By Paul Harvey, Religion Dispatches.
Over the last 20 years, major American denominations, particularly those with southern origins (such as the Southern Baptist Convention and the Pentecostal Holiness Church), have been in the business of passing “racial reconciliation resolutions.”
The Southern Baptists did so with a pretty strong statement in 1995; the Pentecostals experienced their “Memphis Miracle” in 1994 (perhaps the most ironic here, given the interracial origins of Pentecostalism in the early 20th century); and numerous other groups followed in the wake, mostly apologizing for slavery and segregation in the deeper past. By the turn of the century, this seemed to have been a done deal.
I was surprised recently to then see tweets praising God for an “Overture on Pursuing Racial Reconciliation” just passed at the predominantly southern General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA). The vote was 861 in favor, 123 opposed. The authors and supporters of the Overture were, understandably, gratified.
Meanwhile, the same Assembly created a committee to study the issue of women in the ministry, a subject of greater ideological division and pain. The difference in those two outcomes suggests much about how far conservative American Protestants have come, and how far they have to go.
(Note: an “overture” is a somewhat technical Presbyterian term that effectively means “resolution.” For simplicity I’ll use the informal term “resolution” below).
The PCA denomination originally formed only in 1973 (preceding a merger with some smaller Presbyterian groups that considerably increased its size in 1982), partly as a result of Presbyterian church splits in the 1960s. The relatively recent advent of the PCA as a denominational organization compelled some to ask, upon the resolution’s original consideration in 2015, whether denominations should apologize for “racial acts they didn’t commit,” since the denomination proper didn’t exist in the 1960s. But of course the history of the individual churches, and white southern Presbyterians more generally, went much deeper than the formation of one organization in 1973.
Put more simply, most large evangelical denominations effectively have a blue church/red church divide.
This is interesting. I attend a PCA church and was at the PCA GA. I think that the impulse that some PCA leaders have to discount this overture as arising from the “racial grievance industry” is wrong, but that they might be sensing something else underneath the motivations which isn’t wrong. Watching the PCA from the outside, from the perspective of one who witnessed the death spiral of the PCUSA from 1990-2013, I see similar shadows gathering, namely, a focus on social justice that is naive and doesn’t recognize that “social justice” is a tool of the secular religion of leftism/progressivism used for things the Bible never intended.
I was a delegate to the PCA GA and thought the whole issue was hanlded well. There had been considerable spadework done between the surprise personal motion in Chattanooga last year and the 42 overtures from presbyteries this year. I didn’t encounter anyone who thought it was from the “racial grievance industry”; and both black and white commisioners I talked to thought that this resolution and accompanying ones were a very good beginning. But only a beginning. This now goes to individual churches and presbyteries for action. Hopefully we will have moved the ball a great distance by the time we come back to Greensboro next year.
Thank you, Martha. Having had a very long and intimate association with the PCUSA (from its founding in 1983 until my departure in 2014), I believe that you have correctly identified a major concern about which our friends in the PCA need to be aware. Post-Christian and non-biblical theology and morality came into and gained a foothold within the PCUSA, in part, under the guise of a concern for “social justice,” particularly in regard to racial and women’s issues. I have found that while Christians must always be concerned for and committed to justice, whenever modifiers are added to it — social justice, economic justice, racial justice, etc. — the actual justice to which the Scriptures call us disappears, and a distinctive leftist ideology comes to the fore. Our PCA friends would be well advised to proceed with great caution, and follow the example of the noble Bereans.