Racism in the church

Anthony Bradley has recently posted a couple of interesting articles about race in the church. Over at the Institute, he offered some thoughts on Peter Slade’s book Open Friendship in a Closed Society: Mission Mississippi and A Theology of Friendship (Oxford University Press, 2009). He specifically comments on some data that Slade provides regarding “difficult information about the racist and pro-segregationist formation of the Reformed Theological Seminary, the Presbyterian Church in America, and the role of First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, MS.” He goes on to list what he sees as some of the more troubling facts and decries the fact that he and others weren’t made more aware of what to expect when they joined the PCA. Slade’s book sounds like it would be a fascinating, though uncomfortable, read.

The comments in this post are particularly worth following. Stephen Taylor, Peter Enns, Ligon Duncan, and R. Scott Clark all chime in, along with further comments from Bradley.  (HT Mike Bird)

And then, over at Worldmag.com, Bradley argues that we need to be careful about accusing schools of racism based on the lack of faculty diversity. He points out the difficulties that some schools can encounter when trying to find qualified minority candidates for open positions. Although he doesn’t discuss some of the systematic problems that contribute to the lack of qualified candidates, he correctly points out that a mere “head count” doesn’t tell the whole story. (HT Justin Taylor)

About Marc Cortez

Theology Prof and Dean at Western Seminary, husband, father, & blogger, who loves theology, church history, ministry, pop culture, books, and life in general.

Posted on July 7, 2010, in Anthropology and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Thanks for the post. I look forward to reading the book.

  2. Might not be until after Christmas.

    I will say, briefly, that I am not sure if Anthony is simply being rhetorical or serious when he asks “Why didn’t someone tell me about the PCA’s past?”

    I didn’t become a part of the PCA until I was in seminary, and it was through Tenth Presbyterian in Philly (i.e. not a Southern church). No one told me about the past either, but it didn’t take much effort on my part to figure it out. One of the histories of the PCA that was sold on its website included a sermon against “race-mixing.” The PCA was inaugurated Dec. 4, 1973 (the PC – Confederate States of America inaugurated Dec. 4, 1863 – not a coincidence). The theologians discussed, revered, and cited by the founders generation of the PCA were Thornwell, Dabney, Girardeau, Peck, etc. You don’t have to read more than a few pages of their stuff to stumble across unsettling stuff on race. Frankly, Anthony’s lament seems a little baffling. He is obviously intellectually curious – he has a PhD. He can read, too.

    I don’t think a lot of folks in the PCA do know about the past, or at least its extent. Or they are embarrassed by it, and don’t want to talk about it (Note: we should talk about it, and repent by explicitly and not just generally condemn the racist teachings of Dabney, Thornwell, et al). Or these folks wanted to change it and reach out to folks different than them, e.g. African-Americans. (Q: Is it always paternalism when Xian whites try and reach out to African-Americans?). Maybe those folks who did know about it loved Anthony and wanted him to be a part of the PCA – which boiled down to them wanting him to be in their congregation – to make the it, and by extension the PCA a better, and richer place. And I guess no one would have guessed how horribly Anthony would be treated (he has been verbally abused and threatened a lot). Could they have known?

    When I was dating my wife, I didn’t tell her about all the craziness in my family until later (she figured it out when I had an uncle on the front page of our hometown paper – in handcuffs in his underwear. Note: he is one of the few Christians in my family, too). I usually talk about Tim Keller and Ed Clowney when I talk about the PCA, not the guys like the PCA minister who was executed in FL for killing an abortion doctor and his assistant. Is Anthony surprised that PCA people don’t “lead” with that stuff? Or even emphasize it? Come on.

    • I think you’re right that there’s a fair bit of rhetoric in Bradley’s lament. I do think that most of it comes from not being warned about the treatment that he might expect rather than the specific historical details, since the former would have been much easier to discover on his own. It does seem reasonable to ask, though, why someone didn’t let him know what he was getting himself into. If I knew a woman who was going off to minister in a denomination with a historically low view of women in ministry, I would certainly say so. And, I wouldn’t do this to discourage her from pursuing the ministry, but to give her the best possible chance for success. And, given the way that he’s been treated, I find it hard to believe that no one knew this might happen.

  3. So, you think it would be reasonable to expect that Anthony’s PCA friends and colleagues should have known that extremists in the PCA “might” systemically attack Anthony, e.g. “PCA Negro Prince, etc.?” He was not the first African-American minister in the PCA, or even the first African-American theologian (cf. Carl Ellis). But a reasonable expectation of possible abuse like you are suggesting would have to be rooted in some kind of inductive evidence, right? But no one else has been treated with the same vitriol as Anthony because of his race, to my knowledge. [note: I am not saying that Anthony brought this on himself. He has struck a nerve in folks that needs to be theologically cauterized, imo.] But do you know of other cases of racial abuse in the PCA that would make your argument more credible? Or to put it another way, its not THAT hard to believe that Anthony’s friends weren’t setting him up to “possibly” be abused. 😉

    “Best possible chance of success:” Anthony has “succeeded” in ministry in the PCA as well, I would contend. He has always had jobs and opportunities. He taught theology at the PCA’s seminary (not an easy job to get), has a prominent voice in the denomination, and regularly teaches and preaches in our churches and an extensive ministry beyond the PCA, too, e.g. I saw him on Fox on night in his role as an Actonite criticizing Liberation theology and “big government.” His treatment by some loonies in the PCA is abominable, but his ability to work and have a voice because of them has not been hindered.

    • Fair enough. I was making the (ungrounded and possibly unwarranted) assumption that if Bradley was receiving this kind of treatment, it’s likely that others have as well. But, you’re right, it’s entirely possible that something in his particular ministry/message “struck a chord” as you say and produced a response that others have not experienced. Since I’m a complete outsider to the PCA, I’ve got nothing to support one over the other.

      But, the fact that he has had success in the PCA does not mean that things couldn’t/shouldn’t have been done earlier. That would be akin to arguing that it’s okay to teach a kid to swim by throwing them in the deep end of the pool simply because they didn’t drown. Surely, if we can give someone a heads up about difficulties they might encounter in ministry, we should. (Which, of course, gets us back to whether anyone around him should have known.)

  4. You can have the last word…after this:-)

    As to your second paragraph, I agree that Anthony’s example should be instructive to other A-A theologians coming into the PCA from this point on. Not that they should stay out, but that there is a glaring example of racist treatment toward a doctor of the church in our recent future. And, I’ll go further here, that there has also been reluctance to have a forthright confession of denominational sin on this issue, too.

    But I think your analogy of swimming misses the “marc” (get that much?:-). It only works if we make as a matter of course treating future A-A theologians as if Anthony Bradley’s situation had not happened.. Your analogy assumes that Anthony’s situation was him getting thrown in the deep end of the pool in the first place, when we can only recognize that it was the case afterwards.

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