The Common Good
May 2004

When to Split?

by S. Mae Clark | May 2004

Likening the possible split in the Presbyterian Church (

Likening the possible split in the Presbyterian Church (USA) to a divorce, both Richard Mouw and Barbara Wheeler concluded that the institution should stay together and attempt to resolve its differences over GLBT people in the church ("Why the Evangelical Church Needs the Liberal Church," by Richard Mouw, and "Why the Liberal Church Needs the Evangelical Church," by Barbara Wheeler, February 2004). Extending their metaphor of the divided church as a married couple on the verge of divorce, one might ask, "Under what, if any, conditions might divorce be preferable to this marriage? Should partners remain together, no matter what?"

Pastors and priests once counseled an abused partner to stay with the spouse regardless of the circumstances. But today many pastoral caregivers recognize that in situations of abuse, a divorce is preferable. If a GLBT person’s relationship with the church has become like an abusive marriage, would it not be better to sever the ties with that institution? Or, if the people in the church who affirm GLBT people and the people who do not affirm GLBT people are locked in an unhealthy relationship, would it not be better to divorce one another?

Matthew 25 says that whatever we do unto our brothers and sisters, we also do unto God. With slavery in the 1800s, just as with GLBT people today, the church cannot sit on the theological fence when it comes to recognizing the full personhood of each human being. Either we are all made in God’s image, or some of us are not. Either we are all created out of love and in freedom with an endless diversity so that we are made authentic, whole, and precious to our Creator, or some of us are not. This issue undergirds every one of our human interactions. As much as Mouw and Wheeler want their church not to split, if ever there were a reason for divorce, then the personhood of enslaved people was the reason in the 1800s and the personhood of GLBT people is the reason today.

S. Mae Clark
Rochester, Indiana

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