Session Report on Racial Unity, Reconciliation and the Church

By / Jan 5

Preamble

The Session of Tenth Presbyterian Church received the Report on Racial Unity, Reconciliation, and the Church from the Session committee at the November 24, 2020 Session meeting. We endorse this report as a framework in creating a culture that reflects Christ’s Kingdom, and we give thanks to our Lord and to the committee for their work.

The committee spent significant time in prayer and in the Word as it developed the report. It was quite deliberate in avoiding secular trends like ‘Woke’ culture or utilizing societal frameworks like critical race theory. Instead it sought to follow the timeless sufficiency of biblical text and the catechisms of the church to thereby present a thoroughly Christian response to the issues facing us today.

Based upon this report, the next steps Session will take will include:

  1. Ongoing review of the details of the Report;
  2. Request to the specific leadership of each ministry (Worship, Discipleship, Outreach, Mercy) to survey their respective ministries for the purpose of evaluating current efforts in affirming the biblical standard pertaining to racial unity and reconciliation in the church; and,
  3. Review recommendations provided by the committee for consideration of being implemented in the new year; The Session commits to communicating to the Tenth congregation the progress made on this issue as we strive together, as a church family, to glorify our Lord, and demonstrate our love and devotion to one another, all made in His image.

Session Committee Report

Introduction

The Session of Tenth Presbyterian Church has considered the weighty matters surrounding race, and ethnicity, and recognizes they are experienced, seen, and felt, to varying degrees because of our diversity.  At the June, 2020 Session meeting, the Session appointed a committee, comprised of an ethnically diverse group (Co-chairs  RE Phil Scribano and RE Steve Forde, and members of the committee: TE Liam Goligher, TE Enrique Leal, RE Miguel Pulido, Signe Spragins, Joan Veterano, and Joshua Uy).  With current national attention placed on racial injustice, this committee was tasked to utilize the pre-existing efforts at Tenth on racial reconciliation over the past 2 years, and to develop a framework that produces biblical perspective and subsequent recommendations for church-wide initiatives on this important church matter. The committee was tasked with three primary objectives: 1. To prepare a formal, biblically-based position statement on racism; 2. To review our church’s current practices and ministries relative to the biblical standard; and, 3. To provide an action plan for Session approval that would facilitate conformance with biblical truth and practice.  

Our goal is to foster a corporate culture through biblical thinking, policy, and personal investment in evaluating where we are in context to understanding how diversity plays its role to serve our sole purpose- proclaiming the Gospel. Philadelphia is a city with ethnic, gender, age, political and socioeconomic diversity at this moment in our history. God’s design for His kingdom includes all these same diverse attributes. We believe, in order for Tenth to be an effective witness in Philadelphia, diversity of ethnicity is an important attribute which should be a high priority. Our hope is that the work of this committee would provide the tools necessary for us to examine ourselves individually and corporately in the light of scripture, and to make us more loving, holy, and unified in our Kingdom work.

Why we care – We first ask ourselves why these matters ought to be important to all of God’s people. There are many valid reasons, including but not limited to, the repeated pains and grief experienced by our members. Ultimately, as we have gleaned and summarized in a biblical foundation on this subject (Section II), these matters are important to God and central to His mission- He cares, so we must care.

God hates sin…and so must we – Partiality, in the form of racism, deceives people into thinking more or less of themselves and others, therefore rejecting the definitions that their Creator has already made. He has created mankind as His image bearers. His people, from tribes and nations, are called out of darkness, given the same sonship rights, responsibilities, and privileges in His kingdom.

Our Purposes – Having diversity is not a goal unto itself. It is made relevant and useful for the kingdom in diverse contexts, (i.e. a diverse city is our context), to reconcile those who are diverse under the name of Jesus. So then, what purposes do our various personalities, attributes, perspectives, experiences serve? What value is our one new humanity?

For Love – God loves, and therefore we love. Love animates ministry. God’s people are commanded to love one another. In order to do this, we must know the people to apply God’s word to their felt needs. Practically, we greatly benefit from our various perspectives applied to a unified purpose of ministry. We desire for God’s word to unify and inform our feelings, reactions, and responses to those felt needs. 

For Sanctification – As we align our thoughts with God, we will love what He loves and hate what He hates. We affirm the value that God has placed on us and others, affirming in them the status, liberty, honor, and privileges afforded them by the covenant. To this end, we are all called to pursue holiness in our lives, for His glory.

For Encouragement – We are called to fellowship in community, to connect with others who may otherwise be unknown to us. Having this connection, in spite of our differences, confirms the universal Lordship of Christ. There is a mystery in the unifying work of the Holy Spirit that binds us to one another, regardless of our familiarity to one another.

For the Gospel – We claim the exclusive power of Christ to save, through grace and not works, to forgive, liberate, transform, and unify as a living witness to His power as well as other attributes of God. Our relationship is not defined by business, social status, or by any other mechanism of the world. We offer to one another our unity in Christ from which we build a life-giving community, blessing the nations. There is a proportionate power of our testimony to the depth of pain, grief, scope of differences that Christ has overcome. Our unity in love is a beacon to the world that Christ is King.

For Kingdom Building – All power and authority has been given to Christ. His kingdom must reflect the attributes, priorities, and character of the King. This reality ought to order our decisions and sacred callings to be true worshippers, witnesses, and ambassadors in His name. This requires our kingdom work to be done in accordance to His will. Therefore, we do not have autonomy to merely build it according to our competing preferences, traditions, and comforts.  

Biblical Position Statement

Sin, in all of its manifestations, is a transgression of the righteous law of God, bringing guilt upon the sinner, bound to the wrath of God (WCF 6:6); and separates us from God and one another.  Simply put, God hates sin, including the sin of racism.

Racism is “an explicit or implicit belief or practice that qualitatively distinguishes or values one race over other races. Racism includes the social exclusion or judgment, or the segregating, of an individual or group of individuals based on racial differences, which always include physical appearance and its underlying genetic structure that are hereditary and unalterable” (46th General Assembly Report on Racial and Ethnic Reconciliation, 2018).  

We recognize the sin of racism, its injustice, and its harm on the Church in the forms of apathy, unholiness, discouragement, inhibiting kingdom work, and limiting the effective witness of the Church for Jesus Christ and in proclaiming the truth of the Gospel. We have heard evidence that this harm is particularly felt by African Americans and other racial minorities in our region, city, and in our church body. These are not simply past sins, but continue to be sins with which the Church and its members struggle-by offending, being offended, or where sin begets sin.  We also declare the imperative of unity in the body of Christ such that when a brother is thought to have something against another brother, reconciliation between them supersedes even worship (Mt. 5:23-24)

We acknowledge only one fundamental distinction, inclusive of all races, and is specific to God’s electing decree, defining division between those elect (redeemed in Christ), and the lost (WCF 3:6). We denounce all forms of racism, discrimination and partiality, and commit to the continued sanctification of the Church and its members that we may be holy and glorify our Lord until He returns.

We base our convictions of this sin, and our need to live and practice the Christian life without the stain of racism in our hearts, words, and/or actions, on the truth of the Scriptures.   We also recognize our profession of faith in the Westminster Confession and Standards which affirm these convictions. 

Our Biblical Foundation

  1. God’s Sovereign Plan of Creation and Redemption
    1. God’s creation was diverse from the beginning.  In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth (Gen 1:1).  And, diversity was present in creation from the beginning, by His divine design.  And, as the Scriptures describe, after His work over the six days of creation, “God saw that it was good.”
    2. God created man in His likeness (image) (Gen 1:26), in Adam and Eve, the origin of all humanity, representing all races and ethnicities, as His image bearers. 
    3. As a result of the sin of Adam and Eve and the fall of creation, we now have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23). This reality expresses itself when image bearers abuse and misuse their position over other image bearers through oppression, abuse, and a presumed superiority, leading to a sinful desire to dominate other people.  In our sin and brokenness, we are out of fellowship with God, and with one another.
    4. Jesus, and His redemptive work, provided us with the hope to be restored to God, reconciled to Him, as well as to one another, through our surrender to the Holy Spirit at work in us.  “He will save his people from their sins”. (Mt. 1:21).  He is the One who will include the diversity of all the nations, evidenced by Jesus’ own genealogy.  The dividing wall of hostility to God has been broken, and the hostility we have toward one another has been remedied in the Christ (Eph 2:11-22).  Regardless of racial, ethnic backgrounds, we are reconciled to God “in one body through the cross”.  And, Paul’s exhortation to the Galatians (3:28) reinforces this reality: “neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
    5. Jesus did not do away with the diversity of creation in race and ethnicity.  But He guided us to understand the one new humanity that, in His redemptive plan, will culminate to the New Jerusalem in Rev 7 where  people “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” (Gen. 10:5, 20, 31) are brought together by the blood of Jesus to praise Him.
  2. His Church’s Response
    Our response to God’s reconciling love toward us calls us to be like Him, to be a holy and loving people, striving for unity, peace, mercy and justice, thus displaying the truth and power of the Gospel (Micah 6:8; 1Thess 1:5).   With the help of the Holy Spirit, this is accomplished through:
    1. MISSION – The Church’s mission is to proclaim the Gospel message to the world (Matthew 28:16-20); and reflect that reality through active obedience as an expression our love to God in response to God’s love to us (John 13:34-35).
    2. HOLINESS – We are called to become a church holy before God, and, through our collective responsibility to admonish one another (Mt.18:15), employing the biblical standard of church discipline, should that be necessary to achieve reconciliation. We acknowledge the Lord’s love in His discipline (Heb. 12:5-11).
    3. UNITY – We are to foster the unity of the Body of Christ as one flock, following One Shepherd (John 10); visibly demonstrating our witness of spiritual unity of love amidst diversity in the triune God (John 17:20-23); and, making Him known and “that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:26, 1 Corinthians 1:10).
    4. IDENTITY – God’s mission does not call our church to become “color-blind,” the negation of race or ethnicity; rather, it calls to become “one new humanity,” in which that diversity remains diverse and yet finds a new and true unity (not uniformity) through the blood of Jesus (Eph. 2:13-18, John 17:23, Psalm 133:1).
    5. DIVERSITY – The Christian’s life and community should demonstrate a beautiful expression of the “breadth and length and height and depth of the love of Christ” (Eph. 3:18). This love requires humble listening, teachability, and wisdom as well as the proactive pursuit of individual and institutional change. By God’s grace, as God changes us, we will become a foretaste of God’s Kingdom. Diversity is not, and never should be our ultimate goal; God’s glory is.  Diversity is a means by which we represent the eternal kingdom of God here and now (1 Cor 12:12-27; Eph 4:14; Rom 12:5). 
    6. REPRESENTATION – In striving to reflect the totality of His Church, we follow in the pattern of the early church; intentionally establishing leaders who exemplify “every tribe and every nation” in the Church of Jesus Christ (Acts 13:1-2); as we persevere, in anticipation for the victor, Christ’s return, as He assembles His people from all nations in eternity with Him (Rev 7:9-12, Malachi 2:10, Psalm 117:1-2, Luke 13:29, Proverbs 22:2).
    7. RECONCILATION – If there is sin, including racism, that is preventing unity, whether it be individual sin (James 1:14-15; 4:17; 1John 1:7-9) or corporate sin (Joshua 7; Daniel 9), then repent, seeking forgiveness and restoring the peace and unity of the Church (Colossians 3:13-14).
    8. COMMITMENT – We fully commit to the Gospel mission through our own personal surrender to expand the Gospel; desiring what is best for others; and, in so doing, becoming “all things to all people” (1 Cor 9:22-23); with the discipline, intentionality, and planning to “run the race” (1Cor 9:24-25).
    9. OBEDIENCE – To love Christ (1 John 4:19) is to search our hearts (Ps. 139: 23-24), and obey His commands (John 14:15, John 15:12).  Christ our king commands us to love, (John 13:34), in the way in which He defines love, (John 15:13, 1 John 3:18, James 2:1-26, James 4:17, Hebrews 13:16, Romans 12:9,10), and that we would be known by that love (John 13:35, 1 Corinthians 16:14, Colossians 3:14, Proverbs 3:3-4, Ephesians 4:2, 1 John 3:1) as demonstration of the Gospel.

Recommended Approach for Internal Review of Tenth Church’s Practices and Ministries

This Committee was also tasked to establish a mechanism by which an internal review and assessment could be conducted within the various ministries at Tenth for the purpose of bringing to light any practices which might enhance or prevent living out the biblical standard in Section II.  This is a tool designed for ministry leaders for ministry reflection and decision making surrounding how racial and ethnic diversity plays out in their respective ministries. Upon reading and meditating on documents provided, leaders will be asked to answer the following questions in this survey.

Survey on Racial and Ethnic Diversity for Tenth Ministries

  1. How often would you say you consider and apply the biblical concept of diversity in your ministry leadership?
  2. In what ways does your ministry incorporate and benefit from having diversity in one new creation?
  3. How does your ministry accomplish incorporating diverse perspectives?
  4. Are there corporate areas of improvement to have diversity in one new creation?
  5. In your review of the ministry you lead, is there an over or under-representation of team members (in the context of racial/ethnic diversity) that you have identified and believe it is a factor in the ministry?
  6. What challenges does your ministry face in these areas?
  7. How can we help our people distinguish better between kingdom priority and personal preference?
  8. What other thoughts recommendations do you have for Worship, Discipleship, Outreach, and Mercy?
  9. Do you know anyone who has gifts to serve, and feels called, but is hesitant to serve?
  10. Other Comments (please describe)

Final Thoughts

We are here to taste and see the goodness, glory, and holiness that will be fulfilled in His church… today! For Christ’s sake, we desire what the Lord desires—for all His people to embrace and take up the full rights and privileges afforded by a covenant secured by His blood. We will more fully honor the Lord, and one another, when we avail ourselves to the great blessings found in our identity in Him, with His priorities and design for a Church that reflects His glory. We are not satisfied to simply please each other or to create some system for competing preferences nor are these efforts in response to the world, but a heartfelt desire to be aligned with God’s Kingdom purposes. This distinct perspective is important as it frames our minds, drives our actions, and transcends any secular views on diversity. We joyfully and humbly take up this opportunity to live out these truths in this context, thanking God for the geo-political events that highlight the responsibility and privilege we have to demonstrate the Gospel to a lost and dying world.



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