Of the 63 overtures submitted to this year’s General Assembly, 42 deal with the confession and repentance of race-related sins. These overtures stem from a personal resolution submitted to last year’s Assembly by Sean Lucas and Ligon Duncan. That resolution has since been endorsed by overtures from seven other presbyteries. Several other responses have also emerged.
Overture 4 has provided the pattern for 19 identical or nearly identical overtures.
Overture 1, submitted by Heartland Presbytery, calls for all members and especially officers in the PCA “to determine if there be any unconfessed and unrepentant sins of partiality, favoritism, or prejudice among them.” It provides examples, including “tolerating members of groups organized for the segregation, exclusion, and/or harm of people based on their ethnicity” and “speaking and/or preaching in favor of prejudice and segregation that leads to disunity.” Those who discover such sins are called to confess them and seek forgiveness. In addition, all congregations of the PCA are called to reach out to all with the Gospel regardless of race or ethnicity and work together to strengthen the unity of our denomination, as a part of the one Church in Christ, “founded not on culture, ethnicity, or class.”
Teaching elder Tim Rackley, clerk of the Heartland Presbytery, said the presbytery wrote the overture based on a report from its commissioner to the 2015 General Assembly Overtures Committee.
Overture 50, adopted by North Florida Presbytery, mirrors Overture 1, except that it adds abuse of the doctrine of the spirituality of the church to the list of examples of sins to be confessed.
In an explanatory note to Overture 16, Blue Ridge Presbytery says it built upon the previously submitted overtures by adding more specificity. For example, Blue Ridge calls for the PCA to “recognize and repudiate our church’s covenantal and generational involvement” in systematic racial injustice during the Civil Rights period.
With Overture 1 it calls individuals to confess sins of prejudice and seek forgiveness for them, though it provides a substantially different list of sins to consider. The overture also calls the PCA to lament the decades it took to address the issue and its failure to preach and embody the full truth of Scripture on race-related matters. It calls on church courts to include questions about how the Gospel addresses issues of race in the examination of candidates for office and licensure, and calls on the Assembly to remind sessions and presbyteries that sins of racism are subject to church discipline. Furthermore, it calls on the denomination to pursue the practical steps of reconciliation found in the paper “The Gospel and Race,” produced by the MNA Committee in 2004.
Overture 18, from Heritage Presbytery, is nearly identical to Overture 4 but adds four additional resolutions. Two of these call for the General Assembly to denounce specific teachings that have been used to support the racial superiority of one group over another. The other two exhort pastors and congregations “to seek to understand and declare the whole counsel of God in regard to cultural diversity, and promote a spirit of inclusion.” Heritage also added four duties drawn from the Westminster Larger Catechism’s exposition on the Ten Commandments.
Overture 11 from Calvary Presbytery makes no reference to a specific period when our forebears participated in racial injustice. The rationale for Overture 11 consists of three clauses that outline a biblical basis for racial equality. These are followed by a five-clause resolution. The first two reject race-based slavery and legalized segregation as being “wicked, immoral, prideful, arrogant, and against the clear teaching and spirit of the New Testament.” The last three clauses call for the repentance of all who have been involved in the promotion or continuance of racial segregation, or who have been apathetic or indifferent to racial injustice, and to seek reconciliation with Christians of all ethnic groups “for the glory of God and the furtherance of the Gospel.”
Overture 34, from Westminster Presbytery, is identical to Overture 11.
Potomac Presbytery has submitted three overtures related to racial reconciliation. These overtures were the product of a collaborative process that began when one session submitted an overture that was identical to Overture 4. The overture was referred to the Presbytery Mission to North America (MNA) Committee. The resulting motion — Overture 43 — has much in common with the Missouri proposal, but makes substantive changes. The overture substitutes the language of “confession” for that of “repentance” in the resolution. The paragraph in Overture 4’s rationale about the “church’s covenantal and generational involvement in and complicity with racial injustice” in the Civil Rights era is replaced with a reframed and expanded account of the PCA founders’ history in that period. A more detailed account of the ongoing effects of “the vestiges of these [racial] sins” is also provided in the rationale.
The second Potomac overture, Overture 44, recommends the logical next steps that would follow the confessions of Overture 43. Overture 44 calls for the establishment and management (by the General Assembly’s MNA Committee) of a “PCA Unity Fund” to provide funding for minority PCA seminarians to cover tuition costs, pay expenses for minority TEs and REs to attend General Assembly, subsidize for two years the compensation of minorities serving as assistant pastors in a PCA church, and fund research into the role Reformed minority pastors and theologians have played in America’s history.
Finally, Potomac adopted Overture 45 which calls for “a careful and deliberative approach” to racial and ethnic reconciliation. It authorizes the appointment of a Racial and Ethnic Reconciliation Study Committee that would assess the current situation in the PCA concerning ethnic/racial reconciliation, identify specific problems to address, recommend steps for presbyteries and sessions to take, and set criteria for discerning progress in reconciliation. The committee would report on the denomination’s progress annually to the next five General Assemblies.
In Overture 48, Susquehanna Valley Presbytery echoes the rationale and resolutions found in Overture 4, but adds an additional resolution. Like Overture 1, this resolution calls for congregations to examine themselves for “sins of partiality, favoritism, or prejudice among them,” and enumerates a list of such sins nearly identical to the one found in that overture. It also calls for each congregation to set aside a day for “prayer, fasting, confession, and repentance” and provides guidance for how to use that time; to set aside time for the congregation to discuss ways to address the issue of racial reconciliation in their community; and calls for congregations to seek relationships with minorities in their communities.
Overture 49, from James River Presbytery, is identical to Overture 4 until its final resolution, which includes the call from Overture 1 for individual self-examination and confession, and the list of practical steps to pursue reconciliation listed in Overture 16.
Overture 53, from Northwest Georgia Presbytery, is based on an article published in “Old Life,” written by Jonathan Inman, Pastor of Grace and Peace PCA in Asheville, North Carolina. The overture calls for the General Assembly to return all overtures calling for confession and repentance to the courts that originated them with the directive that the repentance called for be conducted according to BCO 38-1 and 31-2. In his article, Inman calls on church leaders who believed they have sinned, “whether covenantally or generationally, jointly or severally,” to confess those sins under the provisions of BCO 38-1, which specifies the way church courts are to handle cases where individuals take the initiative to confess their guilt of an offense. Northwest Georgia added BCO 31-2 as another appropriate provision to apply. BCO 31-2 provides directives as to how a court is to begin formal disciplinary process when there is a strong presumption that a member is guilty of an offense.
Overture 55, from Mississippi Valley Presbytery, while similar to Overture 4, modifies it in a number of significant ways. While generally reiterating the rationale (Whereas) clauses from that overture, four additional paragraphs of rationale are added. And while the resolutions from Overture 4 are repeated by Mississippi Valley, they have added two of their own, which point to the principal variance from Overture 4.
One of the resolutions offers a “Pastoral Letter” from the Presbytery to its constituent churches as “an example of how a presbytery might provide shepherding leadership for its churches toward racial reconciliation.” The 13-page letter, attached to the overture, examines biblical and confessional material demonstrating racism to be a serious sin and heresy. It then outlines five practical steps to address it. The other added resolution offers a “Bibliography and Resources” to presbyteries and churches “for their use in studying, evaluating, and implementing” their efforts toward racial reconciliation. That seven-page document is also attached to the overture.
Overture 56 from Evangel Presbytery urges adoption of Overture 55.
Overture 59 from Gulf Coast Presbytery is similar to Overture 4, but makes a number of significant changes. It opens its rationale by setting the sin of racism in the context of the sin of partiality identified in James 2. It modifies the statement concerning the failures of “many of our founding denominational leaders” during the Civil Rights period by calling attention to their achievements as well. It also omits, in both the rational and the resolutions, reference to continuing sins of racism in the denomination. Finally, it expands Overture 4’s resolution that calls for the PCA “to bear fruit in keeping with repentance” by enumerating a number of related Biblical imperatives.
These overtures will be considered by the Overtures Committee, which will recommend an answer to each for the General Assembly. A list of all overtures can be found here.