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Background

Reformed and Presbyterian Churches in the United States

Presbyterianism has had a strong presence in America since the colonial period. Reformed churches were first established in the colonies in the early 1600s and Presbyterians were instrumental in shaping the religious and political life of the fledgling nation. The only Christian minister to sign the Declaration of Independence, Reverend John Witherspoon, was a Presbyterian. The 18th-century "Great Awakening" was led by evangelically-minded Reformed theologians including Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield.

The United States is in many ways founded on a Calvinist outlook: its focus was on hard work, discipline, the salvation of souls and the building of a better world. Presbyterians were instrumental in the movements for women's rights, abolition of slavery, and temperance.

During the Civil War, American Presbyterians divided into southern and northern branches. These two churches reunited in 1983 to form the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the largest Presbyterian/Reformed denomination in the United States.

More conservative is the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), which left the southern Presbyterian Church in 1972 because the latter was perceived as becoming too liberal. The PCA holds to the doctrines of biblical inerrancy and "TULIP," and does not ordain women.

Also at the conservative end of the spectrum is the Reformed Church in the United States (RCUS), a small group located mostly in the Dakotas. In 1933 and 1934, most of the RCUS merged with the Evangelical Synod of North America, which merged with the Congregational Christian Churches in 1957 to form the United Church of Christ. The current RCUS consists of those who rejected this merger, believing that they newly merged churches "compromised our Reformed heritage" and "do not honor God and his Word."