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!).


  1. Wow. I'm so glad you posted this. It makes me so sad to see the grave error.

  2. I have experienced and written about racism in MS here: http://thechristiancurmudgeonmo.blogspot.com/2015/06/are-you-serious-about-repenting-of.html

    At the same time, while I strongly disagree with Dr. Smith about race, and while it was reported to me that he spoke critically of me with regard to the interracial dating situation I describe in the Blog, I honor him. He is in every way a Christian gentleman. He treats with Chirstian courtesy all with whom he comes in contact. His views about race are sincerely and honestly held, and he believes them to be Biblical. He was the only real theologian involved in the founding of the PCA and helped much to tug the PCA in a Reformed direction. He was my theology professor at RTS, and he taught a generaton of us the classic Reformed faith. He is a man, and, as with every single one of us, he has his blindspots and sins. But he is a good and noble Christian man. He deserves more honor than he has received in the PCA. It saddens me to see him described as though he were a redeck racist. That he is decidedly not. Dr. Smith has served the church honorably in his time.

  3. Whoever Pastor Trav is needs to be aware of the adage that hindsight is 20/20. Smith is right. I hate that those of our number who are so far removed from the events of 50 years ago, and are so able to analyze things so clearly, don't realize that maybe, just maybe, there is another explanation than that "Dr. Smith is a horrible racist." You, quite frankly, ought to 1. Do more homework about what actually was going on then (I was there; where were you?) and 2. Be ashamed of yourself for dragging an honorable man's reputation through the mud. BTW, Pastor Trav - just who are you? - /S/ Robert E. Hays, PCA TE Retired.

  4. Pastor Trav. OK, I see your bio stuff now. No need to reply to that.

  5. Dear "Papa" (I feel a little odd in writing that),

    I didn't write a single line of judgement on Dr. Smith, I quoted from his writings without comment. These are views that he still holds, as far as anyone knows publicly. He re-affirmed these views in 2002 at the GA in Birmingham. I hardly think that simply quoting someone's current views by reproducing quotes from their books constitutes "dragging his name through the mud."

    Of course, I wasn't there at the founding. I rely on what Dr. Smith wrote as well as Dr. Edwards and and conversations with others. I'm just taking them at their words about what they did and why they did it, as well as what they still believe.

  6. Oh, and BTW, I do see you found my bio. I'm not trying to hide here. I don't think that alternate identities are helpful for this type of discussion. I've been open about who I am, vocal on the floor of GA and willing to meet or talk with brothers in person when asked. I'd be happy to meet with you as well.

  7. Thank you Travis. Know and appreciate your cousins. Reed, First Pres, Montgomery, AL.

  8. Travis, I'm trying to understand here. Am I correct in understanding that the racist quote you gave is from Dr. Edwards' sermon, but not from his history book? Do you have any quotes from his history book that shows that the history book is racist or contains racist language?

  9. My question is the same as tc's. Was the racist quote from Edwards taken FROM THE BOOK. If so I'd like to know why Edward felt the need talk that way at all (much less in book on PCA history). But, if not then it would seem that you're making a kind of ad hominem argument against the trustworthiness of his writing's on PCA church history. What he said in the quote was bad enough. But you don't have to disparage the book in the process (if in fact this quote was not in that book).

  10. tc and David Rice III,

    The quote from Dr. Richard Edwards Roberts is from a sermon which he included in his book. The sermon forms the largest amount of material from his second chapter, "Causes of Separation." He's saying that "racial amagamation" is a large part of the cause for the split. The book is vile and we sold it out of the PCA bookstore for about twenty years as a fundraiser for the denomination. I brought this up on the floor of GA and talked with the director of CE&P about it. We kept selling it in the store. Does that answer your questions?

  11. Re the book, Dr, Richards was a founder of the PCA, and the Bookstore sold his book thhe proceeds of which went to the support of the PCA. He was a segregationist, as were some others who helped found the church. Other founders were not. That's the story. You are offended that the book was sold. Understood. But, one of the results of that book being sold was that you got some insight you might not otherwise have had about one thing that was a a motivation of some at the beginning of the PCA in the 70s. Moreover, for the PCA Bookstore not to have sold a book about its history by one who was there ar the founding would have made little sense, The Banner of Truth published and sold Dabney's writing where he said some really bad things about Blacks. Should they have not published Dabney? I expect Sean Lucas' bio of Dabney is sold by the PCA Bookstore, In it Dabney says a lot of bad stuff about Blacks. Should the Bookstore not sell the book? The question is a perptetual one for publishers and sellers of books. What errors, as we now see them or as the contemporaneous majiorty see them, should be censored?

    Meanwhile, an REC pastor's wife was among thoaw murdered in Charleston, Here is a little history of the REC re race. http://thechristiancurmudgeonmo.blogspot.com/2014/01/race-and-ecclesiastical-politicians.html

  12. Dear William,

    I have no objection to a biography of an important church figure being sold, even when the said figure is a proponent of such evil as slavery (Dabney) or heretical views (countless). The biographies will contain examples of their views by necessity. There is a great difference between having a biography or a history available which describes such things and having a book, such as Roberts' which explicitly promotes evil as a stated purpose.

    I don't want my denomination funded by racist literature any more than I want it funded by abortion advocacy, pornography, or any other evil. I think it is sin to have accepted the money and distributed the book.

  13. It's a luxury of sorts to stand in judgment of and to condemn one's fathers.