What is the Overture on Racial Reconciliation all about?
At the 44th General Assembly of the PCA this summer, one of the most anticipated votes was on the overtures dealing with racial reconciliation. There were 43 overtures dealing with this issue and many of them were combined to produce what was overwhelmingly passed by the General Assembly. The purpose of the statement was to “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”. Sins cited include exclusion of membership based on race, the false teachings of Biblical support for racial segregation and against interracial marriage, and a general lack of living out the Gospel imperative to love our neighbors.
This idea for corporate confession and repentance was introduced last year by Sean Lucas, who had recently written a book on the history of the PCA. During his research, he encountered many instances of unbiblical teaching on the issue of race, active racial discrimination and a failure to speak out against prejudice and injustice.
The PCA was not even formed until 1973 so how can we be responsible for things that happened during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s?
- The history of many PCA churches reaches back much further than 1973. So while our denomination holds tightly to the rich history of the reformed tradition of the Presbyterian church in our nation, it also inherits its warts and failures.
- Things confessed in this statement weren’t confined to the history of our churches before 1973 but have been found to exist in some PCA churches even into the 21st century.
- Demographics of our denomination suggest that there are things in the culture of the PCA that have made it difficult for people of color to feel comfortable. For example:
- Covenant Theological Seminary (our denomination’s seminary) did not hire its first non-caucasian, full-time professor until the late 2000’s
- Out of more than 4,400 teaching elders currently in the PCA, only 51 (1.2%) are black.
This has all sparked a much needed conversation in our denomination about this issue. Several individuals, including some of the founding leaders of the PCA, have publicly confessed and repented. It has opened the door for minorities in our denomination to speak honestly about past hurts and work together towards a healthy future.
Why does it matter?
“Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility.” (Ephesians 2:12-14)
Racial tension and division are nothing new, and Paul’s words to the early church in Ephesus are just as relevant for us today. It is the Gospel that has the power to make us one in Christ regardless of race or culture.
Therefore, as tensions are mounting, the church has the ability to show that only Jesus has the power to break down the dividing walls of hostility and bring peace. In a culture that often views faith in Jesus as irrelevant and unhelpful, we have an opportunity to be salt and light by actively pursuing peace and friendship between all races and cultures in our community. A Biblical worldview responds with love, empathy, and understanding for those different from us instead of letting the popular culture and news soundbites define our attitudes and beliefs. And as we listen to more voices different from our own, God reveals to us the blind spots in our own hearts.
Racial reconciliation is not the goal of a gospel-centered church and life, but it is clear from Scripture that it’s a beautiful fruit of it.
How does it affect Faith Presbyterian?
The overture calls each church to use a pastoral letter as a guide to examine our church’s past in this area and identify practical steps to move forward. (Read the entire letter here.) It is worth the time to read.
I challenge you not to let this simply be words on a page and a moment that passes. This has the potential to be a catalyst for changing the culture of our church and community for better for generations to come. Let’s use this as a starting place for Gospel-fueled change.
“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” (James 1:19)
Our tendency is usually to be slow to listen and quick to defend ourselves. Listen and learn from our African American brothers and sisters in Christ. Read, ask questions, listen and ask God for the ability to consider what they have to say with an open mind.
Attached is a list of resources to get started. It is purposefully a long list but it is far from complete. The idea is not to get through it quickly so you can move on to the next thing but to consider carefully what is being said and allow God to shape your thoughts, feelings and actions through His Word and His people.
“To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Thessalonians 1:11-12)
Praying is the most powerful thing we can do. We will have neither the ability nor the desire to enter into this conversation without the grace of God powerfully at work in us. So pray! The linked pastoral letter has suggestions for prayers of confession, thankfulness and hope.
“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:8-9)
Acknowledging that racism exists and acknowledging that there are things that need to change both inside and outside the church (and ourselves) is half the battle. The pastoral letter says that “acknowledgement doesn’t come easy for many evangelical Christians, for a variety of reasons. As we have already noted, many evangelical Christians view today’s discussions of racism as just another example of political correctness being foisted on the church… Hence, when the subject is introduced some respond by saying ‘It’s time to move on.’ But we also need to realize and acknowledge how hard this discussion is for our African American brothers and sisters in the church. They too, are often ‘tired’ of this conversation, but not for the same reason many white evangelical Christians are. Black Christians are ‘tired’ of having to justify the validity and relevance of the conversation in the first place, and are often deeply discouraged by how little their white brothers and sisters seem to have thought or cared about it, or to have realized the dramatic effect racism has had upon their lives... The problem is real. The solution is not easy. Only God and the Gospel can prevail.”
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love...Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:7-8, 11)
None of this information matters if it doesn’t produce change. So, here’s your homework- go make friends! Pursue friendships with people that are different than you. This has to be intentional, because we don’t naturally gravitate towards people that are different from us. Look for ways to connect with those of other races around you or deepen friendships with those you already know. Consider inviting a family over for dinner, or setting up a play date for your kids, or inviting a coworker to lunch.
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works” – Hebrews 10:24
Let’s commit to stirring up one another to love and good works by:
- Tearing down walls between us and other races and cultures.
- Growing in our understanding of the perspective of cultural minorities.
- Examining our church for barriers we may have unknowingly built that hinder our ability to minister to those of other races.
- Holding each other accountable for the jokes we tell, attitudes we have, assumptions we make, and the way we discuss political and social issues involving race.
- Providing support, resources, and discipleship to minority pastors, church planters, missionaries, and leaders in our denomination and at Faith.
Remember, “We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10) Let’s walk in them together!
Letter From a Birmingham Jail by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
One of Dr. King’s most powerful writings, particularly for us because it was a call specifically to the church. An important read not just because of the eloquent way he called the church to repentance with an appeal to the gospel but because some of his words remain relevant today.
Heal Us, Emmanuel: A Call For Racial Reconciliation, Representation, and Unity in the Church by Doug Serven
A collection of articles written by 30 different authors of different races and almost all PCA Teaching or Ruling Elders.
For A Continuing Church by Sean Michael Lucas
A helpful and well-written history of the PCA that looks honestly at the great things God has done through our denomination’s history as well as our failures.
Bloodlines: Race, Cross and the Christian by John Piper
A look at the issues of race in our culture and how the gospel is the only solution that gives us hope.
Denominational Diversity and Cultural Normativity by Duke Kwon
This post is the text of a talk given at a General Assembly gathering of some denominational leaders by Duke Kwon, a PCA pastor of a multi-ethnic church in Washington DC.
Why I’m Glad We Marched and Wish We Hadn’t
An reflection on participating in a Black Lives Matter march by George Robertson, senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Augusta, GA.
Ellis Perspectives http://www.ellisperspectives.com/
Dr. Carl and Karen Ellis. Dr. Ellis is a black PCA minister, teaches for RTS, and his wife Karen is an expert in the persecuted church.
The Front Porch http://thefrontporch.org/
Where black Reformed ministers talk about the Bible, the Black Church, Culture/Ethnicity, Family, God, the Gospel, Leadership, Missions, Preaching, Salvation, Shepherding, Theology, Women and Worship.
The Reformed African American Network https://www.raanetwork.org/
Here you will encounter the voices of many younger, black, Reformed people (and others committed to a multi-ethnic church) talking about the Bible, church, race, culture and current events.
Sermon by Ray Cortese, Lead Pastor, Seven Rivers Presbyterian Church, "Heal Us Emmanuel"
Talk by Bryan Loritts, "Right Color, Wrong Culture: Pursuing Multi-ethnic Cultural Engagement"
Talk by DA Horton, "For the City- Race, Urban Ministry, and Cultural Engagement"