What I Saw at the 44th General Assembly of the PCA (1)
June 27, 2016
Last week I attended the 44th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). It was my third since transferring my ordination to the PCA three years ago. It was held in Mobile, Alabama which was lovely apart from the gulf coast humidity. I had the privilege of serving on the Committee of Commissioners of the Administrative Committee (more on that in the next post). That means I showed up on Monday morning and spent two full days in meetings.
As always I enjoyed the fellowship of like-minded brothers over meals, coffee, and several formal gatherings. On Monday evening I attended “An Evening of Confessional Concern and Prayer.” We heard two addresses: Dr. David Garner on the doctrine of the spirituality of the church and Rev. Rick Phillips on the biblical prescription for the roles of men and women within the church. On Wednesday I attended the luncheon hosted by the Gospel Reformation Network. The GRN is an open fraternal dedicated to advancing pastoral piety and a robust doctrine of sanctification within the PCA. On Wednesday evening I attended a dinner hosted by Westminster Theological Seminary and heard some encouraging reports about the Lord’s work in that institution.
One of the most significant things that occurred last week was the overwhelming passage of Overture 43 on racial reconciliation.
Southern Presbyterianism has, like most denominations in the south, a troubling history of racism. It is ridiculous to either deny or seek to justify this. I think many Presbyterians today who have not read the relevant history would be shocked by the open racism advocated from pulpits in the south during the battle over civil rights in the mid-twentieth century. Sadly, that racism did not magically disappear with the passing away of Jim Crow laws and segregation. Even today one still hears stories of Presbyterian churches which retain at least some vestiges of their racist past. Treasured sins die hard. So it is appropriate, indeed commanded that we repent of our racism just as surely was we should repent of any other sin.
However, I am not convinced that an overture of corporate repentance was the best way to address sins of racism in some of our churches. I am doubtful about the theological justification for corporate repentance – that sin is generational and therefore those who were not even born during the era of Jim Crow and segregation bear the taint of guilt. I do not see evidence of this sort of generational guilt in the Bible. Certainly Adam’s sin nature is imputed to all his progeny – the entire human race. And the sins of God’s elect were imputed to Christ as he died in our place. But I see no evidence of specific sins being imputed from one generation to another. I see evidence of sons taking up the sins of their fathers but this is imitation not imputation. My sons may well bear some of the consequences of my sins but they will certainly not bear the guilt of my sins.
We must remember that the PCA was not even a denomination during the civil rights debates of the 1960’s. Most of our churches have been founded in recent decades. It is certainly true that some of the first PCA churches were originally part of the Southern PCUS which did indeed have a history of racism. Some of those newly minted PCA churches continued in their racist attitudes and acts of exclusion. For that there certainly ought to be repentance. And I trust that the Lord will grant repentance to those churches which have continued to hold on to their racist sins.
But if the PCA is going to corporately repent for sins committed by PCUS churches in the south during the battles over civil rights then let us also as a denomination repent for the northeastern PCUSA’s sins of rejecting the authority of Scripture and de-gospeling missions. Is not the PCUSA our parent denomination? Under this approach to generational sins do we not bear guilt for the PCUSA’s sins of gross biblical compromise? Something tells me that an overture to repent of the sins of the PCUSA would not go very far.
That said, I voted for Overture 43. I voted for it because I believe I understand the intention behind it. I understand that I have brothers and sisters in the PCA whose parents and other family members suffered under the sins of the Jim Crow era. I have brother and sisters in the PCA whose parents and grandparents were dehumanized through segregation and the violence so often accompanied with racism. So I was happy to stand in solidarity with these brothers and sisters as much as my vote allowed me to.
I trust that the approval of Overture 43 will provide encouragement for racial minorities in the PCA. I trust also that it will serve as a means to remind us that racism is a sin which we must always confront just as we would any other sin that angers our God and harms his image-bearers.
Oh, I almost forgot. We have a new logo.