The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), through Presbyterian World Mission, has more than 100 partnerships around the world, most of them with Presbyterian and Reformed churches in the countries where the PC(USA) and partner churches participate together in mission. Some of those partners have celebrated the decisions made by the General Assembly concerning changes in ordination standards and the definition of marriage passed at the 2010 and 2014 General Assemblies, respectively. Other partners have challenged those decisions but chosen to stay in partnership with the PC(USA). And three churches have chosen to break relationship with the PC(USA) over those issues.
Two church partners in the Middle East and Latin America reached out to the PC(USA) following the change in the definition of marriage in a spirit of partnership and recognition of shared participation in God’s mission and the body of Christ. They publically disagreed with the decision made by the PC(USA) General Assembly, but reaffirmed their commitment to continue in relationship with the PC(USA).
One of those churches wrote, “Considering the historical relationship that binds our two churches together, we believe that it is possible and even necessary for us to express ourselves honestly, and in a spirit of love to our brothers and sisters in the PC(USA), by openly sharing how their decision on this matter affects us. It is a source of pain within our Church, and a source of embarrassment in the larger context of a culture that finds this decision deplorable. . . . We seek to preserve the historical ties between our churches, and are grateful for the long and glorious heritage of the ministry of faithful missionaries, who established the Presbyterian work here and who contribute to the building and reviving of the Church and its institutions . . . .”
The other church wrote, “After an overture by two presbyteries to definitively break relations with the PC(USA), by majority vote of our church, we confirm the partnership agreement that we maintain with our sister church, the PC(USA). We ask that the PC(USA), based on the agreement we have signed, continue in relationship of mutual respect and collaboration, taking into account the idiosyncrasies, culture and theological principles of each church. We also ask, based on our understanding of biblical principles, that you not send mission workers that are married to people of the same gender. We will communicate to our presbyteries that it is not prudent to break relations with the PC(USA).”
In 2011, the Presbyterian Church of Mexico voted to break relations with the PC(USA) after the change in ordination standards.
In July 2015, the Independent Presbyterian Church of Brazil (IPIB) and the Evangelical Presbyterian and Reformed Church of Peru (IEPRP) both voted to break relations with the PC(USA) over the change in the definition of marriage.
The partnership with the Independent Presbyterian Church of Brazil started in the 1970s when the IPIB received several PC(USA) mission workers. Some of the fruit of the partnership with the IPIB over the last 40 years includes projects in the area of mission, as well as educational and social outreach, including the theological seminary in Fortaleza, the Palmas medical center, a missionary training center and the ecumenical graduate program with Methodist University of São Paulo.
In its decision to end the partnership, the IPIB wrote, “After a debate that began in 2011, when the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of the United States introduced changes in the criteria for ordination, as well as the recent changes concerning the definition of marriage and permission for ministers to celebrate marriages between persons of the same sex, our church, that had initially decided to continue in partnership, in this last General Assembly, made the decision to interrupt the official partnership with this beloved church.
“We cannot help but express our deep gratitude to God for the life and ministry of the Presbyterian Church of the United States. As a country and as a church we have been very blessed by this church ever since the first Presbyterian missionary arrived here in 1859. . . . Despite this notable contribution to the expansion of God's kingdom in the world and especially in Brazil, our church has understood that the recent decisions made by the PC(USA) are against the principle of the authority of Scripture over the life and faith of the Church, as well as the confessional documents of our common Reformed heritage. Above all remains our deepest gratitude and respect to this Church and our prayers on your behalf.”
Hunter Farrell, director of Presbyterian World Mission, responded, “Presbyterians do mission in partnership here and around the world, so we take the voice of the Brazilian church very seriously. We are grieved by their decision, but we want to emphasize that we are grateful for their witness and our history together, and will listen carefully as we engage in dialogue about where God is leading us in mission.”
Two PC(USA) mission co-workers, Tim and Marta Carriker, currently serve with the Independent Presbyterian Church of Brazil, and the PC(USA) is in conversation with the co-workers and the Brazilian church to determine next steps. PC(USA) congregations and presbyteries that have partnerships with the IPIB should be in touch with PC(USA) World Mission and with their partners on the ground in Brazil to determine the future of those partnerships.
The partnership with the Evangelical Presbyterian and Reformed Church of Peru (IEPRP) started in 2007 and has been fruitful. Much of the partnership has centered on the hosting of short-term mission teams, along with various projects and programs that the IEPRP and PC(USA) have partnered in. In the letter declaring its intention to break relations, the IEPRP wrote, “The General Assembly of the IEPRP on June 26, 2007, signed a covenant of cooperation with the PC(USA), although some representatives had certain doubts. One of the points at issue was the discussion of homosexual marriage in a PC(USA) presbytery. The president of the IEPRP expressed the IEPRP's concerns with respect to the change in the PC(USA) Book of Order in 2011 that allows the ordination of homosexuals to the different ministries of the Church. And on March 17, 2015, the PC(USA) approved homosexual marriage. The IEPRP in its General Assembly which met June 24–26, 2015, voted unanimously not to renew the covenant between the IEPRP and the PC(USA). . . .
“The IEPRP gives thanks to God for these years of partnership and expresses its gratitude to the PC(USA) for the diaconal support received from June 2007 to June 2015 in the form of different service projects benefitting children, young people, women and the different governing bodies of the IEPRP. It also gives thanks for the accompaniment and support of short-, medium- and long-term mission efforts and for financial support leading to the elaboration of the IEPRP's Strategic Plan. We give thanks to God for allowing us to work with the PC(USA) and to serve the Presbyterian Church in Peru.
“The IEPRP and PC(USA) signed a covenant which was renewed for several periods; nevertheless, the IEPRP decided unanimously not to renew its covenant with the PC(USA) and not to ratify the covenants signed by governing bodies of the IEPRP as of June 2015. The IEPRP promises to pray for the PC(USA), that the Lord Almighty guide them according to the Holy Scriptures, our only rule of faith and conduct.” The PC(USA) does not currently have any mission co-workers serving directly with the IEPRP; however, a number of PC(USA) congregations and presbyteries have partnerships with the IEPRP that will need to be reexamined in the coming months.
Today the staff of Presbyterian World Mission held a webinar with PC(USA) congregations and presbyteries that have partnerships in Brazil and Peru and which participate in mission networks involving those countries to discuss the changes. Links to those webinars will be available shortly and will be updated here.
Presbyterian World Mission is committed to working with U.S. churches and presbyteries that are engaged in mission in those countries, and is available for consultation with any churches that have questions about those decisions.
“We have been in conversation with church leaders from Brazil and Peru since their decisions,” Farrell said, “and together we shared a hope for healing and a renewed ability to engage God’s mission together. But at this moment this is not possible, and it brings us great sadness.”
He added, “We have a deep respect for the voice of international partners, because partnership is at the core of our understanding of Christ’s mission around the world, so we have listened very carefully to these church leaders. As the church continues to be reformed and always reforming, we hope in the future that we can be reunited in partnership with these churches as we work together to build God’s kingdom.”