One of the most difficult things in our human existence is admitting when we’ve been wrong. This is especially difficult if we are leaders and our organization is wrong, and perhaps has been for a long while.
In the Presbyterian Church (USA) constitution, we affirm, “‘The church reformed, always to be reformed according to the Word of God’ in the power of the Spirit.” (Book of Order, F-2.02). This means we are called to constantly and consistently examine ourselves and seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit. When we find ourselves being guided to change, it is imperative that we follow the Spirit.
The Presbyterian Church has some deep wounds to heal over racism in the church, throughout the country. The only way we will be able to begin to address those wrongs is through some difficult examination, discussion and practice. But we have some good examples of places to start.
Our neighbor, the Presbytery of New Brunswick, along with the Synod of the Northeast, publicly apologized to and forgave the debt of Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church incurred through the discrimination against their first black pastor, the Rev. William Drew Robeson and the subsequent challenges that arose from that original discrimination. As part of the public act of reconciliation, putting words into practice, there was a joint service of Unity, Reconciliation and Healing. PC(USA) Co-Moderator, the Rev. Denise Anderson, talked about it in her blog.
Rev. Anderson also talks about the 222nd General Assembly’s repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery, which caused the Christian church to do irreparable harm to Native peoples of the Americas and the Pacific Islands. That repudiation includes apology, acknowledgment of the harm, and as we move forward, continued attention to including Native voices.
A church that is examining its own history of racism and brokenness is First Presbyterian Church of Montgomery (Alabama). In 2008, a new pastor and a desire for repentance began a process of reconciliation that began with an 18-part sermon series to start unpacking the theological, historical and practical issues that needed to be addressed. The process continues, and may never be fully complete. And that is part of being a reformed church, always reforming.
We are all broken. We all need to repent. But our brokenness is not the end of the story. Repentance and reconciliation are not simple, they are ongoing, but are who we are. Never finished becoming the people God created us to be and is loving us into.