Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) commissioners have voted to withdraw from the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) at the June 22 meeting of the governing General Assembly in Birmingham, Alabama.
ByFaith, the official online publication of the PCA, released the actions of the Assembly affirming Overture 3, titled “Withdraw from the National Association of Evangelicals”, that took place during the report of the Inter-church Relations Committee. The final vote was 1030-699.
Nearly 40 U.S.-based Protestant denominations affiliate with the NAE, alongside additional Christian organizations and academic groups. The organization was established in 1942 as an ecumenical alternative to the liberal Federal Council of Churches (later the National Council of Churches) and counts the Assemblies of God, the Church of the Nazarene, the Wesleyan Church and the Salvation Army among its membership.
While the PCA is not the largest denomination affiliated with the NAE, the 383,338-member church has been among the most prominent: President Walter Kim, appointed by the ecumenical organization’s board of directors in 2019, pastors Trinity Presbyterian Church in Charlottesville, Virginia (Kim holds credentials with the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference). Presbyterian Church in America Stated Clerk Roy Taylor, the denomination’s former top executive, served across 13 years as Chair of the NAE Board of Directors.
The Overture 3 document itself gives reasons for PCA withdrawing from the NAE. Overture authors cite chapter 31 of the Westminster Confession of Faith showing how the church’s primary responsibility is ecclesiastical in nature only, with interventions in civil affairs limited to extraordinary circumstances.
The overture notes that the NAE chose“not only to advocate for biblical values and ethics in general, but that ‘“we must advocate for political policies:’” The document argues that the NAE went beyond its responsibilities and violated teachings of both the Westminster Confession of Faith and Scripture itself. It states that the NAE has frequently inter-meddled in civil affairs, by publicly pushing for action on the environment, immigration, and has “changed its original stance on the death penalty”, as well as passed a motion called “Fairness for All”, a proposed compromise between LGBT supporters and advocates of religious freedom. The overture said the proposal went beyond what was prescribed by the Westminster Confession of Faith and was believed to be subversive by conservative biblical scholars.
Overture 3 also notes how a PCA sister denomination, Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (RPCNA), left the NAE in 2009 over concerns that NAE ecumenical gestures towards Roman Catholics, Muslims and liberal Protestants was beginning to hinder its commitment to a biblical exposition of the Christian faith. In particular was a document cited in Overture 3, Loving God and Neighbor Together, signed by a plethora of prominent Christians that is charged by the PCA for affirming the idea that Christians and Muslims worship the same God, albeit differently.
How this decision will impact the future of the PCA and the NAE remains unclear. Though this move by the General Assembly will likely be one of the main highlights, other problems the PCA faces will be put in the spotlight.
Allegations of mishandled sexual abuse continue to plague the PCA, with Hope Presbyterian Church Pastor Dan Herron of Bloomington, Indiana accused of sexual harassment and responding by suing the women for defamation. The resulting conflict has prompted several presbyteries to ask the PCA to intervene. On June 22, the General Assembly reconvened to hear the report from the Ad Interim Committee on Domestic Abuse and Sexual Assault. The committee offered a series of general guidelines and advice for various PCA bodies and agencies to take when handling matters of abuse, sexual assault, and allegations. How these two events will affect the future proceedings and activities of the PCA is unknown, though its break from the NAE will have ripple effects throughout the Reformed and evangelical world. The question remains as to whether the effects of withdrawal from NAE will be immediate, or will have consequences later.
Other denominations within the Reformed tradition that affiliate with NAE include the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Christian Reformed Church, and ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians.