When Should a Church Schism?

I took a lot of heat from my Methodist friends last week for suggesting that young clergy forsake the denomination and go do something new. Let me be clear: I don’t expect one single Methodist clergyperson or seminarian to jump ship because I blogged about it. Puhleeze, people.

I will reiterate something: It is virtually impossible to see the dysfunction of a system when you’re inside it. Ask anyone who’s married to an alcoholic; ask a prison guard; ask Michel Foucault. Sometimes Often it takes an outsider to speak truth into a system. Also, dear Methodists, to appease your anger, here’s a picture of me washing Methodist feet:

That being said the Presbyterians are facing challenges of their own. The closest church to my house is Christ Presbyterian, a large PC(USA) congregation, the pastor of which has been at the forefront of the Fellowship of Presbyterians, a group of primarily large, conservative, white, suburban churches. The Fellowship is launching a new denomination, the Evangelical Covenant Order.

Our weekly suburban paper, the Edina Sun, covered the first meeting about the potential switch at Christ Presbyterian:

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Rejected Anti-Gay Ad

David Brauer reports that the Minneapolis StarTribune has rejected an ad placed by the Presbyterian Lay Committee, a conservative group within the Presbyterian Church (USA):

According to Committee president Carmen Fowler LaBerge, “The Strib indicated that if we would scrub the reference in our ad to sex within marriage and scrub the reference to the Bible, they would reconsider running it. Those edits would have so substantively changed the ad as to render it meaningless.”

LaBerge says the ad ran in big-city papers such as the Los Angeles Times (right), Wall Street Journal, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Dallas Morning News, Denver Post, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Charlotte Observer, Orlando Sentinel, Houston Chronicle, Richmond Times-Dispatch and the San Francisco Chronicle.

Here’s the ad in question:

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Presbyterians Try a Gay Man

Years ago, I was sitting on an airplane, reading the USA Today that had been dropped at my hotel room door that morning.  In a little snippet, I read that a lesbian pastor had been called before a grand jury of the United Methodist Church.  What shocked me was not that there was a lesbian pastor in the UMC.  What shocked me was that the UMC had a grand jury.

Yesterday, just a few miles from my house, the Presbyterians (USA) did something similar.  It’s convoluted, so try to bear with me.  It seems that a Presbyterian clergyman, Erwin Barron, was put on trial at a church in Bloomington, Minnesota.

Erwin Barron (photo by Jeff Wheeler, StarTribune)

Barron does not live in Minnesota.  He was a pastor at a church in Minneapolis in the 1990s.  At the time, it seems from the article in the StarTribune, “he was coming to terms with both his sexuality and his future.”  That line, I think, implies that he was not actively gay at the time.

But he left Minnesota, attended graduate school, and married a man in the days before Proposition 8 passed.  Now he’s a college professor.

But, because of the byzantine Presbyterian rules, he’s still accountable to the Presbytery of the Twin Cities, and it was they who put him on trial.  From the Strib:

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Mainline Churches Continue their Decline

File this under, “Same Ol’ Same Ol’.”  The National Council of Churches released their annual yearbook last week and announced that the Catholic Church holds steady, Mormons are on the rise, as are Pentecostals.  And, no surprise, the mainline denominations continue their long, slow fade:

Mainline churches reporting declines in membership are United Church of Christ, down 2.83 percent to 1,080,199 members; the Presbyterian Church (USA), down 2.61 percent to 2,770,730 members; the Episcopal Church, down 2.48 percent to 2,006,343 members; the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. down 1.96 percent to 4,542,868 members; the American Baptist Churches USA, down 1.55 percent to 1,310,505; the Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod), down 1.08 percent to 2,312,111 members; and the United Methodist Church, down 1.01 percent to 7,774,931 members.

via National Council of Churches USA.