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

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...