"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." - Jerome

Monday, June 18, 2018

Considering Overture 24 GA 2018

A Detailed Account of the Reconvened Session of Overtures considering Overture 24

These Are My Recollections from inside the committee when they were called back to bring a recommendation to the Assembly. This is for the curious, and a simpler more general account of the whole process I am sharing elsewhere, but this is for the procedural-minded:

After the Assembly sent the Overtures Committee back, the debate was started by a motion that the Minority Report become the majority recommendation of the committee. (Later someone would insist we also must "vote to reconsider," though some of us believed the action of the assembly did this, we voted on that to make sure we were doing everything according to procedure.) Debate ensued with a few people formerly in opposition voicing support to Overture 24 if it was cut down to 59-1, 59-2, and 59-3. But a few men voiced continued opposition due to the content of 59-1 and 59-2. One elder objected that the language of 59-1 was perhaps not sufficient for civil disobedience. Another elder objected to 59-2 for its assumption that Reformed ministers would necessarily be performing marriages (as in our tradition some have said the church should not perform weddings, the civil government only should). It seemed like they would be in the minority to vote against it, but still a significant minority.

At this juncture, an elder introduced a substitute limiting the constitutional status just to 59-3, and retaining all the old language of the rest of the Chapter. This was attractive to many who had wanted to retain the old language because it was historic and had been useful to them.

A few members, including myself, still had opposition. I voiced opposition to making just 59-3 constitutional because 59-1 as binding had use for religious liberty and civil disobedience reasons. 59-2 was also useful as binding due to the instructions on not marrying those unequally yoked. And finally, those instructions in the BCO would be important even if these are in the Westminster Confession of Faith, because the BCO gives us our PRACTICE, and 59-3 at the time only concerns belief (59-3 was merely a restatement of the WCF).

A final motion was made to amend 59-3 by an elder, adding the line about restricting the practice of ministers who marry. (he deftly worded it as “minister who solemnize marriage” so as to allow that we may have ministers who refuse to perform weddings) A short time of discussion followed, but soon an elder called all questions before the house. We voted. The amendment about the practice of ministers passed. Then the vote to make the substitute the main motion passed. (at this point I voted yes, with the addition of the sentence of practice and having been convinced by the speech of an elder that this was not only what could pass on the floor, but also presbyteries, and could be our overwhelming recommendation to the Assembly). The Substitute of the now revised 59-3 became the main motion and the vote was 104-1-1. One other note: without revealing identities, I knew the man voting against it, and he formerly supported the Minority Report, so I assume voted against the final because he did not believe 59-3 was enough.

To close the session, it was suggested and agreed we should sing the doxology. Another note, there exists a man on Overtures with perfect harmony to the doxology that is indeed goose-bump producing. This is not exhaustive, but as well as I can remember.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Stop Worrying About Everything All At Once

Why engaging LESS in reading newspapers, watching TV news, and flicking through Facebook posts may be one of the best things for your soul:

"It is one of the evils of rapid diffusion of news that the sorrows of all the world come to us every morning. I think each village was meant to feel pity for its own sick and poor whom it can help and I doubt if it is the duty of any private person to fix his mind on ills which he cannot help. (This may even become an escape from the works of charity we really can do to those we know).

A great many people...do now seem to think that the mere state of being worried is in itself meritorious. I don't think it is. We must, if it so happens, give our lives for others: but even while we're doing it, I think we're meant to enjoy Our Lord and, in Him, our friends, our food, our sleep, our jokes, and the birds song and the frosty sunrise." - C.S. Lewis in a letter

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Francis of Assisi: Use Words, They are Necessary

Francis of Assisi is known for 3 things. A poem he likely didn't write, a love of animals that was likely oversold, and a saying he never said: “Preach the Gospel, and if necessary, use words.” It is popular to quote this and attribute it to Francis of Assisi, but again, he never said it.

Francis, in fact, would never have said something like that. Francis was a traveling preacher who left his wealthy family's money behind to call people to repentance. In the 1200s, the rulers and even clergy were focused on the new mercantile economy and the race to gain wealth. Francis preached the gospel of Jesus, and emphasized the treasure of heaven and the temporariness of wealth on earth. And he used words. 
Some of his favorite words came from Christ:

Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. "Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.
"But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry. "Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets. (Luke 6:20-26)

These words emphasized that the rich and powerful are not those you should envy. It is tempting to think that if you don't end up rich, powerful, or famous, that you have not “arrived” and you have not succeed in life. Christ instead speaks of a time to come, a reward that is not here, but is to come. 
Francis, in his time, was sad over the wars that developed between the West and Islamic State to the East. So he went to the Sultan al-Kamil to do something bold: preach the gospel...with words. He spoke to the Sultan about Christ who died and rose again, and whose riches were not of this earth, but of greater value in forgiveness, peace with God, and newness of life. 
The Sultan's advisers suggested beheading Francis for attempting to convert the Sultan. But the Sultan took Francis aside and told him that he was impressed that Francis cared for his soul. As a result, within a year the Sultan negotiated peace with the West. 

But the Sultan told Francis that he could not convert. It would cost him his throne and his life. The heavenly treasure cost an earthly treasure he was not willing to pay. When Francis left, the Sultan asked Francis to pray for him. Francis' words made him pause, and he said he wanted Francis to pray that he would be shown the truth. 
The lesson of Francis is not silent preaching, but the power of words. Words can cause our grip on mere things to be loosened. Words can bring peace to a war. And words of the good news can deliver us from this world, to the next. Follow the example of Francis. Preach the Gospel. And use words, they're necessary.

Much Love in Christ,
Pastor Jared Nelson

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

A Note Regarding Rejecting "White Privilege" in the Church Race Conversation

To follow up with more detail about my particular problem with the idea of “white privilege” being used in the ecclesiastical conversation.

My particular problem with the term "white privilege" is not its complete falsehood in every aspect that it entails. Rather, it is the way it takes a reality and frames it in political and unhelpful ways. Let me count the ways the term is unhelpful

1) “White Privilege” trivializes the weigh of the issue of racism and justice:

Yes, there are aspects of society where blacks (and other minorities, depending on the area of societal life) are treated differently. This reality is not a “white privilege” but a human right issue – a human justice issue. It is not a privilege to no be pulled over for the color of your skin, it is a violation of your right to be judged on the basis of your merits and character rather than appearances. White privilege frames such a problem as more trivial than it is (again, what is at issue is rights, not privileges), it turns the issue on another ethnicity in particular and feeds into the politics of resentment, and simplifies the issue of race relations into a monochromatic frame. As such, it is unhelpful in this second way:

2) “White Privilege” uses the politics of resentment

Now, you may object that privilege merely means the privilege of being unaware or lacking that experience of being the subject of racism. Are whites (or Asians or Latinos) lacking in the experience of being treated differently based on race? Certainly in some areas. But not in others. And in fact, all ethnicities have their unique set of experiences that are tied to the mere fact of their heritage and appearance. To what degree it is reality or perception, African Americans, Latinos, Asians and Whites all believe they have been disadvantaged in different areas based on their race.

Think of the similarities of when “White privilege” is declared, as the mirror image of the effect of labeling someone an “Affirmative Action” exception. Over the past 7 years, I have heard a term used for our President: The Affirmative Action President. The appellation was used for the same reason that it was first applied to Justice Clarence Thomas. To declare that those individuals were not evaluated on their merits, but were allowed in by a lowered bar based on race. This is a declaration of resentment, a feeling that certain jobs and educational institutions discriminate against whites (again, this is perception, I don't necessarily speak to reality). And it is used for a particular effect:

3) “White Privilege” is used to silence voices.

The reason this term “Affirmative Action _____” is thrown around is to silence certain voices in a conversation, or delegitimize them. If you call Obama an Affirmative Action President, you reject his positions without having to engage the conversation. Its a shout of “shut up!” The term “white privilege” has been used, with its roots in the political conversation where it is borrowed from, to do the same thing. “Check your privilege” is to say “you don't know what you are talking about, so shut up.” This is wrong whether using the politics of resentment on the right (in regards to affirmative action labels) or the politics of resentment of the left (using the labels of white privilege). The example of Joseph and his brothers should be a warning about the danger of letting a resentment based on perception of favoritism stew and boil in our hearts.

One may protest and say that is not what is meant in this context. Yet, when a term is borrowed from another sphere, it carries the baggage of that sphere into the conversation. So is it true:

1) African Americans face discrimination in certain areas that certain other ethnicities do not, even still today? Yes
2) Are many other ethnicities unaware of some these injustices? Yes
3) Should this be part of what the gospel declaration addresses? Absolutely

Each of these truths can be communicated without

1) Lessening the sin of racism by lowing the vocabulary of the conversation from rights to privileges.
2) Engaging in the politics of resentment.
3) Implicitly or Explicitly seeking to silences voices in the conversation.

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Reflective Review - “Heal Us, Emmanuel”

“Heal Us, Emmanuel: A Call for Racial Reconciliation, Representation, and Unity in the Church” is a collection of 30 essays by PCA Elders on the subject of race and reconciliation (a hot topic especially as this year the PCA's General Assembly approaches). Many of these elders have been pushing for some sort of statement or public confession by the PCA General Assembly that deals with Race, especially concerning the acts of “conservative Christians” in the Civil Rights Era. 
The book is laid out in 6 sections: An Invitation to Listen, Awakening to Privilege, Sins of Omission and Commission, Historical and Theological Perspectives, Confession and Reconciliation Are Necessary, and A Way Forward. Under each are five or six essays on that theme.

This review will seek to summarize some of the content of the book as well as give a critical response. The book is a “call” but I hope to invite a conversation on it, rather than a monologue of demands. I found the book to be mixed in its effectiveness, depth, and quality. As such, let us first look at what are a few truly interesting and worthwhile articles for your time. So first, the positive:

Chapter 11 includes an entry by Samuel N. Graham, an elder on the session of Independent Presbyterian (IPC) in Memphis. This was one of the few entries in which the relating of personal biographical details was interesting and relevant to the topic. The Chapter on Independent Presbyterian in Stephen Haynes' “The Last Segregated Hour” gives a better narrative of the process leading up to IPC's racial repentance, however Graham's article gives a glimpse of the inside process that compliments that narrative in helpful ways. 
Another essay worth considering is by Kevin Twit of RUF (Chapter 15). Rev. Twit details some of the thought process behind the latest Indelible Grace record and the incorporation of different styles to reflect diverse cultural inputs. It certainly is worth considering, even if Twit's Nashville context is perhaps a unique case of cultural and musical diversity. 
Briefly, a few other chapters offer relevant information, and most interesting were the five essays on a Historical and Theological Perspective. Sean Lucas' personal history in regards to race (Chapter 18) provides the background to his recent book on the history of the PCA and work with a movement for a Civil Rights Era statement from the PCA. Chapter 17 contains Bobby Griffith's summary history of race in American Southern Presbyterianism, which despite its choppy structure, offers a few nuggets of historical interest. Chapter 19 contains William Castro's critique of “racialist” views of the church, which tends to divide along racial lines rather than bringing them together. His critique of Frame and others who justify separate churches based on cultural preferences is intriguing, even though the solution is often allusive evidenced by the lack of integration in most churches on Sunday morning. 
All of these essays seek to build a historical foundation for the conversation over race. These help us understand the questions of both “why now?” and “why this subject?” To show my cards, this reviewer tends to agree broadly that race is a present issue in the church and in particular in the history of the Presbyterian Church in America by reputation of certain particular churches especially in the south, and even of entire presbyteries (especially those of the former Synod of Mississippi which explicitly defended segregation in the 1950s and 60s). 
The conversation broached in this book is a necessary conversation, even if uncomfortable. Part of that uncomfortable aspect is exploring the paradigms we use to approach this subject, and here is where critique is also necessary. Scripture tells us that when exploring a sin and solution, two ditches must be avoided. As the prophet Jeremiah puts it some “have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, 'Peace, peace,' when there is no peace.“ (Jeremiah 6:14) While our Lord warns others “ tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders.” (Matthew 23:4) The essays of the book falter when falling into one of these two ditches.

The weakness of the book is largely in what it carries as features of the book.

1) The book is heavily personal, but in so doing at times becomes too autobiographical in nature. The book is intended to be personal, but despite the number of writers, the biographical details become repetitive. 
2) The book is intended to be a “call,” however this causes the essays to feel largely monolithic in perspective. Again, the book itself is not a dialogue, but rather a “call” as the title declares. Thus, let us explore having the conversation.

If this book is inviting a dialogue on the issue of race, let's address why this topic is so messy: Racism is hard to have a dialogue about. Motives are constantly questioned and when writing about such a serious issue it is tempting to signal your virtue, rather than acknowledge the complexity and messiness of the issue. Racism is a result of the fall, not mere history, and so is universal in its subjects. Thus it is easier to signal your innocence than to actually process it. 
My reservations with the book have nothing to do with the subject, or even most of the recommendations. I have set myself to the task the 2015 GA gave to elders, namely to explore racial sins and the relation of the denomination to those sins. I believe there are issues of sin related to race at the individual level, the local church level, and in more than one presbytery. I was interested if the book would touch on any of the questions I recorded nearly a year ago that accompany the current issue such as what is the nature of covenantal repentance, the types of racial sin that exist, and on what level of church government they occurred in the past, as well as practical ways to address them in the present. 
There are omissions that hamper the final product in its execution. While the book wants to be a monologue (a call), I hope this book can be part of a dialogue. As such, I aim to push back and challenge the thrust of the book in two areas:

1) Resist the adoption of the terminology and categories of the political left.
Beyond the acceptance of of terms like “Microaggressions” (page 21) the most troubling term of the political left used in the book is “White Privilege” (page 60, 91, 95, 238, etc.). White Privilege has arisen in the political realm, largely on the political left, and as such both carries baggage from that realm and has secular ideologies informing its use.
Granted, there is existing institutional power to certain families that can be identified along racial lines. Also, we should note that while everyone has obstacles to overcome, some have more obstacles based on their ethnicity than others. To frame this reality, and blame “white privilege” rather than focusing on true racism creates guilt burdens about realities that are not necessary to repent over. One should repent over placing obstacles in front of others based on race. One should not repent for not having as many of those obstacles.

Ethnicity exists alongside economic position, education, and two-parent homes as factors which shapes future success and progress of persons into adult life and society. Focusing on the fact that white families tend to have more factors that lead to education and job opportunities mixes too much correlation with causation. It also unnecessarily sweeps whites without those advantages into this stereotyped “white America” that all has these advantages. As I work in an area with much blue collar poverty, many in our area would be surprised to hear of their privilege based on their race, when their education, economic, and family situation is anything but privileged. 
The most troubling aspect of this, however, is the diversion it makes from the ecclesiastical and spiritual realm into a focus on the secular and political realm as paramount. This shows itself most starkly in the repeated implied message that pastors need to side with specific political or current event controversies to be sufficiently race conscious. Let us take Doug Serven's piece in Chapter 16 as the prime offender: Ferguson, Charleston, and the McKinney Texas Police incident, and the name of the Washington Redskins were all cited (pages 156-159) and the “right side” is always implied as synonymous with the right spiritual attitude to race. This suggests a need to be up to date on all the current media events, and to take public political positions on them. 
I have my own personal opinions and thoughts based on what I know of those events. Yet, the requirement to be fully read up on media events (real or generated by the media for ratings), and to take the particular views Serven has taken as a precondition for being racially conscious is a human requirement, not a spiritual or Scriptural one. I certainly have my own thoughts on some of these events, but I have purposefully not made them public because I think it would be needlessly controversial, and misinterpreted - a barrier to the gospel rather than an avenue to it. 
Why am I as a minister supposed to speak publicly on an issue that happened, for instance in Missouri, that is quite complicated (more complicated than I think Serven lets on)? It is not to argue that particular case, but one sees the issue of the sin of racism becoming bogged down in the particulars of media and social media events. 
To have silence about those events equated to apathy is just wrong. Why am I morally required to speak on every event listed? By what authority? In fact, shouldn't our judgments especially on murky criminal acts be tempered by the fact that we are not on the jury and not privy to all evidence? Shouldn't wisdom be used to distinguish between clear instances of racism such as Charleston, and more complex issues such as etymological histories of the names of NFL teams?
The weight of the 9th Commandment would seem to dictate to not bearing false or at least not bearing uninformed or hasty witness. To take it a step further, why does the author think his opinion is the clear Christian opinion? In at least two cases, I disagree with his verdict, and so does that make my private opinion a sin? Why are these reactions and “hot takes” of media events the gauge of our biblical obedience rather than our individual interactions and actions with people? We must be careful not to think our political opinion on a complicated issue or event is synonymous with the law or the gospel.

That leads to my second challenge:

2. Address Racism with Deep Biblical Exegesis
Scripture is sufficient to address all things we need for the man of God to be complete (2 Timothy 3:16-17). I wish there were more deep biblical exegesis and application in the essays of this book to the problem of racism, rather than the adoption of socio-political categories and theories. Sociology and Politics will not address this problem adequately, nor a general call to grace or the cross. 
This is not to say there is no Scripture or exegesis in the book on these matters. In Chapter 19, “Toward a Compelling Theology for Unity,” Rev. Garriott makes a few brief universal theological points. Rev. Ward in Chapter 21 does as well by way of a thorough and fair critique of Morton Smith's 1964 article that argued for segregation. This is helpful as a picture of the theological errors of the past, though I would be surprised if there is much agreement today in the PCA with Smith's 52 year old article.

Yet, where is an extended look at Ephesians 2:11-22 or Galatians 3:27, or the biblical theological theme of the bringing in of Ruth the Moabitess to God's People or Solomon's Temple as a place for inclusion of the nations into Israel? Certainly, Galatians 3:27 and Ephesians 2:14 are cited, yet they are proof texted rather than expounded in the depths those passages can teach us. 
A great missed opportunity of this book was to explore the nature of the repentance/confession that some call for. Chapter 24 is titled “Why we must confess corporately” but the article is only 4 pages long, and does not exegete Scripture so much as cite it and offer some quick application. Part of this exegesis should be anticipating objections: What are the limits, intent, and effects of covenantal repentance over racism? Who has covenantal relationships with each other to accomplish such a task? Is there a difference between confessing the iniquity of our fathers and confessing the sins of our fathers? How does the 5th Commandment relate to Daniel 9, Ezra 9 or Nehemiah 9? What is going on in those passages and why do they confess the particular sins they do, and not others? How does someone individually innocent relate to his covenantal guilt, especially of previous generations? What steps are taken after such confession toward repentance?

These questions have answers, but they are not in the book. I agree with the conclusion of Chapter 24 on the sins of racism within the church: “I did not personally commit them; nevertheless, they are mine.” (page 252) Yet mere “corporate identification” is not a sufficient argument for this conclusion. Rather, the corporate covenantal body, as an acting body with members that suffer corporate pollution and contamination of the sins of the past, mired in the iniquity of the fathers, is the point of Daniel 9, Ezra 9, and Nehemiah 9. Exegetical explanation should include the historical context (Babylonian exile), the past sins (Sabbath breaking, inter-faith marriage, etc.) that caused it, and what that particular repentance meant, namely 1) being currently guilty of sin by imitation, 2) being currently polluted by the consequences of those sins, and 3) being committed in the future to turn from the sins of their fathers to obedience of God's Law. 
These principles should have obvious application to the issue of racism today, which plagued many of our forefathers in the PCA. These are iniquities that still pollute the witness of PCA churches today that are associated with it, that certain churches have needed to address in order to move forward. 
Thus, this collection of essays was a golden opportunity missed to make the case why denominations, presbyteries, and local church bodies need to repent and not just individuals. They could have also offered details on how these bodies repent with regards to Scriptural precedent. Merely citing Daniel 9, Ezra 9, and Nehemiah 9 are not enough, they need to be deeply exegeted and applied. Indeed, the Bible is capable of, and should, deeply impact our view of race and the sins of racism, so shouldn't ministers bring that fully to bear on this subject rather than assume it?

First this book certainly has an important subject matter and notable good efforts to identify the history and personal aspects of the problem. Furthermore, the book excels when addressing real racism at the individual and local level that were solved by true and detailed confession and repentance such as at IPC. For those essays in the book I am thankful. 
However, the book shows its deficiencies when there was a vague or undefined view of repentance, surface exegesis, or when it relied on non-theological diagnoses and prescriptions to the problem. The task of the church is not to syncretize political and sociological paradigms into its theology, but to bring the gospel of grace to bear on the problems of sin, not just in the notional or “awareness” realm but in the practical realm.
The solution to the problems of the sin of racism must be of a sufficient level to answer the problem. While this book may identify many of the problems, I fear it heals the wounds of the people too lightly and generally, while bringing unnecessary burdens with some of its adopting of outside sociological and political concepts.

During the upcoming PCA General Assembly, I hope that commissioners are aware of the history in this book (which if they have read Lucas' book or Haynes' book, they will be aware of the important details already). But the issues need to be framed in biblical rather than political ways. The PCA General Assembly should avoid vaguely confessing sins, with no specificity of the current polluting sins that linger, no biblical idea of its connection to those sins, and no plan of repentance. To treat the wounds of racism too lightly, or as a way to placate white guilt, rather than address racial sin nearly guarantees that the exercise will merely placate consciences while leaving a sin issue largely untouched in its treatment. 
Since racism is not a mere cultural or ethnic problem, and is a human fallen condition, we must seek the answers to those problems in something bigger than political, sociological or historical analysis. It must be examined in the heart of every individual, and not just one ethnic group. It must be based on the Scriptures, on true covenantal connection to a particular body, with a right view of repentance, sin, iniquity, covenant, and costly grace.
I am encouraged that a few of the Overtures (Overture 1 and 50 in particular) this year names particular sins, and directs the bodies of the church (presbyteries and local churches) to examine if and where they have occurred to address them at that level. I hope specificity and localness are embraced by the Assembly. Our sin problem is deep, and in need of deep exegesis, and deep grace from Christ to address. I pray we can see with the eyes of Scripture to address this problem without either creating artificial burdens or crying “peace, peace!” where there is no peace. 

-Review by Jared Nelson
Pastor New Life PCA
Aliquippa, PA   

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

PCA and Race: Reflective Review - Divided by Faith

Divided by Faith by Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith

One author may be familiar to the reader. Christian Smith is famous among evangelicals for coining the term “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” to describe the state of American Evangelicalism. This book, co-written with Michael Emerson, seeks to explore the issue of race in evangelicalism and how race divides the church today. While there are many aspects worthy of greater reflection, I wanted to highlight one concept worth considering:

Early in the book, the authors posit their position that America is a “racialized society.” By this term they mean:

In the post-Civil Rights United States, the racialized society is one in which intermarriage rates are low, residential separation and socioeconomic inequality are the norm, our definitions of personal identity and our choices of intimate associations reveal racial distinctiveness, and where 'we are never unaware of the race of the person with whom we interact.'” [page 7]

They also posit that race is a social construct. Many people say that, but it is refreshing that “social construct” has specific meaning - firstly that race is used to classify people (where foot size or ear shape is not) and secondly that race as social meaning.

In both of these observations they are just that: the reality as they observe it, not as it ought or ought not be. To talk about race is not to say that race should matter in the ways it does today, just that it does matter. There is much in the way of exposition and example of this, and how our racialized society leads to disparate results and institutionally affects individuals differently based on their race. I will not get into the detail, rather commend the book for how this displays itself. However, I will focus on just this one application:

APPLICATION: No one is colorblind. It has been popular to say “I don't see race.” However, only a blind man can say that with honesty. And even a blind man will notice differences in culture: language, concerns, attitudes, etc. Race has been associated in our minds with culture. And when cultures are different, we treat others differently. The authors are right that we live in a “racialized” society, for good or ill.

Which leads to this conclusion: We should not be color-blind, but race conscious. This isn't being a “social justice warrior” or someone that “raises awareness” for its own sake. But we should be aware when racialization causes us to act in sinful ways: needless separation, stereotyping, excluding, or just not venturing out in love.

To say “I am color blind” is actually a sort of “virtue-signaling.” It says something about how you see yourself, but not how 1) the world actually exists or 2) How you really see the world. No one is color blind in a racialized society. And it effects the church too.

This post is in part an encouragement to read the book, and I would recommend you do so with this reservation – Emerson and Smith seem quick to say the job of the church is to be involved in political movements to reform various laws that cause disparate racial consequences.

As a firm believer in the mission of the church as Word, Sacrament and Prayer – I would not say the church has nothing to say about race. Indeed, when we preach Ephesians 2:11-22, or Galatians 3:28, we better have something to say because Scripture has something to say. Yet, each person lives out their faith in their particular vocation. For a pastor to dictate, for example: specific and detailed legislation, is just as wise as a politician giving the Sunday Sermon, or for my CPA to perform an appendectomy. That's not their vocation.

But to conclude, this should inform those considering the upcoming PCA GA debate on race that indeed, this IS a needed and relevant topic. And if you claim you are “color-blind” odds are you are actually lying, firstly to yourself and secondly to others.

To conclude: our society has created institutions, actions, and conclusions based on race. Addressing them is not a matter of pretending they don't exist, but deal with reality as it exists, not as we wish it were.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

PCA and Race: Reflective Review of "The Last Segregated Hour"

"The Last Segregated Hour" by Stephen R. Haynes

Historian Stephen R. Haynes wrote an account of the effect of the civil rights movement on churches in the Memphis area for Oxford Books. One particular chapter has special relevance for the PCA, and that is chapter 12: “A Season of Prayer and Corporate Repentance”: Wrestling with the Past at Independent Presbyterian Church (IPC). Those in the PCA may recognize that Independent Presbyterian in Memphis is a church in the PCA. Below is my reflective review of that chapter.

A Summary of the Chapter:
Independent Presbyterian Church (which given Presbyterianism's connectional nature seems an oxymoron) began in schism over the move towards integration by way of rotational session membership (to get the resistance elders out presumably) by Second Presbyterian Church. 340 persons gathered for worship in the Plaza Theater in East Memphis in 1965. In other words, Independent Presbyterian Church (IPC), began its existence in a sinful resistance to the doctrine of the image of God in all persons, and the unity not only in Adam's blood, but Christ's blood. 
By the 1980s, the new members knew little of the founding principles of IPC. A pastor named Sartelle seemed to be aware of the past of the church, but largely ignored it, often working at odds with its spirit in mission projects in Memphis across racial lines.

When John Wilfong in the 1980s began bringing in African Americans in outreach opportunities, the past began to come into focus. As IPC became more involved in the community, the reputation and history of the church, known in the community, became a sore point of shame. During the Sartelle tenure, the segregation policy was quietly rescended, but nothing publicly stated. IPC joined the PCA in 2000, and Sartelle retired in 2005. 
When a new pastor named John Hardie took over, he mentioned parenthetically that the Bible does not ban interracial marriage. When conversations arose from that comment, Hardie called for repentance for those who held views against interracial marriage in the church. Eventually after a controversy and tension arose, Hardie resigned, and the session adopted rotating elder terms at IPC, like SPC had done years ago. Eventually with a new session and new pastor, IPC called for corporate repentance in regards to its past policies in 2012. 
To each of my readings, I hope to give some reflections to how this might be relevant to the current question before the PCA in regards to a denominational repentance. My numbered reflections on this text's relevance for the current discussion on race in the PCA:

FIRST: It is significant that IPC's racial sins preceded their membership in the PCA by 35 years. Also worth noting was that one pastor in practice reversed course by his actions, but without a public statement and acknowledgment by the church in words. Thus the next pastor tripped on landmines he didn't know existed.

SECOND: Even if actions of a body have changed, the reputation of a church can be hurt by past actions and sins of the corporate body, especially if those were public actions. Thus, public actions cannot be merely reversed by private and secret actions.

THIRDLY: The acts that were repented of originated in the body that committed them. IPC repented for their actions as a church, just as individuals were called on to repent of their actions as individuals. Absent from this process was confessing the sins of other courts (presbytery or general assembly). The session confessed and turned from their policies that their body had done. Individuals turned from their actions. A lesson to be learned: Confession and repentance should be located at the level in the body that the offense occurred.