In 1843 in the midst of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, 121 ministers and 73 elders filed a protest asserting the spiritual rights of the church over wealthy landowners. After filing the protest, the men walked out of the Assembly and convened down the street to form the Free Church of Scotland, electing Thomas Chalmers as their first moderator. This event is now known in Church History as “The Disruption of 1843.”
Last Tuesday evening, June 9, 2015, Rev. Drs. Ligon Duncan and Sean Lucas, both pastors in Mississippi, stood up to make a personal resolution on the floor of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America. That resolution called the General Assembly to confess our sins regarding our complicity and involvement in racial injustice during the Civil Rights era up until the present day. These sins had recently been addressed through the research of PCA historians including the same Rev. Dr. Lucas, Dr. Otis Picket, and Rev. Bobby Griffith (PhD cand.). According to our rules, the resolution was received by the Assembly and referred to the overtures committee whose job it is to recommend to the assembly what action should be taken on the resolution.
The resolution was debated in committee for over nine hours. Those against adopting the resolution argued that the PCA didn’t exist during the Civil Rights era, that individual presbyters themselves did not do these things and therefore could not confess, that the resolution seemed to cave to political correctness and white guilt, and that if prominent PCA churchmen were racists perhaps they have repented of it thus we shouldn’t call them out. Others argued that this was new information and thus they needed more time to digest it.
Arguments for adopting the resolution were that corporate confession is biblical, we as a denomination have already delayed this for far too long, and that there are members of our denomination, including pastors and elders, who greatly desire this confession. Others also argued that we must stop hiding the past and be honest about what we did. In the course of debate, Dr. Lucas passed out a paper with quotes showing the undeniable fact that southern Presbyterian conservatives (who would later enter the PCA) actively worked against the aims of the Civil Rights movement in the church and in the broader culture.
Ultimately, after the protracted debate in committee, there was first a vote to recommend adoption of the resolution that failed by three votes (37-40). Then there was a motion to refer the resolution to the 44th General Assembly (next year). This vote passed by a margin of thirteen votes (48-35). The rationale given by the majority was that a momentous resolution such as this should come from several presbyteries to give it more weight. Of course, this argument was undergirded by the other arguments mentioned above, yet this was the official rationale given. The majority also argued that the Assembly needed more time to consider Dr. Lucas’s research and that another year would allow for the perfecting of the resolution.
Those 35 who voted against this recommendation in the committee formed a minority and agreed to produce a substitute motion that the assembly adopt the resolution this year. The sentiment of the minority was that referral of the resolution was effectively “punting” the issue and would line up with common critiques of the PCA on issues of race. Those common critiques are that we refuse to deal with racial sins directly but continually use diversionary arguments, such as the ones exhibited above, in order to perpetually kick the can down the road. This minority was headed up by Rev. David Richter. While the minority was forming its rationale, several members of the newly formed African American Presbyterian Fellowship approached the minority to say that they actually preferred that the resolution be referred to the next General Assembly because it would allow time to have substantive discussions and to provide more concrete ways for churches and presbyteries to demonstrate fruits of repentance on this matter. With this new information, the committee reconvened and reconsidered its motion with updated rationale. With several members of the AAPF speaking for referral, the new motion and rationale passed the committee with an 80-0 vote.
However, after that vote, several other African American pastors approached members of the committee and expressed that while they loved and respected the views of their brothers, they disagreed with their opinion that the resolution should be referred. While they agreed that discussions need to continue and concrete fruits of repentance demonstrated, they greatly desired to see the Assembly confess our sins now. Some of these men, who later spoke on the floor of General Assembly, expressed that there were people in their communities whom they were trying to reach with the gospel, who would not be a part of a PCA church as long as this issue was left unaddressed. As a result several commissioners who were not on the overtures committee but had observed all the proceedings, headed up by Rev. Kevin Twit, planned to make a substitute motion to the committee’s recommendation from the floor of General Assembly.
The committee’s recommendation came to the floor of the General Assembly in the late session on Thursday night which began around 9PM. As soon as the committee’s recommendation was presented, Rev. Twit rose with the intention to make a substitute motion to recommit the resolution back to the overtures committee of the 43rd General Assembly. The force of this motion would be to reconvene the overtures committee so that the resolution could be adopted this year. Yet before Rev. Twit could speak, Rev. David Coffin rose to a point of parliamentary inquiry to ask that no matter what action was taken, would the resolution in all cases be referred to the next General Assembly. The moderator, Elder Jim Wert, then ruled that it was the case that no matter what motions were made, the only result would be that it would be referred to the next assembly. With this information, Rev. Twit then decided to make a speech against the referral. Yet the next speaker, Rev. Mike Sloan, after a point of order from Rev. Fred Greco and advice by the Stated Clerk, Rev. Dr. Roy Taylor, was able to successfully make the motion.
To continue reading, please visit Timothy R. LeCroy’s website, here.
Dr. Timothy R. LeCroy is pastor of Christ Our King Presbyterian Church in Columbia, Missouri and Visiting Instructor of Church History at Covenant Theological Seminary.