This year General Assembly was in Chattanooga, TN. This presented some unique opportunities for the PCA. Chattanooga is where New City Fellowship is, one of the far too few churches that is multi-ethnic. It is also the 50th anniversary of the events in Selma, AL (if you haven’t, WATCH the movie!).
All Presbyterian denominations have struggled with issues of race, particularly southern ones. There are a number of reasons for this. Here are a few reasons why:
- Notable Southern Presbyterian theologians tried to justify race-based slavery that was the result of man-stealing (a death sentence sin in the OT and condemned in the NT as well).
- The Southern Presbyterian church supported the Confederacy in the War Between the States. The Confederacy defended state’s rights, but one of those rights was to own slaves.
- The Presbyterian Church refused to stand against the Jim Crow laws, and stand with their brothers and sisters of color for their basic human rights.
- The Presbyterian Church did not protect the lives of defenseless and innocent African-Americans from racists individuals and organizations like the KKK.
- At least one of our “founding fathers” has taught (at least) proto-kinism which is a false doctrine that rejects the reality of the dividing wall of hostility being torn down in Christ so that the vision of Revelation 4-5 is not just eschatalogically true but intended to be ecclesiastically true today.
- Many of our churches have tolerated kinism.
- Many of our churches and private schools were founded to avoid the move toward integration in some churches and in public school districts.
A little over a decade ago, the PCA admitted the sins of our fathers with regard to slavery. But there are other issues that keep African-Americans, who remember the history better than we white people do, out of our churches. It is time for us to address these additional issues.
There were many things I found encouraging about General Assembly. For instance, the 3 worship services were all very different. Prior to Bryan Chapell’s excellent sermon from Psalm 32, the music was very traditional including a choir, organ/piano and strings. The second service was led by the worship team of New City including James Ward and some incredible singers, both black and white, in what was a very different vibe for GA. Then their pastor Kevin Smith delivered a powerful sermon on the 6th commandment tying it in to Southern Presbyterians failure to protect the defenseless and innocent in those dark days we want to forget about. It is only my fourth PCA General Assembly but Kevin is the only African-
American I’ve seen preach so far. (During my years in the ARP I don’t remember any African-Americans preaching to the synod.) In the final worship service, I think the worship team from Lookout Mountain lead us in a southern folk style that was quite interesting. The sermon by Rankin Wilbourne on Union with Christ was very good as well. Unfortunately, during the liturgy there was a line that created some offense by thanking God for the particular founding father who paved the way for kinism.
Bryan Chapell led an assembly-wide panel discussion entitled How to Advance Ethnic Outreach and Ministry in the PCA. We heard from 4 brothers: 1 African-Americans, 1 Hispanic-American, 1 Asian-American and 1 Caucasian who works among the generational poor. It was a much too short conversation though a good one.
During the seminar times, there were opportunities for us to learn more about this subject. Lance Lewis lead one called Moving Forward: Actively Engaging Issues of Race/Ethnicity from a Biblical Point of View which argued for a proper ecclesiology that expressed the multi-ethnic character of the church. I also sat in on Duke Kwon’s Building a Racially Inclusive Church which was excellent as well. Unfortunately I missed Jemar Tisby’s seminar The Image of God and the Minority Experience. I bought the CD and plan to listen to it soon.
People could avoid these opportunities if they wanted to. But they could not avoid the personal resolution that was put forward by Ligon Duncan and Sean Michael Lucas with regard to our sins against our African-American brothers and sisters during the civil rights era.
Initial reports were that the Overtures Commission was quite divided on this issue. Before it returned to the floor they had met with some key members of the African-American Presbyterian Fellowship. The unanimous recommendation was to prepare a much improved version which would also include specific suggestions as to the fruit of repentance. This would allow time for those unaware of the history to learn, particularly from Lucas’ upcoming history of the PCA. There was also a desire for overtures to come thru the lower courts. In many ways they encouraged a year of reflection and repentance by our Sessions and Presbyteries leading up to next year’s GA in Mobile.
On the floor, things got … interesting. Some saw the need to do something NOW. I agreed with that sentiment. We do need a perfected statement with the kind of fruit we are looking to see. But we needed to start now. This discussion was long and heated. Parliamentary procedure once again made like more confusing and frustrating. If you go down the wrong path you can’t go back. There is no room for “repentance” with parliamentary procedure. One of the remaining founders of the PCA stood to speak. While he disavowed racism as a motive for founding the PCA, he confessed sins of omission during the years of the civil rights movement. This was very important.
What did happen after the vote was positive. First, the moderator opened the mics for a season of prayer, focusing on repentance. There were many men on their knees, literally, praying for mercy and for God to work in our midst to bring repentance and fruit in keeping with it. He initially said about 5-6 guys would pray at the mics. I lost track of how many men were able to pray at the mics. Someone (wink, wink) noted that we offended our brothers in our worship that very evening because we don’t listen to them and learn from them.
Then there was a protest of the decision which allowed those who wanted to do something now to register their names up front. There was a very long line of men wanting to register their protest. God is at work to deal with these issues. Hopefully within a generation we will be an integrated denomination filled with African-Americans, Hispanics and Asian-Americans in the pews and positions of power and responsibility.
I asked a friend about the ARP. I am delighted to say that they also have begun a similar process. The Theological and Social Concerns Committee has been tasked with this matter. There was no apparent opposition to this. May the Father heal these denominations for His glory.
Here is the text of the resolution:
Whereas, last year and this year mark significant anniversaries in the Civil Rights movement: 2014 was the sixtieth anniversary of the United States Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education and the fiftieth anniversary of the Civil Rights Act and Freedom Summer, and 2015 was the fiftieth anniversary of the Voting Rights Act and the Selma-to-Montgomery March; and
Whereas, many of our conservative Presbyterian churches at the time not only failed to support the Civil Rights movement, but actively worked against racial reconciliation in both church and society; and
Whereas, the 30th General Assembly adopted a resolution on racial reconciliation that confessed its covenantal, generational, heinous sins connected with unbiblical forms of servitude, but failed to deal with the covenantal, generational, heinous sins committed during the much more recent Civil Rights era (cf. Daniel 9:4-11); and
Whereas, the 32nd General Assembly adopted a pastoral letter on “the Gospel and Race” that was produced under the oversight of our Mission to North America committee, but that also failed to acknowledge the lack of solidarity with African Americans which many of our churches displayed during the Civil Rights era; and
Whereas, our denomination’s continued unwillingness to speak truthfully about our failure to seek justice and to love mercy during the Civil Rights era significantly hinders present-day efforts for reconciliation with our African American brothers and sisters; and
Whereas, God has once more given our denomination a gracious providential opportunity to show the beauty, grace and power of the gospel of Jesus Christ by showing Christ-like love and compassion towards the greater African American community;
Be it therefore resolved, that the 43rd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America does recognize and confess our church’s covenantal and generational involvement in and complicity with racial injustice inside and outside of our churches during the Civil Rights period; and
Be it further resolved, that this General Assembly recommit ourselves to the task of truth and reconciliation with our African American brothers and sisters for the glory of God and the furtherance of the Gospel; and
Be it finally resolved, that the General Assembly urges the congregations of the Presbyterian Church in America to confess their own particular sins and failures as may be appropriate and to seek to further truth and reconciliation for the Gospel’s sake within their own local communities.
TE Sean M. Lucas
TE J. Ligon Duncan III