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.