I recently read two articles about the polarization of America and was struck by the irony of how easily each could have been written about congregations like Trinity who are seeking dismissal from the PC(USA).
Both articles describe the increasing trend in America to separate from each other based on our differences and migrate into like minded groups.
Read the first paragraph of the BusinessWeek article with just a touch of editing. I struck a couple of words and (substituted) my own in parenthesis.
“Something strange is happening to
state government (the PC(USA)). Fed up with what they see as liberal overreaching, small groups of rural, largely conservative activists have decided they’re done trying to effect political change through the usual channels of votes and bills and the seemingly endless churn of election cycles. They’re plotting something drastic: They’re going to shutdow—wait, sorry. Wrong legislative impasse. What I meant to say is: They’re going to form their own states (denominations).”
Every quote I read in the article sounded nearly word-for-word like what I hear being said by advocates for leaving the PC(USA).
Here is another example,
“‘Here at the state level, we’re controlled by a single party—Democrats—and we feel we have no other recourse,’ he says. ‘We’re sick and tired of being sick and tired. We want to be our own state.’”
So it is interesting to me that Trinity’s “Reasons” letter addresses the “theological, ideological, political, social and moral shifts in American society that have been reflected in the PC(USA)” as a reason for requesting dismissal from the denomination.
In a letter to the congregation dated May 17, 2013 the session wrote, “We are frustrated that issues in the PC(USA) have consistently become more politicized. Members of our denomination are polarized to the point where time and effort are expended on internal disagreements at the expense of focusing on mission in our community and the world. We believe that this will become a greater problem as more congregations that hold similar convictions to Trinity continue to be dismissed to other denominations (which is happening in increasing numbers). We want to be part of a denomination where we are actively welcomed and feel safe to wrestle with issues that arise from ministering in an increasingly non-Christian culture.”
Again, in the “Reasons” letter, the session wrote, “According to our understanding of the Scriptures as interpreted through our Reformed confessions, these cultural shifts should not have an impact on what we believe and how we would seek to behave as God’s people.”
Whether Trinity’s session recognizes it or not, by requesting dismissal from the denomination, their behavior is a direct reflection of this larger, growing, cultural shift toward homogenous polarization and away from God’s work of reconciliation.
The PacificStandard article writes, “Does your next-door neighbor vote the same way you do? How about the couple who live across the street, or your friends on the next block? The odds you answered “yes” or “probably” to those questions have increased dramatically in recent decades. Forget red states and blue states: We’re increasingly living in red or blue counties, cities, even neighborhoods. This phenomenon has been widely cited as one reason behind our current political polarization: It allows strident voices on the right and left to fairly insist they’re fairly representing their constituents.”
Individuals choose to live in communities with ideologies similar to their own to satisfy their need to belong. But this comes at a high cost.
The article continues, “Unfortunately, this appears to be a clear case where individual contentment and the national interest are at odds. While ‘This homogenization of communities may promote greater personal well-being,’ the researchers write, ‘it may also foster increased partisan hostility’ by minimizing our contact with people on the other side of the ideological divide.”
Another article, published on Bloomberg.com titled, Won’t You Be My (Hyper-Partisan) Neighbor?, by Peter Orszag, also addresses the negative consequences of segregating into like-minded communities.
“The consequences are far-reaching. The social psychology literature clearly shows that when like-minded people are put together, they move to extremes — both because they rarely hear opposing viewpoints and because each person is at least somewhat inclined to prove he is the true believer in the group. The behavior is observed even among people who otherwise strive to be quite objective, such as judges. Cass Sunstein, the legal scholar who is now administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, documents in his 2006 book “Are Judges Political? An Empirical Analysis of the Federal Judiciary,” that judges appointed by Republican presidents are more likely to vote in extreme ways if they are grouped with other Republican-appointed judges than if they are grouped with Democratic-appointed judges, and vice versa.”
Aside from the unhealthy dangers of polarizing our congregation in a like minded denomination we also need to recognize that as followers of Jesus Christ we are called to resist this kind of separation.
This past fall The Reverend Dr. Jerry Tankersley, pastor of Laguna Presbyterian Church, spoke at Trinity about why he believes we should stay in the PC(USA). You can find a copy of everything he said here on his blog. Jerry reminded Trinity there are important biblical and theological reasons to remain in this part of the Reformed body. He recounted the biblical story of the fall and God’s neverending efforts to restore unity and went on to say,
“The reason that I recapitulate this biblical theology of the unity of God, the unity of the people of God, and the unity of the mission of God is that we may be reminded of what is at the very heart of the movement of the reign of God in human history. Paradise was lost, walls of the City of God breached, but God acted to restore paradise in and through the sacrifice of the Lamb of God, Jesus. He purchased us with his own blood. Now we belong to him and to his body. His passion and mission must become the passion and mission of God’s people. God’s promise is of a New Creation in which the original righteousness of the unity of all creation will be perfectly restored and all will be made right to the glory of God and the joy of heaven and earth in the New Jerusalem…To act to sever this unity within any fellowship will have profound implications for the congregation, presbytery, and surrounding community. The unity of the church is central to our witness to the gospel in a fragmented, chaotic, and lost world. The world will know we are Christians by the integrity of our love for one another.”
Trinity, let’s stay PC(USA)