The Double Bind: A Pastoral Response to the Presbyterian Church

On Thursday evening I scrolled through my Facebook posts and saw many of my colleagues and friends celebrating the Presbyterian Church (USA’s) resounding vote on marriage.  While one vote requires Presbytery action and the other vote impacts places where same-sex marriage is legal, there is no doubt pastors and sessions have their work cut out for them across the country.

As I read the articles and the “Amen’s” and “Alleluia!”  I also thought of those whose voices were silent on the subject. Most importantly, for me, I thought of the congregation I serve. I am relatively new to this congregation. We are just starting to rub elbows, build trust and create community, and now we have to talk about “the big issue.”   I believe my role as a pastor and spiritual leader is to remain non anxious, above the discord, and with the people.  My role is to speak the truth in love, be prayerful and help lead a congregation through division.

Are we ready for it?  Can we go down that road and face the things pastors and congregations fear the most?

Here are the fears I think we as pastors fear:

1. Losing People1-ephesians-4-body-of-christ

2. Losing one’s own integrity

3. Losing self-respect

4. Losing the Church

A friend of mine wrote, “I know that some of my friends are excited over the vote today at General Assembly of the PCUSA, but I also know that  many of our friends will be faced with turmoil and chaos as a result of todays decision on marriage.  Churches will suffer conflict and pastors will be placed in untenable positions that have no answers — except double binds.”

Here’s the thing about double binds:  they are harder to get out of  than they are to get into.   The double bind can most easily be understood as  a way of “coping with the impossible tension of separation verses symbiosis.”  The double bind is what every child feels as the grow up — they want to fly and spread their wings, and they want the security of home.  Leaving home feels anxious, staying home feels restless.  The only way to get out of a double bind is to do the work of looking inward at ourselves and  at who God is calling us to be.  Eventually we come into ourselves and feel secure with who we are.

The same is true for the church: If a congregation has differences of opinions, we can’t pretend that we don’t have different opinions.  We have to talk, pray, think, read, listen, discern, reflect, change our minds, stay present, and remain non anxious. Above all,  the answer to getting out of a double bind, is not by killing the body itself.

As one who has a long history of practicing yoga, one would think I could get myself gracefully out of a double bind. – Let me tell you, it’s not pretty.  But I can tell you that when I  am stuck in a double bind, the last thing I want is for someone to make me more anxious, or cut off my breathing, or kill me. What I need in a double bind is breath and patience.  I need to breathe through the bind, get comfortable in my discomfort,  and patiently, slowly and gently unwind.


So here we are Church.  Many of us find ourselves in a double bind.  Let’s begin by taking a breath — maybe three.  Let’s be comfortable with discomfort.  Let’s be patient with each other. Take it slow.  If you try to come out of the bind too fast, you will fall and hurt yourself.  Use your head and stop thinking about what you look like.

When Paul wrote his letter to the Corinthians, I doubt he thought, “Someday this will be quoted at every wedding and be written on every newlywed’s wall.”  No, he wrote the letter to a church that he loved that was in conflict. He wrote it as a pastor who was in a double bind.  He wrote it to a church that he desperately wanted to see stay together.  He wrote as a pastor who loved the church and its people:

13 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. 2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned,[a] but have not love, it profits me nothing.

4 Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; 5 does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; 6 does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

8 Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part. 10 But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.

11 When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.

13 And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

So as a pastor who loves her Church and it’s people, this will be how I get through this double bind.  I will suffer long and be kind. I will not be envious or puffed up, or rude or provoked.  I will bear, believe, hope, and endure.

The Peace of Christ be with you.








  1. Reblogged this on Nevada Presbytery and commented:
    Here is an article that might be of interest to you. They come from a blog called “creating sacred communities” which describes itself as follows: This blog is about community and what makes it sacred. Communities can be messy. They can also be Holy. By looking at topics of family, religion, and leadership, this blog strives to be an authentic conversation partner in a world that is hungry for sacred communities. As a Presbyterian minister, I am especially interested in what makes the church sacred. As a mother, I am in interested in what makes the family community sacred. As a child of God, I am interested in what makes our global community sacred. I hope this blog provides some space for joy and contemplation in your daily walk. Peace, Joan Jeffers

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s