OPEN LETTER TO THE PRESBYTERIES
Dear Brothers in the various Presbyteries of the Presbyterian Church in America,
Greetings to all of you in Jesus name! I am writing as a response to the events at the General Assembly held this summer in Chattanooga, Tennessee. I am writing in an attempt to provide some ideas as to how Presbyteries and Sessions might proceed in thinking about and responding to a call for repentance for the actions or non-actions of our founders , or ourselves, during the time preceding and during the Civil Rights Movement and our national historic break with a segregationist past.
Now, I am aware that this letter may be unwelcome by some of you if you have already come to the opinion that there was no sin on our part, or the part of our founders, and think therefore that no corporate confession or repentance is necessary. There may be no acceptance that the sins contained in what we know as racism are continuing or that we (as PCA members of the dominant white culture in America) may have some responsibility concerning their reality and continuance. Obviously that conclusion has to be made first if there is to be any humble and open discussion of these matters.
I know that some Presbyteries have already begun to discuss this, with the assumptional foundation that there has indeed been sin, either of commission or omission, in regard to loving African Americans in particular and other ethnicities, besides ourselves, in general. Having been asked by several presbyteries about guidance in these matters I thought I would send out a general letter with some things to think and pray about that might help you as we prepare for next year’s General Assembly when these matters will again rise for discussion and action. I write this as an individual Teaching Elder with some experience in these matters, but I speak for no agency or organization as I do so.
I do write in the joyful optimism of the forgiveness of sins, the healing of the Body of Christ, and the anticipation of a reconciled community. I am in no way suggesting a kind of “witch hunt” or a shunning of people who have not yet come to my conclusions. I don’t believe racism is the “unforgiveable sin” except in the hard standard of the book of I John where hatred of our brothers means we cannot truly love God. I am writing with an awareness of my own sinfulness in so many areas of my own life, and an appreciation of God’s wonderful patience with me and the patience of many Christians who have prayed and yearned for my own spiritual growth and maturity. I yearn for it too.
Please forgive me for my presumption in regard to giving you any unsolicited advice, as I know not all of us have reached the same conclusions in these matters, although many have. I understand that if this letter offends you that you most likely won’t use any of my suggestions. Obviously I am writing with the conviction that there certainly has been sin in America, and sin in our churches, and sin in our hearts as members of the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is neither about the sins of government, nor about society in general, but our sins as Christians and by our denominational forefathers, and the negative results of sin that we might still encourage by our silence or passivity.
CONSIDERATIONS OF OUR PASTAND PRESENT IF SINFUL:
1. Were our denominational antecedents supportive of segregation, and resistant to the integration of minorities in our congregations?
2. Was our particular congregation supportive or active in segregation, and resistant to the inclusion of minorities into the life of our congregations due to racial attitudes of superiority, or disdain for minorities?
3. Did any of our congregations begin on purpose as a segregated congregation?
4. Were any of our founders, as expressed in their actions and writings supportive of segregation or held racist views of minorities, and have we failed to confront them?
5. Have any of our founders or present ministers used the Scripture in ways that distorted and misinterpret the Word of God due to a racial bias, to include such teachings as the curse on Canaan in Genesis 9, the using of ethnic and national segregation for purity purposes in the Old Testament as a prescriptive teaching for our own American experience, the teaching in 2 Corinthians 6 about not being unequally yoked together with unbelievers as a teaching against inter-racial marriage? Have we failed to call them to a more correct use of exegesis and interpretation?
6. Have we indulged those who were racist in our congregations and failed to confront them in not loving their neighbor as themselves, or not loving their brothers who also confess Christ?
7. Have we told racist jokes from the pulpit or in company with other church leaders and members?
8. Have we cast minorities as negative stereotypes in our sermons and teaching?
9. Have we purposefully made choices about our evangelism and discipleship to avoid racial and ethnic minorities, or as an attempt to resist their entrance into our churches, schools, or agencies?
10. Have we cared nothing about justice for minorities, or those who have been oppressed socially in this country, and stood by and said nothing about prejudice, attitudes of racial superiority, laws and policies that economically exploited and hurt ethnic groups purposefully and in return acted to our own racial and ethnic advantage? Have we neglected the weightier matters of the Law?
CONSIDERATIONS OF PROCESS TO DISCUSS AND PRAY THROUGH THESE MATTERS:
1. Schedule time to discuss, think, and pray about these matters in your meetings.
2. Have someone preach from Scripture relevant to these matters.
3. Invite experienced Teaching Elders who think, write, or teach about these matters to speak to your Presbytery, Session, or Congregation.
4. Have open discussion times, or a Committee of the Whole, to discuss these matters.
5. Welcome personal moments of testimony or confession, and cover those saints with prayer and assurance of love.
6. Find and circulate a reading list about these subjects from a Biblical perspective, buy books and distribute them to your members to help them.
7. Pursue ethnic minorities for discussion and input, ask for their advice.
8. Don’t place the burden of plans for action on the backs of ethnic minorities by asking them what we are to do, but certainly ask for their wisdom and perspective on these things. Remember, no one person can speak for a whole people group and it is not fair to ask them to do so. Minority individuals may differ in their opinion concerning these issues or what actions we should take.
9. Come up with a Presbytery plan of action. Is there a committee that should be established to help the whole presbytery think about issues of justice and inclusion on a regular basis? Is there an overture that should be sent to General Assembly that would help the whole denomination think and deal with these things? Is there a statement that should be made in your own local community or region to ethnic leaders or ethnic and minority congregations and pastors? Is there some kind of meeting that should be held with them to help bring reconciliation?
10. What meaningful discussions can we have about mono-racial churches, both in the majority population and in minority populations? When and why is that Biblical, healthy, and glorifying to God and when is it not?
IDEAS FOR ACTION:
1. Include racial history and attitudes in your Presbytery exams. If racism is a sign of ungodly character, then hold members accountable for it. In examining for church history make sure candidates understand this part of our denomination’s history.
2. If there are significant minority populations in the area of your presbytery is the presbytery proactive in seeking to plant churches in those areas? What would it take to be successful in seeing PCA churches planted in minority communities?
3. Is the Presbytery active in seeking to initiate Gospel ministry on any HBCU institutions in your boundary?
4. What efforts have we made in insuring multi-racial involvement on any of our agency boards of committees? How can we make sure racial minorities and their perspectives are included in these national ministries?
5. Are we keeping an eye on racial inclusion and racial and ethnic enlargement on faculties, campus ministries, missionary teams and candidates, and staff?
6. Are we encouraging all of our Teaching and Ruling elders to learn cross cultural skills in ministry?
7. What kind of financial support do we need to provide for recruiting, educating, training, credentialing, and deploying minorities into PCA ministry? What plans can we make to raise that money?
May the Lord help all of us move toward peace, healing, and unity in the Body of Christ over these issues. May the Lord give us all wonderful moments of love and reconciliation as we pursue these discussions.
The Peace of the Lord be with you, and His Church,
Teaching Elder(HR), Tennessee Valley Presbytery