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Are mainline Protestant splinter churches a new Reformation or old news?

There’s a popular saying in church-planting circles: It’s easier to make babies than to raise the dead. That principle applies to denominations as well, said the Rev. Paul Detterman, who helped found the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians in January.

“We thought it was easier in the long run to create something new rather than to keep on trying to modify existing forms,” he said.

The “existing form,” in Detterman’s case, was the Presbyterian Church (USA), which remains the nation’s largest Presbyterian denomination despite a decades-long plunge in membership.

The ECO may steepen that decline. Thousands of conservative Presbyterians, upset over the PC(USA)’s vote to lift its ban on partnered gay and lesbian clergy last year, are eyeing the new group. Planning for the ECO, which will not ordain sexually active gays and lesbians, preceded the gay clergy vote, Detterman said.

Nonetheless, the ECO represents the third new mainline Protestant denomination since 2008 to split from a national church following votes to permit partnered gay clergy.

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