As many of you know, the Presbyterian Church (USA) has been rocked recently by Amendment 10A and the impending implementation of this amendment, which effectively allows for the ordination of openly partnered queer folk, where previous to this date we would only ordain secretly partnered queer folk, or openly unpartnered queer folk, or not queer folk of partnered or unpartnered stripes (both openly and secretly). This has caused much consternation and many troubled souls, although most have been polite enough to explain that this isn't about the gay (open or secret, partnered or not) as much as it is about theology and styles of interpretation of scripture (or Scripture, depending). There are many conversations happening now (both open and secret, and I imagine some of them queer) about the future of the church, which apparently seems to be death or life, depending on who you talk to and whether they are in a queer mood or not that day.
As it turns out, a Mr. Keillor has written about such a split in church before. I thought it might be instructive to share with you a few of his words. Mr. Keillor wrote of several splits in the church, including the one I am about to share with you and another (which you can find in his book) about whether women should wear pants.
We were "exclusive" Brethren, a branch that believed in keeping itself pure of false doctrine by avoiding association with the impure. Some Brethren assemblies, mostly in larger cities, were not so strict and broke bread with strangers--we referred to them as "the so-called Open Brethren," the "so-called" implying the shakiness of their position--whereas we made sure that any who fellowshiped with us were straight on all the details of the Faith, as set forth by the first Brethren who left the Anglican Church in 1865 to worship on the basis of correct principles. In the same year, they posed for a photograph: twenty-one bearded gentlemen in black frock coats, twelve sitting on a stone wall, nine standing behind, gazing solemnly into a sunny day in Plymouth, England, united in their opposition to the pomp and corruption of the Christian aristocracy.
Unfortunately, once free of the worldly Anglicans, these firebrands were not content to worship in peace but turned their guns on each other. Scholarly to the core and perfect literalists every one, they set to arguing over points that, to any outsider, would have seemed very minor indeed but which to them were crucial to the Faith, including the question: if Believer A is associated with Believer B who has somehow associated himself with C who holds a False Doctrine, must D break off association with A, even though A does not hold the Doctrine, to avoid the taint?
The correct answer is: Yes. Some Brethren, however, felt that D should only speak with A and urge him to break off with B. The Brethren who felt otherwise promptly broke off with them. This was the Bedford Question, one of several controversies that, inside of two years, split the Brethren into three branches.
Garrison Keiller, Lake Wobegon Days (New York: Viking Press, 1985), 105-106.
Once having tasted the pleasure of being Correct and defending True Doctrine, they kept right on and broke up at every opportunity, until, by the time I came along, there were dozens of tiny Brethren groups, none of which were speaking to any of the others.