Friday, July 15, 2016


A friend asked me recently what, if anything, my local congregation had done in response to the Presbyterian Church in America's overture on denominational repentance for past racial sins. (Read the overture HERE.) "Is there any discussion taking place among members? Has there been any prayer over it?"

Ummmm, what overture?

I haven't heard a single peep about the overture at my local church.

Thankfully, however, I have heard a LOT about it from friends in other PCA churches: from those who support the overture, from those who oppose it, and from those who simply want to better understand the "what" and "why" of the matter. I have been convicted, humbled, saddened, and encouraged by what I have learned.

Here are a couple of articles I recommend, out of the many I have read over the past several weeks:

Presbyterian Church in America Apologizes for Old and New Racism - by Sarah Zylstra

"Who Are the 123 Who Voted Against the Overture?" Here's One. - by Forrest L. Marion

Denominational Diversity and Cultural Normativity - by Duke Kwon

In the second article, Mr. Marion expressed concern that such a corporate repentance may result in the neglect of personal repentance: "The fifteenth chapter of the Westminster Confession of Faith calls upon all who subscribe to our standards not to content ourselves with 'general repentance' but, rather, to repent of 'particular sins, particularly.'"

Perhaps I misunderstand, but it appears that Mr. Marion equates "corporate repentance" with "general repentance" (Can a corporate body not repent of particular sins?) and to assume a dichotomy or mutual exclusivity between corporate and personal repentance.

Yes, we must repent individually of personal sins. Yes, yes, yes. My personal repentance, however, does not negate the need for corporate repentance. (Think of Nehemiah, Elijah, Isaiah - godly men who, though personally zealous for righteousness, identified themselves with the nation of Israel, men who repented on behalf of their nation, who pleaded with their brothers and sisters to likewise repent.)

Mr. Marion is correct, though, that it is quite possible to express some type of corporate repentance, and yet never repent personally. However, it is impossible to repent personally and not desire corporate repentance where there is corporate guilt.

Mr. Marion also asks: Can a church, the majority of whose members are too young to have been involved personally in the "particular sins" of racism, can such a church practice biblical repentance? In other words, if I am not guilty myself of discriminating against someone because of his race, how can I authentically repent of the sin of racism?

Ahhh! But I am NOT too young to have been personally involved in particular sins of racism, Mr. Marion! Nor is the teenager in the pew next to me!

Perhaps Mr. Marion equates racism with "separate but equal" schools and imaginary lines on the floors of buses and balcony seating in churches. But racism, I am learning, is so much more, so much bigger, and so much more complex. And it is so subtle that, like a snake lying silently on the forest floor, it can be curled up right next to you without your knowing it.

So, back to the question of do we repent personally/individually? - OR - do we repent corporately? The answer is YES. Yes, we do both. But does corporate repentance undermine our denominational standards? Only in so far as we understand our standards to put personal and corporate repentance in false opposition to one another.

My friend went on to ask, "What are you doing in response to the overture for repentance?" What purpose has this overture served in Camille's life?

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, there has been no congregational dialogue, no study, no call for repentance (personal or otherwise), no corporate prayer focusing on the issue of racism at my local church, although the 2015 proposal was deferred for the specific purpose of allowing time for these things. I would be sitting here today as ignorant of - and as unrepentant of - my own sin of racism as ever...except for the PCA's 2016 overture for denominational repentance.

This overture started a buzz that reached all the way into my tiny corner of the world, reached all the way out into a hay field in the hills of rural West Tennessee. News of the overture for denominational repentance somehow made it into my news feed on June 25, 2016, and it made me start asking questions.

The online dialogue generated by the overture has challenged me to think of racism differently than I thought of it before. This in turn has prompted me to start listening, really listening, perhaps for the first time ever.

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