On the OPC GA and Apologies

The General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church recently concluded. No one could say it was uneventful. While I was not in attendance this year, an incident occurred that I believe needs some comment. Eastern University hosted the GA this year. Very near the beginning of GA, Eastern alerted the OPC to four alleged incidents of egregious racism. Two of them were by an OPC minister (I do not know who at this point, and it doesn’t really matter, anyway, in terms of what I wish to say), attempting to make jokes, and achieving what I would call “an unsuccessful attempt at humor.” The third incident, if it even happened at all, was not by an OPC delegate or member. The fourth incident was a misunderstanding in the cafeteria later cleared up, as I understand. This is what I understand second hand, let the readers be clear, and this evaluation of the four incidents was only possible later.

At the beginning, Eastern would only tell the OPC that there were these four incidents, and that if another such incident happened, EU would enforce its zero tolerance policy (which would have the effect of nullifying the contract). Eastern conducted no thorough investigation before the communication that was read on the floor. The OPC’s reply was an immediate statement:

“The 88th (2022) General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church hereby expresses to the faculty, staff, and students of Eastern University its grief, sorrow, and disgust regarding four recent incidents of racial disparagement reported being made by some present at our Assembly. There is no place in the church for such conduct. The church seeks to magnify and honor Christ as the Creator of every human being, each one reflecting dignity and value as the image of God. Therefore, in accordance with God’s Word and the two great laws of love, we repudiate and condemn all sins of racism, hatred, and prejudice, as transgressions against our Holy God, who calls us to love and honor all people. In keeping with the law of God and the right order of the church for Christ’s honor, we resolve to deal directly and biblically with any such sins of hatred committed by members of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. In keeping with the gospel, we resolve to offer our assistance to Eastern University to confront offender(s) and seek reconciliation.”

As I understand it, no amendment was effectively allowed to occur, and very little time allowed to dissent or object. This “apology” (I put this in quotation marks since, as I understand it, the intent was not an apology, though it seems to have been interpreted as one by EU) was issued on the basis of witnesses, but not a thorough investigation to examine whether there might have been mitigating circumstances, or whether the alleged offences amounted to what Eastern thought they did. As it turned out (from where I sit, admittedly looking at this from a distance), there was little to apologize for in the end. The most egregious was the third, which was not committed by an OPC member/delegate at all. The first sentence is one I still regard as problematic, even though my understanding of what was meant has been tweaked by people in the know. The “disgust” of the first sentence is at the sins reported, and is not meant to imply that the alleged offender was automatically guilty. While this is the intended meaning, it could easily be interpreted as an actual apology. It seems to have been so interpreted by EU, which pronounced the matter as closed upon receiving this communication. This whole situation raises some very important questions in my mind.

Why did we make an apologetic sounding statement before conducting a thorough investigation? Why did Eastern University shoot first and ask questions later? While I am told they cooperated with the OPC in a cordial fashion afterwards, why the ultimatum at all? The ultimatum makes it sound as though they already believed the initial reports. The statement of the OPC (which kinda sorta looks like an apology, or at least has an apologetic tone to it) in its effect, is easily misunderstood. I am getting lots of different reactions as to what it means already. Why was no amendment effectively allowed to the apology? Why was pressure exerted to pass this “apology” with no dissent? The whole thing was rushed in its adoption. Apparently, the “apology” was enough for Eastern, and they thought the matter closed. Why, when no thorough investigation had been done up to that point? From where I am looking, there were no incidents of egregious intentional racism, only misunderstanding, and possibly lack of wisdom, certainly not intentional racism. At the very least, it seems clear that the OPC GA should not be held at Eastern University again, if “guilty until proven innocent” is going to be their mindset.

UPDATE: I am getting lots of valuable feedback from members of the GA who were present, and they are refining my understanding of what went on. I have already updated the post twice, and I expect to update it more to achieve greater accuracy. There are many different perspectives already on what went on that I have heard, many of them contradictory of each other. It will probably take some time before a final understanding of what happened is actually possible.