Letter from the Senior Minister
|The "Greenville 8" after their arrest for using the City Public Library|
The most notable issue heading into the assembly was the widespread desire for the PCA publicly to apologize and repent for sins of racism that had been committed primarily during the years of the Civil Rights Movement (1960’s) but also afterwards. During the last year, the subject has been often discussed. I wrote a number of articles about the matter and had been asked to address one presbytery (Central Georgia) to help them think through the matter. Our own Session drafted an overture on this subject, and it appeared at the assembly having been approved by Northern Florida Presbytery. Altogether, over forty overtures were sent by presbyteries calling on the general assembly to speak to racial reconciliation.
By an overwhelming vote on Wednesday, June 21, the assembly approved Overture 43, submitted by Potomac Presbytery and amended by the Overtures Committee. Its key statement reads as follows:
Therefore be it resolved, that the 44th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America does recognize, confess, condemn and repent of corporate and historical sins, including those committed during the Civil Rights era, and continuing racial sins of ourselves and our fathers such as the segregation of worshipers by race; the exclusion of persons from Church membership on the basis of race; the exclusion of churches, or elders, from membership in the Presbyteries on the basis of race; the teaching that the Bible sanctions racial segregation and discourages inter-racial marriage; the participation in and defense of white supremacist organizations; and the failure to live out the gospel imperative that “love does no wrong to a neighbor” (Romans 13:10).
The statement goes on to commit our churches to “strive towards racial reconciliation for the advancement of the gospel, the love of Christ, and the glory of God.”
(For the full text, see: http:// byfaithonline.com/ga-approves-amended-overture-43-on-racialreconciliation/).
Let me address a number of questions that may be raised about this statement:
Q: Is it true that the PCA has committed sins of racism?
A: The most significant racial sins referenced by this overture were committed by many of the churches that were instrumental in founding the PCA. The historical record sadly records that the very sins listed above were committed by some of our founding churches: African-Americans were barred from membership, black youths were restricted from church camps, unbiblical statements were made in support of continued segregation, etc.
Q: Why should we confess sins that we ourselves have not committed and which took place before our denomination was even founded (1973)?
A: Historical records show that the movement of conservative Southern churches that resulted in the founding of our denomination included leading churches with racist policies. It is fruitless to argue that these churches have nothing to do with our denomination or its history. Moreover, the Bible provides many examples (esp. Daniel 9 and Ezra 9-10) of corporate confession and repentance for past sins committed by the church body. African American Christians, including many currently in or considering joining our denomination, are hurt and grieved by the record of these sins. Christian grace and truth requires us to apologize, owning these corporate, historical sins, condemning them, and calling for repentance.
Q: Does Second Presbyterian Church have a record of racism in its past?
A: The record of our Session minutes provides no evidence of racist statements, actions, or policies. In preparing for the General Assembly, I asked our church administrator to examine the Session minutes from the late 50’s through the 60’s. Only two records have any bearing on this subject during all that time.
1. A Session meeting took place on the evening of September 9, 1960. That coming Lord’s Day a protest was scheduled by African Americans, who had declared their intention to “crash” prominent white churches in Greenville. The elders of Second deliberated the need for our deacons to be prepared in the case of a public disturbance. They also approved a motion insisting that African Americans were welcome and would not be kept in any way from joining the worship of this church. (I note the date of this meeting, since another event took place that night – I was born 436 miles away in Virginia!).
2. Some years later, a request was made by a group of members to distribute literature which the elders deemed to be racist in content. The elders voted to bar this literature from being distributed and forbade any public meeting by the group.
Q: Does this mean that our church has no racial sins to confess and repent?
A. It is hard to imagine that members of our church in the 1950’s and 60’s would have been immune from racist attitudes and actions, as they were widely spread throughout Southern culture at that time. The very fact that at least some members had sought to distribute material of a racially sinful nature indicates that we were not free from this problem. At the same time, many noble acts and courageous stands against racism have been taken by the leaders and members of our church. On the whole, we should all be grieved to know how these kinds of sins have hurt our brothers and sisters, should whole-heartedly condemn this racist past, and eagerly pray for God to advance the gospel and promote unity and love among all believers.
Q: What can we do to respond to our denomination’s call to promote racial reconciliation in the future?
A: Our church exists in a culture that involves a high degree of racial social separation. This context will greatly shape the demographics of those who attend our church, which is why we are not highly integrated racially. In my view, we should not seek directly to shape our racial composition. Rather, we should preach God’s Word and love the Lord and his people. Of course, we will seize every opportunity to make a positive contribution to racial unity. Along these lines, our warm relationship with Mountain View Baptist Church is both a statement and an asset. I pray especially that the Lord will strengthen our ties with that congregation, so that we might mutually benefit one another and display true unity in the Spirit of Christ. May the Lord bless you all this week.
In Christ’s Love,
Pastor Rick Phillips
Vol. CXXIV, Edition 26
The Second Presbyterian Church
Corner of River and Rhett Streets
Greenville, South Carolina
June 27, 2016