Who shall rule?


In 1990, Dr. Roy L. Branson, Jr., a Baptist minister, authored a book entitled “Church Split.” Intrigued, I bought and read it. In my opinion, Dr. Branson summed up why people leave or split a church with this question: “Who shall rule in this place?”

Over the many years I have been in both a supportive and leadership role in various organizations, I believe Branson was correct. But not only for the church but for every organization that brings people together.

Such behavior can even be observed on the school playground as kids get together and someone decides what they are going to play. Sometimes there is quick agreement but other times there is not. It may be that the kids will compromise or, if the group is large enough, someone with a different opinion will lead a faction away from the group to play a game of their own.

Much is made about President Ronald Reagan, a Republican, and Former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill, a Democrat. Even though the two men were in opposing parties and each had strong personalities, they would work together to see if they could come to agreement, or at least, seek a compromise. Would that the country had such leadership today.

Instead, both parties, and even within those two parties, people seek to dominate and to assert that THEY “will rule in this place.” In both the Democrat and Republican parties, there is a division, a “split,” if you will over who will rule and who will get their way. There are some few who seek to compromise and collaborate with their counterparts across the aisle, but little comes of their efforts. Those who wish to rule will have none of it.

Back to the subject of church, there are good reasons to leave a church. My family and I were part of a church in northeastern Tennessee in the late 1970s. After a few months we observed that the church pastor was becoming increasingly autocratic. In fact, the church was becoming cultic. I attempted to talk with the pastor but was cut off and shut down.

When other church members began to show up at my work and tell me that unless I submitted to his leadership I risked going to hell, we left for good. The pastor later abandoned his wife and children and ran off with a college girl.

But, with 50+ years of pastoral ministry under my belt, I can honestly say that the majority of people who leave a church or attempt to lead a split is over “who shall lead?” Or at least over “Who gets their way?”

On the other hand, I have seen those who had an honest disagreement and hang in to try to affect change where possible. These are the “Reagans” and the “O’Neill’s” of the church (or of any organization) who patiently set egos aside and seek solutions for the betterment of all.

No observant person would deny that the nation is severely polarized. Groups on one side or the other demonize those with differing opinions and resort to name-calling, shouting at one another, and even employ the use of violence.

In a “Peanuts” cartoon from years ago, Charlie Brown is walking home from school with Lucy. Lucy says, “I convinced a kid at school today that my religion is better than his religion.”

“How did you do that?” asks Charlie Brown.

Lucy replies, “I hit him with my lunch box.”

Lunch box tactics seldom work to change minds. All they do is deepen the divide and further alienate people from each other. Perhaps all of us should examine our own hearts and egos to see if we are among those that use Lucy’s methods. We may beat people into silence, but we will never beat them into submission.

[David Epps is the Rector of the Cathedral of Christ the King (www.ctk.life). Worship services are on Sundays at 10:00 a.m. and on livestream at www.ctk.life. He is the bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-South (www.midsouthdiocese.life). He has been a weekly opinion columnist for The Citizen for over 27 years. He may be contacted at davidepps@ctk.life.]


  1. I agree with you Father Epps. I would immediately cast my vote for the politician who promises sincerely to strive first to compromise with all other legislators when a contentious issue arises. That kind of attitude would really make America great again.