I am writing from the Rosen Shinglecreek resort during the Fellowship of Presbyterians gathering, as reported this week by Jeff Kunerth. I take note of the deep divide and shifting sands being experienced by all the main line denominations in America. Presbyterians aren’t alone in their internal divide over issues of sexuality and ordination. Episcopalians, Lutherans, and Methodists are also in the midst of the debate and realignment that comes from various positions of conviction.
The irony is that while the cultural battle over homosexuality has come to a head in the church, it is fundamental doctrinal issues that have been ignored for too long that make up the deeper fault lines. Long divided progressives and evangelicals are realizing how very divided they are over Christ’s divinity, Scripture’s inspiration and authority, and belief over how Jesus’ death on the cross effects salvation. Past property arrangements and the middle class avoidance of direct conflict have become the thin thread of connection in many of the mainline governing bodies. No longer.
I sat next to a woman who serves as an elder in her small Presbyterian church in West Virginia. Her jaw dropped more and more as she realized that many pastors deny the virgin birth, hold to a universalist of view on salvation, and see the Bible as an antiquated book of legend. As one who has been steeped in the debate for decades, I was struck with her ignorance, but also her freshly felt hurt and betrayal by the church she had faithfully served and in which she raised her children.
The future for the mainline church remains to be seen, but the realignment will occur regardless. The question is whether new life and institutional strength will result, or if denominations destroy themselves from within.
And this is just the theological divide! Part II is over the ‘adaptive change’ issues occurring across all sectors of society in 21st century America from which the church is not immune, if perhaps ignorant.