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

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.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

PCA and Race: Reflective Review of "The Dangers of National Repentance"

An Essay by C.S. Lewis: The Dangers of National Repentance. [Found in God in the Dock]

C.S. Lewis did much of his best writing and reflection in the era during and after the Second World War. This essay ("The Dangers of National Repentance") was written in response to a drive to declare a national repentance and confession of sin in England for their part in guilt for the war.

A Summary of Lewis' thesis:

“They are ready to believe that England bears part of the guilt for the present war, and ready to admit their own share in the guilt of England.” 

But Lewis wonders: “What that share is, I do not find it easy to determine.” 

and goes on to ask: “Are they, perhaps repenting what they have in no sense done?

A few more relevant lines:

Men fail so often to repent their real sins that the occasional repentance of an imaginary sin might appear almost desireable.”

 But Lewis then goes on to illustrate the perils of doing so: "The young man who is called upon to repent of England's foreign policy is really being called upon to repent the acts of his neighbor.” 

 So that: “The first and fatal charm of national repentance is, therefore, the encouragement it gives us to turn from the bitter task of repenting our own sins to the congenial one of bewailing – but first of denouncing – the conduct of others.”

Lewis goes on to reflect that: “A group of such young penitents will say, 'Let us repent our national sins': what they mean is 'Let us attribute to our neighbor (even our Christian neighbor) in the Cabinet, whenever we disagree with him, every abominable motive that Satan can suggest to our fancy.”

This doesn't mean that Lewis rejects that there may be a need for national repentance, or that national repentance may need to be preached by the church ("It think it is" says Lewis).  Rather, Lewis goes on to say that national repentance may be necessary, but only with a discharge of “reluctance.” Just as one should not gain too much delight out of rebuking one's mother.


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. Though I would also recommend on this essay to read it for yourself, since the essay is short (5 pages). I think all PCA elders would gain something from reading it. My numbered reflections on Lewis' essay:

FIRST: Lewis in my opinion is right to warn of some of the self-righteous dangers of an endeavor of group repentance. Often this can be confessing the sins of one's neighbor, rather than your own sins. In those cases “we” really means “they.” Thus, there must be some reflection on the personal nature of such a confession. Is this the confession of a true acting collective whole, or the acting of one group or generation against another? Lewis warns of the violation of the Fifth Commandment if one is labeling something sin that is not, or just airing the sins of one's fathers unnecessarily. So two lessons from this point:

 1. One must be careful that in covenantal repentance, you are not confessing the sins of others, especially without their permission.

2. One must guard against passion for the sins of others, that distracts from one's confessing of your own sins.

SECOND: On the other hand, Lewis is also right to say there can be need of national repentance. Nothing in Lewis' essay, nor in the Scriptures, bars national repentance or what I would call "covenantal repentance" of a group body. If a group is constituted as a collective, and acts for the whole, then it commits acts for good or ill. Those acts should either be celebrated or repented of, respectively. Thus, there comes times when a group must repent of sinful acts and actions taken by the whole. The Lesson:

  1. Covenantal repentance is valid, yet even when necessary must do so, it should have a tone of solemness and perhaps reluctance. We ought to honor our fathers, even if we must confess their and our iniquities as one body.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

PCA and Race: Reflective Reviews of Books

 "A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion." -Proverbs 18:2

Over the next few weeks and months, I intent to write and explore what I have been studying over the past few months on the topic of race. I have refrained from interacting and sharing my opinion for the reason of the above proverb. I sought understanding, not opinion. The books I read come from various perspectives and were recommended to me from those of a variety of perspectives on race. I do not offer these books as endorsements, but to share what I have read and gained, what was helpful and what was not. I pray it is helpful for your own pursuits, especially if this is discovered by other PCA Teaching Elders preparing for the next General Assembly.

Take and read with understanding.

-Teaching Elder Jared Nelson

Thursday, June 18, 2015

PCA and Race Part 3: Some of my particular Questions I am exploring...

Here are some my honest questions I am exploring:

  1. What does it mean for a denomination to confess/repent? What is the nature and purpose of the repentance of an organization (or nation, or covenant community) as opposed to an individual?
  2. What specific acts are in view for the General Assembly to confess and repent of (or directing congregations and individuals to repent of)? We are told to confess our particular sins, particularly, so what are the particular sins? (What History do I need to be familiar with to make that determination?)
  3. What are the particular sins that my presbytery may need to repent of? What are the particular sins of my church? What does that look like?
  4. Are we mostly looking at sins of omission? If so, what act was necessary and was not pursued?
  5. In a confession of a sin in regards to the civil realm or ecclesial realm?
  6. Can we confess this sin if the ones confessing are not the ones who sinned (at least in this particular way) and if those who are committing these sins presently are NOT repentant?
  7. How can action by the upper court remedy local problems?
  8. What does passing this resolution mean? What does this confession do? How is repentance different from confession?
  9. What fruits of repentance must flow from such a confession?
  10. What role does the RPCES tradition (which is as much a part of the history and ancestry of the PCA as the PCUS and continuing church movement) play in such a repentance?
  11. If there are individuals and churches that were active in racial reconciliation and civil rights, does this need to be acknowledged (if it is necessary for their sin to be acknowledged, how about their good works)?
  12. How does a theology of the covenant affect those who are in the same denomination?

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The PCA and Race Part 2: Why I was confused...

Knowing now what the debate at the final session of the 43rd General Assembly of the PCA was about (confessing our denominations shortcomings in regards to the issue of race especially in regards to civil rights), here's why I was confused at the final session of General Assembly:

The unanimous decision of the committee seemed very wise to take time to do this right. I heard so many questions like: “What are we confessing, in particular?” and “Is this saying we are all a bunch of racists?” and “Is this just another piece of paper that makes us feel good but does nothing?” or “If two Southern ministers (Duncan and Lucas) can't call us to repentance, who can?”

You can see the range of those questions. A few wondered at any need for the resolution or action on this issue of race and the PCA (after all, the 30th General Assembly did something very similar to this). Many were cynical whether the resolution did anything but say words without actions, where there was a real need for the denomination to act. I actually met very few people that were satisfied with the resolution as is.

Such a range, in addition to what seemed like a majority of the AAPF (African American Presbyterian Fellowship) wanting to delay the resolution to perfect it until next year, should give us pause about interpreting the vote in one way or another, or imputing motives to either side. This was in fact something I heard on both sides, a suspicion at their vote.

Now, let me make my position known: I voted in the majority to refer the issue to the next assembly. I also did not sign the protest of that action (you can read a very positive account of it: here by TE Tim LeCroy), nor do I regret not signing it for I believe unless this is done right, every decade or so, it will be redone with similar results.

I'll also admit this, that I myself was cynical and suspected motives: I told a friend before the Assembly started that the resolution was toothless, and did more to placate consciences and white guilt about the past, than to actually address particular sins that exist in the denomination (and I believe particular sins do truly exist and are harmful to individuals and our witness, but none seemed to be particularly named by the resolution). So my original desire was actually to vote to accept the Resolution, merely to avoid the being misunderstood as being in the camp that thinks all is well on race issues, when really I believed the resolution was too weak and vague and broad. In other words, I went in too cynical, and expected everyone to be shamed into doing something fairly routine, that would happen again when we realized the words on paper didn't really do much.

With the Committee's recommendation, I was pleasantly surprised. I heard not a few members of the committee remark on their surprise and thankfulness at the unanimity that came out of the committee (which originally was divided) to so something right, rather than just do something right now.It sounded as if the committee actually listened to each other and wasn't suspecting motives. I was somewhat rebuked!

That's why I was confused on the floor, as it seemed some of my fears played out. When the unanimous recommendation came down, it was met by opposition and visible anger in at least one speaker, who had seen the division in the committee before the unanimity after talking to the AAPF. There was a cry to do it now, and that immediacy was more important than accuracy (as I heard at least one speaker make that case). As the issue was discussed, the old suspicion of motives seemed to reappear...even in myself of others.

Yet, during the discussion, I realized it was happening, and I also realized I shouldn't merely declare “I'm confused” or “I don't understand this” but own that. So here's my confession: I am confused and I don't understand all the issues involved, as before us is both present and past sins, the nature of group versus individual responsibility, and issues that predate my time in the denomination as well as my very existence. As I have struggled to understand the current issues, I perhaps need to revisit the history. I needed this year to do that, and to talk to the people I may have suspected of acting out of rashness or white guilt. That is suspecting motives, and I need to listen before I make those sorts of judgments.

As for me, this is my ambivalence (note: rightly understood, ambivalence is not apathy, but two opposing inclinations in the same person that live in tension.)

I was ordained in the PCA in 2011. I joined a PCA church in 2007. I was born in the North in 1981. The PCA was formally founded in 1973. There are many chronological reasons to say the the Civil Rights Movement that achieved its greatest victories in the 1960s is an issue of the past, and one for which I am not affected or culpable. But I don't know if that really is true. I live in the world the 1960s created, for good and ill. I am in a church that dates back to 1823. I am in the Presbyterian Tradition in America that dates back to the 1700s.

Also, while I may have never owned slaves nor denied someone access to a business based on their ethnicity (the sins of the previous generation), those sins shape the present. At the present, particular churches and individuals may have held prejudicial views, looked down on another ethnicity afflicted with the legacy of the sins of the previous generations, and even tolerated in our churches those who were members of a group whose purpose was to harm people of certain ethnicities. The sins of this generation are not necessarily the sins of our fathers, but are shaped by the sins of our fathers. While I am not guilty of sin merely for the color of my skin (white), I have perhaps learned sins, and tolerated sins in community.

I will post occasionally as I read the history, study the theology of covenantal repentance, and explore the issue in my own church and my own presbytery. These posts are for my own benefit (since I often think better when writing), but thought it may benefit others, especially other Teaching Elders in the PCA who may be starting a similar journey in response to the direction of the Assembly.

So I ask you, if you follow this, to be patient. When I ask questions, I don't have all the answers...so that's why I ask them. When I read, I am not inclined to agree with every author but to consider their perspective and ideas.

Here, I will share what I read, some thoughts in respect to conversations I have, and what I discover in my context concerning this issue.

NEXT: Some of my particular Questions I am exploring...

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The PCA and Race Part 1: Confused in Chattanooga

“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 prayerfully to consider any and all sins of racial prejudice and to pursue a proper course of action humbly, sincerely and expeditiously. (Matthew 5:21-25; Ephesians 2:1-22, 4:1-32)” - Grounds of the Overture Committee of the 43rd General Assembly for referring a Personal Resolution on Race to the 44th General Assembly.

This is an introduction, which is partly in response to the expressed desires of the 43rd General Assembly. I want to take some time over the next year to read, learn, talk, think and especially listen about an issue that was before the last session of the Assembly. So, first, a short introduction may be necessary about what that issue was about:

At the final session of the 43rd Assembly there was a desperate effort to somehow reverse the unanimous recommendation (80 to 0) of the Committee, even by members of the Committee that originally filed a minority report, then withdrew it, then regretted withdrawing it. Originally the delay on the measure was passed unanimously after conferring with several members of the the AAPF (African American Presbyterian Fellowship) a new group in the PCA. However, some of that group did not agree and believed action was needed now.

Confused yet? You aren't alone. I would say confusion was my dominant state while listening to speaker after speaker passionately oppose what had been a unanimous decision regarding the overture. What was this overture that was submitted to this Assembly to consider?

Personal Resolution On Civil Rights Remembrance

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 Lucas
TE Ligon Duncan

How had the Overture Committee responded?

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).

Next: Why I am Confused...