The 222nd General Assembly(2016) approved the revised Church-wide Antiracism Policy – Facing Racism: A Vision of the Intercultural Community as recommended by the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board.
The Rev. Shannon Craigo-Snell serves on the church-wide Antiracism Policy Team. I quote from Shannon: “This is not a time for timidity. The current struggles over racial justice in the United States mark a kairos moment. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has long held strong convictions regarding the sinfulness of racism and the need to struggle against it. Speaking our own convictions now, with clarity and power, could make a tangible difference in the current struggle. Furthermore, it is required of us, as the church is called to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.”
On August 12, in her daily Facebook prayer Shannon writes:
Holy God, I stand in awe of the mighty faithfulness of the counter protestors in Charlottesville today. Please pouri out blessing on each and every one. Grant healing, rest, and kindness. May their witness reverberate, growing in power. And help the rest of us further their efforts to confront and reject white nationalism. Amen.
Racism is the opposite of what God intends for humanity. It is the rejection of the other, which is entirely contrary to the Word of God incarnate in Jesus Christ. Racism is a lie about our fellow human beings, for it says that some are less than others. Because of our biblical understanding of who God is and what God intends for humanity, the PC(USA) must stand against, speak against and work against racism.
Reformed theology offers a nuanced understanding of sin. Calvin did not understand sin to be simply an individual belief, action, or moral failing (Calvin, 1960). Rather, he viewed sin as the corporate state of all humanity. It is an infection that taints each of us and all of us. No part of us—not our perception, intelligence, nor conscience—is unclouded by sin, and we must have humility about our own righteousness, and must cling to the grace of God in Jesus Christ.
Bigoted beliefs, hate crimes, prejudice, and intentional discrimination are all actual sin. They stem from, and contribute to, the original sin of systemic racism that permeates our culture and society. The actual sins of past generations—such as slavery, the Indian Removal Act, the Chinese Exclusion Act, the colonization of Hawaii and Guam, the Immigration Act of 1924, and so on—become the original sin in which we live.
This nuanced concept of sin can be particularly useful in understanding how people of goodwill who do not harbor prejudice or intend bigotry are still participants in original sin. White people in the United States of America continue collectively to reap the benefits of White supremacy, even when they individually believe in the equality of all people. Our theological heritage regarding sin makes it possible for Presbyterians to acknowledge the complex realities of racism instead of moving to defend an illusion of individual innocence.
No one today needs to commit an actual sin for this inequality to continue. Original sin does not need our intentional consent to thrive. Silence and inaction are enough. Antiracist effort is not optional for Christians—but that it is an essential aspect of Christian discipleship, without which we fail to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ
To help us with this important work, The Antiracism team has made the revised Antiracism policy and six study guides accessible to the whole church. We should prayerfully consider incorporating these study guides into our curriculum.
1. Biblical Imperatives to Antiracism,
2. Envisioning a New Way of Life Together,
3. PC(USA) and Racial Reconciliation,
4. Racism 101,
5. Enduring Legacy of Racism in the U.S.
6. Responding as a Community of Faith.
Study guides are available on the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Racial Justice web site.
The Antiracism Team is also recommending that congregations read and discuss “Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race” by Debby Irving.
Let’s get to work!