Friday, July 1, 2016

Our denomination just concluded a momentous week with actions that carry with them a range of emotions. Last week was the General Assembly (GA) for our denomination. For those of you new to Presbyterianism, GA is the “highest court” of the denomination, in which churches throughout the country gather and are represented by pastors and elders to conduct the business of the church. Reports from various agencies like Covenant College/Seminary, Mission to the World, Reformed University Ministries, etc… are made. Often these agencies have business that needs to be voted on by the body. Overtures are also considered. Overtures can come primarily from presbyteries asking the assembly to consider a course of action or statement.

Last year the assembly began a discussion of our denominational responsibility with regards to the sin of racism particularly from the civil rights era and how that has implications for today. Being in the north we do not confront this in exactly the same way that some of our churches in the south do. There are churches and schools connected to our denomination that supported various segregation practices and ideals. Beyond that, last year one of the remaining founding fathers of our denomination confessed that even for those who were not guilty of “sins of commission” the denomination and individual churches did almost nothing to fight racism. This of course, has implications for both those of the majority culture as well as those in minority cultures. To acknowledge these wrongs and their continuing impact on race relations in America the assembly adopted this overture:

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).

The overture is lengthy and you can read it in its entirety here. It goes on to call individual churches to make this known to their congregations, to commit these issues to prayer, and for individual Christians to examine their own hearts for racial attitudes that may need to be confessed, and to strive to pursue Christian love to all.

Just two comments. First, sometimes as majority folks in the north we can be a bit separated from the effects of our country’s racism. This assembly was a very significant moment for many of our southern churches and also for those in our denomination that are in the minority. In a pastoral letter associated with this overture, Christians are encouraged to learn about, pray, acknowledge, relate to the “other” and commit to living out humble, Gospel-filled lives with those around us, regardless of culture or ethnicity. One place to start is simply reading some of the responses from our brothers and sisters in the minority regarding this action. Here is a hopeful, but realistic piece from an African American leader in the PCA. This is a penetrating piece from another denomination leader highlighting how prevailing attitudes hurt the cause of the Gospel.

Second observation. Doesn’t this discussion bring us back to Genesis 1 and the image of God? If we properly grasp the image of God displayed throughout humanity, how can racially predjudiced attitudes survive? “Let us make man (humanity) in our own image,” God says. It is our privilege and responsibility to see that image in all people, regardless of race, culture, ideology, or creed and to seek to love them accordingly. We are after all, in the image God, both that He created and that Christ came to restore.

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