As I mentioned in the first post under this title (the other posts: no. 2; no. 3; no. 4), this series was a way of breaking up a paper that I gave at a pre-General Assembly conference sponsored by the PCA Historical Center. The paper was entitled, “Race, Civil Rights, and the Southern (Presbyterian) Way of Life,” it draws on materials from my forthcoming book, For a Continuing Church: The Roots of the Presbyterian Church in America.
While I am a pastor, I am also a historian–I so what I tried to do in these first four posts (as well as a post at Justin Taylor’s blog) was to speak to these issues out of my vocation as a historian and to tell the story. Of course, every historian will tell a story from a particular perspective; we now realize there is no such thing as “objective history.” Out of our particular social and cultural location, we tell stories which are limited and fallible. That’s because we are human: historians can’t find or know everything and we make mistakes. And that means our tellings can be and should be contested. All that said, as a historian, I welcome others who will follow and who will correct, nuance, or balance my telling.
In this final post, though, I want to put on my pastor hat, and especially my PCA teaching elder hat, and reflect on how we might respond to the historical story that I’ve just told.
- Confess and repent.
In Daniel 9, there is a stunning scene. It occurs during Darius’ reign. Daniel is pondering the nature of the exile and especially Jeremiah’s prophecy concerning the 70 years of exile. And as he ponders, Daniel is moved to confession.
But his confession is strange–because he doesn’t confess his own private sins, but the sins of Israel and Judah that led to the judgment of the exile: “We have sinned and done wrong and acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and rules. We have not listed to your servants the prophets, who spoke in you r name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land. To you, O Lord, belongs righteousness, but us open shame” (Dan 9:5-7).
This wasn’t simply lip synching or going through the motions. Rather, Daniel recognized his own covenantal complicity in what his fathers and forefathers had done and in bringing about the exile. And he confessed those sins and repented: “We have sinned, we have done wickedly” (Dan 9:15).
I believe that it should be obvious in reading my account of “race and the roots of the Presbyterian Church in America” that our fathers and forefathers sinned. But they didn’t sin alone–we have sinned, we have done wickedly. We handled God’s Word deceitfully to justify the racial status quo and to perpetuate injustice. We are involved by means of the covenant in these things. And we repent.
Read the remainder here.