Tuesday, July 28, 2015
Dear Brothers in the various Presbyteries of the Presbyterian Church in America,
Greetings to all of you in Jesus name! I am writing as a response to the events at the General Assembly held this summer in Chattanooga, Tennessee. I am writing in an attempt to provide some ideas as to how Presbyteries and Sessions might proceed in thinking about and responding to a call for repentance for the actions or non-actions of our founders , or ourselves, during the time preceding and during the Civil Rights Movement and our national historic break with a segregationist past.
Now, I am aware that this letter may be unwelcome by some of you if you have already come to the opinion that there was no sin on our part, or the part of our founders, and think therefore that no corporate confession or repentance is necessary. There may be no acceptance that the sins contained in what we know as racism are continuing or that we (as PCA members of the dominant white culture in America) may have some responsibility concerning their reality and continuance. Obviously that conclusion has to be made first if there is to be any humble and open discussion of these matters.
I know that some Presbyteries have already begun to discuss this, with the assumptional foundation that there has indeed been sin, either of commission or omission, in regard to loving African Americans in particular and other ethnicities, besides ourselves, in general. Having been asked by several presbyteries about guidance in these matters I thought I would send out a general letter with some things to think and pray about that might help you as we prepare for next year’s General Assembly when these matters will again rise for discussion and action. I write this as an individual Teaching Elder with some experience in these matters, but I speak for no agency or organization as I do so.
I do write in the joyful optimism of the forgiveness of sins, the healing of the Body of Christ, and the anticipation of a reconciled community. I am in no way suggesting a kind of “witch hunt” or a shunning of people who have not yet come to my conclusions. I don’t believe racism is the “unforgiveable sin” except in the hard standard of the book of I John where hatred of our brothers means we cannot truly love God. I am writing with an awareness of my own sinfulness in so many areas of my own life, and an appreciation of God’s wonderful patience with me and the patience of many Christians who have prayed and yearned for my own spiritual growth and maturity. I yearn for it too.
Please forgive me for my presumption in regard to giving you any unsolicited advice, as I know not all of us have reached the same conclusions in these matters, although many have. I understand that if this letter offends you that you most likely won’t use any of my suggestions. Obviously I am writing with the conviction that there certainly has been sin in America, and sin in our churches, and sin in our hearts as members of the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is neither about the sins of government, nor about society in general, but our sins as Christians and by our denominational forefathers, and the negative results of sin that we might still encourage by our silence or passivity.
CONSIDERATIONS OF OUR PASTAND PRESENT IF SINFUL:
1. Were our denominational antecedents supportive of segregation, and resistant to the integration of minorities in our congregations?
2. Was our particular congregation supportive or active in segregation, and resistant to the inclusion of minorities into the life of our congregations due to racial attitudes of superiority, or disdain for minorities?
3. Did any of our congregations begin on purpose as a segregated congregation?
4. Were any of our founders, as expressed in their actions and writings supportive of segregation or held racist views of minorities, and have we failed to confront them?
5. Have any of our founders or present ministers used the Scripture in ways that distorted and misinterpret the Word of God due to a racial bias, to include such teachings as the curse on Canaan in Genesis 9, the using of ethnic and national segregation for purity purposes in the Old Testament as a prescriptive teaching for our own American experience, the teaching in 2 Corinthians 6 about not being unequally yoked together with unbelievers as a teaching against inter-racial marriage? Have we failed to call them to a more correct use of exegesis and interpretation?
6. Have we indulged those who were racist in our congregations and failed to confront them in not loving their neighbor as themselves, or not loving their brothers who also confess Christ?
7. Have we told racist jokes from the pulpit or in company with other church leaders and members?
8. Have we cast minorities as negative stereotypes in our sermons and teaching?
9. Have we purposefully made choices about our evangelism and discipleship to avoid racial and ethnic minorities, or as an attempt to resist their entrance into our churches, schools, or agencies?
10. Have we cared nothing about justice for minorities, or those who have been oppressed socially in this country, and stood by and said nothing about prejudice, attitudes of racial superiority, laws and policies that economically exploited and hurt ethnic groups purposefully and in return acted to our own racial and ethnic advantage? Have we neglected the weightier matters of the Law?
CONSIDERATIONS OF PROCESS TO DISCUSS AND PRAY THROUGH THESE MATTERS:
1. Schedule time to discuss, think, and pray about these matters in your meetings.
2. Have someone preach from Scripture relevant to these matters.
3. Invite experienced Teaching Elders who think, write, or teach about these matters to speak to your Presbytery, Session, or Congregation.
4. Have open discussion times, or a Committee of the Whole, to discuss these matters.
5. Welcome personal moments of testimony or confession, and cover those saints with prayer and assurance of love.
6. Find and circulate a reading list about these subjects from a Biblical perspective, buy books and distribute them to your members to help them.
7. Pursue ethnic minorities for discussion and input, ask for their advice.
8. Don’t place the burden of plans for action on the backs of ethnic minorities by asking them what we are to do, but certainly ask for their wisdom and perspective on these things. Remember, no one person can speak for a whole people group and it is not fair to ask them to do so. Minority individuals may differ in their opinion concerning these issues or what actions we should take.
9. Come up with a Presbytery plan of action. Is there a committee that should be established to help the whole presbytery think about issues of justice and inclusion on a regular basis? Is there an overture that should be sent to General Assembly that would help the whole denomination think and deal with these things? Is there a statement that should be made in your own local community or region to ethnic leaders or ethnic and minority congregations and pastors? Is there some kind of meeting that should be held with them to help bring reconciliation?
10. What meaningful discussions can we have about mono-racial churches, both in the majority population and in minority populations? When and why is that Biblical, healthy, and glorifying to God and when is it not?
IDEAS FOR ACTION:
1. Include racial history and attitudes in your Presbytery exams. If racism is a sign of ungodly character, then hold members accountable for it. In examining for church history make sure candidates understand this part of our denomination’s history.
2. If there are significant minority populations in the area of your presbytery is the presbytery proactive in seeking to plant churches in those areas? What would it take to be successful in seeing PCA churches planted in minority communities?
3. Is the Presbytery active in seeking to initiate Gospel ministry on any HBCU institutions in your boundary?
4. What efforts have we made in insuring multi-racial involvement on any of our agency boards of committees? How can we make sure racial minorities and their perspectives are included in these national ministries?
5. Are we keeping an eye on racial inclusion and racial and ethnic enlargement on faculties, campus ministries, missionary teams and candidates, and staff?
6. Are we encouraging all of our Teaching and Ruling elders to learn cross cultural skills in ministry?
7. What kind of financial support do we need to provide for recruiting, educating, training, credentialing, and deploying minorities into PCA ministry? What plans can we make to raise that money?
May the Lord help all of us move toward peace, healing, and unity in the Body of Christ over these issues. May the Lord give us all wonderful moments of love and reconciliation as we pursue these discussions.
The Peace of the Lord be with you, and His Church,
Teaching Elder(HR), Tennessee Valley Presbytery
Monday, July 20, 2015
Some authorities seem to be having a problem finding a motive for the killing of our marines and a sailor in Chattanooga this July. There seems to be a hesitation to call it terrorism if the perpetrator cannot be proved to have some connection to a terrorist organization. Since the killer was a Muslim the authorities are obviously looking into Islamic Jihadist movements.
There is of course a problem in that thinking, and that is a failure to understand the motivating factor of religion within an individual to produce an act of terror. This attack was against our entire nation, not simply against a location, not simply against individuals, as those who were attacked and killed were representatives of our nation’s armed forces. I don't believe this was typical American work place violence, or done from a despairing sense of nihilism; any target will do for that. This was too political a statement to be dismissed so easily. Two military locations were targeted, although one location might have simply been to draw off the police so the killing could take place in another.
It may be proved that the killer was in contact with some particular organization, or at least reading online encouragement for Jihad and the call to commit attacks against the U.S. by the end of Ramadan. That is when it happened, but again whether that is what the attacker intended is still unknown. Whether he was in contact with Jihadis, or simply inspired by propaganda, or motivated by things he heard and saw while visiting the Middle East, it is still possible something else was at work and that something may have simply been religious zeal.
There is a political conundrum about blaming a religion for horrendous acts against our nation and culture, although those who have been our enemies have consistently and outspokenly explained their murderous and heinous acts as religiously motivated. The obvious problem of simply blaming Islam for the terror is that not everyone who is a Muslim is a terrorist, for which we are grateful. That would make things fairly simple, but overwhelmingly horrible, and the war would therefore have to be horrendous to put it down.
Preachers know that one sermon can make the difference between someone who is a “backslider” or “prodigal” and one who now has a fresh passion and commitment to God. Ramadan is a time of year when Muslims get in touch with their religion, they get back to the basics, they seek for a spiritual revival. The Muslim killer not too long ago had a DUI, which is not a sign of being a good Muslim. I am not sure what he did with his guilt about that, but I have a suspicion. Christians are well aware of spiritual revival and renewal, when our faith is “radicalized” and we become more fervent. This is something common to religious adherents.
What is not common is murder, and this is exactly where Islam and Christianity part company. This is one reason I am so grateful that the Bible is a book of progressive revelation, where the Old Testament unfolds into the New Testament. When a Muslim becomes “radical” in their faith all the teachings of the Koran become motivating to them, even the ones that construe the killing of non-Muslims to be something their Allah would approve. For Christians to become radical means we become more like Jesus, and thus more loving and more forgiving.
All religions have splinter groups that are not consistent with the fundamental principles of that religion. All religions have “cults” and charismatic leaders who delude their followers into stupid and perverted twists on the original religion. For Christianity to be “fundamental” means to love more, but that is not true for Islam. Islamic fundamentalism doesn’t need a cult to make it dangerous, it has always been a militaristic and imperialistic religion, and it is a great blessing to the world for most of its adherents to be “moderate” about their religion. It is a shame for so many Christians to be “moderate” about theirs.
There have been seminars and conferences to bring about some understanding of what has radicalized Muslim young adults. Opinions have been offered about poverty, displacement, alienation, and other emotional and social causes. It seems like it is forbidden to simply say, “ah, how about religion?” If it could simply be renewed fervency of Islamic practice that means it is fairly unpredictable, or very predictable, depending on how you look at it.
The secular West has a very hard time trying to figure this out. We seem to have the expectancy that people will privatize their religious beliefs, be non-intrusive to others, and that religious adherents would subordinate their beliefs to a Western pluralism. Secularists have few tools to understand Islam nor do they have the ideas to clearly speak to its dangers without sounding undemocratic. The mass migration of Muslims to countries of the West without their willingness to assimilate either to Christianity, or to Western secular ideas (and this is not to include materialism or technology which Muslims can readily embrace) makes radicalized individuals, in our midst, far too possible. For Christians being a martyr means to die for your faith, for a Muslim it means killing infidels while you die for your faith.
We are not speaking of crazy people here nor of deadbeats and losers. We are talking about smart, educated, earnest young people who want to make a difference in life. Unfortunately the religion they have become fervent about means that to make a difference might come through murder, beheading, suicide bombing, kidnapping of young women, and taking children into slavery. Since the West has decided it doesn’t know what its values are, or which cultural values it should keep, it has opened the door to all kinds of difficulty in stemming what it will call “inexplicable” acts of violence.
There is another problem that is closer to home for Christians. The question is how can we love Muslim people while understanding that the religion they hold might cause them to act in hate toward us, and might motivate them to kill us, and has motivated other Muslims to kill our brothers and sisters around the world? How can we love Muslims who hold to a religion that might at any time motivate some of them to kill our military members, our own sons and daughters, in the name of their Allah? This is hard, but it has always been hard for Christians to love those that hate them, and yet at the same time it has always been the command of Christ for us to do so. In times like these we will need to believe that the grace of God is able to help us to do just that.
Thursday, July 9, 2015
It seems to me that we have a conflict of compassionate perspectives when it comes to immigration. Sometimes we hear stories of undocumented immigrants who are caught by the reality that though they live in the U.S., possibly came here legally but overstayed their visa, or were brought here by their parents but now because of the law may be sent back to a home they no longer acknowledge, nor do they wish to return.
I have been asked by pastors what to do with someone their church has come to love and to whom they have shown mercy, but the only way they can survive is in a hidden economy, and surviving with the constant dread and anxiety of being caught and deported. How can a local church help them, past consulting with lawyers, providing emergency food and transportation to church, maybe even housing? What the person need's is a legal job, but that is one thing the church can’t provide without actively breaking the law. However, no matter how desperate things seem to get the person will not willingly return to their country of origin. They wait to find someone to marry, or for the law to change in the hopes that they can stay. Most churches come to the end of what they can legally do and continue to assist in some frustrated manner as they wait to see, with the individual, how the story will play out.
Whether individuals or churches become advocates for changes in the immigration law or not it is the immediate response to human need and the limitations of only being able to do so much that usually frustrates them. Advocacy is the long fight while mercy is the near fight right in front of them. On top of this are the moral and ethical dilemmas of seeing some wonderful people live in a shadow world where they choose to break laws to make a living, such as false or stolen identity, driving without a license, fake social security numbers, or living off of a cash economy and not paying taxes.
While it is understandable for people to want a better life, I admit some Americans find it difficult to feel a lot of compassion for people who have lived a lie only because they want to make more money, or live better materially, but face neither real poverty nor political or religious persecution back home. Some of these folks knowingly took advantage of the visa program and stayed when they should have gone home, and now realize that if they do go home voluntarily they will have to wait years before they can ever ask to come back to a country they have come to love.
Americans can be in favor of a generous immigration policy while wanting people to obey the laws we have created to make immigration somewhat of an orderly process. No matter the many stories that seem to show America, and Americans, resistant to a flood of undocumented aliens the truth is that we allow many thousands of refugees to enter and live in our country every year, besides those who apply to legally emigrate from their own country through embassies.
There is another perspective about compassion beside the immediate concern of a desperate individual or family and their fear of being sent back to their country of origin. This is a larger concern about the incentive for migration that inadequate and inept policies, laws, and enforcement have created so that people foolishly risk their lives. Most of us have heard horrible stories of “coyotes” and smugglers exploiting people, of sometimes tragic endings to trips across the desert, or folks who die in shipping containers. I don’t know if anything has matched what has been happening in the Mediterranean Sea, where thousands have drowned attempting to reach Europe.
Another way of being compassionate is to make laws enforceable and sensible so that a tempting incentive doesn’t lead people to take unreasonable risk. Migration has been a constant of human existence. It is rare that migration doesn’t come without some kind of conquest, either in a militaristic or cultural sense. If these migrations were actually invasions nations would fight to protect themselves. They would see the coming of hundreds of thousands of “foreigners” as an attempt to supplant the indigenous folks, or to eradicate their cultural and religious traditions. These modern migrations don’t have tyrants, conquerors, or generals behind them but they are culturally transformative even so. Do nations have a right to protect themselves from that?
Europe especially faces this question, and it is exacerbated by the migration of religious populations that do not want to assimilate into the majority culture. Certainly when the Europeans came to North America they weren’t interested in assimilating into Native American culture, rather they wanted to convert the natives, or supplant them by killing them, depending on which group of Europeans one reads about.
The struggle in the U.S.A. is not the supplanting of Ketchup by Salsa as the number one condiment, but the resistance of some immigrant groups to assimilate into our political and linguistic culture, and the despising of a broken immigration system. The hype about immigrant crime, about exploitation of government aide and resources, and even about Democratic party use of the issue to gain votes isn’t statistically worth the amount of print or verbal debate used on it. We have more than enough indigenous crime and abuse of the welfare system to reveal that immigrants mostly work hard, very hard, and take care of themselves compared to many of our born here citizens. We won’t protect ourselves from bad people by building bigger fences, but by building a better and more just immigration system, and allowing people with an aspiring work ethic to help build the wealth of our nation.
It is my expectation that nations will become more conservative in regard to receiving massive amounts of immigrants, legal or illegal, legitimate refugees or not. They will stop adhering to the United Nations standards of providing safety for these migrants, and they will send them home or refuse to help them. This will especially be true of those nations in the developing world that become “holder” type nations, near neighbors of places from which people are fleeing but which do not have their own resources or infrastructure to care for such large groups of people. It is becoming all too commonplace for huge refugee camps to exist for too many years, condemning whole generations of children to grow up in them as a displaced people. War and famine, but slow national and international adjustments to these realities as well, create horrible results.
For us in America we have to figure out how we can remain true to our heritage as a nation of immigrants, even those forced here by slavery, and provide a sensible, just, and compassionate avenue for the huge amount of folks who want (at risk of exploitation, loss of their wealth, loss of life, and detention) to come and live here. It is not compassionate to simply throw the doors open and think this will solve the problem, it will in actuality make it worse, and create a stampede which will inevitably trample those attempting to get here and create a fresh xenophobia. Since our political hysteria has created a paralysis of using our American ingenuity and “can do” attitude we are now beset with a minority sub-culture of “illegals.” This issue is so full of political demagoguery that any possible leadership on the issue gets sabotaged by the ideological extremists of either party. Somebody in politics hear me, “stop using fear and give us some creative solutions!”
No matter the political attractiveness of a self-righteous call for “no amnesty,” we have to figure out a way of clearing the table for a just system. Clearing the table means an over-haul of how we identify every person who is here in the shadow world and bring them into the light, and make them legal in some form or fashion. We must find a way to incentivize this path. In the case of real criminals they should be imprisoned enough so they won’t just come right back after a fast deportation. If we do this in such a way as to make it clear enough, attractive enough, arduous enough, systematic enough, and inviolable enough from cheating or gaming the system, we can then reform how large the doorway is for new aspiring and legal immigrants. That doorway is too small, and too confusing, and just invites cheating. My call is for a renewal of American generosity, a reform of a broken system, and a strong and enforceable policy that cannot be easily circumvented.