LOS ANGELES â€“ Two of the country's largest ecumenical organizations are considering a realignment that could bring liberal and conservative churches together.
Lines that divide the National Council of Churches and the National Association of Evangelicals already have started to dissolve, and further changes could change the ecumenical landscape.
The realignment would involve the National Council of Churches, which traditionally has included mainline Protestant, African-American and Orthodox groups, and the more conservative National Association of Evangelicals, which represents evangelical and Pentecostal churches.
The long-standing divisions between the groups have weakened the voice of American churches on national issues and steps are being taken to form a broad-based ecumenical organization, church leaders said.
"The old compartmentalized segmentation of the church is giving way to a new sense of vision and mission and presence of God in America. The block walls are coming down and giving way to picket fences," said the Rev. Kevin Mannoia, president of the National Association of Evangelicals.
The Southern California-based evangelical group, which has about 30 million members, formerly prohibited churches from joining if they were affiliated with the National Council of Churches. That rule was recently rescinded.
The National Council, meanwhile, voted this year to disband the organization over the next three years if a new broad-based group is formed, said the Rev. Robert Edgar, general secretary. The council currently has about 50 million members among 35 member denominations.
A new organization probably would rally around common issues, such as poverty, and stay away from divisive issues, such as abortion and homosexuality.