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A Key Biscayne church where a U.S. president frequently worshiped and that has been a fixture of conservative Presbyterianism for six decades may vote to switch denominations as soon as next month, church officials said.

The reason? Changing views on whether women should be allowed to preach from the pulpit and hold other leadership positions traditionally filled by men.

The potential move is yet another reflection of a cultural tug-of-war between congregations and their governing bodies amid national trends of declining church attendance. 

Crossbridge Church Key Biscayne  –  formerly Key Biscayne Presbyterian Church – will hold a congregational meeting in August on whether to leave the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), said Allan Miller, who served as an elder of the congregation for more than two decades.

“Our brothers and sisters are not united in their interpretation of scripture into the 21st Century,” Miller said.

Rev. Dominic Aquila, the president of the New Geneva Theological Seminary and a prominent national leader of the PCA, said he has talked to a church leader who confirmed to him the congregation will vote on the matter next month.

Already, the Crossbridge churches in Pinecrest, Brickell and Homestead have decided to leave the PCA – the largest conservative Calvinist denomination in the country.

The PCA is not alone in holding the line against women in the pulpit. 

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The Southern Baptist Convention ousted its second largest congregation Saddleback Church – a California mega church led by best-selling author Rick Warren – in February because it allowed women pastors.

Pope Francis in April decided to give women the right to vote at an upcoming meeting of Catholic bishops, but steered clear of even opening for discussion the question of having female priests.

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Episcopalian, Lutheran, Methodist and other denominations have allowed women to be ordained for decades. St. Christopher’s-by-the-Sea, across the street from Crossbridge, is led by a female rector, the  Rev. Mandy Brady.

Key Biscayne Presbyterian Church was established in the 1960s on Harbor Drive, drawing frequent visits from President Richard Nixon. In 1973, Nixon rang the bell that now sits out on the front lawn to mark the end of the Vietnam War. Church members in 2017 approved an affiliation with the family of Presbyterian churches known as Crossbridge.

President Richard Nixon, left, shakes hands with Rev. John Huffman, Jr., after attending Easter services with his family at the Key Biscayne Presbyterian Church in Fla., April 6, 1969. With the president are first lady Pat Nixon, center left, and daughters Tricia Nixon and Julie Nixon Eisenhower, center. Partially hidden behind Julie is her husband, David. Others are unidentified. (AP Photo/Henry Burroughs)

Pinecrest, Brickell and Homestead — essentially one Crossbridge church – voted in June to leave the PCA, said the Rev. Carter Brown, a Crossbridge pastor.

“We don’t want to talk about it right now. We are putting our thoughts together,” Brown said. 

He did say there were two separate votes: one to leave the PCA and the other to start a “discovery process” on whether to join the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, another denomination that does not prohibit female pastors. 

The South Florida Presbytery, the regional governing body of the PCA, investigated a complaint leveled against Crossbridge Church in November for alleged violation of the PCA rule against female preachers, documents show.

Assis, first contacted in May for this story, has not returned repeated calls and messages. Several other church leaders, both at the PCA and at Crossbridge, also declined comment or did not return messages. Brown spoke to the Independent before Sunday evening services on Brickell. 

The specific event that led to the PCA investigation involved preaching by Martha Alvarez, who Crossbridge leaders wanted to work into the ministry staff, said Aquila. He said the split that has roiled many denominations is primarily about the way a particular Bible passage is interpreted.

The key verse is 1 Timothy 2:12-14, part of a letter from the Apostle Paul to Timothy.

“I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.”

Whether Paul’s prohibition was about his specific congregation or was meant in perpetuity for all Christian churches has been the subject of decades, if not centuries, of theological  debate. Supporters of change cite the examples of early female leaders in the New Testament, such as  Junia, Phoebe and Priscilla, but traditionalists say the roles those women served in were different from those of men.

Most congregants at  the Brickell service declined to speak on the issue, as did Alvarez, who also declined comment.

“I do know I received wisdom from women in my life,” Phil Kreh said.  “I know it’s a hotly debated thing. Personally, I’m still in the process of trying to figure out where I stand.”

This inflection point comes as a Gallup poll in May found 31 percent of those surveyed said they had been to church – a 10 percent decline from a decade ago.

Aquila pushed back on the notion that being more inclusive will bring more people to church. LGBTQ issues are also dividing congregations, he said.

“If you get woke, you go broke,” Aquila said. ”As churches moved more into that because they think they’ll get more seats and more people in the pews, it has not worked out.”

If Crossbridge Church Key Biscayne were to jump to the EPC, it only gives the congregation the power to put women in the pulpit or as a deacon or teaching elder. 

“They have the choice to pick and write the rules in the way they want to write,” Miller said.

JOHN PACENTI is the executive editor of the Key Biscayne Independent. John has worked for The Associated Press, the Palm Beach Post, Daily Business Review, and WPTV-TV.

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JOHN PACENTI is the executive editor of the Key Biscayne Independent. John has worked for The Associated Press, the Palm Beach Post, Daily Business Review, and WPTV-TV.