Scenario 3: Grace-filled Separation of the RCA

separate houses

Grace-filled separation of the RCA is one of three scenarios the Vision 2020 Team is exploring for the future of the RCA. The other two scenarios being explored are staying together and radical reorganization.

How the Vision 2020 Team describes grace-filled separation:

If the denomination were a house, this scenario would “explore the possibility of splitting into several groups that will live in different houses.”

Why would grace-filled separation of the RCA occur?

The Vision 2020 Team envisions that theological clarification, especially on issues of sexuality, marriage, and ordination, could lead to separation. They outlined three options for the RCA’s theological direction in this scenario:

  • 3A: Determine that the RCA is theologically moderate (living in the tension) on issues of sexuality, marriage, and ordination, and those who do not agree can leave graciously.
  • 3B: Determine that the RCA holds to a theologically traditionalist view of sexuality, marriage, and ordination, and those who do not agree can leave graciously.
  • 3C: Determine that the RCA is theologically open and affirming on issues of sexuality, marriage, and ordination, and those who do not agree can leave graciously.

The importance of grace in this scenario

In the team’s assessment, each of these options would also require attitude changes in order for the separations to be marked as “grace-filled”—an integral component of this scenario from the start. None of these options would guarantee that a split would not happen again, nor would they address other underlying issues or theological differences.

“We believe the impacts of separation would be profound. That said, we believe the impacts of being grace-filled in our separation would be even more profound,” said the Vision 2020 Team in its report to General Synod.

The team looked to the Bible for clarity on grace:

The team agreed that grace from God is a free, unmerited gift (Ephesians 2:8-9), and that grace between human beings involves mutual benefit. It is faith expressing itself through love (Galatians 5:6). It is being sure conversations about one other are filled with grace (Colossians 4:6). It is doing good to all, but especially those who belong to the family of believers (Galatians 6:10). It may take the form of forgiveness, generosity, or compassion. It is always unearned and always costly. Grace does not take, but it gives lavishly from an open heart.

When considering the impact this scenario would have on the denomination, grace will be needed, the team said. “Many of the impacts we outline here could feel like joy to some and sorrow to others.”

The impacts of grace-filled separation

The Vision 2020 Team report to General Synod 2019 outlined these potential impacts of grace-filled separation:

For one, people would be impacted. Denominational staff would lose jobs. Missionaries would lose funding. RCA seminaries and colleges might have to pick a side, so to speak, which may alienate them from people who feel strongly the other way. Seminary students and ministers of Word and sacrament would have to decide with which body to align.

There would be strong financial impact. Financial assessments would decline. Funding for initiatives would decrease. Ownership of church buildings and assets would need to be determined.

The world and global church are watching to see what the RCA chooses, which has social and political impact. Perhaps the RCA would lose political voice if the denomination no longer had its current size and breadth, or perhaps organizations created by a split would feel more freedom to focus their advocacy efforts.

Finally, there would be much spiritual impact. Separation may allow groups to “explore their own spirituality and to adopt their own practices of ministry in the ways they feel called.” On the other hand, some congregations would be split down the middle, affecting both relationships and our understanding of what it means to be the church.

As with the first and second scenarios, this third scenario would be difficult for the RCA and would involve loss.

“If we can find a common definition of grace, and if we can choose together to be ‘grace-filled’ in even the most difficult moments, then we would be able to separate in a way that is respectful of one another and honoring to God,” the report says.  

Delegates to General Synod 2019 provided feedback on all three scenarios through an extensive discussion process. That feedback is informing the continued work of the Vision 2020 Team.

Read Scenario 3 in the Vision 2020 Team’s report.