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June 19, 2004

The Church and Racism

The letter seeks to provide a definition of racism, a theological perspective on racism, pastoral responses to racism and discussion of pastoral issues relating to racism. Racism is an explicit or implicit belief or practice that qualitatively distinguishes or values one race over other races. From a biblical perspective, it is the position of the General Assembly that racism, as it is defined in the letter, is sin, and that repentance must follow both individually and corporately.

I recommend reading and reflecting upon the complete PCA Pastoral Letter on Racism.


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PCA Statement on Racism from Parablemania
The Presbyterian Church of America, which for those who don't follow denominations is the most recent splinter group off the mainline Presbyterian Church USA (and the more conservative of the two) has issued a pastoral letter on racism. Thanks to... [Read More]

Tracked on June 23, 2004 03:51 AM


I'm glad they passed it, FWIW. I worry just a little bit about the section on "natural affinities", not that I think it is poorly worded necessarily, but that it could give encouragement to segregationalists. As Will Campbell pointed out in _Race and the Renewal of the Church_, we have just as much obligation to minister to (and call repentence from) segregationalists as we do to minister to minorities and the poor.

We should be preaching humility to the rich and the powerful and empowerment to the poor and disenfranchised.

I also might have preferred a stronger naming of our past sins in this area. At one time presbyterian churches kept deacons at the door to keep out minorities. As Campbell (again) pointed out, we CANNOT be the church, as the New Testament defines it, and be segregated. Galatians is pretty clear about this.

Just some thoughts.

Posted by: Paul Baxter at June 19, 2004 03:59 PM

Thank you, Paul, for sharing your thoughts on that.

I used to think most cries of "Racism!" were exaggerations by the media and negative stereotypes of the South, and not really legitimate. I recently realized that I thought that because I was very blessed to grow up in a family, churches, and military communities where there wasn't racism. (Well, an occasional oddball, like the conspiracy-theorist relative who blames "the Jews" for everything. . .)

Posted by: TulipGirl at June 19, 2004 04:17 PM

I don't think there's anywhere where there's no racism. I think it's those who don't think they have any racism at all who would be surprised at the assumptions they have that would offend others of different races. I'm not sure it's sin to have such assumptions, but it's residual racism in that it's racism left over from previous generations' explicit racist values. Once discovered, they should be resisted of course, and it's then sin if not. It's probably also our obligation to look for such assumptions, but we can't assume we know all of them.

Paul, I think it's just as important to preach humility to the disenfranchised. Pride is a problem at all levels. It just manifests itself differently among those who have less but think they deserve more. Triumphalism is a big problem in black churches, and it comes right out of pride in many cases.

Posted by: Jeremy Pierce at June 19, 2004 07:26 PM

I'm sure you are right there, Jeremy. I was just trying to summarize James (the epistle) a bit.

This is second hand, but a white pastor in our area was talking to a black pastor and asked why the services in the black church went for three hours while the white church service was only one hour. The black pastor said it took three hours to get his congregation to remember who they were in Christ. If a congregation (and this is not necessarily related to race) really comes in feeling beat up by the world, the church does need to be a place of encouragement.

There are, of course, a lot of things the church needs to do to be the church properly.

Posted by: Paul Baxter at June 20, 2004 04:00 AM

I was also concerned about the natural affinities section, but for the opposite reason - I didn't think it was strong enough. It depends on how one defines segregation. I'm completely against forced segregation, especially in the Church, but I have no problem with folks having an affection for their race, country, culture, or what not.

I also don't find it surprising that people tend to group together to worship in same-race/same-culture groupings. One of the great things about being presbyterian is that we can very visibly affirm our relationship with brothers of different races and cultures whether they happen to group together in mostly homogenous congregations, or whether the congregations end up pretty broadly mixed.

If the PCA wants to get serious about responding to racism, we need to fix our credentialing process so that it's more open to folks who aren't upper middle class white guys.

Posted by: Rob Huffstedtler at June 21, 2004 03:16 PM


was the situation of Peter, as described by Paul in Galatians, forced segregation or natural affinity?

I know that's not a perfect analogy to our current situation, etc., but I just don't see how a church can claim to be following the gospel and also make any sort of suggestion that "this is a congregation for X sort of people."

I'm not really accusing you of that, so don't take this that way. I've just heard enough about presbyterians who really are segregationists that I want to make sure the denom. doesn't look like it is coddling such a position.

Posted by: Paul Baxter at June 21, 2004 07:41 PM


In the case of Peter, we don't have the details, but Paul was there and he clearly thought Peter was in the wrong. I don't get the impression that Peter was sitting with the Judaizers because their table was the only one with the lattkes and the lox. If you compare against Acts 10-11, I think it's pretty clear that Peter's earlier attitude, to which he seems to have returned, goes way beyond natural affinities), but given the lack of details that Paul gives.

I pretty much agree with you that a church should never say "we're the church of suburban middle class white folks - you guys might want to consider Good Shepherd instead". OTOH, churches sometimes have to make some decisions about who they are primarily called to reach. There's a church in our presbytery that has been through a very painful learning period with this, because their geographical location was ideal for reaching three distinct socio-economic groups of two races. It was their hope that their unity in the gospel would be a tremendous demonstration of the power of Christ, but it turned out that the cultural differences made it difficult to organise ministries, plan worship, etc. in a way that would bring the groups together. They have decided instead to focus on two of the groups and pray that another church would be planted that could reach the other (and possibly overlap into one of the two they are focusing on).

The error that I am concerned about, and that I think we need to be very careful to guard against while condeming racial injustice, is a Christianised version of white guilt. what I mean is that if one condemn natural affinities too harshly, he is thereby intimating that someone who chooses to live in Cary rather than Durham is living in sin (I actually wanted to do the opposite, but my wife preferred Cary, and Peace Church is the best foretaste of the new heavens and new earth that I have ever been blessed to be a part of).

I've known folks who moved into transitional neighborhoods and the like (incidentally, something that can be a great ministry opportunity) who did it out of that sort of guilt. When one does it out of guilt rather than out of love and a real sense of call, it seems not to work out very well.

Does that clear the waters a bit, or muddy them worse?

Posted by: Rob Huffstedtler at June 22, 2004 07:31 PM

That's fine, Rob. I know that every church will have some sort of composition which will not exactly equal a micocosm of the local demographics. My concern is with how people read a public statement on racism from GA, i.e. that it not be seen to give even the least bit of support to segregationists.

It's striking to me (in the worst sense of that word) that the history of churches in America is so plagued by segregation. AFAIK this is true pretty evenly throughout the various branches of the church. And since ethics are necessarily contingent on history (there's a long story behind THAT statement), we need to keep that sort of thing in mind whenever we try to make public statements about race.

Anyhow I'm not sure we are in fact arguing about anything. Seems humorous to me to be discussing Durham vs. Cary on a website hosted by someone in Kiev :)

Posted by: Paul Baxter at June 23, 2004 10:18 PM

"Seems humorous to me to be discussing Durham vs. Cary on a website hosted by someone in Kiev :)"


Not at all. . . Actually, it's been living here that has given me a different perspective/interest in race related issues. In part, because I'm away from the prejudices that seem "normal" to me, and also because I see the attitudes that are here.

Posted by: TulipGirl at June 23, 2004 10:37 PM

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