Fantastic Book, that includes many of the papers listed below:
[Excerpt from 2016 action of the PCA’s General Assembly:]
So, if racism is sin, serious sin, heresy, and not merely an issue of the past but a matter that needs our current and ongoing attention, what should we do? What practical steps can we take? An issue this controversial, a problem this big, can seem daunting and can leave us feeling like there is nothing we can do. But there are important, simple things that any and every believer can do to begin engaging this significant challenge. As believers, we can learn, pray, acknowledge, relate, and commit.
Here is what we mean by those five things. Most of us in the PCA churches of the Presbytery of the Mississippi Valley are white, though we live in a state with a population that is 37% black (and the Jackson metropolitan area is about 50% black). Denominationally, less than 2% of PCA pastors are black. We don’t have statistics on the ethnicity of our church membership in PMV, but ethnic minorities are probably in the low single digits percentage-wise.
One of the things that this means is that we will have to make a deliberate effort to gain another perspective on this issue outside of our own “bubble.” Relatively few of us have close friends of other ethnicities, especially in the context of our local churches. That means that understanding the perspective of fellow Bible-believing Presbyterians, who are of a different ethnicity, and with whom we have an actual relationship, on the issue of racial reconciliation, is a challenge. This means that the very first thing we have to do is want to learn. We don’t know what we need to know about this issue.
Read the PMV overture on “Confession of the Sin of Racism, and Commitment to Christian Unity.” Keep up with the other overtures on this issue coming to the PCA General Assembly. Especially take the time to read the PCA General Assembly’s “The Gospel and Race: A Pastoral Letter” (2004). Read the material mentioned in the PMV “Suggested Resources on Race and our History for the Presbytery of the Mississippi Valley.” This will take a while. There is a lot to chew on. Seek to learn from Reformed, African American perspectives on these issues. Talk to black PCA ministers, elders, and members. Tell them you want to learn from them. Listen. Go online and listen to their sermons. Read Reformed, black writers on the internet.
Here are four places you can go online to do this:
Ellis Perspectives http://www.ellisperspectives.com/ Dr. Carl and Karen Ellis. Dr. Ellis is a black PCA minister, teaches for RTS, and his wife Karen is an expert in the persecuted church.
The Front Porch http://thefrontporch.org/ Where black Reformed ministers talk about the Bible, the Black Church, Culture/Ethnicity, Family, God, the Gospel, Leadership, Missions, Preaching, Salvation, Shepherding, Theology, Women and Worship.
The Reformed African American Network https://www.raanetwork.org/ Here you will encounter the voices of many younger, black, Reformed people (and others committed to a multi-ethnic church) talking about the Bible, church, race, culture and current events. [since the paper, this has been renamed "The Witness."]
Pure Church https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/thabitianyabwile/ This is the blog of Thabiti Anyabwile, a black pastor of Anacostia River Church in southeast Washington, DC.
For pastors, elders, and church members wanting to dig deep into a biblical understanding of race and to get perspective on how racialized our society has been and is, three books would provide a huge help:
Daniel Hays, From Every People and Nation: A Biblical Theology of Race in New Studies in Biblical Theology, edited by D.A. Carson (IVP Academic, 2003). This is a book written by a conservative, Bible-believing scholar and edited by a renowned evangelical theologian. It is a study of the Bible’s teaching on ethnicity in the sweep of redemptive history (from Genesis to Revelation) and it convincingly shows that God’s grand saving plan finds its culmination in the one people of God, at the consummation of history, depicted as a multi-ethnic congregation, gathered together in the worship of the one, triune God, around his throne. When you realize that this is where the history of the people of God is going, it changes your understanding of the here and now.
Jarvis J. Williams, One New Man: The Cross and Racial Reconciliation in Pauline Theology (B&H Academic, 2010). Dr. Williams is a professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY, and teaches for Reformed Theological Seminary as well. In this book Dr. Williams, who is African American, argues that Christ’s death for our sin is God’s only solution to racial hostility and the only provision for racial reconciliation. This is precisely what most of the founding fathers of the PCA thought and taught. This book will help you understand what the gospel says about race and race relations, which is hugely important since we often allow cultural prejudices to shape our understanding of race instead of scripture.
Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith, Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America (Oxford University Press, 2001) Dr. Mike Campbell, former Senior Pastor of Redeemer Church (PCA), Jackson, MS, recommended this book to the faculty of RTS to read a few years ago. The RTS Jackson faculty read and discussed it, with much profit. It attempts to explain why white evangelicals in general don’t view racism and racial reconciliation the way black Christians do. It is very illuminating on that front. Emerson and Smith are respected sociologists and are fair-minded in the way they present their case. You don’t have to agree with everything in the book to benefit greatly from its perspective. For instance, if you don’t understand the difference between “racist” and “racialized” you are probably blind to important presuppositions you are bringing to this discussion.
In all of this, we should aim to better understand our presuppositions, our history and our context. If we are unaware of our presuppositions, lack knowledge of the history of racism in the churches, and have failed to scrutinize how our context may have unwittingly influenced our attention to and understanding of how the Bible speaks to this issue, we will be hampered in our consideration and discussion.
There is nothing more important we can do than to pray. Racial reconciliation is impossible in our own strength. Only God and the Gospel can avail. And that means we need to pray. In prayer we acknowledge our own powerlessness, but at the same time acknowledge God’s power to act, save and change.
The following prayer suggestions assume our social and geographical location, in Mississippi and Louisiana, in the Southeastern United States in the early years of the 21st century, with all the history of racial conflict that entails. Hence, these suggestions will focus more on black-white relations in our churches, than on other ethnicities (though much will be transferable to prayer in other situations and for other peoples). These prayers also take into consideration that most of us in PCA churches in Mississippi and Louisiana are white, and they ask us to bear in mind fellow believers who are not.
Praise God as the one true God, creator of all humanity, maker of every person of every tribe, tongue, people and nation, in His own image.
Praise God for his saving plan to make out of all peoples and nations, one people, a people for himself.
Praise God that at the consummation of human history, men and women and boys and girls, from all the world in every corner, from every tribe, tongue, people and nation, who have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb, who have believed the Gospel and trusted Christ, who have been saved by sovereign grace, adopted into God’s household, made members of Christ’s body, will worship God and the Lamb, forever.
Praise God that in some measure the church visible now bears witness to that future reality.
Thank God for your African American brothers and sisters in Christ, and for every ethnicity that is part of the church visible. “Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight.”
Thank God that there is a reawakening of Reformed Theology in the African American community.
Thank God that he is raising up outstanding African American Reformed preachers in our generation.
Thank God for the increasing ethnic diversity in the PCA that has grown up because of the power of the Gospel, the work of the Spirit and our union with Christ.
Thank God that our denomination’s founding fathers wanted a church for all peoples and that as the PCA approaches fifty years old we are closer to that aspiration than we were in 1973.
Confess whatever your own personal and congregational sins and failures may be, whether by omission or commission, pertaining to loving our African American brothers and sisters in Christ.
Grieve and lament that the evangelical branch of the Presbyterian tradition from which we come fell so short of the Bible and Reformed Theology in our treatment of people of different ethnicities, especially African Americans, even in the church: barring them from worship attendance and church membership, misusing and twisting the Bible to support racial segregation; failing to show solidarity with and support for African American brothers and sisters in Christ as they endured various kinds of discrimination and duress in the Civil Rights era.
Grieve the consequences of this for our own day and ask the Lord to open your eyes to blindspots and behavior that continue to cause us to fall short of our biblical duties towards fellow believers of different ethnicities, especially African Americans.
Ask that God, by grace, would grant an extraordinary work of racial healing and reconciliation among believers, and that our past failures would not hinder present ministry.
Ask God that by the Holy Spirit he would break down barriers that separate us from one another and create the unity that ought to be exhibited within the body of Christ.
Ask God that the real, biblical, Gospel, Holy Spirit-wrought, racial reconciliation in our church might be a powerful witness to the culture around us that would cause even unbelievers to say: “surely God is among them.”
Ask God to bless the ministries of faithful, Bible-believing African American pastors, especially PCA pastors, as well as those of other ethnic minorities.
Ask God that your words, actions, and attitudes would be encouraging to your African American brothers and sisters in Christ, as well as to other ethnic minorities.
Ask God to grant his heart and help to the PCA and other solid biblical churches so that we would do a better job of reaching out to African Americans, and other ethnic minorities, with the Gospel.
Ask God to so work in us congregationally by his sanctifying Holy Spirit that ethnic minority attenders and members of our churches will feel welcome, loved, at home and part of the family.
Ask for God to raise up more African American (and other ethnic minority) pastors, missionaries, church planters, seminary and college professors, campus ministers, elders, deacons, women in the church leaders, and ministerial candidates in the PCA. Pray for minority leadership at the congregational, presbytery, and denominational levels.
Our Father, You are the one, true God who made the world and everything in it, Acts 17:24-26 You are the Lord of heaven and earth, You give to all mankind life and breath and everything. And you made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth. You made us to seek you and worship you, Acts 17:27; John 4:23
But we sought ourselves instead and worshipped the creature rather than the Creator, And so we were estranged from You, Romans 1:25 Genesis 11:8-9 And estranged from one another, like the people of the plain of Shinar.
Yet in your grace, you not only created, called and saved your people Israel, but also promised that your covenant with Abraham would mean blessings for all the families of the earth. Genesis 12:3
Through Jesus Christ you brought the blessings of Abraham to the Gentiles, Gal. 3:13-14 And you made Jew and Gentile into one new man, your people, your church. Ephesians 2:11-22, 3:6
And at the end of time, a multitude none can number, from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation will all be your people Revelation 7:9-12 in one body worshipping the one true God, through one savior, Jesus Christ, by the power of one Holy Spirit.
Grant that we would long for that, and look like that more. Now.
In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.
If we do not acknowledge that racism is a problem and we do not aspire to racial reconciliation and Gospel unity, it won’t happen. We can learn all we want, but if we don’t see our sin and need in this area, if we don’t buy in to its importance, if we aren’t ready to make changes, it won’t matter much whatever else we do.
Acknowledgement not only means owning up to our part of the problem, and that a problem exists, and that it is important, but also recognizing how big the challenge is. Racial reconciliation has not been, is not, and will not be an easy thing. Only the Gospel is big enough to address it.
And acknowledgement doesn’t come easy for many evangelical Christians, for a variety of reasons. As we have already noted, many evangelical Christians view today’s discussions of racism as just another example of political correctness being foisted on the church. Sociologists Emerson and Smith noted in their book Divided by Faith that most evangelicals think of racism as a thing of the past. Hence, when the subject is introduced some respond by saying “It’s time to move on.”
But we also need to realize and acknowledge how hard this discussion is for our African American brothers and sisters in the church. They too, are often “tired” of this conversation, but not for the same reason many white evangelical Christians are. Black Christians are “tired” of having to justify the validity and relevance of the conversation in the first place, and are often deeply discouraged by how little their white brothers and sisters seem to have thought or cared about it, or to have realized the dramatic effect racism has had upon their lives.
Let’s be honest and admit how big a challenge all this is. All you have to do to show how difficult the discussion is is to bring a group of black and white Bible-believing Reformed Christians into a room and say the words: social justice, systemic racism, white privilege, mass incarceration, police brutality, racial profiling, gentrification, spirituality of the church – and prepare for the whirlwind! The point is not that there is one right view of these things (one quickly learns that there is not one “black view” of these things, even among PCA African Americans). The point is this: even among people with shared Reformed theology, our social and cultural experiences are so different, and our perspectives so varied, that constructive conversation is very difficult on many subjects, especially at first, and requires a long season of trust-building and personal relationship (which leads to our next point).
The problem is real. The solution is not easy. Only God and the Gospel can prevail.
Make friends. Do not underestimate the power of friendship. This whole discussion will remain abstract until you meet and befriend a person whom you come to care about, who is different from you, and who can give you a perspective on this issue different from your own. For white PCA Christians, that is going to mean establishing interracial friendships.
Start with deliberately seeking to cultivate friendships with Reformed and PCA African American Christians. Then reach out to other Bible-believing black Christians. Then seek to be a better friend to African Americans in your neighborhood, work, and community.
Maybe there’s someone in your church who is of a different race. You know each other, but you’ve never spent significant time together or had a serious conversation. Why not invite that person out to coffee, or to breakfast or lunch, or have their family over for dinner? This is a natural, organic way to deepen a relationship you already have.
Be intentional. We don’t naturally gravitate toward those who are different from us. We naturally gather in similar groups. We have to do something unnatural, or rather, supernatural to break the cycles of social sameness that hinder racial reconciliation. Think like a missionary or a church planter or a campus minister. All these folks are deliberately on the look out to try to make friendships and connect with people for the sake of the Gospel and ministry. Apply that attitude and approach to interracial friendships.
Pastors, consider entering into a friendship with a pastor of a different ethnicity. Get together for coffee and meals, and discuss substantial issues. Pray for one another. Get to know each other’s families. Swap pulpits, where appropriate and possible.
Commit to this issue as a part of your personal and congregational sanctification. Determine to grow in your cultural intelligence regarding ethnic minorities. Learn from godly Christians who are already engaged in racial reconciliation and demonstrating Christian unity.
Pastors and elders may want to consider asking people from ethnic minorities in your community their impression of the reputation of your church regarding racism, neighbor love and impartiality.
Pastors and elders may want to examine patterns, language, and culture within our churches that erect barriers to other races.
With pastoral prudence and sensitivity, pastors and elders may want to consider preaching and teaching in our churches concerning racism, highlighting the biblical doctrines that inform the Christian view, but clearly anchoring the study in Scripture.
Establish a minority scholarship for those preparing for the Gospel ministry in the PCA, for both college and seminary education (since both are required for PCA ordination and since many ethnic minorities lack the resources for them).
Consider and cultivate interns from ethnic minorities to be discipled for ministry, as you would any other ministerial candidate or person with potential for service in the church.
Be intentional with discipling minority members for church leadership.
Endeavor to prepare African American (and other ethnic minority) pastors, missionaries, church planters, seminary and college professors, campus ministers, elders, deacons, women in the church leaders, and ministerial candidates in the PCA.
Think carefully about the hiring practices of your church. For instance, is one type of employee typically from an ethnic minority? What message do you intend to send: to the employee, to the members, to visitors, to the watching world?
Deliberately reach out to and evangelize people of other and minority ethnicities within our communities, near our churches, and within the areas covered by our regional church, the presbytery.
Show church members what personal loving interracial friendship and hospitality look lik by hosting members, attenders, and friends of all ethnicities in your home.
Read publications by authors of other ethnicities, especially Bible-believing and Reformed authors from other and minority ethnicities.
Don’t exclude or discourage, on the basis of ethnicity, any person from membership, privilege, or responsibility, including leadership, in any church or in the presbytery.
Don’t discriminate, on the basis of race, against a Christian participant in worship services, or other services or functions of the church (including weddings).
Don’t tolerate racist attitudes, language, and practices among the membership of the church.
Don’t expect that we will agree about everything (like church music!), with fellow Christians from ethnic minorities, even within the PCA.
So, learn, pray, acknowledge, relate, and commit. These pastoral suggestions are offered in the spirit of “stirring one another up to love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24). Your presbytery writes as fellow elders, brothers, and members of the congregations of PMV. May the Lord himself grant us Gospel unity, racial reconciliation, and enable us to bear fruit in keeping with repentance (Matthew 3:8).