A PC(USA) amicable split – pre-requisites

October 30, 2008 by
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).
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  6. The presbyteries would have to approve the amendments.
  7. 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?


6 Comments on A PC(USA) amicable split – pre-requisites

  1. jonp on Thu, 30th Oct 2008 10:38 am
  2. Mark,

    i’m not comfortable with the denomination splitting. Ultimately, i think that God brought us together to the table for a reason and that we are meant to be in fellowship with each other – even if we would rather not be.

    Perhaps my apprehension comes from being part of a group that was “left behind” after a major church split, and perhaps it is merely that i am still quite young, idealistic, and naive for an elder.

  3. Alan on Thu, 30th Oct 2008 11:10 am
  4. I also don’t believe a split is necessary. First of all, anyone who wants to leave the PCUSA can simply, next Sunday, go join another church down the street. Call the Clerk of Session and ask for a letter of transfer. Or don’t. It isn’t necessary to do so, but it is good manners. Second, if an entire church does want to disaffiliate with the PCUSA, there are ways within the BoO to do that.

    However, that assumes that churches who do want to leave are treated well. The tactics that it seems some Presbyteries are using against churches that want to leave are seem themselves, out of order. (On this, I’m only going by what I read on conservative blogs. Frankly I have little interest in these issues, so I’m not sure how much of what I’ve read is true and how much is just paranoid ranting. I can’t say that most of those folks have a whole lot of credibility any more. But if things are actually happening as they portray, then clearly there are some real problems.)

    The Presbytery does have a fiduciary duty to make sure that if a church leaves, the value of the property is properly accounted for. I know some like to spin this as being “all about money” but that’s ridiculous. It is simply being responsible stewards. And a Presbytery is, I believe, a non-profit corporation and I’m sure there are laws that apply here. However, working to make sure that accounting is done properly should not be used as an excuse to keep people from leaving.

    I’m mostly concerned about the people left over when these churches leave. In many cases, though not all, the votes have not been unanimous. It’s too bad that those folks get left out in the cold, though of course they can go join another church. It’s sad to see that they basically just get shoved out, however.

    I also sympathize with those who want to leave. Dissent is definitely Presbyterian. Sometimes it is necessary to refuse to follow unjust rules in the Book of Order to follow what one believes to be real Biblical justice. It would be the height of hypocrisy for me to say or believe otherwise. So, in those situations in which churches have, in good faith, attempted to follow the Book of Order procedures for disaffiliation and have gotten nothing but trouble in return, I would advocate civil disobedience and dissent, and a good pair of bolt cutters. That means they have to be prepared to face the consequences, such as loss of the property, heck maybe even arrest for trespassing. If you are going to break the rules to make a point, you must be willing to face the consequences if you loose. You do use those tactics as a last resort and to prove a point, not to win. I’m not sure those folks are ready to face that, as it often does seem for them to be “all about property.” Maybe it isn’t, and maybe that’s unfair and I’m underestimating them. If I’m wrong then good luck, Godspeed, and if you need a catchy slogan while you’re protesting, I’m happy to help think of one. 🙂

    But in a more amicable split, I’m also not sure who “the other side” would be. Obviously we know who wants to leave. But who is the other side? Progressives? I’m not sure that’s the case. I honestly personally don’t know a single person who actually cares whether or not those churches stay or leave. By that I mean, sure they care and they’d like them to stay, but ultimately the folks I know are not interested in the issue one way or the other. As for myself, I for one, have other issues in the church that I’m concerned about that have nothing whatsoever to do with these property disputes. So is the other side the bureaucrats? Is it some fraction of the middle? When people think “progressives” they often think MLP or Witherspoon, or TAMFS, etc. I don’t think the folks in those organizations have an iron in this fire at all. No one I know does, anyway.

    So perhaps a split is unnecessary. I think the majority of folks are happy where they’re at. Instead we should think of this as a birthing of a new denomination (or a fledging into a different denomination) in which this small number of churches simply leaves amicably. The issue of course is how do we make that amicable? Working out some overarching goals and procedures might be a good idea, but I suspect that many situations are so individual that coming up with solid rules would be hard.

  5. Chris Larimer on Thu, 30th Oct 2008 4:05 pm
  6. Get it done!

  7. Rev Kim on Thu, 30th Oct 2008 4:10 pm
  8. Though I’m not happy with the state of our denomination, I don’t believe a split is the answer. A split assumes that there is such a thing as the perfect church, and there will not be until Jesus returns in power and glory. A split assumes that we can create the perfect church.

    Along what lines would a split occur? Obviously along the lines of fidelity and chastity (which applies not only to homosexuals, but heterosexuals too). Where else? Ordination of women? Baptismal & Communion practices?

    Problem with splitting is, soon we will be split so much we would end up with the “Church of Rev Kim” and the “Church of Mark,” etc., with only ourselves “members”, and, well, that is not the church.

    God is the one who creates us and calls us together as the body of Christ. God created us and calls us to be in community – like jonp said, whether we want to or not.

  9. jodie on Fri, 31st Oct 2008 9:18 pm
  10. Mark,

    This is a complex question with several factors coming together to cause disunity. Here are a couple of the biggest ones, I think.

    I do not think the issues that are dividing the church are coming from inside the church. There was an old book once called “Games people play” that had a chapter called “Let’s you and him fight”. I believe the Church at large and the PCUSA in particular has been a victim of this game from people who are outside the Church but who are fighting for the political support of the Church in secular politics.

    I get this thesis primarily from George Lakoff in his book “Moral Politics” and “Don’t think of an Elephant”. In them he documents how the secular conservative movement has campaigned for the hearts and minds of the American people in the last thirty five years by setting the tone and the vocabulary of the debate. We are probably seeing the collapse of that movement – possibly because it achieved all its goals with no satisfaction – but the Church, always lagging behind the times a bit, specially the Presbyterian church, is still ringing from the effects.

    What is dividing the PCUSA today is mainly the issue of gay acceptance. Other than that, liberals and conservatives have shared common pews for decades, and even centuries. “The Church’s one foundation/ Is Jesus Christ her Lord”. As George Lakoff shows, the subject of homosexuality is a litmus test between political conservatism and political liberalism. By forcing the question upon the church, the churches that divided themselves and took sides along the secular political lines supported the conservative political agendas. These have reached their climax with the Bush administration. But in doing so they failed in their higher calling to the politics of the Kingdom of God and to be one on Jesus Christ. They failed to hold to the principle that the Gospel is above the plane of right versus left, conservative vs. liberal.

    The purpose of the question was to divide.

    But Jesus calls the Church to unity. The only possible way I see to refuse to be divided by the question is to not answer it. Let the Secular world deal with it. We must put on blinders like a horse attached to a carriage and refuse to be distracted by the forces that surround us.

    And I agree that there is a generation gap here. The under 25 group has completely accepted the gay community as co-equals in every way.

    Once we can commit and trust ourselves to not be divided by the question, and only then, should we try to understand the more nuanced issues it raises regarding theology, biblical interpretation, and nature. As I read somewhere, the Church has made many serious mistakes over the centuries because it did not understand nature, and replaced good sound judgment with fanciful doctrine.

    We would be well served by learning from her mistakes.

    A second issue that has crept up is the development of the corporate model for the church. The PCUSA is not organized like a corporation and our pastors are not CEOs with Sessions acting as a board of directors. However the corporate model has infiltrated our psyches from so many directions that we tend to think it is. It comes from the outside, and brings with it the power games of corporate politics. Tall steeple churches are especially vulnerable to this misconception. Pastors and Sessions want to “lead” their congregations, and by that they mean “control”, and in so doing they look outside their congregations for guidance where to lead. Therefore they succumb to the impression that outside definitions of what is important must guide them; outside political movements, outside “news” services, outside leaders and propaganda agents, when in fact the Holy Spirit leads from the bottom up. This is what Jesus was teaching as he washed his disciples’ feet.

    There is no movement from the bottom up in our denomination to divide. There is only service. The further up the chain of command one is, the more of a servant one must become, with Jesus Christ the servant of all. The first shall be the last and the last shall be the first. Those who would lead must become the servants of all.

    And servants do not divide the houses they serve.

    There is no useful purpose and nothing to be gained by dividing the PCUSA along these political lines. I think the PCUSA should take a strong stance on this point and “leaders” who insist on being divisive should be relieved of their duties and responsibilities until such time as they are willing to commit to non-divisive ministries.


    […] few weeks ago, I wrote this post about the pre-requisites for an orderly schism in the PC(USA).  I personally don’t favor […]

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