By Chuck Griffin
Holston WCA Chair
Part Two of Three
Previously, I talked about changing our mindsets, accepting the denominational split likely to come and moving toward mutual care for one another as the situation develops.
Here are two broad ideas Holston progressives, centrists and traditionalists need to explore and develop together, assuming they are able to agree to care for one another.
A Theological Alignment Plan
As painful as the process will be, our churches and pastors need to assess and openly declare where they stand on doctrine. I have in the past asserted our problems run much deeper than our approach to human sexuality—we are having basic disagreements about whether traditional methods of scriptural interpretation still apply. Some questions about human sexuality can help us define a stance pretty quickly, however.
Church administrative boards should go ahead and answer these questions: Would we welcome the appointment of a practicing homosexual as our pastor? Would we allow gay weddings in our sanctuary?
More generally, it would be very healthy for churches to assess how they approach Scripture. Is the Bible foundational to the Christian life? Do all the church’s members define words like “resurrection” and “sin” in the same way?
As for clergy—well, I’m not sure what to make of clergy who cannot clearly articulate their theological stances. We’ve been asked to do so annually on our consultation forms in the Holston Conference for at least a few years now. Classifying clergy at the conference level should be a relatively easy task. If a pastor has not answered the question clearly in the last few years, she or he should be asked again.
Once we see how churches align and pastors align, our bishop and cabinet should deal with mismatches between congregations and pastors as quickly as possible.
A Minority Support Plan
Anything like what I’ve proposed above frightens people for a few simple reasons. Lay people who find themselves to be a minority in a church may feel they are being pushed out. Clergy fear they may be out of a job if the ratio of traditional churches to progressive churches does not match the ratio of traditional pastors to progressive pastors—in other words, on one side or another there might not be enough pastoral jobs to go around.
I would note these problems are going to arise, anyway. As I said in Part One of this series, here comes the wave! Without advance planning, the repercussions will be swift and harsh, particularly for some clergy. But if we use the principle of mutual care to manage these changes as early as possible, more lay people and clergy will have soft and perhaps even happy landings in new church homes.
As we map out where our churches stand, it will be easier for people to voluntarily shift to a local church where they identify with the official doctrine. We could even find ourselves starting new churches clearly labeled as progressive or traditional, inviting clergy and laity who feel displaced to seek how God might be doing something new in their lives. Any funds we have designated for church development should go toward such efforts.
The Theological Alignment Plan needs to be executed quickly. I fear our conference leaders already have waited too long to do the serious work that needs to be done. The Minority Support Plan would have to follow on its heels without hesitation.
Next: Where There Is No Mutual Care