Letter to a Church Examining its Racist Past

What is a church to do when it starts examining the way that race relations have played out in its history? Or what happens when the local community points out names of buildings that have racist associations?

I recently had the opportunity to share some thoughts on this topic with a church I have previously been associated with. As they seek to understand their past and present as relates to racism, and as they seek to move forward into the future in a manner in keeping with unity and love, they asked for prayer and advice from their community. This blog post is based on the letter I wrote to this church, though I have adapted it to be more generally applicable, addressing it to a fictional Committee for Community and Racial Relations made up of church leaders of a historically and predominantly White, Presbyterian church in the American South.

To the Committee for Community and Racial Relations:

I grew up in a Presbyterian family and have attended various theologically-conservative churches throughout my life. As a missionary kid, I’ve lived in Asia and four southern U.S. states. In recent years, while in Mississippi, I’ve taken the opportunity to learn more about the history of African Americans and race relations in the United States and the church. One specific resource that was especially formative for my thinking was the book Divided by Faith by Smith and Emerson, which provides a great overview of the various ways that race, racism, and American evangelicalism have overlapped and interacted throughout American history.

I am very interested in this committee and its work to tell the truth about the past and present of your church and make plans for moving forward in a way in keeping with love and unity. I have some thoughts and ideas I wanted to share. Thank you for your openness to hearing them.

First of all, to those of you on the committee, thank you! This is an important work you are undertaking. I know that many of you are well-respected elders and leaders in the community. I am thankful for the first steps this committee, as well as the pastor, has taken on these matters.

Second, I see that there are only men on this committee. I would love to see women included as well. Since we believe that God made men and women different, having different experiences and different things to offer, including women on the committee would be beneficial. Additionally, especially because this committee is examining issues related to race and racism in America, I would love to see several African Americans on the committee or at least heavily relied upon by the committee in conducting their research and in making plans.

Third, race relations and racial reconciliation are complex and important topics, and there are many experts on these topics within the Reformed and Presbyterian community. I would love to see the committee have ongoing connections with some of these people. Some suggestions of people to approach for consultation or resource suggestions are:
– Randy and Joan Nabors, PCA
– Reverend Elbert McGowan, Redeemer PCA Jackson, Mississippi
– Drs Mika and Christina Edmondson, OPC
– Phillip (RTS) and Jasmine (author) Holmes
– Dr Carl and Karen Ellis, RTS
– Dr Anthony Bradley, King’s College

You may also want to check local colleges or universities for professors of African American history who may be able to provide helpful historical context for understanding race relations in your local area.

Fourth, in seeking information on the present and recent past of your church, I suggest having a website that allows people, particularly African Americans, the opportunity to share their experiences of racism as relates to your church and/or provide suggestions for improvement and growth; it’s important that there be the option of anonymity. This opportunity should be made available to African Americans who attend or have attended, are current or former members, are community members or leaders, and are current or former employees; they will be able to offer specific and invaluable insights into the practical outworkings of the church’s beliefs and attitudes regarding race. Local African American pastors may also have valuable information, insights, resources, or suggestions that they might be willing to share with the committee.

Fifth, as past or present sins (or patterns of sin) come to light—whether they are by individuals, groups, or the church as an institution—it is important to offer public and/or private apologies from the church and/or individuals (as is appropriate to the situation), offering restitution where applicable. This repentance should include: naming the sin, explaining why it was wrong, detailing the effects it had on those who were sinned against, expressing grief for the sin and its effects, listing efforts towards restitution, and charting a new path forward to avoid these sins in the future.

Sixth, I want to offer encouragement. From your sister in Christ, I want to say that it is worth it to tell the truth, to do righteousness, and to love. There is power in the gospel to walk in the humility and confidence it takes to admit wrong and change, even when it is painful. Possible discomfort and disruption are worth it if the result is a truer and deeper peace and unity for Christ’s church. In other words, this season is a beautiful opportunity for the church to be purified and to be a witness before the watching world.

And finally, I want to commit to pray regularly that God will give you (and all of us in the church community) strength, wisdom, humility, provision, and boldness to walk in truth, love, righteousness, and unity as we look at the past and present and move intentionally into future.

Thank you for your consideration and for this beautiful work you are doing. May God give you grace for your tasks!

Blessings,
Hannah Conroy

Hallowing Halloween by J. Brandon Meeks

[A Necessary Preface: This article is not my own. It was originally written by J. Brandon Meeks about 5 years ago over at his blog, The High Church Puritan. For whatever reason, this particular article keeps disappearing from the internet so I am taking it upon myself to post the article here where it is not in any immediate danger of disappearing. However, if the author were to see this and request that I take it down, I will do so.]

Olympus has fallen. The old gods are dead. Poseidon has drowned in the sea of forgetfulness and Zeus has been plucked from the heavens. Like Dagon before them, they have all bowed at the feet of the Living God and lost their heads in the process.

The resurrected Christ has vanquished them all and plundered their ancient shrines and temples. He spoiled the principalities and powers that stood behind these demonic deities, and by virtue of a empty tomb and occupied throne, He chained them to His chariot wheels as a demonstration of His triumph (Col. 2:15).

The names of these deposed deities are now little more than distant memories, if they come to memory at all. No one thinks of the Viking lords when they speak of Monday, Tuesdays, and Wednesday anymore. But even the most recalcitrant secularist is reminded that Sunday is regarded by multiplied millions as the Lord’s Day—for on Sunday the Son rose.

In the beginning, God created dates and days, separated times and seasons, and then pronounced them good and blessed. Pagans, with their pygmy gods, usurped these days that God claimed for Himself. They sought to fill them with significance but ultimately failed because they were already full of it. Then, in a dramatic turn of events, God turned the world upside down, shook them loose, and claimed them for Himself once again. Sunday belongs to Him again. But what about all of the other days?

When Jesus died and rose again He conquered sin and death, but He also conquered the calendar. In His ascension gi from His Father there is nothing le outside the domain of His lordship. His redemption effected a cosmic restoration that would envelop matter, and space, and even time. When we say that Jesus “won the day,” we mean it most literally. There is nothing in the entire universe that He has declined to rest His resurrected foot upon.

Among other things, this means that the devil has no days. The Strong Man has entered into his house and plundered his goods. Death and hell are no longer under his purview. Satan doesn’t even have the keys to his own domain! They were stripped from his serpentine hands by the Alpha and Omega—the One who has even claimed the alphabet for Himself.

Our “times are in His hands” because time is in His hands. Time is in His hands because all things are in His hands. And everything that is now in His hands will eventually be under His feet. This is the victory of God. This is the good news. This is the promise of the gospel. Behold, He is making all things new.

For Christians, this is both a cause to rejoice and a call to respond. We rejoice because our God reigns. We respond in faith by joining with our King in taking back lost territory. This is the mission of the Church. So we have set up an outpost at the gates of hell and we are beating down its high walls. Eventually, those walls will be battered down and those gates will crumble. Hell’s gates cannot long prevail.

This happens every time that a person comes to faith in Christ. We see man who is a slave to sin but has not been made aware of the great “emancipation proclamation” of the gospel so we go and tell. When he responds in faith what has happened? The gates of hell have taken a hit. One square foot of enemy territory has now been possessed for the King of Glory. Onward, Christian soldier…

Though we seem to understand this principle as it pertains to personal evangelism, we seem to forget that it pertains to everything else as well. Even days. If the name of Christ is to be sanctified at all times and in all places, then we have to declare it at all times and in all places. This includes days that we have formerly written off as belonging to the opposition.

For the Christian then, Halloween (as well as other dates and days) becomes a satirical pageant; a mockery of long defeated foes. Every day that the sun rises we are reminded that Christ has ascended having finished His work, but we have not yet finished ours. Christ has struck the decisive blow, but we have the privilege of working in the mopping up operation. Thus, century by century the Christian Faith rolls back the demonic realm of ignorance, fear, and superstition. In the spirit of Elijah, we mock the dead gods and the defeated demons. They have no rightful claims upon anything in this world.

Similarly, our fathers used this same tactic when they dedicated sacred spaces such as churches and cathedrals. The gargoyles that were placed on those imposing structures were meant to be taunts. They symbolized the Church ridiculing the enemy. They stick out their tongues and make faces at those who would assault the Church. Gargoyles are not demonic; they are believers ridiculing the defeated demonic army. Just as with spaces and places, we take
dominion over times and seasons. What once may have been regarded as festivals of fear and wickedness now become celebrations of joy and gladness.

Some might object and say, “But Halloween was a day that was filled with evil superstitions.” To which we might reply, “But who has the right to fill it? And with what?”

When October 31 dawns I can dress up like the Pope and laugh because I know that my costume is no more a farce than his own own robes are. I can paint my face like a ghoulish creature and giggle because I know that Christ has “unhaunted” the world through grace. Jesus has defanged the vampires, dehorned the dragons, and displaced all principalities and powers. When we send our kids to a neighbor’s door to say, “Trick or treat,” we can smile knowing that the joke is on the devil. This is deep comedy.

What will I do on Halloween? I honestly don’t know. But I will probably get up and say what I say every other day that God allows me to live: “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Ps. 118:24).