Thursday, July 1, 2010
PCA and the Aryan Nations
This post isn't really about the Aryan Nations, except in a tertiary way that some would characterize as unfair - others as troubling or bizarre. The larger issue, which I'll touch on at the end, is the question: "What constitutes racism?" and "What views on race are acceptable in a) the church, b) on the local session, and c) in the ordained pastoral ministry?"
At my first General Assembly I met two brothers who have become my adoptive cousins, Jeff and Chris Hutchinson. The Assembly was at Birmingham and racism was the big issue. While there I met a ruling elder name Neill Payne who I subsequently found out was a racist (note 1) who was being investigated by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a liberal civil rights organization.
Mr. Payne distributed an email promoting some extremely offensive racial views and his pastor (Rev. Buckeley, on left) attempted to persuade him to change his views and step down as an elder. That ended up in a terrible mess in his church and the presbytery became involved. On the presbytery level, my cousin Jeff Hutchinson (on the right) picked up the torch for prosecuting Payne and the case ended up with eleven judicial cases before the General Assembly's Standing Judicial Commission.
Jeff has been handing out articles from the Southern Poverty Law Journal as tracts. The Southern Poverty Law center took a very positive view of the Presbytery's and Jeff's handling of the matter. It also included photos of Mr. Payne's wedding at a meeting of the Aryan Nations. The wedding happened a long time ago and wasn't the cause of the case, but any time Payne's name comes up in reference to this issue, the wedding resurfaces as a topic. It's the kind of thing that's hard to live down. I understand from second hand reports that Mr. Payne disavows any attachment to the Nations and his brother-in-law, Mr. Kirk Lyons, claims that the wedding never meant full support (or perhaps any) of the Nations (note 2).
The surprising thing about the Poverty Journal article is the very positive take they have on our denomination's handling of the case (given that they are very liberal and often very opposed to anything conservative or Christian). The article notes that this was the first time ANY Presbyterian denomination has EVER prosecuted anyone for racism.
Meanwhile, Mr. Payne and his supporters within the church have all been removed from the rolls of the PCA "as an act of pastoral discipline" (BCO 38-3) and Jeff Hutchinson was elected to our Standing Judicial Commission.
[This article has been edited with some corrections and developments since the original post with information provided by Jeff Hutchinson and Kirk Lyons.]
Note 1: Mr. Payne would certainly object to being called a racist. The views he circulated in an email (which I have not read but seem fairly undisputed) are the standard "blacks are dumber than whites and we're all dumber than the Asians" variety along with comments on the state of most African nations being attributable to race. I would call this the definition of racism, thought the term might be so overused that something like "racialist" would serve us better.
Note 2: The full explanation, which I will not reproduce here, has a plausibility to it, but for me raises as many questions as it purports to answer. Walking through it all would involve a great deal of time and bring others into the article who were not part of the GA Judicial Commission case. I'm just not willing.
1) The SPLC "tracts" comment is a tongue-in-cheek joke. At that GA, Jeff told me about his involvement with this case and the oddly favorable reporting of the SPLC. I was fascinated and he said, "I have a copy right here." I laughed and teased him about having a couple of copies, saying that he was passing out tracts. Jeff wasn't passing out SPLC "tracts"; it was a joke.
2) I'm no huge fan of the SPLC because they are ideologically liberal and tend to paint conservatives with the racist label, and that bothers me very much when it comes to the anti-jihadist community. But I found it interesting that they recognized that our denomination is actually doing something about racism.
3) What we're dealing with here is not just a disagreement about the "facts," but the definition of racism itself. Mr. Lyons (Mr. Payne's brother-in-law and one of the members removed from the rolls) disputes both the facts and the "real issues" of the case. Of course, no one agrees when they lose a discipline case (and I've lost one), but the question of "real issues" and combing through the "facts" is pretty far outside of my interests here. We have the SJC for a reason. I don't have direct knowledge or interest in this case. I am interested in race and the PCA.
4) The problem that Mr. Payne and his supporters ran into is that the majority of us in the PCA think that this kind of "racial profiling" (or "racialism") is completely inappropriate for an elder in Christ's church. An elder is held to a higher standard than a church member and if an elder can't figure out that labeling races more of less inferior is counterproductive to the advancement of the Kingdom is pretty blind. Why would any elder, after decades of involvement with white-supremacist issues, still distribute racialist literature?
Even the authors of the Bell Curve (highly controversial book on intelligence and race) simply made two points (disputed by many): a) There are scoring disparities among races on intelligence tests and b) intelligence is a high predictor of social success. They DIDN'T make the claim that blacks are biologically less intelligent than whites. If you accept their findings, there are simply too many factors than have not been adequately researched. Ann Coulter has pretty well demonstrated that the crime differences between blacks and whites disappears when your factor out single mothers. And it is commonly known that a high black divorce rate is a more recent phenomenon - not racially inherent. Veda Jairrels has convincingly argued that the academic achievement gap between blacks and whites disappears with a single factor - how much a child is read to by her parents. I'm sure someone more informed than I could go on, and on.
The point is that jumping on the pseudo-science of racialism when real science is only beginning its conversation is irresponsible. When the pseudo-science is hurtful towards a minority group who experienced slavery and hundreds of years of oppression, the irresponsibility is hard-hearted, grievous sin. We need better than that from our elders.