[This one, FYI, is for my brothers and sisters in the PC(USA)]
Have you ever had a good friend who was getting divorced? It’s very awkward, particularly if you are friends with both of parties. You hoped the day would never come. You were sad for both of them. You wanted to help and to offer the right words.
In the end, though, a couple has to decide whether or not to stay married. Sometimes only one member of a couple wants to divorce, and the other person, no matter how much they want to make it work, can’t make it work alone. Unfortunately, I have seen this situation as a Christian, as a minister, and as a chaplain many times.
It is one thing if you don’t really know the couple. It is something else if you have a relationship with them. When you do, you feel sad, disappointed, even useless.
This is the same feeling I get when I hear that one of our member churches wants to leave our denomination. It is one thing to hear about “Anywhere Presbyterian Church” wanting to leave the denomination in some distant presbytery. It is another thing when I know the members, have worshiped with them, and have even shared communion with them.
I helped moderate the session of a congregation in Ohio for a number of months while they were between pastors. My stomach fell this week when I heard that they have voted to leave. I have relationships with other congregations, here in the Presbytery of South Louisiana, who want to split from the PC(USA). I have worked with their sessions, worshiped with their ministers and elders at presbytery meetings, and even shared in the Lord’s Supper with them. And now they want to split from the PC(USA)? I find it so sad.
They consider separation a theological issue about remaining pure. The very idea that they are in communion with congregations that might even potentially ordain a gay person seems so wrong to them that they see no other option. They believe that they are being more faithful to God by divorcing themselves from the PC(USA) and joining another denomination.
Some of these divorcing congregations are fond of saying, “We didn’t leave the PC(USA); they left us.” They will also say that this has been a long time coming, and it has to do with many stances, not just this one stance on ordination. I find this disingenuous. While there have been theological disputes over the years, we have not seen congregations divorcing themselves from the denomination in any significant number until the issue of gay ordination was raised. This seems to be the real breaking point for these congregations (even though actual number of PC(USA) congregations that have ordained a gay person is tiny).
I totally understand their disagreement. I just cannot fathom that disagreement being to a degree of wanting to quit the relationship with the denomination. I want to ask them, Do you really think that everyone in very conservative congregations are in total theological unity? Do you really think that the Lord is primarily concerned in 2011 with the PC(USA)’s stance on the ordination of homosexuals to a degree that God wants Presbyterians to permanently separate themselves from one another when they disagree? There are many sins in the Bible. Are we upholding them all to the same degree? And if sexual behavior is such a vital issue, shouldn’t upholding biblical standards for the other ninety three percent of us be more compelling? And, finally, if our denomination has made a theological wrong turn, shouldn’t you want to be a part of getting it back on course rather than trying to jump ship?
I cannot help but think that both they and we are weaker, not stronger, from such a divorce.
I plan to speak up more. I know that some congregations have already made up their minds, but perhaps there are still others that have not. I worry that in days gone by I did not speak up enough or more forcefully on the importance of staying together. I will not make the same mistake today.
We live in such a vital time. There is so much at play. Is the legacy we want to leave to future generations really that we could not abide one another any more because we disagreed over who could be ordained? I hope not.
Who God has called together, let no one separate.
This is what is on my mind today.