The caller got straight to the point, “Easter is coming, where am I supposed to go to church?” He’s 80 years old. He’s only ever attended one church his entire adult life. It’s in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and after the vote to affirm same-sex marriage, he found out that his pastor has been secretly supportive of the change. “Our elders voted with him, against the will of God, at the presbytery meeting. This is not my church anymore. But I don’t know where to go.”
He knows he cannot stay but he knows not where to go. This is the reality faced by a myriad of Presbyterians across the country. They have not lost faith in God, but they have lost faith in the denomination that has now compromised with the culture on issues of sin and sexual practice.
Some will argue that “where do I go” is the wrong question. They argue that the question is “how can we remain faithfully” or “how can we remain as a missionary to the denomination?” Those are essential questions for the Remnant but this post focuses on the pain of those departing — less often as intact congregations and more often as individuals, couples, families or fragments of former congregations.
One layman tells me, “The lack of integrity for Scripture is a deal breaker. Some of the folks who want to leave are die hard Presbyterians. Where do they go? There really is not a good local option if Reformed theology and Reformed worship matter to you at all. I suspect that in the end, fewer will leave than want to. They will remain like captives with no where to flee. They will sit down by the river and weep. Those who aren’t aggressively pushed out, like me with my big mouth, are waited out. The powers that now be are just waiting for the rest of the old-fashioned thinking among us to die.”
Since the vote to affirm gay marriage in the PCUSA, this man’s pastor has been reinforcing an old phrase from the Book of Order that once said if a member disagreed with a decision of a church council they should “leave peaceably without creating schism.” The pastor told those who were grieved by the passage of Amendment 14F that “the proper thing to do is to politely leave if you could not in your own conscience agree with the vote. Since of course it was the Will of God and the Presbyterian way.”
The supposedly big tent of the PCUSA and other mainline denominations is becoming increasing stifling for those whose theology, morality and Biblical interpretation aligns with the historic Reformed faith as expressed in the Westminster Confession. So, they leave. By dribs and drabs.
Quietly, without fanfare.
Never to return.
And no one goes after them.
No one wonders where they went nor why.
No one cares.
Well, that’s not true. This particular layman with whom I spoke, he cares. He said, “I have actively been seeking those that are ready to leave so as to provide a point of contact when they do. I don’t just want people to leave and be lost to one another. But most leave in a fragmented fashion. Continuing to meet together in an organized way is not feasible, plus,” he added, “it’s just too painful. What we share is the loss of the faithfulness of a church we once called home.”
Through his own grief he said, “Everyone that has finally figured out the game is lost are grieving. I do what I can to talk them through it so they don’t lose hope, but there are real spiritual casualties already and will be more.”
Spiritual casualties, that’s one metric not being tracked by those who otherwise obsess over data. They count members and they count dollars and they even count churches that are dismissed, but they don’t count all the spiritual casualties, real people who are genuinely hurt and broken and devastated by what their denomination has become.
People who have been robbed of their joy, deprived of their church homes, segregated from their fellow believers, barred from fellowship by those who openly and with hostility call them bigoted haters. This is church? Well, no, and that’s the point.
My conversation partner concluded, “Once you come to understand the reality that you didn’t leave the denomination, the denomination left you, it gets easier. I didn’t stop believing the Bible, my pastor did. I didn’t stop using the confessions as the guide for interpreting the Bible, my session did. I didn’t stop being Presbyterian, my denomination did. I’m not leaving, they’ve left me.”
And then he asked, “But having been left, where do I go?” Therein lies the piercing question being faced by so many people today. They are Presbyterian in the true, historic sense of the word, but they can no longer worship at their local PCUSA church and other options are still few and far between.
So, how is the question being answered in your neck of the proverbial woods? What are you hearing and seeing — or where are you going?