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.


John W. Vest

John is a "church hacker" attempting to overcome the limitations of church as we know it. To connect with him and learn more about his work, please visit

Reader Interactions


  1. Not much of a legal or religious scholar, but I suppose it depends on why they are splitting.
    If they are splitting for the right reasons, a difference of how they see the church believing in their faith-and administering to their flock, it’s probably a good idea.

    There are 0 switching costs for a person to switch churches. I can be Presbyterian today, Methodist tomorrow, and Catholic the next day once I jump through the hoops. Can even be Jewish or Muslim. Churches are perfectly competitive. The only thing that initially binds us to a church is we go where our parents go.

    The fastest growing denominations in the US are not the old main line churches, they are losing members. Is it because you are trying to run a house divided? Maybe. Split and you will see where the initial members go, but more importantly you will see which church grows faster.

  2. John there is a good chance of a split and this thought of what you wrote is partly the cause:

    “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.”

    using the words trash talking means you do not, nor do other progressives, take seriously the concerns of the orthodox. What they have spoken to their churches is their faith filled concerns. How can there be unity when even biblical concerns are named “trash.”

    • Viola, I take very seriously the concerns of the orthodox/conservatives. My theology and ecclesiology is much more generous than you think. Paul’s comment captures the intent of my statement. The fact that you assume the worst in progressives like myself is indicative of the lack of trust that exists in our denomination. I’m talking about denominational politics and you assume that I’m trashing the Bible and your theological convictions. At the same time, I wonder if you would consider my different theological convictions “biblical” if they do not conform to yours. Probably not.

      • The PCUSA cannot wander so far from the Gospel as to lose sight of it. Little by little, standards will erode until they are no more. I mean the PCUSA can’t even call for a standard of “fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness.” Given enough time PCUSA will make Jesus optional!

  3. Viola–I’m not sure I agree. I’ve heard a lot of trash talking on both sides of the issue. More orthodox leaders have indeed put down the PCUSA — not in ideological or theological terms, but in ways that suggest “they”are more learned or Biblical. The same thing happens from progressive leaders. I read John’s note as simply pointing out that some orthodox leaders have put their congregations in a place where they really can’t respect the PCUSA because of how they have disagreed. The same would be true of progressives if they were talking about separating.

    Regardless, I think we all need to step back and look at what we are debating. In the context of Christ’s ministry and call to us, why is this what makes headlines?

  4. Where are the priorities?
    I left the Catholic church because of its’ loss of them…mired in rules and regs.
    All the time and money the presbytery spends on politics could be better spent!

  5. John I wasn’t at all refering to your views of the Bible. Words are important. I was writing of the word “trash.” That is a bad word to use, when referring to a possible split over what people believe.

  6. I guess it depends on what we’d recognize as a split. The Fellowship gathering in January is constituting a new reformed body, so, but that metric a split seems certain. Yet the official realignment of churches (and perhaps some presbyteries) from one denomination to another could be said to merely codify a split that already exists and that has existed for some time.


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