Editor’s Note: The 45th General Assembly voted to accept the recommendation that the Racial and Ethnic Reconciliation Study Committee conduct a survey and present its final report to the 46th General Assembly in 2018. Below is byFaith’s report on the work of the study committee prior to those recommendations being accepted in June 2017.
Forty-three overtures were submitted to the 2016 General Assembly calling on the PCA to take steps toward racial reconciliation. One of those, Overture 45 from Potomac Presbytery, called for the Assembly to form a study committee to develop specific steps that might effect needed change. An amended form of that proposal was adopted.
Specifically, the committee was charged to: (1) Assess the current situation in the PCA concerning racial and ethnic reconciliation; (2) identify specific problems the PCA needs to address to promote racial reconciliation and ethnic diversity; and (3) develop constructive guidelines and suggest concrete steps for presbyteries and sessions, in order to make progress toward the work of racial reconciliation and diversity.
General Assembly moderator George Robertson appointed Kevin Smith, Carl Ellis, Alexander Jun, Sean Lucas, Jonathan Seda, Richie Sessions, and Alex Shipman as voting members of the committee. Sylvester Brown, Otis Pickett, and Russ Whitfield were appointed as advisory members.
To date, the committee has met five times: two face to face and three by teleconference. The members have divided into teams that reflect their areas of expertise — exegetical, theological, pastoral, and historical — to develop papers that will address the issue from their perspective in these areas. These papers will form the heart of the final report.
However, the committee soon realized that these papers would miss their target unless their first assigned task — to assess the current situation in the PCA — is carried out accurately. It was clear that 10 people, none with much survey research expertise, could not effectively evaluate the situation in a denomination of more than 1,500 churches with 370,000 members.
“While a book like ‘Heal Us, Emmanuel’ (written by several PCA teaching and ruling elders, detailing their race-related experiences) is very helpful, it is mainly anecdotal,” says Kevin Smith, the committee chairman, “and many people equate anecdotes with opinions. We need to have hard-core data and facts.”
The committee concluded that gathering the facts would require a comprehensive survey of the entire denomination. That, it felt, necessitated an outside service. Moreover, the costs of the needed work exceed the committee’s entire budget. So this summer in Greensboro, North Carolina, the committee will recommend that the Assembly extend its work for another year and budget sufficient funds for LifeWay, the Southern Baptist Convention research arm, to conduct the research.
Smith reports that the committee has already received pledges toward the survey’s cost; he’s confident that the remainder of the needed funds could be raised if the Assembly approves the plan. The committee also plans to recommend that the Assembly commission a follow-up survey to determine how effective its recommendations have been.
The lack of primary research data hasn’t deterred the committee from plunging into secondary sources this year. It plans to present several seminars in Greensboro based on case studies and its findings about best practices. It has also planned a luncheon at the 2017 Assembly where other voices can provide input.
The committee anticipates presenting its completed report to the 46th General Assembly in 2018 after it has studied results from the survey and integrated them into its final recommendations. “We hope to come to the Assembly with some good biblical ideas of how we can deal with these issues,” Smith says.
The committee will recommend that the Assembly extend its work for another year and budget sufficient funds to conduct the research.