Last week, as part of his religion predictions for 2012, Tony Jones predicted that the Presbyterian Church (USA) will split at our upcoming General Assembly. Earlier in the month, in an open letter clarifying his involvement in the Fellowship of Presbyterians, Presbyterian theologian Joseph Small noted—and lamented—that a schism is “likely.”
With the Fellowship folks gathering in January, the Mid-Councils Commission wrapping up its work, the NEXT Church folks gathering in February, and a contentious General Assembly coming up in the summer, there is indeed a lot happening in the Presbyverse this year.
What do you think?
- Will the PC(USA) split in 2012?
- If so, is this a good thing or a bad thing?
- Is there anything that can be done to prevent a schism?
- In terms of the big picture of what God is doing in the world, does it really matter?
I’d love to hear what other Presbyterians think about this. For my part, here are some thoughts:
- I agree that it seems likely that there will be a major split in the PC(USA) in 2012. From what I hear, even if some of the Fellowship leaders would like to figure out a way to hold things together, decades of those same leaders trash talking the denomination has convinced their congregations that things are hopeless and they are ready to leave.
- I think it will be a tragedy for progressives and conservatives to lose each other as partners in ministry and theological reflection. In this sense, I think a schism will be a bad thing. But, as a young pastor in the PC(USA), I’m already tired of seemingly endless fighting and division, so perhaps a split will give us a chance to focus on other things. I suppose that schisms are an inevitable element of the Protestant principle. Perhaps, as happened with the formation of the PC(USA) in 1983, a reunion of separated bodies can happen sometime in the future.
- I believe that a fundamental message of the gospel—especially as it is revealed in the exodus from Egypt, the return from exile, and the resurrection of Jesus—is that nothing is beyond the redemptive power of God’s love. Until a schism is finalized, I will hold out hope that a compromise can be reached. And even if a schism happens, I will hold out hope for reconciliation.
- Ultimately, I don’t think the schism of a denomination—or even the end of that denomination—matters much in the big picture of God’s activity in the world. I don’t think there is anything of ultimate value in any particular form of Christianity. I’ve been a part of this Christian family for just over 12 years, so perhaps I have less invested than some other people. But I’ve dived pretty deeply into Presbyterian waters, so I don’t make these statements lightly. I believe that part of our calling as Christians is to demonstrate the potential of God’s kingdom in our communities by finding ways to live together as diverse people. Yet, perhaps the genius of Protestantism is that we do this by dividing into new communities. In any event, I won’t shed too many tears over the schism or demise of the PC(USA)—there are too many more important things for us to be concerned about in the world.