*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***
It is the 10th of June 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.
It was in April of 1861 that the attack on Fort Sumter began the America Civil War, dividing the nation between North and South. And we know part of that division also affected the Church. Only weeks after the attack on Fort Sumter, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States met to pass the Gardiner Spring Resolution. The resolution, drafted by the Rev. Gardiner Spring, called for all Presbyterian churches to proclaim their loyalty to the federal government.
The representatives from the south were not in attendance (you know, the war and all) and saw this resolution as an attack on the Southern Presbyterian church. Soon Southern Presbyterian Churches began withdrawing from the Presbytery to form the Presbyterian Church of the Confederate States.
This was not uncommon for the time- the book to read is Mark Noll’s The Civil War as a Theological Crisis.
Nevertheless, after the war, many church bodies reunited. Some did rather quickly (especially those out west or in what were border states). Others took a little longer. The Presbyterian church took more than a century.
A fair question is: why? What was it about Presbyterians that made re-unification harder than others? First, the Presbyterian church had gone through the recent controversies surrounding the “New School” vs. the “Old School,” which was like a sequel to the earlier division between “New Lights” and “Old Lights.” Generally, the “new” sides were calling for change. In contrast, the “old” sides were warier of what they saw as modern American inventions in the church, both in practice (they were opposed to revivals) and in theology (they were staunch proponents of the doctrine of inerrancy).
The church bodies sought union a few times- once after the war, once in the 30s (during the split of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church), and once in the 50s. Unfortunately, the meeting came right after the Supreme Court ruled on desegregating schools in Brown v Board of Education. This raised tensions between the factions, and the issue was tabled again.
In the meantime, some would form the Presbyterian Church in America in the 1970s over similar concerns that the Southern Church had with the progressively more liberal Northern Presbyterian Church.
Negotiations continued into the 1980s. I’m going to take you to the New York Times Evening Edition for this, the 10th of June in 1983.
A new church for the nation's more than three million Presbyterians was created today, ending a North-South split dating from the Civil War.
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) came into being as 12,000 people gathered for a holy communion service transmitted by satellite to 24 countries around the country.
Earlier today, 1,000 delegates to the General Assemblies of the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., the Northern wing, with 2.4 million members, and the Presbyterian Church in the United States, the Southern group, with 815,000, voted their denominations out of existence and celebrated the creation of the new church with a parade down Peachtree Street.
The union created the Presbyterian Church United States of America- then, with 3 million people, it was the 4th largest church body in America after the 50 million Catholics, United Methodists, and Southern Baptists.
One of the sticking points was the perceived imbalance between the so-called Northern liberal and southern conservative…. At least they didn’t use “old” and “new” like in the past.
While the general beliefs among the laity were, when polled, pretty similar, it was the leadership and the seminaries where strife was found. Throughout the ’80s 90’s and the new century, the Presbyterian Church USA has tended to side more with the northern progressive wing of its church, leading to some churches joining the PCA, and in 2012 some left to form the Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians (they call themselves ECO, which isn’t an acronym?)
Despite all the splitting, I do like a good reunion story in the church, and despite what would come- there was a parade down Peachtree Street on this day in 1983, celebrating the reunion between the Presbyterians 122 years in the making.
The last word for today comes from the daily lectionary, from Ephesians, and is appropriate for our story.
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 10th of June 2022, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man who is “old school, the new school need to learn though/ that he burns baby burns like a disco inferno” He is Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man who has that LL Cool J song stuck in his head whenever he talks about these controversies. I’m Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.