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Pastoral Letter from PCA Leaders on Race and Justice in Light of Recent Heinous Killings

New City Family,

The events of the past few weeks and the unrest in our nation remind us that things are not the way they are supposed to be. The heinous killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd have once again shed light on injustices that persist in our society. The elders at New City would like to commend to you the following letter from our denominational leaders. It provides a Scriptural, theological and ecclesial basis for responding to racial tensions and injustice. Please read it carefully and prayerfully. We intend to follow up with specific individual and corporate actions that we can apply here locally as we seek to be doers of the word, not mere hearers of the word (James 1:22). But in the meantime, begin to think how you can lament, pray, repent, listen and act.

May God’s grace and peace be with you all,

The Session of New City Presbyterian Church 

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

We write as PCA agency presidents and permanent committee coordinators in light of the heinous killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and the systemic mistreatment of so many other people of color. Only the General Assembly can speak for the PCA at large, and we do not presume to do so here. Yet, as elected leaders of PCA agencies and permanent committees, we feel compelled to speak clearly on these matters in the interest of gospel healing, unity, and peace. As Christians we seek to submit our views to the authority of Scripture. As ordained church officers, we are guided by our denomination’s confessional standards and previous decisions.

Scripture

Scripture’s message is clear from the start – all men and women possess dignity and are worthy of great respect because they are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). At the dawn of his redemptive mission God made clear that his grace and blessing were for “all families of the earth” (Genesis 12:3). After he redeemed Israel from slavery God commanded them to extend justice and care to all people, including ethnic outsiders. Exodus 22:21 is one example among many: “You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.”1

Sadly, Israel failed in this charge. In spite of exhortation to “do good; seek justice, correct oppression” (Isaiah 1:17) Israel oppressed the poor and thrust aside outsiders, leading to judgment and exile (Malachi 3:5). Such racism and ethnocentrism were not merely the sinful acts of individuals. These sinful traits had become so embedded in the laws and customs of the society that the Prophet Isaiah pronounced a woe on “iniquitous decrees and the writers who keep writing oppression” and the Psalmist spoke pointedly of “wicked rulers who frame injustice by statute” (Isaiah 10:1; Psalm 94:20). The Bible frames racism as individual and systemic sin, and calls God’s people to stand against both.

The New Testament carries on these themes. Jesus proactively served ethnic outsiders (see John 4:7ff), and his church was born into a mission of multi-ethnic inclusiveness on Pentecost, when people from all over the known world heard the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection in their own language; a sign that Babel’s curse of ethnic division and hostility was being undone in the church (Acts 2:5-13). The Apostle Paul championed the gospel’s power to unite people across social barriers (Galatians 3:28-29 and Ephesians 2:12-13). And all this anticipates the day when Christ returns to make all things new. For Christ died “to [ransom] people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9). And Christ rose from the dead to pledge the day when a great multitude from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, will stand before God’s throne and before the Lamb and will cry out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7:9-10).

We believe that Scripture counts racial injustice (especially that which takes away life from an image bearer) as grave sin, which Christ will judge and against which the church must stand.

Confessional and Denominational Statements

The denominational materials of the PCA echo these truths of Scripture. WLC 135, which reflects on the sixth commandment, is worth quoting at length:

The duties required in the sixth commandment are, all careful studies, and lawful endeavors, to preserve the life of ourselves and others by resisting all thoughts and purposes, subduing all passions, and avoiding all occasions, temptations, and practices, which tend to the unjust taking away the life of any …; by charitable thoughts, love, compassion, meekness, gentleness, kindness; peaceable, mild, and courteous speeches and behavior: forbearance, readiness to be reconciled, patient bearing and forgiving of injuries, and requiting good for evil; comforting and succoring the distressed, and protecting and defending the innocent (emphasis added).

Our denomination also recognized the importance of naming and standing against racial injustice. In 2016, the General Assembly adopted an overture which resolves that:

“… the Presbyterian Church in America does recognize, confess, condemn and repent of corporate and historical sins, including those committed during the Civil Rights era, and continuing racial sins of ourselves and our fathers such as the segregation of worshipers by race; the exclusion of persons from Church membership on the basis of race; the exclusion of churches, or elders, from membership in the Presbyteries on the basis of race; the teaching that the Bible sanctions racial segregation and discourages inter-racial marriage; the participation in and defense of white supremacist organizations; and the failure to live out the gospel imperative that ‘love does no wrong to a neighbor’(Romans 13:10).”

In view of these Scriptural, confessional, and ecclesial guidelines, we seek to respond to the current racial tensions, as follows:

Lament

We join our voices and hearts with those who suffer and lament the evils of personal and systemic racism in our country, our church, and our own hearts. We cry out with the Psalmist “O LORD, how long shall the wicked exult?” and with the prophet Jeremiah “Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all who are treacherous thrive?” (Psalm 94:3; Jeremiah 12:1). In all this we strive to “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). We lament that peaceful protests, offered in good faith to highlight racial injustice, have occasionally turned violent, and we mourn with the victims of that violence, and pray for its end.

Pray

As we lament we pray, asking God to bring peace, healing, and a reconciliation that feels out of reach as we survey our broken world. We pray for the families and communities of those who have been killed and ask God to be near to them in peace and comfort. We pray that God will show us our hidden sins and the blindness which leads us to silent complicity, or even active participation in racial injustice. We pray for those in positions of power (especially political leaders, law enforcement officers, community influencers, and church leaders) to use their authority with wisdom, to speak with truth and humility, to shun words and actions that humiliate others or fuel violence, and to seek justice and righteousness ahead of comfort, affluence, and the preservation of the status quo. We pray for just and merciful laws and social systems. We pray for the Church universal to become a welcoming haven for all kinds of people.

Repent

In humility, we repent of our ongoing racial sins. We repent of past silence in the face of racial injustice. We repent of a negligent and willful failure to account for our unearned privilege or to surface the unconscious biases that move us to protect our comfort rather than risk speaking against racial injustice. We repent of hearts that are dull to the suffering of others.

Listen

We pledge to listen to the voices and wisdom of our brothers and sisters who have lived through the demeaning realities of a racialized society and racialized church. We will listen to learn, to empathize, to grow, and by God’s grace, to become more aware of how our own biases lead us to demean men and women who are made in God’s image.

Act

Finally, we realize that merely issuing a statement is insufficient. We need to act, within the spheres where God has given us influence, in the interest of biblical justice for men and women of color. Therefore, we will work within our committees and agencies to identify and apply the gospel to our racial biases. We will seek to honestly assess our programs and practices for structural or systemic biases and work diligently to remedy those we find. We will reexamine and seek to implement the “Suggestions for Committees and Agencies” articulated by the Report of the Ad Interim Committee on Racial Reconciliation to the 46th General Assembly. And above all, we will not be silent but will speak out when the bitter fruit of racial injustice rears its head in the systems, structures, churches, and individuals in our land

1 See also Exodus 23:9, Leviticus 19:33, and Deuteronomy 10:18–19.