A Guest Post on Racism

It is fascinating to me to hear the vastly different perspectives even of non-racist people, which ranges from outrage at the passing of Overture 43 as amended (the outrage is thoroughly non-racist), to folks who think we probably haven’t gone far enough. Here is a voice definitely in between these relatively extreme positions.

A Guest Post from Rev. Billy Boyce

Considerations Regarding Racial Reconciliation

As the PCA takes up the discussion about racial reconciliation this week at General Assembly, the ultimate path to finding accord and compromise is sure to come through personal interaction rather than Internet publication. Nonetheless, I wanted to offer a few brief considerations in response to some more recent posts and comments on the subject. I’m grateful to Lane for sharing his space with me and for the opportunity to contribute to this important discussion within our denomination.
Given limited time and space, I offer here three considerations for those voting this week at GA:

Consideration #1: The Insufficiency of Institutional Documents

It has been frequently observed that the PCA expressly desired to include all races and ethnicities in worship, as indicated by the founders of the denomination, something we should all applaud. Also, a number of further institutional documents address racial reconciliation and repentance for past sins. According to the institutional record, the PCA looks pretty good regarding racial reconciliation. However, these institutional documents alone are insufficient for judging the record of our denomination. It is true that our institution has expressed the desire to grow in racial and ethnic pluriformity. At the same time, our institution has not lived up to that desire, but has had barriers to the welcoming of others. The documents themselves are insufficient for weighing the existence and effect of these barriers; personal testimony is needed to flesh out the record. Channeling Martin Luther King, Jr., we need to “be true to what [we] said on paper.”

Consideration #2: The Weight of Personal Testimony and Community Witness
If institutional documents are not enough to assess institutional health, we need to listen to personal testimony. Yet, these testimonies are sometimes disregarded as being merely anecdotal. It is important to state here that there are two types of personal testimony. There is the type of testimony that only represents the individual witness; these testimonies are not enough to develop precedent. However, a second type of testimony exists whereby the witness’s testimony expresses both the individual’s experiences and gives a glimpse into the experiences of a community. These testimonies represent a community of witness and bear much more gravity than mere personal stories. It behooves listeners to discern which type of testimony is offered, and in the case of the PCA’s history of racial reconciliation, the multiple voices coming from across generations and ethnicities are enough to indicate a community of witness. This community of witnesses tells us that we have not lived up to our aspirations—what we have said on paper—and we ought not ignore it. This community testimony offers the PCA two points of witness: 1) the need for the PCA to confess and repent, and 2) the desire to confess and repent! Numerous PCA minorities are willing to participate in the corporate confession and repentance called for in some of the overtures. They offer a profound embodiment of the ideal of corporate repentance by participating in the repentance for sins that directly impacted their forefathers. Those who assert that it is impossible to repent of something that they personally did not do ought to pause and reflect on the willingness of our minority brothers and sisters to confess and repent. After pausing and considering, individuals may disagree. But in the spirit of Christian charity, it behooves everyone to ask, “might I be wrong on this?”

Consideration #3: The Primacy of Theological Faithfulness
In considering the community of witness testifying to the need for corporate repentance and modeling the desire to participate in corporate repentance, presbyters must allow the conversation to remain focused on theological faithfulness. Too often, I have heard presbyters invoke the specter of “political correctness” as the aim of these overtures. This is a harmful temptation, because these overtures aim at a much loftier goal: biblical, theological, ecclesial, Christ-honoring faithfulness. They seek to aid the pursuit of, quoting TE Lance Lewis, “redemptive ethnic unity.” To replace theological categories with mere political posturing is to rip the teeth out of this conversation and reduce it to another partisan squabble. This reduction guts the conversation of its eschatological vision: the ideal of redemptive ethnic unity, which is driven by the commands of Christ and the vision of the New Jerusalem.

These three considerations could be summed up as the encouragement to listen deeply and discerningly, which is itself simply a call to exercise wisdom. Wisdom hears and listens; wisdom is teachable; wisdom craves purity; wisdom longs for the beauty of peace and unity. Listen to those calling for corporate repentance. Listen to those opposing these overtures. Then listen again. May God grant us wisdom as we weigh all of the considerations before us this GA, and may he give us peace.

7 Comments

  1. June 22, 2016 at 12:58 pm

    Billy – Thank you for your thoughtful post. A couple of comments ordered by your paragraphs:

    1. From a corporate perspective, documentation matters greatly. While individual churches may deviate from the official policy and possibly sin in the process, those sins cannot be imputed to the whole who are largely conforming to the official policy. Original documents clearly show that the PCA was and is open to all people regardless of race, ethnicity, etc. That some in the past did not obey that policy is lamentable, but again, their sin cannot be imputed to the entire PCA. They were deviations, not the norm. The sins of the deviant few certainly cannot be imputed to the 89%+ of faithful churches. Ezekiel 18 and Jeremiah 31 forbid such an imputation.

    2. This point seems not to account for statistical significance. Though emotional anecdotes can be interesting, in the whole they do not represent the norm of a population. In the case of the PCA, very, very few of the 370,000+ communicants have been represented in the discussion to date. I believe that it would be very dangerous to draw broad conclusions from the anecdotes of a few. I don’t believe that you are implying that these few represent their whole ethnicity. But, to clear my conscience I must observe that it is incredibly racist to take any individual or small group and say that they can represent their entire population. That would be like impugning all Christians because a few bombed abortion clinics.

    3. I agree with you in general, but when sweeping actions and accusations are not based on hard facts and data, but rather on emotional arguments and anecdotes, the discussion is not theological. God tells us in Isaiah to “Come, let us reason together.” He expects us to be ruled by our reason, not by our emotions. When sweeping actions are not based on verifiable facts and data, then it is only left to assume that political correctness has come to roost. In God we trust, all others bring data. I agree with your theological observations, but see a lack of meat in the arguments of those who would indict the entire PCA and especially the 89%+ who had nothing to do with the issues in the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s. Without that meat, there is only left political correctness based on emotional appeals.

    I agree that we are all one in Christ and should conduct ourselves in a way that honors and glorifies our Savior. We should be open to listening and discussion the issues. However, we should expect more facts and data and less emotional appeal and personal anecdotes. Theology is based on concrete facts revealed to us by God in Scripture and by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture, not how we feel about the text or what it means to me.

  2. Don said,

    June 22, 2016 at 4:25 pm

    reformed musings,
    Where do you get the 89%+ figure? If you are saying that one in ten congregations exhibit racist policies or actions, I could hardly call that a “few.” It would be difficult to not consider that a widespread, systemic problem.

  3. June 22, 2016 at 5:05 pm

    The answer is in my post that precedes Billy’s. It does not mean what you surmise. Simply that if all of the original communicants in the PCA in 1973 were still with us, they’d constitute just 11% of the current PCA. Since many have gone to glory, the number is likely far less. But the 11% number is the best case that could possibly have been culpable for a few early PCA churches enforcing segregated worship. The number is used in considering the propriety of a denominational-wide repentance for events that occurred even before the PCA was formed.

  4. Don said,

    June 22, 2016 at 7:19 pm

    OK, I thought your 89% number was intended to indicate the percentage of churches that are or were segregated or racist. You seem to think that nobody who joined the PCA after its founding could potentially be racist?

    Anyway and more importantly, I’m really rather shocked by your naivete in arguing that “documentation” is sufficient. Suppose a given church session encourages unofficial racist policies, e.g., by suggesting that visiting minorities attend “their own people’s church” instead, or by “coincidentally” never nominating a minority member for any sort of leadership role. Where do you expect to find documentation for that? In the session minutes? Now suppose the church’s presbytery’s leadership is vaguely aware of possibly racist behavior, but decides it doesn’t want to “interfere in that church’s internal business.” Do you think presbytery writes that down anywhere?

    I don’t want to denigrate the intentions reflected in the founding documents. That was probably quite brave at the time for a basically Southern denomination. But to think that those intentions are always followed, or always documented when they are not, is entirely naive.

  5. June 26, 2016 at 9:22 pm

    Don,

    Thanks, but I can see that either you haven’t read my posts or didn’t understand them. Nor do you seem to understand the current issue in the PCA. Please come back when you’re all caught up.

  6. Don said,

    June 27, 2016 at 12:16 am

    reformedmusings,

    Maybe you missed my question on your other post, I’ll repeat it here and look forward to your answer:

    Bob,
    You say that your congregation is ethnically diverse. You don’t say specifically whether this includes any African Americans. But if so, have you asked them (and if not, have you asked the people of other ethnicities) their opinions on these overtures calling for repentance?

  7. Ron said,

    July 14, 2016 at 6:15 pm

    reformedmusings on June 26, 2016 at 9:22 pm
    “Don,

    Thanks, but I can see that either you haven’t read my posts or didn’t understand them. Nor do you seem to understand the current issue in the PCA. Please come back when you’re all caught up.”

    Reformedmusings,

    Surprise surprise.


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