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Planning the Divorce of Your Denomination

Updated: Nov 26, 2020

A year ago, I met with the presidents of two well known denominational seminaries. I was introducing them to the ministry of The Center for Faith, Sexuality and Gender, The Center’s ministry is educating pastors and their people to be more kind and understanding of LGBT+ people and their families, while still holding the Bible’s historical teaching of marriage and sex.

Each of the denominations these seminaries represent had a number of churches who were affirming. That is they believe the Bible allows same-sex marriage. The lines were being drawn, with churches were being encouraged to join with one camp or another and these seminary presidents could see trouble coming. Their question for me was, “How can we reconcile these two opposing views in our denomination?” My answer surprised them.

“You can’t. The leaders of your denomination should be praying about and planning the divorce of your denomination,” was my answer. They were semi-shocked by that statement and thought I was being overly pessimistic. I didn’t think I was. I was urging them to be pro-active with a plan to address an issue that will split every denomination and many churches and here’s why.

Most evangelical denominations in the US have a written doctrinal statement on what they believe the Bible teaches about marriage and sex. Affirming churches do not agree with their denominations long standing position and may already be electing elders and other leaders who are married to someone of the same sex, or their pastors are marrying them. They are not only lobbying actively for this “new reality,” but actually forcing their denominations to act to accept it. So what are the options?

A denomination could just change their historical doctrinal position. If they did, and some have, then the conservative churches will leave, or divorce the denomination. If the denomination does not change their doctrinal position, but allows these affirming churches to continue to teach and live out a doctrine in opposition to the denomination, there will be on going tension hostility and resentment. These two positions cannot be reconciled. In my view, a denominational divorce is the only option. Well, how does that work?

I once belonged to a denomination that chose to change it’s position on ordaining women pastors. Dozens of churches who disagreed left in a flurry of lawsuits, power-grabs and acrimony that many younger Christians observed and walked away from that denomination. Had the denomination spent a few years ahead of time meeting with the churches they knew would probably leave them and discussed, perhaps with the help of a respected arbitrator some options to separate with peace, there may have been far less anger and flat out sin. And some younger Christians having observed a thoughtful, fair split may have stayed.

I don’t have a specific mechanism in mind. But this I do know this: A split in your denomination is coming. The church can either be pro-active and begin meeting together now to discuss a Christ-honoring solution, or kick the can down the road and hope for the best. Years ago, our church used Peacemaker Ministry. I’d give them a try.

“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” Ephesians 4:3

Summary: If you are a leader in your denomination, or know one, please urge them to consider praying about these ideas and take some action.

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