PC(USA) – if we don’t divide, how do we stop fighting?

November 18, 2008 by · 9 Comments
Filed under: Religion 

A few weeks ago, I wrote this post about the pre-requisites for an orderly schism in the PC(USA).  I personally don’t favor dividing, but I’m just as weary as most others with the fighting that goes on because we don’t divide.

I got 5 comments in response.  Four of them were against dividing and one was in favor.

So the question for today is this – if we don’t divide, how do we stop the disagreements from tearing apart the church, and losing whole generations?

There are two hot-button issues today:  homosexuality and property rights.  A case can be made that the latter follows the former – that churches only care who has title to their property because they are considering breaking away from the denomination.  But both cases really boil down to one issue – rules and whether or not to follow them.

I believe in rules.  Rules make it possible for our society to function without decaying into a battle of the strongest and triumph of our basest emotions.  For the most part, I try to follow the rules most of the time.  This has occasionally confused people, particularly in the area of interpersonal communication where by following the rules and NOT having a hidden agenda I confuse them because they expect a hidden agenda.  Rules are generally a good thing.

Sometimes rules are a bad thing.  Sometimes rules are created or enforced in a way that gives one person or a group of people special power over others, without their consent.  This is when breaking the rules makes sense.  However, at all times you must be prepared to suffer the consequences of breaking the rule.  The privilege of being able to determine when to break the rules comes with the responsibility to accept the consequences of failing to prevail.  From a Reformed (and particularly Presbyterian) point of view – because our conception of the rules is determined by a consensus of what the Holy Spirit is telling us (through Scripture, Jesus and the working of the Spirit today) – there will be cases where faithful people will end up on the wrong side of the determination of consensus.  Some of us will believe that the Spirit is calling us to discern rule Z, and others to discern rule not-Z.  We decide by the quasi-democratic process whether Z or not-Z is right.  Those who are on the “losing” side are expected to follow the rule, or peacefully and individually separate from the communion.

Our troubles today come because people at the extremes are not following the rules.  It’s a problem on both sides.

On the progressive side, the failure to follow the rules comes when a person makes a public statement that they are or intend to have sex outside of a marriage of a man and a woman and still expect to be ordained.  That’s the rule (today, it may not be in a few months).  Ordination is limited to those who are determined by their local governing body to not be in a state of unrepentant sin.  The whole sex thing is codified specifically.  If you fail, by self-acknowledging that you are having sex with somebody other than your opposite-gender spouse, then you are not eligible.  It’s there in black and white.  I disagree, I hate the rule, and I’ll do all in my power to overturn it but it is there.  If you (progressives) are going to have any credibility with others in the church, you need to stick with the rules.  Besides, there are many ways for a gay or lesbian person to be ordained.  You can keep your mouth shut, and therefore not self-acknowledge.  You can not be asked the question in the first place.  What you can’t do is make a statement that “I’m gay, and I’m now or in the future going to act on it” and expect to be ordained.  And making statements that you have no intention of following the rules isn’t kosher either.  As I’ll say in a minute, you do have the option of going elsewhere.

(Having said all of that, I’m with you today and I’ve been with you for over 20 years in the effort to change the rule.  Let’s see how the vote goes.)

On the conservative side, the failure to follow the rules comes when a minister or session chooses to lead their church out of the PC(USA) without first following the proper procedure of working with the presbytery and being patient.  That’s the rule, and it has been since reunion.  (Note – those churches who have voted not to accept the Chapter 8 property restrictions by voting annually since reunion ARE exempt.)  Almost all of you have been ordained since reunion.  Others of you have chosen to remain in the PC(USA) since reunion – you’ve had 25 years to decide to leave.  I understand that you are concerned with the people who are not following the sex rules.  I disagree that it gives you the right to leave, but if you are that uncomfortable then so be it.  We have adequate scripture to back up your right to individually leave.  What isn’t in scripture, or the Book of Order, or the Book of Confessions is the right to expect to take your property with you.  Chapter 8 is there.  It’s the rule.  If you really can’t stand being in the PC(USA) and aren’t willing to negotiate with your presbytery and pay whatever penalty they come up with (and presbyteries – some of you aren’t playing nice either), then your recourse is to leave the church and walk down the road to whatever space you can rent/borrow/own and start a new church.  That’s the rule.  If you follow the procedure, history shows that you will eventually get to keep your building (though you might have to pay something for it).  Otherwise you have a way out – leave without the property.  But filing civil cases in order to assert property rights isn’t Christian, and it isn’t right.  And it’s not following the rules that you agreed to when you became a part of this community (the denomination) that makes its rules by communally discerning God’s will.  Don’t like it?  Overture General Assembly to remove Chapter 8.  Until now, you’ve won every vote in the presbyteries related to sex and ordination – why do you think you’d lose now?

So both sides aren’t following the rules, and they are pointing fingers at EACH OTHER yelling “He’s breaking the rules!  He’s breaking the rules!”  This in turn is attracting the attention of not just those involved in clearing up the playground fight, but the kids in the circle around them, and the kids not in the circle at all.  We’re losing people because we can’t play nice.  We’re losing people because we can’t fight respectfully and they don’t want to associate with us.  The perception is that Christians (and again – Presbyterians) spend all of their time fighting and arguing about the rules, and that Christians are judgmental and discriminatory (at least when it comes to gay people).  That’s keeping people out of the church, and a large part of a generation or two are calling themselves “spiritual but not religious”* and opting out of the church.

So the question is this:  What can we, who do not want a division, do to stop the voices that are calling for a division?  How do we stop the fighting that creates the appearance of a need for division?

I think the place to start is for those who are in the middle, those who do not want a split, to start holding those who ARE fighting to a higher standard.  We need to point out when people don’t fight fair.  We need to do the fact-checking that was done during our recent Presidential election, and counter arguments (most often from our own side) that are false.  We need to require respect for the opponent as a pre-requisite for debate.  In short – we need to make taking the high road an expectation in others.

And we also need to model humility.  When WE are called out by someone for behaving badly, we need to agree, apologize, and move on.  When OUR facts are wrong and we are correctly refuted, we need to admit that and move on (though sometimes we will be correct and defending that is the right thing to do).  In short, we need to take the high road even when others are taking the low road.

Can we do that?  I don’t know.  It’s a very high standard – one that I admit that I don’t meet 100% of the time.  But I believe that it’s what God expects us to do and what we need to do.

* I disagree with Mercadante’s conclusion that this problem is not the church’s fault.  Failure to recognize a shift and move with it is fault.  Our job is to preach the Gospel to all people in all times, and we have to be flexible about how we do that so that it (the Gospel) is received.  One key principle of communication is to use the style of the listener rather than the speaker in order for the message to be received successfully with regularity.  We in the church have too long insisted on OUR way, sometimes calling it God’s way.  I think we’ve been in the wrong on that.  Otherwise we’d be speaking Greek or Latin.

A PC(USA) amicable split – pre-requisites

October 30, 2008 by · 6 Comments
Filed under: Religion 

A number of people have started to conclude that the best solution for the current liberal/conservative divide in the PC(USA) is an amicable split.  We’re currently pursuing a non-amicable split, involving illegal congregational votes to leave, civil suits, and coercive tactics used by congregations, presbyteries, and even synods.  I’ve heard from lots on the web (mostly conservative) that a split is needed.  I’ve heard some in private from people who aren’t ready to put their stake in the ground (many progressive) that a split may be needed.

I would define an amicable split as one where the majority of the Church recognizes that what we’re doing isn’t working, the majority feels that the split is necessary, and an orderly (hey, we ARE Presbyterian) method of splitting up the assets and people is being used.

So what would be required in order to pursue that split?

  1. A group of leaders from the conservative side, and a group of leaders from the progressive side would have to stand together and say that the split is needed.  While some of those leaders could come from the organizations in the front lines of the current battle, I feel that the majority should be people who have been trying to preserve the denomination up unto this point.
  2. Those leaders would have to work together to put together a plan for how a split would work.  I tried to write one a while ago, and got lost in the minutiae.  I might post one soon in less detail.  At any rate, this core group of pro-split leaders (called “the core group” from hereon) would have to write it, propose it, and sell it to the rest of the denomination.  The plan would have to be detailed, include the differences in the Book of Order and Book of Confessions that each resulting denomination would have, and include a plan for splitting assets above the congregational level.
  3. The core group would have to write a series of enabling amendments to the Book of Order, and get a presbytery or several to overture the next GA.  Included in the proposal should be a scriptural justification for splitting.  This set of enabling amendments should also include an amendment prohibiting any changes to the Book of Order or Book of Confessions before the split is complete.
  4. The General Assembly would have to approve the plan and amendments.  This might include stopping some other processes already started (particularly the Book of Confessions changes).
  5. The presbyteries would have to approve the amendments.
  6. The plan would start taking effect upon the approval of the presbyteries.  I have no doubt that the plan would include a coordinating committee made up of equal numbers of conservatives and progressives who would oversee the operation of the split.

So the big question is this – who would be in the Core Group?  Which leaders from each side are willing to step up and say “I’ve changed my mind – it’s time to stop fighting and find a way to split and work together.”?

I certainly don’t qualify (I’m not even an elder), and even so I’m not 100% sure that a split is necessary.  I believe that over time generational differences will result in the progressive side “winning” – in that their views will become the dominant views.  The only questions in my mind are:  Will the denomination and local churches survive the fight until then?  Is “winning” important enough to take up our energies while we wait for generational change?

I would note that a group (or individual? Only one contact name is listed) of conservatives have proposed a Two Synod Solution within the PC(USA) denomination.  I do not believe that this plan is complete or even a good idea, but it may provide a basis for thinking about how a split might take place.

What do you think?  Are you ready to say “We need to split?”  Are you opposed to a split?  Are you willing to be one of the leaders who steps up?

General Assembly Update

June 27, 2008 by · 3 Comments
Filed under: Religion 

Here’s what happened yesterday.

The Assembly passed the modifications to the Heidelberg Catechism.  These are intended to render a more faithful translation of the original German to English, removing some changes made by the 1962 translators due to their personal biases.  All other Reformed denomination have already made this change.  The conservatives are as expected bleating loudly about what they call “revisionism” by removing “homosexual perversions” from the confession.

The process works this way.  This vote creates a study committee to recommend changes to the next General Assembly in 2010.  That GA must vote affirmatively, and then send the change to the presbyteries.  2/3 of the presbyteries must vote affirmatively, and then the following GA (2012) must vote again in favor of the change.  Then it takes effect.

The GA also approved the same process for adding the Belhar Confession to the Book of Confessions.  That was surprisingly on a voice vote with no discussion.  When a few commissioners asked if people knew what they were voting on, the assembly made it clear that they did.

The Assembly sent the Form of Government revision to a new task force made up of the original task force plus nominees by the GA Moderator.  That group is tasked with taking another look at the revision and bringing it back to the next GA.  Most people acknowledged that there were some serious flaws that would doom the revision at presbyteries.

The Assembly also added a Presbyterian Men representative to the GA Mission Council.  I support this action – if we’re going to have a Presbyterian Women member we need equal representation.

The Assembly created a special account and increase in per capita of $0.92 per member, or $50,000 per presbytery or $2,000,000 in order to defend against lawsuits filed by congregations seeking to leave the denomination to join the New Wineskins presbytery of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.  This was a commissioner resolution seeking $185,000 in reimbursement for Northern New England to cover HALF of its costs related to ONE church suing them as part of leaving.  I support this action, and decry the churches that refuse to follow our polity and graceful settle their affairs with their presbytery when they choose to leave.  I also decry presbyteries that do not act with grace when presented with congregations that want to leave.  Last, I have to wonder how the EPC views congregations that choose not to follow our polity on the way out – what will they do in the EPC?

The Assembly made it easier to change the Standing Rules of the General Assembly – requiring a majority vote of all present and voting rather than 2/3 of all enrolled members.  The Assembly did not make a similar change to Suspending the rules – suspending should be harder than amending.

That’s about it for the big stuff.  Today is gonna be a fun one.

Can we agree to disagree about homosexuality?

May 2, 2008 by · 9 Comments
Filed under: Religion 

One of our moderator candidates, Bruce Reyes-Chow, confronts the elephant in the room in his blog post.

He asks the question of whether or not we can “be engaged in a community where the position is held in the contrary?”  If you feel that homosexuality is not a sin, can you stay in a denomination that declares it to be a sin?  If you feel that homosexuality is a sin, can you stay in a denomination that sometimes allows people to hold responsible positions who are homosexual?

Some people have voted with their feet.  (And that’s just a few)

I’ll start with me.

I am a strong supporter of gay marriage and gay ordination.  I do not feel that homosexuality is a sin, provided that it is exercised (“practiced”) within a two-person long-term committed relationship.  I would define marriage as between two people of legal age who truly intend to love each other and share each other’s lives forever.  If that happens to include God as part of the relationship, good, but I’m not going to say that non-church marriages aren’t valid.

I grew up with my parents telling me all sorts of things about gay people.  How they were all dirty, how they all had sex with multiple partners in bathrooms, that they did illegal drugs, and how most were diseased.  I remember one particular conversation with them so vividly that I can tell you that we were riding in the 1974 Ford Gran Torino station wagon southbound on Tenafly Road between Oak Ave. and Ivy Lane in Tenafly, NJ in approximately the year 1980.

Then I got involved in church beyond the local congregation.  I was a YAD to Synod in 1985, and subsequently the youth member of Synod Mission Council for 2 more years.  I went to the Youth Triennium in 1986.  At all of the big events, PLGC had a presence.  I bought the “Presbyterians Do It Decently and In Order” T-shirt mainly because it was a cool saying (and I bought it in lavender because pink was too girly), but while I was doing so I met the folks who staffed the booth at Synod.  I found some of them and some others at Triennium.  I discovered that the stereotype of gay people that my parents professed was not true.

Later, I left the church because of some negative experiences with judgmental people.  After that I started working with PLGC as their Presbynet coordinator.  About 5-6 years later I left PLGC because I was called homophobic when I dared to disagree with a particular strategy.  I’ve seen the ugly from both sides of this particular issue.

I have to note that my personal beliefs on this issue have remained the same for about 20 years.  I have read the interpretations of Scripture on the issue from both sides and I find the pro-gay interpretation more compelling and more in line with Jesus’ message of love.

Now the church.

This question really comes down to one big question – can we stay together and hold different beliefs?  This is nothing new – if it wasn’t homosexuality it would be something else.  In the early 20th century it was all about the virgin birth and other essentials.  Before that it was subscriptionism vs. experiential religion.  The history of the Presbyterian church in the USA (that’s not a denomination name, it’s a description) is littered with schism and reunions.  The schisms come from differences of opinion on what we today see as either no-brainer decisions (like women’s ordination) or nit-picky issues.  A review of history shows that the one lasting question is this:  Do Presbyterians need to universally subscribe to a well-defined list of doctrine elements, or is there room for variation in belief and practice?

Today the pro-homosexual folks are on the variation side.  Conservatives point out that if they are successful that we could someday reach a point where ministers are required to participate in ordinations of gay people just as they are required to participate in ordination of women.  That would put the pro-homosexual folks on the subscriptionist side.

Today the anti-gay folks are on the subscriptionist side.  That makes sense – the subscriptionist side is usually populated by people who feel most strongly about inerrancy of Scripture (as opposed to new interpretations of Scripture, as we had with slavery and women’s ordination) and more conservative beliefs.  However there are still bits of variation desired – witness those who are still complaining about women’s ordination years after it was settled.

I believe that our denomination is divided into 3 groups:

  • The right – folks who are traditional and want belief and practice to stay the way that they are today (or earlier).
  • The left – folks who believe that we are not seeing the new truths that God is revealing in our day and who feel that we are too strict in our interpretations of Scripture.
  • The middle – folks who just want to keep doing the work of the church and who want gradual change.

The middle is much larger than the other groups – probably bigger than the left and right combined.  They are also largely quiet – they are focused on doing the work of God.  They see the left and right as distractions who get all the attention and spend all of the energy of the higher-level governing bodies while causing people to turn away from the PC(USA) and church as a whole, and who spend all of the money fighting each other.

One of the things that was talked about a lot at the Moderator Meet and Greet last week in Lawrenceville, NJ was the loss of our young.  We lose our youth from the church when they graduate from high school (one person said “immediately after confirmation”) and the conventional wisdom has always been that they’d return when they had kids.  That’s not happening.  Our denominational average age is about 58 and climbing.

What isn’t being talked about is the effect that our infighting is having on potential members.  I know that I took a LONG HARD look at the church when I considered returning about 2 years ago (after almost 20 years outside).  I remembered church to be all about control of belief and action by a small group.  That’s really what the current fight is about – the control by those who believe in a well-defined set of essential beliefs AND practices of the membership at large (and the expulsion of those who fail to meet the standard – from leadership at a minimum).  I’m still wrestling with issues of control and “in-groups” within my congregation.  What I do know from talking to friends and co-workers is that Christianity as a whole has a bad reputation – it is increasingly seen as hypocritical and judgmental.

Additionally, there are signs that this question of homosexuality and subscriptionism are just the last gasps of the Modern world.  I work with youth, and have written previously about how I see homosexuality being perceived by those youth.  I believe that the church of the future will be somewhat different from the church of the present in ways that we’re just starting to understand, and that in that church homosexuality will be a non-issue – accepted by all.  It’s just a matter of time, and a matter of the Modernist leaders of today to retire and/or die off.  The acceptance of ambiguity and disagreement on little things is coming.

I am increasingly convinced that the fighting must stop.  But how?

Two options

We can stop the fighting in two ways.

One option is to agree to disagree.  That would require both the left and right to call a truce, and to wait for the Spirit to build a consensus on homosexuality.  There’s only one problem – this option would require that there be pockets of inconsistent practice for some time – some churches and presbyteries would ordain gays and other would refuse to.  The left is somewhat OK with this (they’ll rail about legalized discrimination in the “anti-gay” presbyteries) but this solution is anathema to the right which requires universal subscription to a set of rules.  Again, it really doesn’t matter that the current division is about homosexuality – even if we agreed today that all gays are to be excluded from the church (unlikely) we’d start fighting over something else – maybe the use of collection plates vs. baskets.

The other option is to separate.  To a certain degree this is in progress – The Layman maintains a scorecard of congregations leaving.  It’s important to note that there are only 55 congregations listed out of something like 10,000 – a rate of less than 1%.  The only question is how do you separate?  Normally (not that any separation is normal but this is the usual way) we separate by one faction breaking away.  We haven’t really tried a graceful separation yet.  The middle generally ends up remaining with the “non-leaving” side through inertia.  With a non-graceful separation each congregation has to decide whether or not they are upset enough to leave based on the issue of the day.  This process gives a lot of power to pastors – they have a ton of influence on their congregations and are often the only source of “what’s going on nationally” for their local membership.

A graceful separation would be harder.  That would require the national church (the General Assembly) to determine that there is an issue that we just can’t agree about.  Then each congregation would have to vote to decide which side of the issue they fall on.  This will in turn cause schisms in some congregations.  After the local votes the national makeup of the denomination would have to be rebuilt – some presbyteries would be absorbed into others and some would split down the middle.  We’d end up with two denominations.  Even so, some congregations and perhaps whole presbyteries would prefer to be union churches – being members of both sides.  If we’re going to separate, I think this is the more honest and faithful way.

Either way – separation is painful and debilitating to the denomination and it’s work.

So answer the question, Mark

OK, I will.

I don’t think we can agree to disagree about homosexuality.  I believe that the church will continue to decline for another 15-20 years, until Modernism mostly dies out with the baby boomers.  I also think that the world is headed for some huge upheavals in the way that we provide energy and food and how we feel about population growth, and that in a world where feeding yourself and others is in question the issue of homosexuality will be seen as an unimportant distraction.

Our religion has evolved over the last 2000 years.  We have moved from consensus (what really happened with Jesus?  Were you there?) to Authority (the iron will of the Catholic Church) to Intellectual Faith (from the Reformation) to Modernism.  We moved from “What is the faith?” to “We’ll tell you what the faith is” to “Let’s figure out what the faith is really about, in minute detail” to “You have to decide what the faith is yourself, but if you want to be part of us you have to match us on X and Y and Z”.  The next step is Individual Faith, where each person builds their own faith and the church is a resource for doing the work of faith (including bringing others to it) rather than the owner of faith.  That’s scary to Modernists, because it implies a loss of control over others’ faith.  That’s brilliant to Postmodernists, because it implies a gain of control over one’s own faith.

But we aren’t there yet.  We’re gonna continue to fight until we make ourselves irrelevant.  The only question in my mind is whether or not there will be a PC(USA) denomination in 20 years or whether it will have collapsed through an inability to accept each other’s uniqueness.  If there isn’t a PC(USA), there will be something else – God always provides.

So if you were going to the General Assembly, what would you do?

I’d do what everybody is going to do anyway – vote their conscience.  Look at the trends and listen to the younger folks there who can tell you what the church of the future needs to look like as they understand it today.  Fight if you must, compromise if you can, and try to reconcile with your brother (sister) when you grow apart.  Have faith that God is still in charge and that these things are happening for a reason, and that He’ll sort it all out at some point out of our control.

And the schism begins ….

January 17, 2007 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Religion 

The New Wineskins Association has published a proposed Strategy Report (warning – large PDF – over 150 pages) calling for a schism from the PC(USA) denomination.

Well, OK.  It doesn’t actually SAY that this is a schism.  In fact the report goes out of the way to avoid calling it a schism.  But let’s face it – what they want is the wholesale departure of a large number of PC(USA) congregations to another denomination.  That’s a schism.

What this group is pushing is for all New Wineskins congregations to leave the PC(USA) and go to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.  The New Wineskins group will ask the EPC General Assembly next June to allow for non-geographical presbyteries.  They will then ask to create a New Wineskins EPC presbytery to contain all New Wineskins PC(USA) congregations that want to leave.  That presbytery will be self-governing, and all officers and congregations will be required to the Essential Tenets of the New Wineskins Association AND their Ethical Imperatives.  It should be noted that “destructive speech, unforgiveness” are listed in their Ethical Imperatives, though they use PLENTY of such speech in their Strategy Paper.  At some point this presbytery can either be folded into the EPC or possibly create a new denomination – the EPC and this presbytery will hold discussions over time on which way to go.

I say “LET THEM GO!”  Most of the destructive controversy in the PC(USA) is caused by two groups – the evangelical right, and the extreme liberal left.  Both are responsible in part for the decline in membership and the inward focus of the church.  If one of those groups wants to leave, let them go – WITH THEIR PROPERTY – and let’s get back to doing the important stuff.  Let’s either let the presbyteries let these 150 congregations go (less than 2% of the PC(USA) by count of congregations or members) or have the next General Assembly approve a method for their departure.

Those interested in the roots of this schism should read a document from Perspectives (published by the PC(USA) Office of the General Assembly) titled Presbyterians and Separatist Evangelicals: A Continuing Dilemma.   This is admittedly written by from a leftward leaning point of view, but it is a very scholarly document that shows the roots of our ongoing controversies and splits.

And for God’s sake – let’s get this over with and move on.

Is It Time for the PCUSA to Split?

December 1, 2006 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Religion 

As regular readers know, the PC(USA) denomination is in turmoil.  There is a growing divide between conservatives (who call themselves “evangelical” or “Biblically faithful”) and liberals (who call themselves “progressive”).  It looks like the fight is over homosexuality, but it’s really over a combination of social ideology (today’s hot-button issues like homosexuality, abortion, and oddly enough property rights) and Biblical inerrancy.

When it comes right down to it, the divide is based on one question:  “Do I believe that I have the only True Christian Faith?”

If you answer yes, then the world is divided into two groups:  people who believe and behave like you and who are to be applauded, and people who do not yet match your beliefs or behavior and who are to be at best converted/assisted to return to the Truth and at worst vilified.

If you answer no, the the world is divided into many groups.  One of the groups believes and behaves the way you do and feels like family.  Other groups don’t believe or behave the way you do, but they meet some lesser standard of “do no harm to others” and are to be applauded as finding a “different path to God”.  Still other groups are seen as taking a path where their beliefs or lack thereof lead them to do harm to others; these groups are vilified.

The definitions of harm are different between conservatives and liberals as well – conservatives tend to define harm as physical or “leading people away from the True Faith” while liberals tend to define harm as physical, mental, economic, or discrimination based on a number of attributes.

From where I sit, it seems like the pew-sitters in the PC(USA) fall into 3 groups:  20% activist conservative, 70% non-activist, and 10% activist liberal.  The officers (elders and deacons) and clergy skew more to the liberal.

The PC(USA) is posed on the brink of a split.  One of three things can happen.  The denomination could pursue a graceful split, dividing property and churches using principles similar to those used by “still friendly” divorcing couples.  The denomination could go through a painful split, with ecclesiastical and civil court cases, lots of name-calling, and heavy losses of membership as people get disgusted and leave.  Or, the non-activist middle could rise up and tell the activist conservatives and activist liberals to sit down, shut up, and stop hurting the community.

I favor the “middle rising up” scenario.  However, it seems like we are pursuing the “painful split” scenario now.

When I was in high school, I was involved in the Tech Crew.  This is usually called “Stage Crew” elsewhere, though we also did lighting and sound for school events that didn’t happen in the auditorium.  By the time I was a junior, I had risen to be Lighting Director.  We also had a position called Technical Director held by a friend of mine.  The two positions were considered co-presidents of the group.

In senior year, disaster struck.  Both of us developed romantic notions for another member of the group.  To this day I’m not even sure whether or not she shared romantic feelings for either of us.  Throughout the fall of senior year there were a number of ugly incidents (none physical – more passive-aggressive) and the Tech Crew started to show signs of a similar split.  There were the 3 of us, a few friends of those 3, and the rest formed the “knock it off” middle.  We managed to get things done, but it was clear that the situation was hurting the group.

So, I chose to leave the group for the good of the group.  This also ended the friendships with the Technical Director and our lady friend all the way around.  Some felt that I took the coward’s way and avoided conflict.  Some felt that I should have just let it go and stepped aside of any relationship that they may have had.  Others were sad to see me go but understood my decision (the adults involved fell into that group).  I do know that I no longer had to experience the immediate pain of the disagreements, though I did feel the pain of the loss of part of my life.  The group ended up having further problems and while it didn’t split it never regained the level of fun that we’d experienced before the love triangle formed.  The knowledge transfer that usually happens as the group ages and a new guard comes in was interrupted, resulting in some permanent loss of knowledge.  At least one person had to take over a role that they weren’t prepared to handle.

Does that sound familiar?  Replace me with the role of “conservative church leaving the denomination”.

The key question is “Does staying together do more harm than splitting?”  More harm to each of us, more harm to the whole.  It’s clear that as we spend time fighting amongst ourselves, we are not advancing the Kingdom of God.  If anything, we are fragmenting it.  And we are losing people to disinterest and disgust.

It’s time for some project management skills.  We need to pick a few options and evaluate the upsides and downsides of each.  This is the same decision-making process that I use every day in my IT job.  It’s the same decision-making process used by doctors when they have a sick patient.

Let’s look at the upsides and downsides of a split.  Let’s look at the upsides and downsides of staying together.  Let’s look at the upsides and downsides of letting people go peacefully.  Let’s pray over all of it, and pick the option that will help us all move forward in the best way for the greatest number – separate or apart.

Most of all, let’s leave the emotions at home.  Let’s think and pray, but stop fighting.

An interesting side note:  I found the Technical Director mentioned above on the web.  From what little is on his website, he has a similar DVD collection, similar interests (indicated by links) and his cats look like mine.  Freaky.  I’m glad for him that he’s apparently happy.