Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Racism in American Presbyterianism

Over at The Institute, Anthony Bradley drops some bomb shells from Peter Slade's book Open Friendship in a Closed Society: Mission Mississippi and A Theology of Friendship, that documents pro-segregationalist policies in the PCA, First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, and RTS. It ain't fun discovering that your grandaddy was a racist, but that's how it looks for some southern Presbyterians. I have no idea what recognition there has been of this soiled past in these southern Presbyterian places or if there has been any act of contrition and repentance for what went on. But if there hasn't been, then there should be. I think it would be a just and noble act if the moderator of the PCA, the senior minister of First Presbyterian Church, the Presidentof the RTS all made a joint and public statement denouncing racism and pro-segregation beliefs in their institutional history. If ya think this is unwarranted, then read Bradley's other post "American Reformed Christianity: a comfortable safe haven for racists?".

I cannot resist one point. Maybe if some Reformed folks had a more biblical understanding of justification as having a horizontal element (note, not just horizontal) that recognized that God's declaration of "righteous" also creates a new people comprised of Jews, Greeks, Barbarians, Africans, Arabs, Americans in the church of God who are all one in Christ Jesus, then maybe they'd discover that justification by faith is more than a stick to bash Catholics with, it's a stick to bash racism with! But then again if you accept Peter Lillback's view of social justice as the official Reformed view of southern Presbyterian churches, i.e., it's a bad thing and church's shouldn't go around preaching against evils like racism (esp. not in its own domain), then sadly we cannot expect too much from them can we! The lesson to be learned here is that a concern for social justice does not necessarily lead to the advocation of a social gospel!

Good string of comments too in Bradley's post! Note esp. Ligon Duncan's comments that give some cause for hope!

7 comments:

Paul said...

Re: "Maybe if some Reformed folks had a more biblical understanding of justification as having a horizontal element (note, not just horizontal) that recognized that God's declaration of "righteous" also creates a new people comprised of Jews, Greeks, Barbarians, Africans, Arabs, Americans in the church of God who are all one in Christ Jesus, then maybe they'd discover that justification by faith is more than a stick to bash Catholics with, it's a stick to bash racism with!" Are you SURE you can't make this year's ETS in Atlanta? Sure would like to hear your voice on the matter.

Michael F. Bird said...

Paul, I will be at ETS this year and I'll be giving a paper at a session reviewing N.T. Wright's Justification book on the Friday morning and then responding to the bishops IBR paper on the Friday evening.

Paul said...

Ooh, ooh, ooh!! Airfare and hotel room BOOKED! I thought I recalled you saying (via FB) that you were unable to attend this year's mtg. Good to know and waiting to hear!

Pat said...

Michael,

I enjoy your blog, and look forward to reading your recent work on the faith of Jesus.

But I do think your comment implying that "some Reformed folks' (i.e. the PCA) traditional view of justification lets them tolerate or ignore racism is wide of the mark. The tools (or sticks) for beating on racism are in the tool-box already (e.g. adoption, union with Christ, the covenant itself). The failure to utilize them is inexcusable, but justification is not the problem. I think comments by both Slade and also Steve Taylor actually get closer to smoking the culprits out of the hole (e.g. theological provincialism, radical spiritualization of the church in her relation to the world).

Blessings,
Pat

David_Morris said...

My understanding is that some of the segregationists left the PCUS and went into the PCA and were surprised to find that they were in a very calvinist denomination and that all their good works were now counted as filthy wrags before the Lord. Must have been an unpleasant surprise ;)

The presbyterians aren't the only people with dirty laundry here either. Some of the episcopal churches in Virginia were apparently involved in setting up replacement schools when the counties closed the public schools rather than integrate them.... This is recent history here (Central Virginia).

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Books I am reading/writing/dabbling/thinking about said...

When Lig prosecutes men in the MVP who openly believe blacks are inferior to whites then we will have progress.

Things won't get better until things get uncomfortable for the bigots in his own backyard. Everything else is posturing.