The 46th PCA General Assembly will consider four (4) recommendations from the report of the Ad Interim Committee on Racial and Ethnic Reconciliation (the “Committee”) in Atlanta next month. For the reasons stated below, we would propose a single alternative recommendation.
The Committee itself appeared lopsided from the outset. This Committee has a rather weighty mandate: “assess[ing] the current situation in the PCA concerning racial and ethnic reconciliation and ethnic diversity,” … “identify[ing] specific problems,” … and making recommendations. (p. 2401.) As an issue that has been discussed at the 30th, 32nd, 44th, and 45th PCA General Assemblies and at scores of presbytery meetings, it would stand to reason that the time, talents, and gifts of a broad swath of the Church’s elders should be focused upon the task.
Instead, the Committee is populated largely by TEs, particularly those who have already labored in this field for some time. While experience is helpful, so is perspective. At the moment of the Committee’s appointment, there was already a danger that this report would be written in an echo-chamber of shared, unchallenged assumptions because there were no voting members from outside this community.
The only voting RE on the Committee is an academic, well known for his book on white privilege (and his current position as Moderator of the PCA). So the vast majority of non-academic REs in our denomination were entirely unrepresented. No farmers, no carpenters, no salesmen, no accountants, no businessmen, no stay-at-home fathers. That’s a lot of perspective to exclude.
It is worth remembering that Rev. George Robertson appointed this Committee. He left the PCA for the EPC well before this report was to be finalized so he is not obliged to explain his rationale for the Committee’s composition.
A monoculture can sometimes recognize its blind spots and still make balanced assessments. It does not appear that happened in this case. Instead, it appears that this Committee may have assumed that the PCA is plagued by racism, institutional or otherwise, before it even began taking its survey.
Evidence of such an assumption is found in the interpretation of survey results. Specifically, the Committee:
- Described some elders as “unaffected and unaware” of racism in the PCA. (p. 2418, 2433.) The Committee did not entertain the possibility that these elders were accurately perceiving that they have seen no substantial racism in the PCA. It appears the Committee assumed that there is such racism in the PCA, but these elders have overlooked it, perhaps intentionally.
- Wrote that “virtually no church disciplines members for racism; only 3% of respondents said their church disciplined for such a sin.” (p. 2417.) The Committee did not account for the possibility that there may be so little discipline for racism because, perhaps, there may be very little racism.
- Conflated severity of racism with “congregations’ willingness to be multi-ethnic.” Therefore, in the Committee’s view, the more a congregation was unwilling to “‘lose their preferred worship style to accommodate other cultures’” the more racist it must be. (p. 2418.) The Committee failed to account for the possibility that a congregation looked to Scripture as the “only infallible rule of faith and practice.”
Similarly, the Committee also seems to assume that most (or all) allegations of racism are well founded. The Committee uncritically accepted the following (on p. 2418) as racism:
- “observing general racism in the church and/or session” – without any specification of what exactly might constitute such “general racism;”
- “experiencing exclusion due to race” – without any inquiry into how a respondent knew he was excluded due to race or some other reason, or even if he was intentionally “excluded” at all;
- “inequity in financial resources such as salary” – without any inquiry into any other factor(s) that might account for differences in compensation; and
- “racist comments, speech, and/or jokes” – this despite certain differences of opinion about which “comments, speech, and/or jokes” are racist;
But the most glaring example of this assumption came on page 2421 when the Committee explicitly said:
It is hard to imagine being a church in the American South, for example, from 1973 on without having some racially motivated sin of which to acknowledge, confess, and repent.
We should pause to consider this sentence carefully. It is explicitly saying that:
- Every PCA church in the South has been racist
- Even those that are majority African American or majority Korean-descent
- Even those that were particularized in the last ten years
- And the Committee is saying this without proffering even a scintilla of evidence – it’s just an assumption
As an RE in a church that fits that description, I take exception to the allegation. But that’s not the only reason why this sentence – and the entire underlying assumption that informs it – should trouble us.
Overly-Casual Attitude Toward Sin
A PCA elder should know that sin is a rather serious matter. (WSC 14) We are instructed by the BCO to take great care and discernment in addressing sin. (BCO 27-4, 31-2) Any elder who has been through the discipline process – either formally or informally – knows that a proper inquiry involves careful examination of the accused and any competent witnesses. The accused has an opportunity to defend himself, to make an explanation, and/or to repent.
Despite all that, this Committee has accused an entire region of the PCA of racism with no evidence or opportunity to respond. (We are uncomfortably reminded of Ex. 20:16)
If racism is a sin – and we agree that it is – shouldn’t it be taken seriously as a sin? Shouldn’t specific acts be challenged? Shouldn’t witnesses be consulted? Shouldn’t evidence be examined? Shouldn’t people be allowed to defend themselves before being lumped in a class and labeled guilty?
This blanket accusation seems somewhat unbecoming a committee of PCA elders.
Many of the Committee’s recommendations appear unobjectionable as they merely ask congregations and presbyteries to talk about racial and ethnic reconciliation. Such dialog can be helpful, but only if it is approached with an open mind. If a church court or other group approaches the topic with the Committee’s assumptions (i.e. “there is pervasive racism in the PCA so we can recklessly accuse our brothers and sisters of racism”) instead of with an open heart and mind, these discussions are likely to cause division, rancor, and resentment.
Other recommendations plainly ask us to play favorites:
- Congregations are asked to “support … minority-focused ministries” (p. 2423)
- Presbyteries are asked to “work to place minority pastoral candidates” (p. 2424)
- Covenant College and CTS are told “more must be done in order to develop minority faculty and administrators;” in fact “our educational institutions must be even more aggressive in developing future [minority] leadership.” (p. 2425
- Covenant College is told that “assisting [students] financially … [is among the] ways to work toward minority hiring.” (p. 2425)
- Covenant College and CTS are told to consider “how many textbooks are written by minority authors.” (p. 2425)
- PCA Permanent Committees and Agencies are encouraged to “diversify staff with qualified minorities … at every level.” (p. 2425)
- The Nominations Committee is told to “[n]ominate qualified minorities to serve on governing boards of Agencies or on Permanent Committees” (p. 2426)
These recommendations seem inconsistent with the counsel in James 2:1-13. Moreover, they appear nearly indistinguishable from much of the identity politics agenda that has been dividing our culture more and more over the last decade.
The Committee’s recommendations to the 46th General Assembly are to accept its report, publish its recommendations as official Church “statements on the Gospel and racial reconciliation,” and budget more money for another survey.
Given the flaws noted above, it seems the best course of action would be to reconstitute the Committee and start over. A balanced committee open to all perspectives can conduct an open-minded and fair examination of survey results, work done by previous General Assemblies and presbyteries, and make specific, thoughtful recommendations pursuant to the Committee’s mandate.
This is important work; it ought to be done decently and in order.