L. Roy Taylor, the current Stated Clerk of our denomination (the Presbyterian Church in America) offered the following personal comment in his description of one particular item our General Assembly dealt with this past month:
This writer has attended every General Assembly the PCA has ever had. In his opinion, the periods of prayer and expressions of repentance and brotherly love on the Thursday evening session of the 2015 General Assembly were the most evident and powerful work of the Holy Spirit at any PCA Assembly heretofore.
The item in question was a resolution regarding the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. The resolution called for our denomination “to express repentance for the failure of some churches and Christians of that time to stand in solidarity with African-American brothers and sisters and for failing to pursue racial reconciliation adequately.” (see article referenced above).
The legacy of the Presbyterian church is heartbreaking when it comes to a demonstrated concern for the welfare of Americans of African descent. While some positive examples can be found, the negative examples are myriad. But why bring it up? Wasn’t it long ago? These two questions require two biblical responses.
First, it is in fact appropriate to publically confess our fathers’ sins. In Nehemiah 1:6, Nehemiah confesses to God both his own sins and the sins of “his father’s house.” He is modelling for us not only a confession of his own particular, personal sins, but of general, corporate sins as well. It is biblically appropriate for us to confess the sins of our churches, families, and even nation.
Second, it is essential that we do so. Psalm 78 is a Psalm in which Asaph urges God’s people to recite together the things most cultures would want kept secret. As God’s people, there are things that “we will not hide from our children; we will tell to the next generation… in order that our children’s children would put their trust in God and keep his commandments.” (Psalm 78:4-8). What follows in that lengthy Psalm is an historical summary of God’s great power and his wondrous deeds against the constant backdrop of their fathers’ particular failures. And this history must be told in order that our children, “not be like their forefathers – a stubborn and rebellious generation, whose hearts were not loyal to God, whose spirits were not faithful to him.” (Psalm 78:8)
There is a general principle here that we overlook at our own very great peril – and to our children’s tragic disadvantage. If we whitewash the particular sins of our fathers, we deny our children the opportunity to learn from them. And we must learn. We must, as gospel Christians, be actively involved in pursuing the reconciliation necessary to heal old wounds that still hurt and hinder. The resolution for repentance concerning our institutional failures to adequately engage in the Civil Rights movement is scheduled to be readdressed at next year’s General Assembly. Until then, our leaders have given us the following exhortation:
“For the sake of the peace and purity of the Christ’s Church, and in preparation for the 44th General Assembly, the Assembly encourages Sessions and Presbyteries prayerfully to consider any and all sins of racial prejudice and to pursue a proper course of action, humbly, sincerely, and expeditiously (Matthew 5:21-26; Ephesians 2:1-22; 4:1-32).”
Won’t you join me in giving this matter your most sincere attention this year? Won’t you pray that your Presbytery and your Session will be faithful in this matter? Who knows the joys repentance can bring? Only the truly repentant.