By way of a personal update, anyone who has been following this blog will have noticed that my writing has slowed down quite a bit. That’s not intentional. I just haven’t been able to write as much or the way I’d like to as evidenced by the several unfinished drafts in my draft bin. I think it is largely attributed to my job as executive director of a nonprofit organization whose mission is to celebrate ethnic heritages from around the globe. I’m also a staff of one so my many hats pulls me in all kinds of different directions as I work to advance the organization’s mission and expanding programming. I may write on that more later. In the meantime, I have kept up podcasting on the Family Discussion podcast that I co-host with the Rev. Marcos Ortega. We just finished our fourth season as we continue the trek through the categories of systematic theology applied to the issues of our day. Season 4 focused on humanity and sin so we had quite a bit to say about gender, human sexuality, and race. We’ll pick that up in season 5 as we move into Christology. You can check out more that here. But I really do want to get back to writing on a regular basis, if nothing more than just to download some of the processing that goes on in my head as I observe our current landscape.
And so that is what I intend to do here as the 49th General Assembly (GA for short) of the Presbyterian Church in America just concluded this past week. In case you don’t know, this is the annual meeting of commissioners (pastors/elders known as teaching elders or ruling elders) to conduct the affairs of the church. I’ve tuned in to the livestream since 2016 and been on a learning curve ever since. The parliamentary proceedings can get really complex. But in the deliverance of the committee reports and overture debates, you do get a sense of what the church is grappling with and attempting to bring in submission to the obedience of Christ and to be a faithful witness to him.
You also can hear where there are divergent opinions regarding the church’s direction, which has been increasingly heightened in recent years. That is compounded by the blogs, tweets, and posts seen on social media on a regular basis. There have projections of an inevitable church split produced by factional concerns under the rubric of the oft cited phrase “peace and purity of the church.” Despite what some may say, I do believe there is generally a strong commitment to Scripture though the applicational grid may be skewed in different directions.
It is against this backdrop that caused me to reflect on my 10 years in the PCA, why I love this denomination and hold out hope for her future. Church splits are sometimes necessary where doctrinal alignment is no longer possible. But I do wonder if that need be the case here. Are we getting more influenced by factional concerns with raised suspicions of that other camp or are there legitimate concerns that need to be addressed? Honestly, I think there is some of both. The following is simply my observations and reflections that may differ from other perspectives.
I was initially drawn to the PCA because of its commitment to the Scriptures, liturgy and the doctrine of the church. While in seminary at DTS, I was growing increasingly frustrated with my nondenominational experience and the loose commitments that seemed to undermine the church’s purpose to grow together as a body.
As I wrote about several years ago in Why I love the Reformed church;
What I love about the Reformed church is the central focus of Christ, his word and his body. As Trueman notes, the gospel shapes the liturgy. It is liturgy that enforces my identity in Christ and my need for him. More also liturgy that reminds me I’m part of a covenant body. While the call and response and corporate recitation of confessions and creeds might seem “unspiritual” to some, it’s actually one of the most spiritual things we can do. I love that fact that the Reformed church is rooted in confessions that are systematized expressions of Scripture. There’s something about the whole body reciting together what we believe that enforces who we are.
In God’s providence at the height of this frustration, the PCA came on my radar from a few different directions. I began to check it out and at each step, found myself more and more attracted to the point of drawing up a list of PCA churches in the Dallas area with the intention of visiting each one. Town North Presbyterian in Richardson, TX was my second stop and I never made it to the third. It was also during this time I was trying to work out the growing holes that I had with dispensationalism and began gravitating towards a more solid conviction of covenant theology. This made the PCA even more attractive.
I got married in January 2019 and my husband was already living in Roanoke, VA. Thankfully, he had already been attending Christ the King Presbyterian (along with a couple of other churches). Within a couple of months of my arrival, we settled at Christ the King. Both churches have a balm. I’ve also been able to visit a good number of PCA churches and have had good experiences all around. Each year, I find myself meeting more and more PCA folks. Not to mention the ones I’ve connected with through social media. Despite the caricatures of the frozen chosen, I have been met with much warmth.
With that said, here are just a few areas of reflection during my time in the PCA.
On Racial Reconciliation
Though the PCA was not formed until 1973, it emerged from a larger southern Presbyterian body that itself had split from a Presbyterian body during the Civil War over disagreement about American chattel slavery. The southern body, the PCUS, naturally followed the course of prevailing thinking with respect to America’s black citizens. This involved a favorable disposition to the institution of slavery and then after, a predominant acceptance of Jim Crow separatism. The likes of Robert Lewis Dabney and James Henley Thornwell have been long hailed as heroes of conservative Presbyterianism despite their heinous views on black people that ran contrary to Scripture. It did not matter if heroes of faith supported segregation as long as they could faithfully articulate the Reformed system of doctrine.
I began to learn about all this as the work of Sean Lucas and Ligon Duncan, in consultation with the denomination’s African-American teaching elders (a very small percentage of all PCA TE’s) that resulted in an overture to confess the denomination’s participation in opposition to the Civil Rights Movement. Now I’m going to get into the particulars of repenting of sins done by others. That’s not really what corporate repentance is anyway. But at a minimum, acknowledging that institutional practices existed against a whole group of people is a worthy effort and sets the right tone going forward to live as those reconciled to one another in Christ. Though the formation of the PCA in 1973 included a changed disposition towards segregation and inclusion of African-American members, you can bet that vestiges lingered (see my last post).
I also got introduced to the LDR Weekend in 2015 and began meeting an increasing number of black Presbyterians. I appreciated the intention of its establishment and found the attention to cultural concerns a bit refreshing in light of what I was learning about the denomination’s history from wince it emerged.
It was the overture’s submission in the 2016 that prompted me to tune in to watching the livestream of GA proceedings, which provoked a further interest in the affairs of the church and appreciation for the outworkings of Presbyterian polity. When I got word about confessions made on the floor of the 2015 GA, I was very encouraged that the denomination was moving in the right direction towards healing and reconciliation.
However, around 2016-2017, I noticed a shift in racial reconciliation discussions, not just in the PCA but the broader evangelical church. The conversation turned from reconciliation and valuing each other as members in union with Christ to a focus on white supremacy and dismantling whiteness. White brothers and sisters began to be singled out as if they were the issue with the church. This was not the way to move forward as the family of Christ.
This seemed to create a tension in ongoing efforts to address issues of racial partiality in the church. On one hand, conversations were still important but required grounding in Scripture’s other-cultural kingdom paradigm. But on the other hand, the influence of secular ideologies that were ramping up in the broader society, began to seep in and tilt the direction of how we are to deal with racial issues. Compounded by the media exposure of police shooting against unarmed black people, this tension resulted in more pronounced factions as well as suspicions of either white supremacy or “wokeness.”
Yet, I am thankful for the minority TEs and REs who have forged ahead in the PCA with more being added each year in spite of the tension. And the attention that is being given to multicultural settings.
About those women
Entering the PCA, I was already had scriptural convictions regarding male headship of the church. So I had no issues at all with male only ordination and Sessions (this is the governing body of each local church that comprises TEs and REs). Even when I was requested to be part of a Sunday School teaching team and subsequently turned down by the Session, it was no big deal. The Lord will use my gifts as he will and there are plenty of places to do so.
But there is a difference between valuing Scripture’s convictions regarding women’s roles in the church and devaluing women. And it’s really not hard to discern the difference. Valuing women invites women to participate where scripturally appropriate, seeks their input, and listens. Silencing any discussions about women’s participation in the affairs of the church with swift recitations of 1 Tim. 2:12 speaks volumes. Sadly, I’ve seen this too, especially tuning into GA like the year when an overture was introduced to form a study committee on women deaconesses. Some of the comments at the mic, oh boy! Interestingly, I’ve also seen where women have been doing the work of the church alongside deacons, meeting needs where they arise. To me this is what matters way more than having a title.
Thankfully, in both PCA churches I have been part of, I have encountered men, including my pastors, who listen and value my input. That speaks volumes, too.
In addition to dissentions around racial issues, the really explosive issue has been homosexuality, more specifically, same-sex attraction. Because really, no one is affirming homosexual practice and acknowledges that it is sin according to God’s word. But I do see some warrant for concern here. Just looking at what is going on in the broader culture with the LGBTQ+ platform and its pervasive agenda that increasingly demands wholesale acceptance, that Christian leaders have caved and affirm same-sex unions, it’s not unreasonable to be watchful of potential slippery slopes that can lead down the same path.
In a sense, it is a line in the sand and one that will further pit mainstream society against the church as she stands on biblical sexual ethics. Regardless of whatever noble causes that the Revoice conference had in ministering to same-sex attracted people, because of where society is on this issue, any sense of affirmation that this orientation is acceptable is worthy to be scrutinized with caution. Waving the banner of same-sex attraction is not helpful either. The arguments regarding identity have their teeth in this concern.
I do perceive there competing interests at work that have contributed to much of the tension that exists. On one hand, you have those who are watching the broader culture and church capitulation to it, raising the red flag and drawing swift conclusions about any perceived compromise. The chief interest is protecting the church from intrusion of this compromise. On the other hand, you have those whose chief interest is minimizing stumbling blocks to ministering to people with same-sex attraction and are less concerned about setting up guardrails as long as commitment to a biblical sexual ethic is maintained. As with the case of racial issues, when suspicion has been raised, it doesn’t take to much for projections to be made without a careful examination of where the stand actually is.
I’ve gone on long enough though there is certainly more I can say. In conclusion, I am grateful to have been a member in this denomination and have no intentions of leaving in the foreseeable future. I’m also thankful for the small roles I’ve had the opportunity to play in PCA related functions for the edification of the body;
- A chapter in Hear Us Emmanuel: another call for racial reconciliation, representation, and unity in the church, a compilation of essays from PCA laypersons edited by TE Doug Serven.
- A chapter in Beyond the Roles: a biblical foundation for women and ministry, a compilation of essays by women in the PCA, edited by Malanie Cogdill
- A pre-conference workshop on racial healing at the 2018 ONE women’s conference in Chattanooga
- Serving as a keynote speaker at a couple of women’s conferences that were being established for the first time.
I don’t know if there will be more opportunities but at a minimum, I am content to maintain active fellowship at Christ the King, visit other PCA churches when I travel, and look forward to attending the 50th General Assembly for an 50th anniversary jubilee. Lord willing, see y’all in Memphis.