Monday, July 23, 2012

Talking about racism in the PCA!

    I am thankful to Dr. Anthony Bradley for confronting us in the PCA with some of the articulated views of Dr. Morton Smith.  I confess I have not pursued examining Dr. Smith's views as he was not in my Presbytery, and I never felt he accurately reflected what I know of or want the PCA to be.  Since Dr. Smith's views are public (June/Sept. 2002 Presbyterian News. p.14-15) I think they are fair game for criticism or at least reflection.  I could only hope that Dr. Smith has repented of some of his views and changed the way he thinks.  I speak not only of what I consider the racist  result of the way he thinks, but his very poor use of Scripture.  This is amazing to me, and makes me wonder how he has retained any stature in our denomination.
   Let me state that I may disagree with Dr. Bradley on the effect of the PCA's racial past and his possibly gloomy and pessimistic view of the capabilility of the PCA to make an impact in the African American community.  I would also state that I don't think racism is the unforgiveable sin, and that I believe strongly in the power of God's grace to bring reconciliation with people who were formerly bigots and racists.  Who am I not to forgive someone if Jesus has forgiven me?  Who are you not to forgive?
    Dr. Smith used the Scripture to seemingly justify his view that segregation was acceptable to him.  He states that he doesn't think he is a racist because he doesn't hate anyone.  His use of Scriptural precedent by citing the Egyptian discrimination against the Israelites while they were in Egypt, eventually resulting in their slavery to the Egyptians, as a postive reference of segregation I found sad and pathetic in someone supposed to be Reformed in his understanding of how to exigete Scripture.  He said he finds segregation in Scripture, but we also find lots of terrible things in Scripture, like murder, rape, incest, etc.  These are not grounds for continuing them.  It is one thing to see the sovereign hand of God in the use of that segregation to maintain Israel as a separate nation, another to think that God justifies what the Egyptians did.
    God has sovereignly created an African American culture in the United States by compressing many tribes and tongues of Africans into one ethnic minority due to the crucible of racism.  The color of their skin became their defining characteristic.  Attempting to crush all national, cultural, and linguistic heritage the slave traders were used by God to create what has become one of the most powerful cultural groups in our present world, both in terms of church culture and of popular culture.
    Only racists insist that the positive benefits of being in America justify slavery or the abuse of man stealing, separation of families, breeding of people, and the attendant demoralization of folks to slave status.  Those same American racists storm and strut in protest about any kind of tyranny over them, whether it be too many taxes, imposed health care, the taking away of their guns, or the centralized control of a liberal denomination in the case of Dr. Smith.
    I love my freedom, hate tyranny, and I am willing to sell my life for the cause.  I also don't like hyprocrisy.  Nor do I like the misuse of Scripture, and thus bring blasphemy to God.  God does not approve of injustice though we know that he uses it for his own ends. Why would Dr. Smith favor segregation if he didn't think one race was superior to another?  That is racism.  Why would Dr. Smith favor segregation unless he didn't believe that Jesus has made us one in Christ?  That is racism, and denial of Scriptural truth. 
   Racists often hide behind the justification of their feelings by thinking themselves gentleman, and that segregation and slavery was somehow for the benefit of the people they would deny full access to communion in the house of God.  The defenders of Apartheid in Africa did the same thing.  Whatever the emotions, the actions are hateful, pernicious, and wicked. 
    In the government of the Presbyterian Church we believe in the parity of Elders.  Racism sought to eliminate this parity by refusing the integration of other races into our churches, presbyteries, and General Assembly.  This is one reason the Methodists and Baptists were so successful in church planting among Black folk and the Presbyterians weren't.  Presbyterians can't plant churches among other ethnic groups without admitting their equality in the courts of the church.  So, Presbyterians built schools, which educated a lot of former slaves and black folk, who then went on to become Baptist and Methodist ministers.
    Thank God the philosophy and practice of the old Southern Presbyterian Church did not continue into the present day PCA in terms of race. Even though some believe the PCA is a bastion to protect white privilege.  However, we have a lot of wasted years and damage we have to overcome.  The PCA exists to glorify God and win people to Jesus Christ and disciple them in the whole counsel of God.  If we eliminate or segregate certain groups of people so as not to reach them or gather them we fail in obeying the Great Commission and reveal our hypocrisy. 
    I don't think the fact that some in our denomination came into and helped form our denomination because they felt they could escape integration means we are condemned to never reaching African
Americans. I have given my life to prove the opposite.  Reconcilation means something because of a former hostility, not because we were separated by distance or a vacation.  I was thrilled to do a preaching conference about cross cultural ministry last year to a congregation in South Carolina that had left a downtown church over the issue of race.  Repentance, as we all should know, is possible and is a blessing.
     The challenge is for now, and do we love now, and do we pursue each other now for the sake of the Gospel?  I believe that what the PCA has the world needs.  Enough and be done with a racist and humiliating heritage.  Let us not hold on to anything that doesn't reflect Jesus.  And let us not be afraid to move forward to reap the harvest, white or otherwise.


  1. Thanks Randy for telling the Emperor he has no clothes, but also where he may find a great Tailor!

  2. Very well said my brother. I am grieved by the position Dr. Smith and those who sympathize with him take. They were exposed again in recent years during the events surrounding Frendship Presbyterian in Ashville, NC. I praise God that our church judged rightly in that case, which certainly helps me remain hopeful about the PCA.

  3. "He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?" Micah 6:8 Thank you, Randy, for continuing to be a model of this Biblical directive.

  4. Thanks so much for writing on this topic. As the only AA member of my PCA church, I will say that it is difficult to connect to other memeber. Granted, I have relational issues. Still, I remember when I first started attending the church, I female member very kindly asked, "So, why white church?" Until people (all races) are able to see the church as a community of believers, we will continue to struggle with cross-cultural ministry.

  5. Good word! May we learn from our history in order to see the Lord move His kingdom forward among all peoples.

  6. The PCA still has another area of racism to deal with, viz., the Korean Presbytery. By separating brothers from each other based upon national (racial) identity, we continue the pattern of segregation your article berates. In my city, we have a Korean PCA church and a Regular (White) PCA church. They are in the same denomination, share the same confession of faith, but in reality, the regular church members don't even know they have a struggling congregation of brothers and sisters in the same town! All Korean PCA churches are segregated into one presbytery that covers the US from east coast to west coast, rather than being part of the regional division of presbyteries for the regular church, where they would know each other and be able to share in each others' needs. The same attitude of segregation you identified with Dr. Smith feeds this separation and allows it to continue beyond a period of usefulness that might have been needed when there were only a few Korean churches in the PCA. The body of Christ is one body with many different members and we all need each other. Let's end segregation in the church, now.

  7. Someone else has commented more eloquently than I regarding your sordid post.
    I do hope some of your thinking readers will read "the rest of the story" in Bill's excellent response to you. I can only hope it was the lateness of the hour of your post( 2:55 AM) that clouded your thinking to besmirch the name of a man of the character of Dr Morton Smith.
    Ron Swafford
    RTS class of 1973

  8. Here's an execise for the Hounds of Heaven pursuing Dr. Smith: Put your name one side of the top. Put Morton Smith's on the otherr side. Now down the side of the page put this list: race, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Now give him and yourselves a score from 1-10 on each. Total the scores.

  9. Yep! Kinda says it all, doesn't it? Also, there may be an integrity issue from publishing comments from a private interview without the person being interviewed knowing or agreeing to it.