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

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...

1 comment:

Brent said...

I share many of your thoughts. I was born in 1977. I was raised in the PCA and was ordained in 2006. I am a graduate of Covenant Seminary. My hang up in all of this is the lack of the biblical evidence of sin. I have heard the terms of generational/covenantal repentance, but I am yet to see this doctrine described. It is always assumed, not exegeted. We are on dangerous grounds when we assume Scripture to be teaching something. In fact, the assumption of doctrine is one of the hallmarks of liberalism. So, can someone please explain to me the doctrine of covenantal repentance?

I have other thoughts on this as well, but Scripture is where we must begin.