A renowned New York City megachurch officially accepted the resignation of their senior pastor Thursday less than two months after they installed him.
"It is with sadness and understanding that the Church Council accepts the resignation of the Rev. Dr. Brad Braxton as Senior Minister of the Riverside Church," wrote Church Council Chair Jean L. Schmidt in a statement Thursday.
"Dr. Braxton's decision to step down has illuminated the need for our Church community to gain clarity on our shared mission, and the Church Council is looking forward to engaging with the congregation in the deep soul-searching and conversations that will allow us to move forward as a stronger, more unified congregation," Schmidt added.
It was only last year, in August, that a search committee announced its recommendation of Braxton as Riverside's next senior minister following the retirement of their pastor of 18 years, James A. Forbes.
Braxton, a progressive Christian, seemed a good match for the church famously known for being "a stronghold of activism and political debate throughout its 75-year history," as the New York Times put it.
"I believe that we are called to seek social justice in this world and that there are two ways we can do this: we can do it with deeds, and we can do it with creeds," noted Braxton in his resignation letter dated for Monday. "My entire career has been marked with both kinds of social justice work. As a pastor, I have implemented programs that serve marginalized communities. As a biblical scholar, I have analyzed the scripture to reveal how traditional interpretations of the Bible have led to those communities being marginalized in the first place."
But not all were pleased with the selection, with some complaining that Braxton was moving Riverside away from its tradition of interracial progressivism and toward a conservative style of religious practice. A group of dissident congregants even went to the State Supreme Court in Manhattan to block Braxton's installation ceremony in April, despite his election in September by an overwhelming margin.
Adding to the fire was knowledge of his pay package, which exceeded $600,000 a year – including a $250,000 salary and a housing allowance. Notably, however, for a church with 2,700 members, Braxton's compensation was not so out of the ballpark.
In his resignation letter, Braxton said the ongoing struggles in the church over his election and installation "created a level of antagonism within the congregation that undermines the community's efforts to embody harmony in the name of Jesus Christ."
"The consistent discord has made it virtually impossible to establish a fruitful covenant between the congregation and me that facilitates the flourishing of the congregation, the broader community, and my family," he noted.
And so, after considerable prayer and reflection, Braxton concluded that his resignation as senior pastor would be the right thing to do for the congregation, his family, and for himself at this time.
In closing, Braxton encouraged the members of Riverside to strive diligently to heal the longstanding divisions within the congregation and said his hope is that the congregation will be able to address its internal tensions so that the church, along with a new senior minister, will be able to move forward in unity.
Schmidt also expressed the same sentiments in announcing the church's acceptance of Braxton's resignation.
"I hope you will join me and the other Council members in wishing Brad, Lazetta and Karis the best for their journey. And I ask you to participate with the Church Council, the staff, clergy, and commissions as we enter a period of reflection, transition, and renewal," Schmidt concluded.