Wednesday, June 17, 2015

A Hurried Theological Condemnation of Segregationism/Kinism

Martin Luther King, Jr.
This is a thirty minute stab at giving the beginning of giving a theological rebuttal to the kind of theologically couched teachings on segregation that some men in the PCA are still defending. It grieves me that we would still have to fight for this ground.
The teachings that were promoted in Southern Presbyterianism concerning the God-ordained separation of the "races" constitute a peculiar and unfortunate path in Christian theology and were largely an outgrowth of the need to justify first slavery, then Jim Crow and finally the last vestiges of formally legalized segregation. These views strike at the heart of the Gospel, which is not simply forensic justification, but the reconciliation of humanity, Jew and Greek, slave and free, men and women into one holy race, the church. Paul argued that the outward fruit of this reconciliation should be actions of oneness between church communities drawn from different ethnic background (such as the Macedonians giving to support the Jews in Jerusalem), learning to live in single congregations with one another in peace (such as the Romans and Jews in Rome), and even the planting of distinctively cross-cultural churches - such as we see in Philippi.

Redemptive-historically we see this in pouring out of the Spirit in Acts 2 where in the age of the Spirit, the curse of the tower of Babel (which Christian segregationists, or "kinests" as some of them refer to themselves, wish to maintain) is reversed and the beginning of reuniting the people's under Christ's Lordship is moving forward. We are grafted into the same olive tree (Rom 11) and our destination is worshiping God as one people from every tongue and tribe. This universal kingdom is NOT YET, but it is also ALREADY. The kingdom of God is breaking through as men are reconciled to God and each other and live together in his Church, and churches, as one people.

Historically, especially in the primitive church, this was a great scandal. Romans very much believed in a segregated society and saw the uniting of peoples in the Christian church as a sign of the weakness of Christianity.

So much for content, let's look at purpose (at which I've already hinted).

The purpose of the Good News of the Kingdom of God is the reconciliation of people to God, so that they may be adopted into a single worshiping family, the church, which in its local manifestations show forth holiness, righteousness, love and unity (across lines of class, sex, language, ethnicity and national origins). This manifesting of God's people into churches reflects the eschatological end of God's purpose - one people/one bride.

Segregationists/kinests wish to say, in the face of the previous 1500-1600 years of church history, that the division of peoples at Babel (or even flowing from Noah), is God's prescriptive intent for humanity until the Day of the Lord and therefore Christians should work at maintaining the divisions/separations. The unity between Christians across races according to them is purely spiritual and not physical. I find these claims not simply errant, but antithetical to the purposes of the Gospel itself.

In addition, segregationism/kinism is a barrier to people of color hearing and receiving the Good News. As Paul wrote in Romans 2, "the name of the Lord is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you." Since the same theological tradition which vigorously supported slavery and gave it theological justifications, along with denying the Gospel and sacraments to Blacks for many generations, still has involvement (much lessened) in promoting segregationism and has been loathe to condemn its past sins, people of color are suspicious of Reformed Christianity. Sometimes this suspicion is part of the dynamic where men reject religion altogether for paganism and worldliness, sometimes it is used by the promoters of other religions to convince men to stay away from "white man's religion" (such as Nation of Islam), often it guides men away from Reformed Christianity into churches which are less biblical in doctrine and/or polity. In this sense, segregationism/kinism work against the purpose of the Gospel.

The loss is not just for the men who have not received the Gospel or have not joined with Reformed Churches, but OUR LOSS, as we miss out on the gifts and blessings of those we are supposed to reach and receive.

Comments accusing me of denying God's sovereignty with this post will be ignored. I affirm God's sovereignty in reaching or excluding any he wishes. Often what we mean for evil God means for good.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Imaginary Racism in the PCA (updated)





“…there are many false prophets of oneness, and many shallow stooges, who seek to force the amalgamation of the races. They even dress themselves in holy-self righteousness and claim to be seeking the unifying purpose of God. The present chaos in modern society will bear witness that they are doing the exact opposite.”

[This article has undated info regarding the Richards book and the PCA at the bottom of the post.]

Pretty repulsive stuff, racism wrapped in biblical justifications. This quote is from a sermon giving biblical reasons for segregation and condemning efforts to integrate society, churches, and especially families. We breathe easy in the PCA knowing that OUR denomination was never infected with racism. We were established long (9 years) after the passage of the Voting Rights act. At best, we were guilty of indifference. Or, is our condition worse that we care to admit? The passage above is from a sermon preached in 1965 in First Presbyterian Church of Macon, Georgia (a congregation which would become a part of the PCA), by a minister, Dr. John Edwards Richards, who would become a PCA Teaching Elder. It was distributed by his session to EVERY CONGREGATION in the PCUS (old Southern Presbyterian denomination). Edwards reported that 60% of the responses were favorable. There was significant racism and opposition to the Civil Rights Movement in Southern Presbyterianism in the 60s.

That’s pretty bad, but it gets worse.

This book was published in 1987. That’s not a typo. Surely this book was picked up by some neo-Confederate group or white identity Christians. Surely I found this book at a flea market next to Confederate flag belt buckles? I only wish. I bought this book from the PCA denominational book store when I was studying for my ordination exams in 1999. It was just one of a few PCA history books for sale in our bookstore. I was shocked and thought about burning it. Today, I’m glad I didn’t.

It gets worse.

The book was not simply a racist anti-Civil rights screed. It was sold as a FUNDRAISER for the DENOMINATION. The Jewish priests wouldn’t accept “blood money” but we accepted money for our denomination from racist literature.


It gets even worse.

In 2002, at the PCA General Assembly in Birmingham, Alabama, where we controversially repented of slavery, I spoke on the floor about the book. I pointed out that this book was racist, for sale in our bookstore and identified without no warning as to its contents or perspective. After speaking on this I sought out the head of CE&P, which operates the PCA bookstore and expressed my concerns. I was told that the book had been given to the PCA by a donor and that we didn’t necessarily endorse it.

We continued to sell the book. I think, by now, the book is sold out. We no longer sell it in our bookstore.

This is just an illustration of the kinds of ways in which we have inadequately repented of racism (intentional and unintentional). Here are a few more – off the top of my head:

1)      At Covenant College in the 90s, a Black classmate of mine visited a local PCA church where he was encouraged to attend another church, which was majority Black, where he would feel more comfortable.
2)      While attending seminary in Birmingham, Alabama, I discovered that mainline church pastors viewed the PCA as the Presbyterians who split over opposition to the civil rights movement.
3)      Also while attending seminary, I went to a funeral where an extended family member told me that he was attending a PCA church and they had run off their pastor because of his desire to bring black families into the church.
4)      At the 2002 General Assembly I met a man who sought me out after I spoke on the racism issue, Ruling Elder Neill Payne, who very genially shook my hand and expressed a desire to get to know me better. An acquaintance of mine, a fellow TE, called me to ask for my support in dealing with white supremacists in the PCA. He named Neill Payne. I got online and sure enough, there were a pile of stories about his deep involvement with racist organizations, including his wedding at the headquarters of the Aryan Nations.
5)      At the 2010 General Assembly I found out that my cousin, Jeff Hutchinson had become embroiled in prosecuting a case which had risen out of a North Carolina church involving, yep, Neill Payne. The case went all the way to General Assembly and Jeff ended up losing his church (not the church where the case originated) over the issue. This story is covered in the article “PCA and the Aryan Nations” (be sure to read the comments by one of the players in the whole business).
6)      At the 2015 General Assembly, Morton Smith was publicly praised in the worship liturgy of the General Assembly. I haven’t seen the praise of human beings in liturgy since I was a Roman Catholic. However, in Rome we only praised dead people – long dead people. Morton Smith has written, “As one studies the origin of man in the Bible it is evident that all men descend from a single pair of first parents. This is clearly set forth in the first chapters of Genesis, where the creation of Adam and Eve is presented. Not only do we find the unity of the race in the original creation, but again at the time of the flood, we find all humanity destroyed except for one family, from whom all the peoples of the earth have come. This unity of humankind is confirmed by the common nature that we possess. It is seen in the fact that we are all sinners. It is seen in the fact that the gospel is offered to all men alike. . . . On the basis of this unity of mankind the integrationist teaches that we are all brothers, and should thus ignore all external differences and mix as one race. There is a plea to forget racial and national differences and simply to amalgamate into one common brotherhood. It should be noted, in passing, that the biblical teaching on brotherhood is not primarily that of physical unity, but rather it is reserved for the spiritual unity that Christians, who know God as Father through Jesus Christ, have with one another.”

Does a denomination which does such things in the most recent history have need to repent? I believe so. Are these imaginary sins? Only if racism is not a sin.

7/29/15 About a month ago, Stephen Estock, the PCA Coordinator for what used to be CE&P, reached out to me regarding the Richards book. After years of bringing this book up in numerous venues, apparently some people in the PCA began paying attention with not a little concern. Dr. Estock was a little blindsided by the issue, as he had never heard of the book and the PCA bookstore quit selling it before he began his tenure. He seemed genuinely concerned, and not just for the bad press. I gave him what little information I had, along with scans of some of the book, and he committed to do further research and take the issue to Permanent Committee.

Hear are the preliminary findings: a) The PCA Bookstore sold the last copy of the book in 2005; b) In the last three years that the bookstore sold the book, they sold 10 copies. This doesn't tell us how many books they sold over the 20+ years that they sold the book, but those numbers may not be available. Dr. Estock appears to be continuing to pursue the matter (along with all the other pressing things that Coordinators have to attend to!).

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Close of the 43rd GA, Racism & LOTR - The Documents

Jim's handwritten notes for his closing remarks
Several people have mentioned that it would be helpful to see the documents referenced in the previous article. They are presented in order below. I have translated the resolution, the CoC reasoning and the protest from Ecclesiastical Latin into English as well as Mr.Wert's comments from High Elvish into the Common Tongue (*).

PERSONAL RESOLUTION ON RACE AND THE PCA

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


REASONING ATTACHED TO REFERRING RESOLUTION ON RACE FROM TE'S LUCAS AND DUNCAN TO THE 44TH GENERAL ASSEMBLY

Due to the gravity and complexity of racial sin, and sympathetic with the need to pursue corporate and personal repentance over it, the Committee believes that:
  • A perfected version of the resolution would effect particular denominational, regional, and local church repentance more particularly, and could include specific suggestions with regard to the nature of the fruit of such repentance (Matthew 3:8; II Corinthians 7:10; WCF5, 6);
  • More time for Dr. Lucas’s research to be disseminated and studied by the church would also help effect a more particular and heartfelt repentance (cf. WCF1);
  • Time for our African-American brothers to visit with the Overtures Committee in next year’s Assembly will further perfect the language and allow our repentance to be more heartfelt and accurate (cf. WCF 15.2)
  • These matters of corporate repentance ought to come through lower courts of the church rather than by personal resolutions. [It is important to note that personal resolutions have special provisions in the RAO for people without access to the courts of the PCA or in case of emergency. (Cf. RAO 13–2; RAO 11–2: “Communications from individuals shall not be received by the General Assembly, unless they originate with persons who have no other access to the Assembly.”)]
For the sake of the peace and purity of Christ’s Church, and in preparation for the 44th General Assembly, the Committee encourages sessions and presbyteries to prayerfully consider any and all sins of racial prejudice and to pursue a proper course of action humbly, sincerely and expeditiously (Matthew 5:21–26; Ephesians 2:1–22; 4:1-32).


PROTEST CONCERNING THE 43RD GENERAL ASSEMBLY’S ACTION ON THE PERSONAL RESOLUTION ON CIVIL RIGHTS

We the 43rd General Assembly of the PCA (the undersigned) understand that repentance is not merely a statement, but steps of faithfulness that follow. Allowing that more time is needed to adequately work on such a denominational statement, but also the need for action now, we 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. We commit ourselves to the task of truth and repentance over the next year for the glory of God and the furtherance of the Gospel. We urge the congregations of the Presbyterian Church in America to confess their own particular sins and failures as may be appropriate and to seek truth and repentance for the Gospel’s sake within their own local communities.


THE CLOSING REMARKS OF MODERATOR JIM WERT (AS RECOUNTED BY HIM)

I did not have specifically in mind our final debate concerning repentance and action on the matters of historic racism in our denomination. They were intended more generally. But I do think they apply. Here's the gist of what I said, for any interested:

I first noted that some of my brothers were returning to places of home, comfort and peace -- they were headed back to the Shire. For most, they were likely returning to challenge, uncertainty, attack, paths requiring faithfulness and resilience, and occasional sanctuary -- they return to the Wilderlands, or Moria, or perhaps Rivendell for a season. But there are some who are probably heading back to places of despair, hopelessness, fear and barren ground -- they return to find themselves in Mordor. This may be the case for some returning to areas where racial tension have been particularly acute lately, like St. Louis, or Baltimore. Especially for any in this last group, I offered this realization from Sam during his journey through Sauron's wasteland:

“There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tower high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”

I then reminded my brothers that our situation was better. Our star is not remote or inaccessible, but is the bright Morning Star present with us. Because (and only because) Jesus goes with us and in us can we hope to face our Mordors with strength and courage enough to overcome.

(*) I'm, of course, joking. I made a D in Latin.

Friday, June 12, 2015

PCA hotly debates delaying formal acknowledgement of racism and the end is EPIC

Hundreds of men line up to sign historic protest while the Moderator reads from The Lord of the Rings
[Update: Jim Wert, our delightful and evenhanded Moderator, has included details of his closing comments in the comments underneah. They are a must read to get a full picture of the events. A huge thank you to Jim!]

Mississippi Teaching Elders, Drs Sean Lucas and Ligon Duncan entered a personal resolution at the beginning of the Assembly which acknowledged the involvement of our denomination (and our predecessor denomination) in promoting racism and failing to act to support the goals of the Civil Rights movement. It encouraged us to seek repentance and carry this message to our local churches. The resolution was referred to our Overtures Committee for a recommendation.

The OC, after a great deal of debate, many hours, and consultation with some of our Black pastors, decided 80-0-0 to refer the resolution to the next GA for "perfecting" of the language and the addition of concrete suggestions to congregations to help them understand what the fruit of this repentance might look like. Much reasoning was attached to the referring which expressed support for the resolution and hope for substantive change.

When this recommendation from the OC hit the floor of the GA, it become apparent that the brothers were not going to immediately defer to the unanimous vote of the OC (in itself a highly unusual thing). Many brothers wanted us to act now. One brother said, "It is never good to delay confession of sin." The problem was that according to the rules of our Assembly, the only thing that we could do was to send the overture to the next GA or ask the OC to take the matter back up (at 10 pm on the last night of the Assembly). Many brothers made speeches expressing a deep desire to deal with this at this year's GA, but finding a way to accomplish something like that was elusive. Several Black PCA pastors (but not all), spoke in favor of deferring for a year.

We stopped and prayed for direction from the Lord.

Time was extended (by vote) for debate many times. The motion to send the overture to the OC for a midnight meeting failed. It became apparent that the Assembly's only option was to send it to the next Assembly for perfecting. The moderator suggested that if someone were to enter a "protest" which expressed repentance for racism, then others could sign on to it and it would become a part of the record of the Assembly - not as an action of the GA, but as an action of the signers. Debate continued. The moderator declared that he was going to call for a time of open prayer after the debate. The GA voted to send the overture to the next GA.

We went into a time of prayer. And prayed and prayed and prayed. And then we prayed some more. Men poured put their hearts God, praying for repentance and transformation - expressing sorrow and grief for the sufferings of our Black brothers and sisters and acknowledging our sin as a part of it. Men wept and confessed sins. I have no memory of the GA taking such a large block of time for prayer.

One of the last two remaining founders of our denomination stands and confessed his sin, particularly indifference. He was disappointed that we were not taking action this year. A man stood up and made a "protest," expressing confession of sin and hope for repentance. He turned in his protest and the Assembly began to move forward with our Moderator's closing remarks. As he began talking men began filtering down to sign the "protest."

Yes, this cloak, made into a tie, hanging on our moderator's neck.
 As a preface to his remarks the Moderator held up his tie and explained that it was made from the actual material of the elvin cloaks from The Lord of the Rings. It did appear so. He then gave a biblical exhortation using extended imagery from The Lord of the Rings, including a long read selection by and about his hero, Samwise Gamgee. Meanwhile, the line of men to sign the protest (really a statement repenting of racism) had grown longer than the convention hall itself as a large majority of the men present (many hundreds) signed the document.

It was a beautifully surreal and epic moment, repenting of racism to a reading of Tolkien. God is good.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Overture 3 - Quit Dedicating Babies

Actually, they are Methodists, but we wear the same robes and have the same baptismal fonts.


Overture 3) Changes to parental baptismal vows. Our current baptismal vows contain the commitment to “dedicate your child to God,” and the overture simply removes that language. This language is problematic in a Christian culture dominated by baptistic theology because so many Christians who reject covenantal baptism still “dedicate” their children. It muddies the theological waters as we try to distinguish what we believe Scripture teaches from baptistic theology. Also, the language of dedication is not strictly biblical. The “dedications” of children in Scripture are to things other than the reception of the covenantal sign or other general situations. Instead, dedications are to unique situations, such as Samuel’s dedication to the service of the Temple. Since not many parents are dropping their kids off in indentured servitude to their local church (not that many wouldn’t like to), losing the language might be a good idea.

Overtures 2 & 9 - Changes to the Confession on the Sabbath



The Westminster Assembly 1643

Overtures 2 and 9) Propose Revisions to the Westminster Confession Language on the Sabbath. Two overtures before the Assembly are suggesting that we begin the process of amending the Westminster Confession of Faith by erecting a study committee, which is a far more involved process than amending our Book of Church Order or Rules of Assembly Operations. The suggestion is that we consider removing the prohibition against “recreations” which are lawful on other days of the week, but forbidden on the Sabbath. I will vote against these suggestions, but the battle concerning the Sabbath is currently largely lost in the PCA. We go on and on about tossing a football with our kids, but the truth is that our Puritan forebears would have been far more troubled about our unrestrained consumption of worldly entertainments on the Sabbath – cheering the spectacle of professional sports and the flood of Christians into restaurants after the Sunday service so that poorest among us can serve us so WE can have a Sabbath. In the Old Testament, God didn’t permit Israel to work their animals or servants on the Sabbath. It seems that God is less concerned with today’s poor than yesterday’s oxen. I think the issue of throwing a Frisbee or football with our kids on Sunday is so beside the point as to be irrelevant.

Review of Overtures, Overture 1



The first PCA General Assembly 1973
Perhaps more as an exercise in thinking through my own votes than presuming to influence anyone else, here are my (rough) thoughts on this year’s overtures:

Overture 1) Appointing a Judicial Commission Whose Decision Would be Final – This overture from Pacific Northwest Presbytery would give presbyteries a third option with judicial cases. The first two options are a) try the case on the floor of presbytery, or b) appoint a judicial commission to bring a recommendation which must be approved with an up or down vote. The new option would be to appoint a judicial commission whose decision is final.

In our presbytery I am continually frustrated by committees and commissions bringing recommendations to the floor with such a sparse accounting of the “facts of the case” that it is difficult to know what we are voting on. This overture would be one way to fix that problem. The presbytery could give the matter to a judicial commission which would simply act without the rest of the presbytery’s involvement. I’m not particularly fond of that option of resolving the issue because I believe the presbytery’s oversight is extremely important. I myself would NOT wish for a judicial commission to act in a matter concerning me without a full accounting of the facts of the case to the presbytery. I will vote no on this overture.