“Therefore my appeal is that the PCA re-focus on the gospel ministry of the church and make that its declaration rather than repeatedly making statements on race and its related issues.”
Part 3 » Are There New Issues?
Last article addressed whether the Presbyterian Church in America’s (PCA) position on racial sin was clear. This question is raised as this series of articles (for the first one click here) makes an appeal to PCA elders to turn the corner on a prevailing General Assembly (GA) conversation: race and racial sin. To that end, three questions are asked that should help give clarity on the need for continuing attention on this topic:
- Whether the PCA has a clear and thorough declaration on the sin of racism;
- Whether there are any new or extraordinary manifestation of this sin rearing its head in society or the PCA that would warrant additional teaching from God’s word;
- Whether the PCA neglects shepherding of private or public unrepentant sins in this regard that should be addressed by church courts.
The first question was raised and answered in last installment with a resounding “yes!” The preponderance of theological statements, pastoral letters, and reports from the PCA (1977, 2002, 2004, 2016, 2018) has rendered further declarations on racial sin simply an exercise in restatement and redundancy. However, questions 2 and 3 above are yet to be tackled.
Overture 45 (and 46) at the 48th General Assembly (St. Louis, MO)
Both Metro Atlanta (#45) and Metro New York (#46) presbyteries submitted an identical overture, asking the GA to take several actions on behalf of the Asian-American members of the PCA. Although the reasoning for any overture is never part of the final denominational adoption of a request, it is still pertinent because they argue that a significant new development in the area of race relations has arisen that would make a new statement necessary and good. Two points are specifically important:
“Whereas, Metro Atlanta Presbytery learned with sorrow of the tragic deaths of eight people in and around our own presbytery on Tuesday, March 16, 2021, six of whom were of Asian descent, who were wives, mothers, sisters, and daughters made in the image of God; and
Whereas, even though the ultimate motivation of this shooter remains unestablished, these tragic shootings happened within the larger context of an increase in violence in this nation against Asian Americans over the last year; and have brought to light the racism that many of our Asian American brothers and sisters in Christ, and Asian American neighbors have experienced, and remind them of the anti-Asian racism that has been present in the past.”
These reasons sound very much like a case for answering the second diagnostic question above with a “yes.” It is an assertion that there is a new form of racial sin previously unacknowledged by the PCA warranting additional clarification from the denomination. However asserting something is not the same thing as proving it.
Is There An Extraordinary Increase In Racial Sin?
Certainly US news outlets reported an increase in violence against Asians with vigor. For example here is a story of such increased violence from NBC. In the article, several cities are cited as examples, but for simplicity’s sake, only New York City will be considered here. Included in the article is the statistical analysis that the city with the largest surge in race based crime is NYC at a staggering 833% increase. Reporting things that way makes for an alarming headline and concern is an understandable result. However, as Christians it is important to think critically to understand if such numbers are, in fact, indicative of a racial crisis in our land.
So the question has to be asked, what kind of numbers are we looking at here? It is appropriate to acknowledge that I’m not a statistician, so perhaps the numbers are over-simplified, but it will be close for illustrative purposes at least. The article cites an increase from 3 hate crimes in 2019 to 28 in 2020. That within the context of 1.4 million Asian Americans who live in New York. Looking at these numbers a different way in 2019 you had a 0.000214% of being the victim of a hate crime as an Asian New Yorker. In 2020 it is 0.002%. And the same can be said for the increase in other major urban centers: 7 to 15 in Los Angeles, 6 to 14 in Boston, 6 to 9 in San Fransisco, 0 to 1 in San Diego and Cincinnati. Just to be clear, this observation is not a denial that hate crimes were committed, neither is it minimizing the pain of those afflicted. Rather it is disputing if this rise is actually a significant difference or whether the world is continuing to show evidence of its condition of sin and misery. I say it is the latter.
My contention is that these numbers do not represent a significant shift in the world. But could it be that within the PCA there was a shift or a pattern of racial sin? That was certainly argued from the floor. Take for example the floor speech made by Pastor Hansoo Jin of the Korean Capital Presbytery. This brother insinuated racism or at least racial insensitivity against Koreans at multiple general assemblies. TE Jin said,
“You can imagine, if you will, how I felt when I heard that a member of this assembly refer (sic) to Korean prayer as unbiblical. See, when we think about racism it is easy to think of it as a problem that is in the world that the worlds struggles with and so why do we have to deal with it in this assembly? And I admit that the things that we see in the world with race do not necessarily manifest in the same way in the PCA, but we must not confuse that with a lack of racism in the PCA, or at least a lack of racial awareness in the PCA. See, comments like that that I heard at this assembly I have heard every single year that I have been a commissioner…at GA. I have had uncomfortable, demeaning, marginalizing conversations oftentimes by well-meaning individuals but still nevertheless these conversations made me feel and question whether or not this is a denomination for me.”
In his speech, TE Jin articulates what he considers to be a sin by another man allegedly to have occurred at the Bills and Overtures committee of the 48th GA. The contention is not that such a sin may not have been committed, but with the process and assumptions TE Jin made. If the alleged racist truly believes Korean prayer is sinful because it is Korean, there is a bona fide charge of racism to be investigated. It would be appropriate to address such a brother about his perceived sin in private, taking other witnesses along should he remain unrepentant. Only after that process should the church courts have been made aware of these allegations. This process ensures that the truth is told, and that the 9th commandment is not broken. However, starting with the conclusion that these comments were an attack on Korean prayer seems to be an adaptation of the kind of “guilt by skin color” that is rampant in the world today.
It is possible the alleged racist who made the statement took issue with the style, and not the ethnic background of the prayer. In other words, in a PCA that has overwhelmingly repudiated racism, is it not more likely that it is the mode of the prayer, rather than the ethnicity of that prayer that is causing the objection of this TE? Of course, the world begins its attack with race. There must be a racist lurking behind every corner. Everything is boiled down to race, and all disagreement must include some underlying racial motivation. And yet, Christian charity would require us to admit at least the possibility that the issue might be entirely theological without any racial motivation at all. The process of speaking to a brother first ensures that the wrong picture is not presented as fact in the church court. However, if there is racial sin in a man, it is the sin of the individual rather than the whole denomination.
The conclusion is that the second of our three original diagnostic questions also can be answered at best in the negative, or at worst as undetermined until the process of clarifying intent and views is fully followed. That begs the question as to whether the third diagnostic question has some validity: are there individual racial sins in the PCA that remain unaddressed? That is the question for next the next article.
 Commissioner Handbook for the 48th General Assembly of the PCA, p. 164.
 Vimeo, Presbyterian Church in America, Thursday Closing Business Session, n.d., https://livestream.com/accounts/8521918/events/9731338/videos/222954013, accessed July 28, 2021. TE Jin’s speech takes place from 3:00:12 to 3:01:23
Geoff Gleason is pastor of Cliffwood Presbyterian Church in Augusta, Georgia. His passion is to see the people of God grow in their faith, and those who are lost become numbered among the faithful. He has been married for 28 years and, usually, is the joyful father of 11 children ranging in age from 28 to 6, and two grandsons.