To split or not to split

A recent poll of United Methodists found that more than 90 percent of respondents don’t think the church should split over the question of homosexuality. Moreover, “[c]reating disciples of Christ, spiritual growth and youth involvement” were named as higher priorities than debates over sexuality.

The congregation I belong to is firmly in the “open and affirming” camp, and yet our pastor and leadership are strongly committed to the view that the church can and should include people of divergent views on this, as well as on other matters.

Now, in practice, I’m not sure how this is going to work, since as a matter of policy the church will have to come down on one “side” or another. Maybe the best we can hope for is some kind of “local option,” similar to what my former church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, has been moving toward. I’m of two minds about this because, on the one hand, I do consider full equality of LGBT persons to be a matter of justice and not simply personal preference. But at the same time, there are good Christian people who have not come around on this, and I’m not convinced that it would be healthy to continue the already-pronounced Protestant tendency toward schism by splitting the church further.

Two additional considerations incline me against a split: first, since we believe in grace and the Spirit, Christians shouldn’t regard anyone as beyond having a change of heart. And second, we shouldn’t think that we (for any value of “we”) possess the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Even in positions we regard as fundamentally wrong, there may be elements of overlooked truth. Staying in communion and conversation with people we disagree with can be a check on smug self-certainty.

I don’t think that there’s any neat and clean solution here, and any course of action is likely to result in pain and loss. And we should be particularly alert to the effect any choice will have on those who’ve been on the receiving end of discrimination for so long. Straight Christians like myself are only too prone to discount how toxic church environments can be for LGBT people.

Probably many churches will muddle through for some time yet without coming to a decisive resolution. But I do think it’s still worth trying to find ways to muddle through together.




4 thoughts on “To split or not to split

  1. Kip

    Of course they don’t want to split. Everyone thinks they’re right and the other guy’s wrong, and it’s just a matter of time till the other guy figures out you were right.

  2. gcallah

    “But at the same time, there are good Christian people who have not come around on this…”
    So there’s is no possibility that you are wrong and you will have to “come around”?

  3. Sure, anything’s possible. And it’s always a good idea to keep talking to people who see things differently and be open to the possibility that your mind will change.

    That said, like most people, I think my views are right and want to see them prevail. And I’m less open to persuasion on some matters than others.

  4. “Even in positions we regard as fundamentally wrong, there may be elements of overlooked truth.”
    I guess I do believe there are positions without any elements of truth, like being ok with torture. I was just thinking on another subject about the idea that the company you keep says something important about you … is unity really more important than every other consideration? It’s that belief that the former AB of C clung to when the Anglican Communion started having debates about gay bishops, and his stance didn’t really solve anything.

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