Reed DePace, who is a fellow pastor in the Presbyterian Church in America, contacted me with some push back on my 5 part series on race in the PCA. I wanted to give him the opportunity express himself here. I may respond in the future, if time allows. His thoughts appear below the line.
I think your observations in your series “An Appeal on Race in the Presbyterian Church in America” express some sufficiency, but more at the macro level than the personal level. At the personal level, I’d suggest adding a couple of diagnostic questions: 1) Parish Degree, and 2) Brotherly Sympathy.
By parish degree, I’m asking the question: how broadly does the concern apply? Your suggestions appear adequate at the broadest level, e.g., say at the denominational level. With you, I agree we’ve taken quite a few “denomination-wide” actions, more than enough to address any systemic concerns. What I think remains is addressing such concerns more closer to home, as it were. Anecdotally here (not throwing any accusations out, just generally observing), we might observe that there a number of local congregations that maybe should look into some sort of response to address present (or even previous) concerns. There are two examples from out congregation.
First, we needed to address an historical pattern of the sin of partialism in our ministry. We did so, not for any intentions related to reaching out to any other groups in our community (e.g., African Americans). Instead, we did so to follow the pattern of corporate repentance seen in the ministries of Daniel, Ezra, and Nehemiah. Our actions were more of an owning our history for the sake of our witness to the integrity of God’s glory in His Son, rather than some application of secular theories.
The second example relates to the planting of a sister Korean PCA congregation. Given local considerations, we saw this as a relevant application of our Acts 1:8 imperative. Conversely, for different reasons, this imperative did not apply to African American nor Hispanic communities in this area. Yet with a recent re-location, these considerations flipped. We’re no longer in an area where ministry to/with Koreans is relevant. Conversely, reaching out to the Hispanic community now is. (for a number of socio-cultural reasons, reaching out to the African Americans in our community still faces some hurdles we’re not able to surmount.)
In both these examples, it is the parish degree diagnostic that helped us determine ministry imperatives. Following the pattern of the first Jerusalem NT church, reaching out to all the communities in their parish, we examined the degree to which Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts were in our parish. Then, prayerfully seeking God’s favor, we sought to minister to them. It seems to me that it is entirely possible to we might put to rest the denominational concerns (as your post suggests), and still need an awful lot of local parish attention. Asking a diagnostic “to what degree” will help us in determining if and where local concerns may still be prevalent.
The second, additional diagnostic question that I think might be added is the brotherly sympathy one. This is simply the examining of how my brother responds to these issues, and then adjusting my response to minister the gospel’s grace and mercy to him. For example, consider our denominational response to our Asian brothers’ concerns at this GA. On the one hand, the use of a “Korean prayer” imprecation that is gossip at best to support the argument for addressing their concerns is manipulative and beneath the integrity with which we are called to behave as elders in Christ’s church. On the other hand, I think our response was ham-fisted at best. We would have been much wiser to pause any response and ask for further clarification from Asian elders.
This brotherly sympathy diagnostic is based on passages like Acts 15 and Col 3:11. In the first, note that the prohibition against eating meat with its blood is based on brotherly sympathy. The Mosaic dietary provisions no longer applied, in toto. Thus, the “restriction” here was relative to Jewish believer sensitivities. It was a temporary restriction put in place due to Romans 14-15 weaker brother considerations. It was an expression of brotherly sympathy for the Jewish believers. Similarly, in Col 3:1, imagine the slave and Scythian responses to Paul’s teaching to the church in Colossae. The slave subject to socioeconomic prejudice, and the Scythians subject to the socioethnic prejudice variety, these words must have been a wondrous glory of the gospel to their ears. To be sure, the local congregation then had to work to put into practice this gospel truth. Nevertheless, the brotherly sympathy just from the mere expression was huge.
Going back to the Asian overtures this past GA, this is why I’d have preferred a pause and re-consider response. To be sure, there was some degree of younger Asian brothers responding out of a progressive informed hermeneutic. Yet the vast majority of the Asian elders (I did some checking) were respectfully disappointed in how we handled it. Yes, the problems being faced are more secular culture than sacred (e.g., the “Wuhan” virus effect). Yes, to the degree there are “systemic” problems in treatment of Koreans in our culture, it is more African, then Hispanic, before it is Anglo. And yet, what harm would it have been to take the time to show brotherly sympathy that the majority of our Asian elders would have appreciated? I expect had we done so, even though it would have taken more time, and we might have arrived at the same application, the time spent would have ministered to our Korean brothers in a manner that yielded increasing gospel dividends.
Again, as with my previous example under the parish degree discussion, my purpose here is not to persuade you of my opinion on this particular example. Instead, I bring it up only to demonstrate the necessary relevance of the brotherly sympathy diagnostic. Like the parish degree diagnostic, it forces us to bring into consideration other biblical; imperatives that are not necessarily surfaced by the three you’ve promulgated.
Thank you for the grateful reception of my ideas. Where I’m unclear I’ll be grateful attempt tidy up the mud. Where you disagree, I’ll be grateful to learn how I might think better on these things.
Reed DePace is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Montgommery, Alabama.