The Presbyterian Church (USA) re-elected the Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick over three evangelical contenders in race for the 2.4 million-member church's highest ecclesiastical, constitutional and ecumenical position, on Friday, July 2, 2004.
Prior to the 216th General Assembly where Kirkpatrick was elected, the three evangelical challengers attended a public debate that was sponsored by the Presbyterian Lay Committee, during which several denominational topics of concern were addressed; Kirkpatrick declined the invitation. Each contestant had varied opinions on how to boost membership growth, mission initiatives, ecumenical relations and educational efforts. However, they shared one opinion: Kirkpatrick should be removed from the Stated Clerk seat.
One of the evangelical challengers said Kirkpatrick “has enabled defiance, misrepresented the constitution and hastened the decline of the Presbyterian Church (USA)," in reference to Kirkpatrick’s repeated refusal to discipline those who ordain actively gay ministers.
Another contestant accused him of “illegally thwarting the will of that Assembly” and “actively participating in defiance" on the same basis.
Nevertheless, Kirkpatrick – the only moderate/liberal in the race – won with 66 percent of the 530 commissioner votes on the first ballot; the Rev. Robert “Bob” Davis received 137 votes as the runner up while the Rev. L. Rus Howard and elder Alex F. Metherell garnered 25 and 19 votes respectively.
"Thank you from the bottom of my heart," Kirkpatrick said. "This has been the longest hour and one-half of the assembly."
Each of the four candidates were given five minutes to address the crowd, and one hour collectively to answer questions asked by the General Assembly’s commissioners.
According to the Presbyterian Layman – an independent newspaper run by the Presbyterian Lay Committee, Rev. Howard complained the questions “appeared to be scripted to boost Kirkpatrick’s chance of reelection.”
During Kirkpatrick’s previous two four-year terms as stated clerk, the denomination’s membership plummeted to record lows; some 260,000 Presbyterians left the PC(USA) in the last eight years.
Kirkpatrick himself acknowledged the drop in membership and said he shared the concerns for the future.
"I have experienced the deep division and I have been pained by our loss of members," he said.
Nevertheless, Kirkpatrick said he was encouraged by “our unity in the face of diversity” and that he has “tried in all I've done to work for renewal and reconciliation” in the church."
"In all that I have done, I have sought to inspire hope, so that through the power of the Holy Spirit and the PCUSA, God can turn the world upside down,” said Kirkpatrick. “There's more work I have yet to do.”