A Phantom Presbyterian Denomination

Among the presbyterian denominations listed on wikipedia’s “List of Presbyterian and Reformed denominations in North America” is one called the Evangelical Assembly of Presbyterian Churches in America (EAPCA).

To the best of my knowledge this group does not exist.

On the wikipedia page for the EAPCA there is the dubious claim that they have 73 churches. And, quite improbably, also is the claim that “its churches can be found in every state.” These two claims likely find their origin in the actual website of the EAPCA where it is claimed that their group “consists of 7 presbyteries, 73 local churches” and that they have a “task force” to build 73 church websites.  Then, there also is a “Find a Congregation” map which appears to be some stock image with a red location dot on each state. When you click on the map nothing happens.

While “73 churches” might sound small to some, among Presbyterian denominations this would be a significant and notable group. But where are their churches? And who are their pastors? I, a Presbyterian minister, have certainly never seen one of their churches nor have I met one their pastors. The denomination is, as far as I can tell, entirely phantom. The pages of its website present nothing of substance to indicate any real existence. It appears largely to be a promotional opportunity for its “moderator” Dr. Tom J. Cowley, who as far as I can tell, is the denomination. Strangely enough for a moderator of a Presbyterian denomination, Cowley’s degrees (according to his personal website) are from Methodist and Baptist schools.

But, there’s more! The EAPCA appears to have close ties with some other curious entities including “Olivet University” and the “World Olivet Assembly.” While a news article on the EAPCA’s website says that the denomination was founded in 2004, an Olivet University 2014-2015 handbook claims that the EAPCA denomination, in the year 2000 (fully 4 years before it existed!) “launched Olivet Theological College and Seminary.” This proves to be the very school where Cowley is on staff.

Olivet, it turns out, was founded by controversial Korean pastor David J. Jang whom Christianity Today has reported had once had ties to the Unification Church and who has been thought by some of his followers to be the second coming of Christ. Olivet University is then said to be part of the “World Olivet Assembly.” The websites of all of these organizations are filled with vague detail-lacking prose apparently written by non-native English speakers. In the past year numerous publications including Rolling Stone, and Paste Magazine have written exposes on Jang’s activities. These have focused on Jang’s ownership of Newsweek and his financial activities; not surprisingly overlooking the relatively minor issue of making up a denomination.

Whatever is going on here, it is fairly clear that this “presbyterian denomination” is neither really Presbyterian nor is really a denomination.