This blog represents the thoughts of the author. While they may reflect the theological position of The Renewal Fellowship, they should not be seen as an official statement.
Precisely 60 seconds after the adoption of Remit ‘C’ by General Assembly, which allowed the call, election and ordination of those in same-sex partnerships, a motion was made to investigate the establishment of a separate theological synod for those who adhere to traditional standards.
The timing spoke volumes. It was evidence that the compromises in the remits, allowing parallel definitions of marriage and liberty of conscience regarding participation, failed to bridge the theological divide.
“A large number of congregations cannot accept this,” said the mover.
It wasn’t just about integrity. There was a practical concern.
“I bring this motion really to plant a seed … and perhaps stave off people or even churches leaving the denomination… . I am also really concerned about the sustained division within the church. I believe that by creating a separate theological space … the church can preserve its deeply held theological perspectives,” he explained.
The bid failed by roughly the same proportion that adopted the remits.
Some of those who spoke against the motion promised conservatives that they would be given the same safe space others have lacked for decades.
Give peace a chance, they said.
“Trust each another… Trust the new process for a year, for six months, but for longer than 30 seconds. Give God a chance to make us into a new people,” said one detractor.
But in the hearts and minds of many in orthodoxy, trust had already been broken, the process had already been lengthy and the denomination had walked away from God. The remits were non starters.
The departures have begun.
“I have had some people leave, or about to leave, from both ends of the spectrum,” one Ontario pastor told me recently. “Someone said they were leaving the congregation because they couldn’t be associated with a church who wouldn’t marry same-sex couples, and then two weeks ago someone said they couldn’t support a church in a denomination who would tamper with the definition of marriage.”
In another congregation, session exercised its liberty of conscience as promised in Remit ‘C’ and issued a statement upholding traditional marriage. It was met by a mixture of resignations of liberal-minded members and applause from others.
Behind the scenes across the PCC, ministers, elders and congregants are supporting one another in online gatherings and letters of encouragement.
While most departures so far have been in dribs and drabs, that was not the case in Trenton, Ontario, where in late June, all five members of St. Andrew’s session handed in their letters of resignation.
“This has been a difficult decision as I have served the Lord through The Presbyterian Church in Canada for many years in three congregations,” wrote clerk of session and representative elder Alan Brewster.
Citing 2 Timothy 4 and Jeremiah 6:16, he pointed to the remits as contrary to scripture. “I believe The Presbyterian Church in Canada is interpreting the scriptures to agree with society’s opinions at the expense of the truth.”
Fellow elder Andy Van Bodegom said he has been preparing for this possibility for years. God’s word “stands in opposition to the plurality of the definition of marriage. God’s word stands in opposition and I can do no less,” he wrote, citing 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and Ephesians 2:12. “The denomination is (if not already so), headed toward a state of apostasy,” he added.
Elder Sue Van Bodegom has attended St. Andrew’s Trenton for her entire life – baptized, confirmed, married, and raising a family there.
“I love my church but I realize I do not own it, nor does it own me. I have one Master to whom I answer and that is Jesus Christ. Being brought up on His Word and being faithful to it is what is important to me. Knowing that the Church is straying from it by passing remits ‘B’ and ‘C’ breaks my heart and I do not wish to continue being a part of it. Resigning from the eldership was not an easy decision but it was necessary,” she wrote.
She added: “I want it known that I love my brothers and sisters who are LGBTQI oriented and in no way do I mean to be hurtful. My prayers are with them.”
While the resignations were noteworthy, so too was the manner in which they came about. Interim moderator Rev. Jennifer Cameron was fully aware of their discomfort after Assembly, so she reached out a pastoral hand.
“I thought about the position they were in, knowing the challenges faced by the congregation over the past seasons of transition, and tired after waiting and wondering how things would unfold in the denomination,” she wrote in In a July 12 letter to the congregation.
“I felt led to open a door for them to be relieved of the burden of leadership, so they might sit alongside you in the congregation as brothers and sisters and discern a path forward with you. I approached the Elders with this prayerful insight and raised the possibility of them resigning as an act of care for them. Just to be clear, I did not seek these resignations, but made the Elders aware that they had options.”
For now, the elders remain in the congregation and are working with Cameron to maintain a semblance of stability until presbytery can appoint assessor elders.
“I will … if needed, assist my brothers and sisters in Christ as they discern their next steps,” said Brewster.
Andy Van Bodegom added: “I will … stay with my church family until their future is decided. After that I will be leaving the PCC. Like Luther said many years ago, ‘Here I stand, I can do no other.’ ”
Cameron said she appreciates their servant leadership: “I respect these elders. They are unbelievably gracious.”
As noted in her letter: “They love the Lord and this congregation and did not want it to seem like they were walking away from their commitments. It is quite the opposite.”
Like travellers approaching the departure gate with no immediate destination in mind, the Trenton elders – and many in their congregation – are watching and waiting. Theological separation in the PCC may still happen, as formal responses to the myriad of overtures calling for theological synods have yet to happen. At the same time, the report on the feasibility of gracious dismissal also awaits formal consideration.
One thing is for sure: they and others who have resigned in recent weeks are not alone.