to be “inclusive,” according to a press release. The mainline denomination is theologically liberal and ordains women as well as practicing members of the LGBTQ community.
The PCUSA boasts 1.1 million active members and 8,813 member congregations, but it has been rapidly losing numbers during the past decade. It reported having about 700,000 more members and 1,400 more congregations in 2012. More than 51,000 members have left since 2021, according to its most recent annual report.
Rick Jones, director of communications for the PCUSA’s Office of General Assembly, attributed the diminishing numbers to factors such as aging congregations, the COVID pandemic and an increasing skepticism toward institutions generally.
Jones also told Fox News Digital that many have left because of “the denomination’s understanding of the Gospel and how it compelled us to take more progressive stands on gay marriage as well as issues like Israel/Palestine or divestment from fossil fuels.”
“The PCUSA is not alone in that nearly all mainline Christian denominations have seen a decline in membership as less and less people in this country see themselves as Christians,” he added.
Groff, who pastors a church near Greenville, South Carolina, is now a member of the conservative Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), but said he grew up and found his faith in a PCUSA church in Pennsylvania. He mentioned that his home church was one of the congregations that ultimately departed from the mainline denomination over doctrinal issues.
Issues of sexuality and gender have sowed discord not just among Presbyterians, but among all Protestant denominations in the U.S., Groff said, though he traced the root of “the current woes” in churches to deeper disagreements on the authority of the Bible.
“All of this goes back to not even an issue about sexuality directly, but an issue about theology and what we believe about God and His Word,” he said, adding that Protestant clergy’s confidence in the Bible’s teachings has been steadily eroding since theological liberalism swept into U.S. seminaries from Europe during the 19th century.
Groff believes that the growing rifts among Presbyterians and Americans generally are manifestations of “a spiritual and supernatural battle.”