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Lynn Japinga is substituting for Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell who is on sabbatical. If
you are desperate for more information about the RCA’s Synod of 1969, you can check
out her forthcoming book, Loyalty and Loss (or whatever title the editor chooses), early
(In memory of the Rev. Carl Schroeder, who entered the nearer presence of God on Sept.
“If that happens I’ll leave the RCA.”
I’ve heard or read that sentiment several times since the General Synod meeting in June.
The RCA is once again fighting about homosexuality and the role of women. At heart,
though, the debate is about biblical interpretation and the nature of the church. The
threats to leave remind me of another time in the RCA’s history.
In 1969, after bruising battles over a proposed merger with the Southern Presbyterians,
membership in Churches of Christ Uniting (COCU), membership in the National Council
of Churches, and RCA students resisting the draft, General Synod delegates were tired,
frustrated and angry with each other. On the second to the last day of Synod, after a close
and contentious vote, Harold Schut, a pastor from Scotia, New York, offered a motion to
the Synod. Since the RCA was so bitterly divided, he said, it should consider an orderly
dissolution of the denomination. Neither side would leave; neither side would win. The
whole denomination would simply cease to exist.
In 2004, I spoke with Carl Schroeder, who attended that Synod. He had served as a
missionary in Taiwan before becoming Minister of Evangelism for the RCA in 1969.
Thirty-five years later, he was almost in tears when he described the unfolding events.
It was such a mess, he said. There was so much sadness. Delegates wondered whether
it would be worth the effort to put the church together again. Schroeder was particularly
disappointed by the failure of the merger with the Southern Presbyterians, and he saw
little future for the RCA as a separate denomination. He considered leaving the RCA, but
he finally decided that “who I was, where I came from, who nurtured me, who paid for
my education, who paid my salary … it was the people I was so upset with, and I could
not just pick up and leave.” In the end, his loyalty to the whole RCA transcended his
irritation with some of its members and decisions.
Carl and ministers of his generation were very loyal to the RCA. Not that they always fell
into alignment. They could be critical, impatient, and irritated with other RCA members,
and the denomination as a whole. But they had connections. Many of them grew up in
the RCA, and attended an RCA college and seminary. They had friends who were at the
opposite end of the theological spectrum. The denomination meant something to them.
What about now? Are RCA members loyal to one another? To a group such as RCA
Integrity or Room for All or Chicago Invitation? Are they loyal to the denomination as a
whole? Or to God?
When can loyalty no longer be sustained? When we don’t get our way? When the purity
of the church is threatened? When justice is threatened? When the gospel is threatened?
When the denomination does something we don’t like?
If a delegate to the Synod of 2013 made a motion to dissolve the denomination, what
would we do? Has the RCA finally come to a place where people can no longer live
together? If we don’t dissolve, what holds us together?
Readers … insights?