When the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted recently to divest from certain companies involved in the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, a Jewish professor of mine at Candler was outraged and took to social media to express his thoughts on what he considered blatant anti-Semitism. I understood his perspective, although I believed that a show of support for this particular Palestinian cause need not be an indictment on Israel's right to exist or the entire Jewish faith. Still, the decision was contentious and controversial, as most things that actually matter deeply to people are. I understood that. But one thing he said I did not understand - or at least did not expect to read: he called for a schism within the PCUSA denomination.
It shocked me more than I would have expected. He was willing to tolerate the pain of a fracture for the righteousness of his cause, while I was not. To me, this one issue did not warrant a break in an entire denomination. It was then that I realized how others, different from me, must feel about the schisms occurring around LGBTQ equal rights. While the pain of church fracture has always felt tolerable to me compared to the pain of LGBTQ oppression, it was then that I felt a bit more compassion for those on the other side.
While a schism over divestment is unlikely, schism - and the threat there of - within denominations over other LGBTQ equal rights is becoming common. While we in the United Church of Christ are standing on the side of justice for all our LGBTQ brothers and sisters, other churches have gotten lost along the way.
But I believe there is hope.
The motto of the United Church of Christ comes from a prayer that Jesus prays to the Father in John's Gospel. "I ask not only on behalf of these," he prays, "but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one." (John 17:20-21). This is the Scripture that encapsulates our Gospel-call to be a united and uniting church. It is foundational to who we are as Christians - one body in Christ Jesus.
And the history of the United Church of Christ - a denomination born in 1957 by the uniting of two denominations that were themselves the product of previous unification - proves that there is some promise in this prayer. The church has many fractures, but wounds can heal.
LGBTQ rights may divide some of our churches today. But I believe that as the arc of the universe bends ever more towards justice, old divisions will be forgotten. Many of the arguments that started religious wars and schism after schism are moot points in today's world.
If we believe in Life after Death, then we can certainly have faith in Unity after Division.
The promise of reunification allows us freedom to honor our differences today. LGBTQ people are being hurt right now by the perversion of a gospel that excludes them. I believe that too easily diversity and justice can be perverted for the sake of institutional unity. While denominational fractures are always painful, oppression is arguably more so.
Thus while I cannot say that a schism in any church community is the right thing to do, and I have learned to listen more deeply to those who strive for unity in times of injustice - I have faith that our unity as Christians is never permanently broken.