A Cautionary Tale

Admittedly my awareness of the details is limited [sketchy, disjointed, distant], but even so the situation evokes descriptions like distressing, disturbing, disastrous, devastating, even debacle. One of our partner churches, The Guyana Presbyterian Church, is experiencing deep division, perhaps even its death knell.

Recent developments involve: i) two rival groups, each forming a Synod [their highest court] which claims to be the legitimate authority in the GPC, ii) a disruption of a Reformation Day worship service with physical intimidation in play, iii) appeals to the wider church asserting authenticity and iv) threats of police and legal action. It’s a very heart-breaking situation.

Linda and I served in Guyana for three years, a decade or so ago and have remained in intermittent communication since then. We know some of the ‘players’ and some of the dynamics, but I don’t assume to comprehend all that’s transpiring, nor to have the solution to the troubles.

Nonetheless, as the drama unfolds a whole continent south of us, I began to perceive possible parallels for us.

The GPC currently has two groups of clergy and elders each claiming to be the legitimate Synod (shades of 1925). We in The PCC have overtures for the next General Assembly seeking a similar structural duality. However, the goal of the overtures is to establish two collegial Synods without disputes about authenticity in order to alleviate disputes around theology.

I don’t know if the prayer of those overtures is the way forward for us or not, but I believe the trauma occurring in the GPC can be instructive for us. As I noted, I have limited information and insight, but I do know that some of the upheaval happening has a long history. I do know that human hubris, an unwillingness to seek unity, aspiring to be in control, a priority on property and a willingness to apply ‘rules’ unevenly are persistent factors in the demise of decency and order on display.

And I do know if we do not constructively address our divisions (and hubris, uneven application of authority, disdain for unity) we are not immune to the trauma presently playing out in our partner church. Oh, we may not have ‘sit ins’ (though physical protests by rival factions are not unknown these days) nor appeals to secular authorities (though human rights tribunals and other court actions have occurred), but there will be far reaching, unhappy and non-edifying repercussions.

We can use the GPC debacle to teach us.  First, without guile, we can practise Matthew 5:44. Seeking divine blessing on the ones who oppose you will change inner dynamics for the better. Second, those who lead can resolve to set aside personal agendas and to forgo promoting potentially divisive practices or initiatives.  One doesn’t heal a wound in one place by opening fresh injuries in another. Third, pray for our brothers and sisters in the GPC and as you do, also humbly ask God to reveal any attitudes within yourself that could lead to similar unfortunate displays among us.