When Should a Church Schism?

When Should a Church Schism? May 21, 2012

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:

Edina church considering new denomination

BY LISA KACZKE – Sun Newspapers

Published: Thursday, May 17, 2012 9:27 AM CDT
Members of Christ Presbyterian Church in Edina are grappling with a decision to change denominations.

The 5,000-member church is considering leaving the Presbyterian Church (USA) to join a different denomination and the newly formed Evangelical Covenant Order is at the top of the list.

At an informational session on Wednesday, May 9, members questioned the financial ramifications of leaving as well as whether members who don’t agree with the new denomination’s theology would stay at Christ Presbyterian Church. A second informational session is scheduled for noon on Sunday, May 20, at the church.

The church also plans to hold a town hall meeting in the fall and poll the congregation to find out if a majority is interested in leaving PC(USA). No formal decisions will be made until January 2013, church elder Gary Tygesson told the mostly full sanctuary on May 9.

Many issues come up in the article, including the building — as in, who owns it? — and, surprisingly to me, the overwrought bureaucracy of the PC(USA).

What’s not mentioned is gay marriage and gay ordination. Theology is mentioned briefly, but there’s no acute mention of the issue of homosexuality, which those of us who observe such things consider to be the key issue in this conflict. So I ask you Presbyterians: What’s the real issue driving the ECO? And, honestly, how much is it that these large congregations are frustrated with the denominational bureaucracy? Or are they just frustrated that they don’t get power that’s commensurate with their size?

I found this comment at the every end of the article particularly interesting:

One member asked how the members are supposed to know if this is the right time to splinter off. [Former elder David] Schwandt responded that members need to consider what they hold dear. Schisms are caused by not fitting in. He concluded, “I think that’s corrective and helpful at times. Other times it’s destructive and narrow.”

That comment seems to me a particularly naïve view of schisms.

What do you think? Are schisms sometimes “corrective and helpful”?

PS: Regarding the headline, I know that “schism” is a noun, not a verb. But I want it to be a verb.

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