An Overture to Racial Reconciliation

Review and Comparison of PCA 2016 GA Racial Repentance Overtures

by Reed DePace

UPDATE#2: Overture 43 has passed. Read about it here.

UPDATE #1: The Overtures Committees has overwhelmingly passed a resolution regarding these overtures. 85-3, they are recommending to the General Assembly that Overture 43, as amended, be approved.  See here for details: OC Recommendation.

It appears that the amending includes three parts:

  1. Adding a list of sins (copied from the Whereas section).
  2. Referencing Overture 55’s “presbytery letter” as advice on how presbyteries can help local congregations involved with these sins.
  3. Referencing the local level action overtures’ (#50, 53) direction toward the use of BCO provisions (31-2, 38-1) for the procedure for handling repentance from these sins.

As with any combination overture, I do not expect this will satisfy all. Indeed, I am a bit concerned about the charge that this will all turn into nothing more than another meaningless expression of (empty) words. If passed by GA, it will be up to Presbyteries and local churches to implement this Overture.

I’ll listen to the floor debate that is sure to follow, and will most likely learn some things of value from the fathers and brothers gathered. At this point, my initial reaction is that maybe there is some sound wisdom at play in the Overture Committee’s recommendation.

As a pastor who has no personal racial sins to repent from, and who is shepherding a congregation whose history is full of some of the most heinous of these sins, I am grateful for the advice and direction. I pray God will lead us all to see His wisdom and find His blessing in these things.


I’m getting ready to head to General Assembly (my denomination’s annual meeting where all our churches discuss/decide on issues relevant to our denomination). In preparation, I reviewed the overtures (requests for action) that will come before us. The big topic this year is repentance for racial sins in our denomination going back to the Civil Rights era. This is not a discussion about the civil (secular) matters of this subject (although they are related). Instead it is a discussion about how to repent of these sins, sins which impinge upon or outright deny the gospel of Jesus Christ. Such issues are ALWAYS the purview of the Church as they deal with the honor, integrity, and glory of our Lord God and Savior.

This is an issue particularly relevant our church and me. We have such a history. Last year, our elders led our church to express repentance for the sins of our fathers in this regard. We are now seeking the Spirit to lead us in bringing forth “fruits of repentance,” acts consistent with our verbal profession (see Matthew 3:7; for details on our repentance, see:

There are sixty-three overtures before us at this meeting. Forty-two deal with the topic of repentance for racial sins. Clearly this is the topic most pressing in our hearts.

You can find the overtures listed here: Click on the title of each to read the details.

I haven’t been able to find a summary and guide for all these, so I thought I’d put together one myself. Some of these overtures are simply affirmations of support for another overture. Yet others include particular details, different from all other overtures on this topic. Without going into too detailed an assessment, I found it helpful to arrange these into three generalized groups:

  • Those (mostly) calling for denomination level action: four (#s 4, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 15, 18, 17, 19, 23, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 33, 35, 34, 41, 42, 43, 46, 47, 51, 52, 57, 58, 60, and 63. Note: most of these are the same or similar to Overture # 4. The italicized are more or less different.),
  • Those (mostly) calling for local church/presbytery action: two (#s 50 and 53), and
  • Those calling for both levels of action: seven (#s 1, 16, 48, 49, 55, 56, and 59).

Overtures calling for denominational level action follow the pattern of repentance seen in the biblical teaching on corporate-generational repentance (Leviticus 26:49; Ezra 9-10; Nehemiah 1:3-10; 9:1-10:39; Daniel 9:1-20). Rooted in the continuing application of the Ten Commandments (see C#2, Exodus 20:4-6) and the trans-temporal and trans-spatial nature of biblical covenants, these overtures propose our denomination acknowledge and express repentance for the racial sins in view.

Overtures calling for local action follow the pattern of repentance seen in the biblical teaching on personal repentance (Psalm 19:13; Matthew 26:75; Luke 19:8; 1 Timothy 1:13, 15). These overtures propose that churches and presbyteries apply the discipline procedures from our Book of Church Order (see particularly BCO 31-2, and 38-1).

Overtures calling for both propose we take action at both the denominational level and the local level. I find myself in favor of this approach. Admittedly without offering an extended defense of my opinion, let me briefly highlight the key considerations persuading me. First, I believe the covenantal considerations found in Ezra and Nehemiah’s examples are still applicable. Second, I believe the personal repentance considerations are still applicable. In other words, I believe the Bible teaches that, when and where appropriate, God’s people are to express both corporate-generational repentance AND personal repentance.

There are two overtures don’t quite fit into this scheme (#s 32, and 45). Let me draw your attention to Overture #32 in particular. If we did nothing else, given the circumstances of our church in our nation, I believe this overture is in order. My prayer is that we will do both: take action regarding racial sins and join together in asking God for deeper and wider repentance and its fruits. Our members, churches, presbyteries, denomination, the Church in America, and America herself are in desperate need of such salt-and-light gospel ministry (Matthew 5:13-14). I pray we will not prove worthless (Luke 13:34-35).

by Reed DePace






  1. June 18, 2016 at 1:56 am

    Fathers are not responsible for the sins of their children and children are not responsible for the sins of their fathers. Each person is responsible for his or her own sins only (Ezekiel 18). Since the Word of God devotes an entire 32-verse chapter to this topic, it must be important. Is the PCA starting to copy liberal Christianity in this regard?

  2. Reed Here said,

    June 18, 2016 at 1:13 pm

    Thx Richard. Your question: my opinion I see nothing other than rightly exegeted biblical motivation on the part of ALL these overtures. So, no, no drift into liberalism (either the higher critical rooted variety, or the social consciousness variety).

    Your reference to Ezk 18: Yes, am familiar with it. No time now to go into my own reasons for disagreeing with the blanket denial application you’ve referenced. (Hope to write on it within the next year +). For now, simply note that all these overtures in some manner or another acknowledge some continuing application of the warning attached to the 2nd C (i.e., visiting a father’s sins on the children).

    Possibly one overture (#45) does not require the acknowledgement of this principle, in that it merely calls for a study committee. But even that approach acknowledges the possibility that this warning still applies/

  3. June 18, 2016 at 8:12 pm

    As your basic evil heterosexual white guy (as the Left would say), I would refuse any call, at the personal level, to apologize for America’s slavery past just because I’m white. I wasn’t there. I didn’t do it. As a matter of fact, as far as I know, neither side of my family was even *in* the United States until the 1870s. As for those who *are* responsible, well, they’re all long since dead and have already and/or will be dealt with by God. Even at the corporate level, it’s absurd to offer apologies because, in the Lefty mind, it won’t stop with apologies. They’ll probably be finding ways to keep people apologizing a hundred years from now. So, let’s leave the blame where it belongs: on all those folks involved in slavery from the 17th through the 19th centuries.

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  6. Matt Massingill said,

    June 20, 2016 at 12:41 pm

    Why no mention of Resolution 60? Of the lot, it’s the best and most relevant to the church’s need today:

    Click to access Overture-60-Gospel-Supremacy-and-the-Work-of-the-Church.pdf

  7. Reed Here said,

    June 20, 2016 at 1:08 pm

    Thanks Matt. Mere error on my part. When I reviewed the overtures I did not read #60 as particularly addressing the topic. A more careful reading suggests it does, even if a bit obtusely.

    I’ve inserted it under the list for those calling for denominational level action. Thanks for the question.

  8. Hugh McCann said,

    June 20, 2016 at 3:21 pm

    Reed, What did the PCA do or fail to do that is accounted racist?

    Are the denomination’s leaders repenting of institutionalized racism?

    Are there PCA statements, pronouncements or decisions that promote[d] racism? Or documented instances of neglecting to defend other “races” or of not fighting racism?

    Are they repenting FOR others? If so, the deceased, or merely the living?

    Is a resolution needed to call individuals to repent of personal sin[s]?

  9. Hugh McCann said,

    June 20, 2016 at 3:37 pm

    Thanks, Reed, for this “summary and guide,” but is there a listing of the PCA’s specific instances of sin to be repented of?

  10. Reed Here said,

    June 20, 2016 at 4:20 pm

    Sorry Hugh, only the overtures.

  11. Reed Here said,

    June 20, 2016 at 4:22 pm

    Your questions suggest some concerns that go to theological underpinnings for these overtures. Look to the “Whereas” items in each overture. This is where those kinds of things will be found.

  12. Hugh McCann said,

    June 20, 2016 at 4:45 pm

    Reed, Thanks. But I haven’t time to plow through all those.

    I was hoping our valiant summarizer will glean for us & guide us. :)

    These should be very clearly delineated if rebukes and calls to repentance are being issued, yes?

    Also, if some officers are calling for denomination-wide repentance.

    Otherwise, it’s sound like mere pious posturing, and possibly even sinful, itself.

  13. Matt Massingill said,

    June 20, 2016 at 5:40 pm

    I don’t see Resolution #60 as being obtusely put, so much as I see it being diplomatic and making it’s assertions almost by implication.

    Given the state of the culture, both without and within the church, and the effect that has on discourse, one can fairly assume that more strident or overt opposition to the recent slate of overtures (both this year and last), would likely be taken in some quarters as a mere superficial and primarily ideologically driven opposition to political correctness generally, rather than a consciously considered opposition informed by the priorities of the Word of God, the church, and true justice and reconciliation in mind – something more constructive than mimicking the world’s endless cycle of virtue-signaling. A case can be made for that, I think, without any hard-heartedness or apathy about real racial antipathy, I believe.

    From my reading, I take the overture’s wording to be a diplomatic effort at steering our thoughts according to such inclinations, whilst trying to avoid coming off as acerbic, condescending, or self-righteous in a sea of overtures inclined to the contrary. Given the ominous things our cultural trajectory portends for the church (not to mention those that have already taken root), and the awful darkness befalling our brothers and sisters in the middle east, I think it’s fair enough to wonder why north of 60% of the overtures for the PCA’s primary denomination-wide administrative gathering are directed towards towards this issue, which, based on the timing of last year’s batch of related overtures following or around the time of several nationally, highly-charged racial incident controversies, seemed to undeniably to be a reaction and response to the world’s priorities and characterizations of such events and their implications.

  14. Hugh McCann said,

    June 21, 2016 at 12:42 am

    Amen & Amen to Mr Zuelch’s comments #1 & 3, above.

    Hence, my asking, just WHAT denominational sins are being repented of, confessed, and forgiveness sought for?

    And what & where are clearly articulated and reprovable sins confessed by the PCA’s perpetrators?

    Or are these resolutions about dead men’s sins?

  15. Hugh McCann said,

    June 22, 2016 at 6:43 pm

    Reed – Mattes is on it:

    the PCA must address specific sins with specific measures which presbyteries and sessions may implement without ambiguity. The Civil Rights Act didn’t just say “Stop that,” it addressed specific wrongs with specific, implementable solutions. That’s exactly what Potomac’s overture recommends that the PCA do.

    After all, how can we solve problems if we cannot state specific, identifiable, perhaps quantifiable issues that must be addressed?

    Hear, hear!

  16. tom carter said,

    June 22, 2016 at 8:08 pm

    Reed DePace With the greatest respect when a man says he has ‘no racial sins’ that is a glaring warning to the inadequacy of his personal views and the fallen nature of man. We all fall short of the glory of the Lord regardless of sex, race, or any defining factor. We all need to realize it is all for the glory of God. Hopefully you will understand

  17. Hugh McCann said,

    June 23, 2016 at 2:08 pm

    Yes, Tom. And we await the definition of these “racial sins.”

    Kinism s/b an easy target.

    But just what do the corporate confessors have in mind with “racial sins”?

    Maybe it’s better to just keep it vague & emotion-laden. THAT’LL get things done!

  18. Matt Massingill said,

    June 23, 2016 at 2:42 pm

    Nah . . . In the context of his comments, there’s every reason to think he’s simply making a distinction between specific sins that manifest themselves in particular instances that remain unrepented of, and the relational damage of which remains unresolved (and would therefore be covered by resolutions that exhort specific actions of resolution), as opposed to, on the other hand, the “garden variety” “heart sins” we all have here and there, in particular thoughts or attitudes. Otherwise, we’d be forced to logically conclude that that every heart sin required a GA resolution to adequately address it.

    I also think we need to get over the falsely pious assumption that we must all claim and repeatedly affirm that we’re all walking around with a latent inner racist bubbling over in our hearts and souls – that we’re all “racists” in the common parlance sense of the term. We all have the capacity for unwarranted anger or animosity that takes sinful shots at the image of God in people, including that based on race. But this isn’t summed up in us all walking around with racial guilt to repent of, in the same sense that the resolutions to the GA were referencing.

    I have the same basic state of depravity at the core, without Jesus, as does anyone. So, under other circumstances, if left to my own devices, had my life circumstances been different, I could have become an abusive alcoholic. That doesn’t mean I have some sort of inner alcoholism that I need to repent of. Nor does it mean that if I deny I’m an alcoholic, that I’m being inadequately pious, insufficiently humble, or denying the fall or my fallen nature.

  19. Reed DePace said,

    June 24, 2016 at 1:16 pm

    Thanks Tom for your observation. Your comment was held up by WordPress’ filters. I wasn’t to get to posting it for some hours, as I’ve been tied up at our GA. Same reason for not responding till just now.

    I appreciate your general observation. I repentently acknowledge I have a heart easily willing to live in racism. I acknowledge that there may be particular instances in the past where I have acted out of the heart and personally committed racial sins. I am not aware of any at present, but will willingly repent of any such sins I’ve committed.

    I think Matt has captured my intention. My comment was with reference to the historical sins of our church. I was offering a “head-nod” comment to those brothers for whom the issue is ONLY personal sin. I was merely seeking to clarify that my expression of repentance here in these circumstances is not personal, but corporate. As the pastor of our church, as far as I am aware, I have not engaged in any racial sins, but have actively sought through the ministry of the gospel to confront such sins and see Jesus applied.

    I appreciate what I understand to be the intention of your comment, and do receive the admonishment.

  20. Hugh McCann said,

    June 25, 2016 at 12:35 pm

    I’m still trying to understand how one repents and confesses the sins of others – particularly when they’re long dead!

    It sounds like LDS proxy baptism for the dead…

  21. Kevin said,

    June 25, 2016 at 10:23 pm

    Maybe I’m missing something here, but isn’t the NT clear that we are to confess OUR sins one to another James, and confess our sins to God 1 John 1:9. Sometimes the Reformed miss the discontinuity with the OT. Howe can the sins of the father be visited on those who posess redemption Ephesians 1:7. Corporate confessions and reparations about sins at best indefinable seems a little out there. I don’t think it’s biblical, but appealing to the culture. I could be wrong. K

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