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Friday, July 1, 2016

Is The PCA Apology Better Late Or Never?

In their most recent General Assembly meeting, the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) did something that might have been unprecedented at the time for a religiously conservative Christian denomination: they apologized. They apologized to Blacks in America for the denomination's practicing of segregation and its support for white supremacy during the days of the Civil Rights movement. The PCA overture that addressed this made mention of something that many of something that my fine fellow flaming fundamentalist friends and family frequently forget to refer to: corporate sin. We should note that corporate sins are those practiced by groups, which in this case the PCA denominations. But the sins that the PCA was repenting from were not just the sins of individual Christians in the denomination, they were repenting of the sins practiced by the denomination as an institution in the past.

Jemar Tisby (click here for the bio) wrote a blogpost reaction to the PCA's apology for the Reformed African American Network website (click here for the article). His remarks were very reasonable and balanced. And instead of commenting on what he wrote, I strongly suggest that you click the link to the article and read it for yourself.

What I would like to point out is something that Tisby misses in reacting to the PCA apology. That something missing is a perspective on racism held by Martin Luther King Jr. The perspective I am referring to is expressed below in a speech he made to voice opposition to the Vietnam War (click here for the source).
I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a "thing-oriented" society to a "person-oriented" society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

We should note two points made by King here as the PCA and some other religiously conservative churches have become sensitive to past sins and oppressions. We want to draw attention to these things not as an attempt to take away attention from the positive steps that the denomination is taking. Rather, it hoped that the corrections made here will further enhance the PCA's attempts at racial reconciliation.

What were King's points? The first point is that racism is not a problem that stands by itself. It is inextricably connected to other sins. The result is that if we try to significantly reduce or even eliminate racism from the Church, we cannot accomplish that by addressing racism alone. 

What must we also focus on when trying to combat racism in our ranks? King notes that the driving force for the evils of racism, poverty, and militarism has to do with materialism and our society's inclination to value things over people. And here, what King is referring to by things consists of gadgets, profits, and property rights.

Yes, we must apply a concerted focus on racism. But for as long as things are more important than people, we will be inclined to compromise moral values that promote division amongst us and one of those divisions will be race. And note that if we address what King saw as the root cause for problems like racism, we would be killing more than two birds with one stone.

Thus, the PCA must not only apologize for racism. It must start addressing its corporate participation in other sins such as supporting an exploitive economic system that invisibly leads people to embracing racism, materialism, and militarism. Yes, we should be very grateful that the PCA is apologizing for its institutional support of racism in the past. But if King is right, to focus on racism without addressing our tendencies to value things more than people is rather self-sabotaging. For as long as things are more important than people, our own practices and state policies will reflect those priorities. And for as long as we hold to those priorities, we will be clinging to racism regardless of what we claim to be doing.




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