WHAT PART OF HISTORY DO YOU WISH TO EMPHASIZE?
One day I was in the basement of Covenant Seminary’s Library. Somewhere in the archives I found a little booklet that was called, The Reformed Presbyterian Principles. One of the things that jumped out at me was a statement that they would not swear allegiance to the Constitution of the United States as long as it did not acknowledge Christ as King and Lord and as long as it supported slavery. Somewhere along the line the Reformed Presbyterians have decided to acknowledge the Constitution. Obviously the Constitution has been amended and slavery has legally ended. It still hasn’t submitted the country to Jesus. Some years later I was a Teaching Elder in the RPCES when our denomination joined and was received by the PCA. When that happened I knew that I was inheriting a history and legacy of the Southern Presbyterian Church, although the PCA was new and created as a reactionary denomination to the liberal drift of the PCUS. I was encouraged by the fact that some of the men I knew in the formation of the PCA were men who wanted nothing to do with racism and certainly were not attempting to hold on to any racist vestiges of the Southern Church. The fact that there was a continuing racism in the new denomination was not a surprise to me, there had been some in the RPCES as well. I knew this from personal experience in being rebuffed from speaking and deputation engagements due to being inter-racially married. I have yearned to see more and more African American men become Teaching Elders in our denomination, as well as all other minority ethnic groups. I have seen this number grow from one to almost fifty in my time as a TE. I expect that growth to speed up tremendously as these men win others to Christ, disciple them in the Reformed Faith, and help train them theologically. I am encouraged by three African American Reformed University Teaching Elders at historically black institutions. This means that some black young men will be steered toward the PCA. Not only that but I see a growing group of young white Teaching Elders who want to plant multi-ethnic and cross cultural churches. I have seen the attitude of some of our agencies change as new leadership makes diversity a priority, and that not for any political reason but solely for the glory of God and the spread of the Kingdom of God to all the nations. I have seen some Presbyteries stand up to racism, deny transfer to a few who held racist views, and actually discipline instances of racism. At the same time there are those whose published racist views have not been repented of, those who evidently still hold those views allowed to not only be comfortable in their Presbytery but be honored. The fact of continued racism, of racist history, has been used by some to discourage men from joining the PCA. This history cannot be hidden simply because the entire history of our country and the struggle in the South for human and civil rights is no secret. Just because someone didn’t know something from history doesn’t mean anyone was hiding it. Racism is an embarrassing blemish on the wonderful and noble experiment of American freedom, but even worse, on the reputation of the Church of Jesus Christ. I was extremely gratified when the PCA took the step of a public repentance of our complicity with racism from our past, and those of us from the RPCES who could have stood up and said, “that wasn’t our history” voted with the rest as we have certainly inherited the results of that sinful past. So when I hear of brothers who are offended by the history of the PCA and almost act as if there is a conspiracy to hide that history it grieves me. One reason is that I believe the pursuit of justice needs allies, not more critics. Another is that it sometimes seems to me people pick and choose from history what they want to own. I love Martin Luther’s theology (the German guy) but I despise his views about the Jews. I love Thomas Jefferson’s words declaring independence, his concepts of universal human dignity as God given, while I despise his hypocrisy in owning slaves and using them for sexual gratification. I love Abraham Lincoln in what he did for America and for black people in particular, but am grieved when I realize how little he understood of equality though seemed to grow in understanding its concept. I just wonder if there was anyone in history who didn’t have some sin in his life, some blind spot, something really heinous in his or her views? I also wonder if there are better denominations who have no sins they tolerate? I don’t like it that some Presbyteries allow men to hold vicious ideas and doctrines that grieve and hurt their own brethren but I also know that we have church courts, we have a system of justice, and I am optimistic that eventually justice will prevail. I also know that as long as we are on this earth we will be a church with wrinkles and blemishes as we ask Jesus to make us a bride without blemish or spot. I am not asking for anyone to “just get over it.” I am asking everyone to “just deal with it.” If you have a case bring it, if you don’t know how then learn. There are no short cuts in church discipline (except repentance) and slander is not a godly option. My question is not about our past; if you hate it what can you do about it? Are you going to stop living in the South because of how it used to be, will you move from America because of how it used to be, or because on any given day we can still find instances of racism and hate? What extent will you go to in divorcing yourself from sin in other people? My question about our denomination is what attitude is ascendant? Is it seeking to follow King Jesus as he scatters his enemies, or is our denomination hiding his enemies? I certainly wouldn’t be in it if I didn’t believe it was holding (as shaky and as incomplete as it may be) to the Word of God and attempting to live for his glory. I for one remain in the denomination for conscience sake, I love the Word of God, I believe in accountability even when it comes back to bite me because I know I am prone to sin. I fight for change, everyday, in the matter of our racial and cultural demographics. If I was in some other denomination I would have to take up the fight there, but probably with less assurance that I could make a Biblical argument that would be heeded.