By Steven Norris
I am a child of divorce. My parents did their best, but in the aftermath of the split, I distinctly remember being used as a pawn — one parent pitting us children against the other, hoping that we would choose sides. I loved both of my parents and felt my heart rent in two as the fabric of my family unraveled right in front of me.
I was reminded of this recently as I watched some of our strongest denominations begin to rip apart in very public ways. The United Methodist Church is quickly becoming the “fractured Methodist Church,” with churches around the world choosing to leave the denomination over irreconcilable differences. Just this week, the largest UMC church in our county voted to “disaffiliate” from the denomination.
Southern Baptists recently put forth a constitutional amendment to draw their circle smaller, stating that Baptist churches who recognize and encourage women in pastoral roles are no longer in “friendly cooperation” with the denomination. They did so, seeming to ignore the historic Baptist principle of the “autonomy of the local church” and that participation in the denomination is based on voluntary cooperation.
As many know, prominent Saddleback Church (founded by Rick Warren), found itself on the outside looking in, no longer welcome at the SBC table of fellowship. It is likely that we will only see a further fracturing of what is now the fastest shrinking denomination in our country.
On the night before his crucifixion, Jesus tried to prepare his disciples for life without his physical presence. Part of that preparation was to pray for them (and for all those who would believe in him as a result of their testimony). Notably, Jesus did not pray for doctrinal purity or strict orthodoxy. He didn’t pray for missional blueprints or strategic plans. Instead, he said this: “I pray that they will be one, just as you and I are one — as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you have sent me” (John 17: 21).
The temptation in any divorce is to take sides and cast blame. Maybe you are celebrating what you see as the liberation of a local church from its heavy-handed hierarchy or the uncompromising stand for perceived truth. Maybe you are grieving that members of the family have chosen to walk away or shrink the table such that you no longer have a place.
Whatever your experience, I implore you: remember the “children.” Remember those caught in the middle of all the turmoil and strife. Pray that God will protect their hearts from becoming jaded and calloused to spiritual things. Pray for an awareness of God’s abiding presence and peace for those watching the family they love come apart at the seams.
I sincerely hope that good will ultimately come out of the current tumult we are experiencing. Today, however, I lament. When will we again know “how good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity” (Psalm 133:1)?