Justice

Reflections from a Black Presbyterian on the PCA’s Overture on Racial Reconciliation

Comments (24)
  1. Nate says:

    Interesting analysis, thank you for posting. Fortunately for the world I am not an elder in the PCA. If I were I may have been one of the ones to vote against the statement, not because I am unconcerned with racial unity and reconciliation, but rather because my knee jerk reaction to this kind of thing is to be very pessimistic. I am always suspicious of the motivation and rarely convinced of the need. You did a good job of addressing that kind of pessimism and other objections but there is one thing that still leaves me feeling hollow. The PCA did not exist during the civil right’s era. In fact it was founded in 1973. Pardon my ignorance, I did not start attending reformed presbyterian churches until 2005 and geographically in a variety of locations spanning from Los Angeles to Houston. I have no experience with the south eastern PCA culture directly. Did the PCA corporately engage from the 1970s forward in:

    “the exclusion of persons from Church membership on the basis of race; the exclusion of churches, or elders, from membership in the Presbyteries on the basis of race; the teaching that the Bible sanctions racial segregation and discourages inter-racial marriage; the participation in and defense of white supremacist organizations”???

    Even if so, the statement ties directly to the civil rights era. How can an organization repent of something that occurred before its existence? Or was it “our fathers” language that ties the PCA to the civil rights era? Like I said, your analysis went a long way to addressing that kind of pessimism, but how do you address this statement covers a time before the PCA existed? Perhaps there is an easy answer and one about which I am just ignorant.

    Thanks!

  2. Tim Reisinger says:

    Jemar: Thank you for you encouraging words. One of the things I learned from Peacemaker Ministries is the essential need for forgiveness in matters of reconciliation. I perceive a flaw in the overture in that, while it did confess and repent, it (and the PCA) did not actually ask for forgiveness. To me, asking for forgiveness takes an extra bit of humility. It would be a beautiful thing and a furtherance of healing, for our black brothers in the PCA to express forgiveness to the PCA. Of course, we as the ones requesting forgiveness have no right to demand it, only to beg for it. I’m not sure how this expression of forgiveness could be done. Perhaps some kind of a resolution to be presented to next year’s GA? It would truly be a beautiful thing for both repentance and forgiveness to be formally expressed in the PCA.

  3. Craig says:

    @ Chris,

    No problem brother. I should mention a couple of things as well…

    1. It might be much better to contact Jemar via the RAAN Facebook Group. I’ll say that because it’s more likely that you would get his or Tyler’s feedback in that forum than him responding to a blog meta section. I’d say that would be the primary means by which the staff interacts with certain questions. From what I understand (I don’t have Facebook) it’s a private group that you have to request to join, but once they let you in you can ask the question and perhaps receive feedback from Jemar. Just a suggestion so that you don’t get your hopes up waiting for him to respond. I know he’s extremely busy with teaching and other responsibilities. I don’t think it’s a stretch also to say that there may be a Pass the Mic podcast in the future concerning the recent PCAGA.

    2. I would commend you highly to Dr. Duncan’s remarks above. Just to clarify, my remarks about race relations in the PCA takes it’s major emphasis from the actual language found in Overture 43:

    “Therefore be it resolved, that the 44th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America does recognize, confess, condemn and repent of corporate and historical sins, including those committed during the Civil Rights era, and continuing racial sins of ourselves and our fathers such as the segregation of worshipers by race; the exclusion of persons from Church membership on the basis of race; the exclusion of churches, or elders, from membership in the Presbyteries on the basis of race; the teaching that the Bible sanctions racial segregation and discourages inter-racial marriage; the participation in and defense of white supremacist organizations; and the failure to live out the gospel imperative that “love does no wrong to a neighbor” (Romans 13:10)…”

    I just wanted to distinguish and clear up what I meant from some of the previous remarks above that paint the denomination as one that was created “solely” for the basis of discrimination. I sincerely believe, as stated in the overture, that the denomination’s actions stemmed from a deficiency in the full understanding of what the church is commanded to do in the second table of the Law.

    Grace to you…

    Craig

    1. Chris says:

      Thanks Craig. I figured you were referring back to the overture. I’m not on FB either so I will simply wait for a response here. If it doesn’t come, that’s okay. I understand he’s busy.

      Since we’re clarifying, a different Chris asked about segregation of worshipers. All of my correspondence has concluded with CPT.

      Peace to you.

      CPT

  4. g says:

    Am I to understand that overture 44 affirms that there are not enough qualified black men now to fill openings of leadership in the PCA?

  5. Dwaine Whitley says:

    In answer to Chris’ question to Jemar (some reflections):

    As a black Presbyterian my repentance would be the same as yours going forward. It will require a more acceptance of my white brethren (faults and all) and an intentional effort to be reconciled as a covenant people i.e. practice Matthews 18 to the max….just some thoughts….DW.

    1. Chris says:

      Dwaine,

      Absolutely! I understand that going forward it looks the same. My question is in regards to past/generational sins. Is there a tension created in repenting of sins of your spiritual fathers perpetrated against your physical fathers? Does that make sense or am I way off?

      Thanks for responding.

      CPT

      1. Dwaine Whitley says:

        I don’t really see any tension. Both groups of fathers are sinful humans. “Repenting of sins of my spiritual fathers” says to me that I must be willing to “call a spade a spade” i.e., if my favorite theologian was wrong and racist at some point, I should call him out and correct his teaching, attitude, or actions. Perhaps, I am misunderstanding your question, so I’ll be quiet until Jamar responds….I did, however, wanted to add to my previous comments that another part of my repentance is being will to forgive…..DW.

      2. Chris says:

        DW,

        Thanks so much for responding. I appreciate your willingness to help me. Forgiveness and true accountability are both definitely a part of repentance.

        CPT

  6. chris says:

    Did the PCA actually segregate worshippers by race? I wasn’t aware that they had ever done that.

    1. Ra says:

      Part of the reason the PCA was formed was to allow churches to turn away blacks at their doors. When they had done that in the mainline church, they had been brought up on charges. So, they structured the PCA’s government in a way that vested sovereignty in the local congregation.

      1. Ligon Duncan says:

        Ra – That statement is false and demonstrably untrue. The PCA stated openly and officially from the beginning that we are a church for all races. Neither the PCUS, nor the PC(USA) has ever disciplined anyone for “turn[ing] away blacks at their doors. In fact, it appears that the PCA is the only Presbyterian/Reformed denomination in North American history to discipline an officer simply on the basis of racism.

        I was an author of the PMV statement on racism and repentance, and of the pastoral letter recommended by the PCA GA to its presbyteries, so I fully understand the many and serious things that the PCA has to repent of, but what you say in this comment above is simply untrue.

  7. Bart Harmon says:

    Jemar, thank for your very encouraging and gracious response to last weeks’ GA and the overtures. I agree with your sentiments. I had the privilege of attending your seminar Wednesday–very well done. I am proud to have guys like you (I mean–young, smart, articulate advocates for the gospel of Jesus Christ) in our denomination. May your tribe increase!

  8. Jon says:

    Great reflections, here. I particularly appreciate your 5th comment about having realistic expectations. I am very glad PCA has decided to move forward with this motion…it only took us 50 freaking years. Jeeeeze.

    To me this was the most blaring of several issues our church has when it comes to the most basic of human rights. My understanding is the role of women in the church is under review as well. I am tremendously uncomfortable with the PCA’s current views on women in the context of community and worship. It’s frankly dangerous to stand on the platform we do today in the world we live in. If people knew about it and we talked about it more often, I can’t imagine a single person coming from outside of church culture would feel drawn into community and more importantly into Jesus by what we say the role of women is in our church. These and other ways we are stuck in our conservative, “reformed” ways threaten our ability to extend the Gospel to the world around us and it needs to keep changing.

    To speak to CPT’s comment…white, arrogant, prideful, Presbyterian men are the problem. I know because I am one of them.

    1. Chris says:

      Jon,

      Agreed. The sins of pride and arrogance of white men have been and continue to be a problem. I count myself among that number as well.

      But that doesn’t “speak to my comment”. I asked a genuine question regarding something you and I don’t have to wrestle with as white men. I’m simply trying to understand how this all works out practically speaking for our African American brothers who, as covenantal members of the PCA, were called to corporately confess and repent of sins of their spiritual fathers perpetrated against their physical fathers. You and I can’t understand that, in my opinion, without help, and I was simply willing to try.

      As to your comment regarding the role of women, people are not drawn into community or into Jesus by our view of women in the church. In other words, a more culturally palatable position on women’s roles is not the answer, the Gospel is. I also fail to see how our current position is “dangerous”. If we are, through the study committee, seeking to determine the strongest biblical position possible we have nothing to fear, even if that position is counter-cultural. But if we are simply seeking to be more culturally pleasing, that is another story altogether (Matthew 10:26-33).

      CPT

      1. Jon says:

        I don’t want to launch into a debate with you about the role of women in the church on an article that is about racial reconciliation because that detracts from who we should be honoring in this context.

        That said, I can’t stand to let someone continue to sip the Kool-Aid of our obviously misguided forefathers (i.e. Overture 43) that only necessitates articles like this one. The scripture that is used to support our current platform of “headship” is pigeonholed references strung together to justify a 1920s misogynist view of women…if you look at the passages in their context, they fall flat to stand for what we claim they do. Those scripture references are also from corrective passages Paul assigned to specific churches in a specific time…never intended to be leveled up to the utmost position of the church on women’s rights and roles. You pair that with the fact that Jesus consistently deployed women in roles of authority and leadership to carry out his ministry and the whole thing unravels further.

        To speak to what’s dangerous. The headiness of our church has a sometimes insurmountable cultural learning curve. What keeps people around long enough to catch up to speed is community. The way we assign gender roles has SO many deeply rooted implications for the culture of our community. If people who don’t know Jesus can’t find a place in our community because it feels so foreign and/or dated, we can’t expect them to stick around long enough to experience the Gospel. I appreciate your theory about what draws people in (the Gospel). But I assure – our current stance on women’s rights and roles threatens and undermines our ability to extend that Gospel to unchurched people. In service of WHAT? Doing church good? Give me a break.

        I’m not very smart. Here’s further reading:
        http://www.beliefnet.com/columnists/bibleandculture/2009/10/why-arguments-against-women-in-ministry-arent-biblical.html

        All this being said – we certainly need to holdfast to biblical principles, but I am afraid if we continue to dig our heels in and resist on certain topics (not every topic) that offer multiple interpretations we will be left a useless branch of the holy catholic church, no longer able to carry out the true mission of the church ultimately thrown in the fire. Let’s not forget what Paul said about being palatable in 1 Corin 9.

      2. Chris says:

        Jon,

        I hate to see what I would have received had you launched into a debate; and I do wish to remain on topic because I genuinely want to understand it, so I will refrain from any counter points on this rabbit trail. And no, your arguments aren’t convincing, my Kool-aid is getting warm.

        CPT

  9. Chris says:

    Mr. Tisby,

    Thank you for your summary and thoughtful response to the vote on Overture 43. I am grateful to you, Dr. Duncan and Dr. Lucas for your leadership throughout this past year that led to the very important, even historic, vote. I am also grateful for your charity toward those who voted “no” for, as you stated, there were probably a great number of reasons, many of which were not racist in nature.

    Due to your response and your position, I believe you are the one to answer a question I have had since reflecting on the discussion and vote while on my way home from GA. My question is this. . . How do you, as an African American Presbyterian, “recognize, confess, condemn and repent of corporate and historical sins” of our PCA fathers? How do predominately African American congregations do the same?

    I feel as though the wording of the resolution and all of the discussion/debate was speaking to the corporate and historical sins of white Presbyterians and churches and, as a result, would create a tension within you and my other African American fathers and brothers. Am I wrong? If not, how do you resolve that tension of owning the corporate sin of the offender and at the same time forgiving as the offended and/or on behalf of the offended of the past?

    Does that make sense? Am I completely off base? I am genuinely trying to understand. Maybe I’m thinking too much.

    Again, I am thankful for what took place and look forward to what lies ahead as a result. Any help you or others could lend would be appreciated.

    Peace.

    CPT

    1. Craig says:

      Hi Chris,

      I don’t want to speak for Jemar, but the beauty of corporate repentance is indeed that in the process all those connected covenantally in the community share both the blessings as well as the burden to repent and forgive. As has been noted in an earlier comment, historically the denomination was formed specifically for the purpose of a “continuing church”, with the exclusion of people of color being one of the primary objectives. In many ways, through the repentance of my White brothers, I can reflect on and ponder upon the equally important task and challenge of forgiving them as we reconcile as covenant members of one body. As Black men who have aligned ourselves with the PCA, one example for us in this season would be to repent of any ways that we or our fathers may have responded indifferently, whether known or unknown, to any offers of gospel reconciliation from the fathers and sons of our White brothers and sisters within the context of Presbyterianism at-large. Although there may be scant evidence of this (if any), should there be any hint of this occurring in the past brought up by our brothers, corporate repentance for Blacks in the PCA would be similar to what our White brothers have done, albeit on an infinitely smaller scale. However, I think you would be hard pressed to find any inclination of that in the records, minutes, testimony and ethos of both the PCA, and preceding PCUS denomination. Hope this helps a bit…

      In Him,

      Craig

      1. Chris says:

        Craig,

        I am grateful you didn’t wait for Jemar. Your response directly answers my question. In my mind, the issue was solely one of confession and repentance not forgiveness or even repentance for potential rejection of true attempts at gospel reconciliation that may have occurred. And I would like to say probably did occur, though as you said, on a considerably smaller scale. I think it would be safe to say those occasions were seldom and definitely the rare exception to the general rule. I would hope, however, that there was a remnant during that awful time and would love for stories of such to come forward if possible. I think it would do everyone good.

        Thank you so much. The question has been rattling around in my head for four days. It has been answered.

        But Jemar, I would still like to hear any thoughts you might have to add to Craig’s.

        Peace brothers.

        CPT

    2. Jemar Tisby says:

      Chris,

      I appreciate your thoughtful question. For the me the answer is quite simple. If I choose to be a member of the PCA, then I must accept all that comes with it. That includes many positive aspects such as: robust, confessional Reformed theology, careful church polity, rigorous standards for ordination, connections to countless godly men and women in the denomination. But it also comes with the baggage of overt and covert racism. Many of us didn’t commit personal, individual acts of racism, but as members of a covenant community, we recognize we are a flawed family, but a family still. This overture encourages me because now we have a statement voted on at the General Assembly that condemns complicity with a segregated and unequal social system during the Civil Rights era and beyond. As an African American in the PCA, I believe I can make a convincing case to anyone, especially other ethnic minorities, that many in the PCA are serious about racial justice. God’s power to redeem is displayed to his glory in this overture and the PCA generally.

      1. Chris says:

        Mr. Tisby,

        Thanks for your response. I know you are busy and can’t reply to everyone, nor should you be expected to do so.

        My prayer is that the overture would be very practical on a local church and presbytery level as I believe it’s supposed to. Therefore, I’m trying to ask questions logically and practically as well as theologically to do my part in making that happen.

        Peace to you.

        CPT

      2. Craig says:

        Jemar,

        Thanks for the pinpoint answer and helpful response to Chris’ question.

        I’ve been appreciative of RAAN’s work since it’s inception, and Lord willing I look forward to finally meeting you in person when you speak in Richmond next month.

        In Him,

        Craig

  10. Bob Sawyer says:

    Thanks, Jemar. Your words aren’t simply reflections. They are a real encouragement to elders in our church—brother to brother, friend to friend. We need to keep being encouraged, and challenged and confronted when necessary, toward brotherly affection and love.

    Since we are a connectional church, we understand that because we belong to Christ, so also we belong to each other in Christ. That is his doing, not ours. We look forward to continuing to explore and deepen this relationship together, finding ways to ‘confess our sins to one another and pray for one another.’

    Very grateful for you and the whole RAAN family.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *