Confessing Sin One Church Officer at a Time

The following from Pastor Jonathan Inman (PCA) is a call for his communion to confess its sin of racism by the book — that is, by the Book of Church Order. (Pastor Inman originally submitted this to By Faith magazine but the editors decided against its publication.)

GA Commissioners: Please Lead by Example

To my Fellow Commissioners to the 44th General Assembly of Presbyterian Church in America,


Among the various items of business we have before us this summer, several presbyteries have requested the General Assembly confess and repent of sins past and present. Further, we are being asked to encourage our member congregations and presbyteries to do the same in their local communities. I am writing to urge all who support these overtures, and especially those presbyters who plan to be in Mobile in June, to lead others by example in confessing and repenting of your sin as individuals before your courts of original jurisdiction in keeping with the provisions of BCO 38-1.

I agreed with last year’s momentous decision to refer the matter to this year’s Assembly. A year later, it’s not as though the issues giving rise to this initiative have gone away or abated, and the opportunity for folks to think through the issues and consider how best to address them is welcome. But now it is time to act.

By “act” I don’t mean wordsmithing by committee, perfecting language few will read and fewer still will take as pious advice. Nor do I mean huffing and puffing at microphone 6, bewailing our own or others’ failings, or castigating – if only by implication – those who disagree with us. Nor do I mean we should do much more than we did last year – that is, refer the matter – except in a different direction, with more determined purpose, and with a more realistic expectation of effectual results.

I would like for this year’s Assembly to answer all the related overtures by sending them back to the courts from which they originated to be dealt with according to our rules of discipline. Fully a third of our BCO is devoted to how our courts should deal with our members’ sin, and one section in particular, BCO 38-1, spells out how our courts should receive confessions of sin. I do not begrudge anyone’s earnest attempts to deal honestly and graciously with the sins of God’s people. I am calling upon the officers of the PCA to do so in a fashion to which we’ve all agreed.

If you think you have sinned, and not just a little, or in some ordinary fashion, but in an especially heinous sort of way, then 38-1 is totally the way to go. Serious sins, public sins, sins perpetrated by officers of the church – if ever there were occasion for serious, public and official confession and judgment, wouldn’t this be it? And all without the rigmarole of process!

Leaders in the church who believe they have so sinned – whether covenantally or generationally, jointly or severally – should lead by example by formally confessing their sins before their sessions and presbyteries, and asking for judgment to be rendered. Failure to do so suggests a lack of seriousness, either in their estimate of their sin, or their commitment to their ordination engagements.

No need to wait for the Assembly to give you permission; you’ve already agreed to this when you were ordained. There’s plenty of time between now and GA to get the ball rolling. And if you come to Mobile prepared, having discharged your conscience in conformity to the provisions of our constitution, it is reasonable for you to expect that others who share your concerns will have done the same.

Would you like the entire denomination to deal seriously with the substance of the issues presented in these overtures? Then have our elders, teaching and ruling, humble themselves to confess and seek discipline for their acknowledged sin before their brethren to whom they have promised submission. Have their sessions and presbyteries determine what is a full statement of the facts, render judgment, and mete out any censures. Far from superfluous procedures, these basic responsibilities executed by the courts would provide the blueprint for precisely the sort of appropriate responses on the part of the presbyteries and congregations called for by the overtures.

Whether you are for or against this or that sentiment in this or that version of these overtures, the best way forward would be for living men to lead the way, exemplifying how very concerned we are for Christ’s honor and our neighbors’ well-being.

And yet, if you personally vote to support some version of these overtures at this year’s assembly in Mobile, and if I see you next summer in Greensboro and you somehow haven’t yet invoked 38-1 for yourself, I might be willing to meet you at a lunch counter downtown and let you try to explain why you didn’t.

61 thoughts on “Confessing Sin One Church Officer at a Time

  1. Plus, I want to put forward an overture distinguishing the Jim Crow Legacy PCA’s from the rest of us. I figure from roughly Tyler Texas in an ever widening scope all the way to the Atlantic. Big John Plantation football country. Also, I ain’t bearing no burden for ancestry issues. Ez. 18:5-9(kudos to an shall remain anon.) and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ..


  2. One, does “sinning generationally” mean what I think it means?
    Two, he does have a point that the lowest of all moves would be to vote for others to confess racism and not confess yourself as a racist, but that’s not necessarily the relevant point.
    Three, if you have to eat somewhere in Mobile (hopefully not with Pastor Inman), you can get good fried chicken at Foosackly’s or smoke hookah (or maybe something else) with good Mediterranean pizza at Ollie’s Midtown.


  3. Isn’t it a bit presumptuous for a bunch of rich and white Southerners to be setting the terms of their own repentance? This action smacks of racism of a less overt, but perhaps more outrageous, ilk. Or maybe Phil Ryken is going to repent of the de facto lynching that he and his flunkie, Stan Jones, orchestrated at Wheaton this winter.


  4. By not publishing this article, the publishers of By Faith have shown their magazine to be worthless rubbish. But most of us knew that all along.


  5. What a breath of fresh air! The approach outlined by Pastor Inman is consistent with the teaching of our confession when it says, “Men ought not to content themselves with a general repentance, but it is every man’s duty to endeavor to repent of his particular sins, particularly.” (WCF 15.5)


  6. C-dubs, white privilege keeps me from knowing my sin much less repenting of it(SIPTSD-I need a scrip). However, I’d make amends by proceeding to flog all the southern frat boys gathered.


  7. “Confessing sin one church officer at a time” Hang that banner at presbytery and see who rallies to it.

    “So, what sins do you have to confess?” “Father( or brother/s whatevs) it’s been my entire ministry since I confessed a sin……………..”

    “Yes, my son, go on. Pay no mind to Conspiracy Sister and her white privilege BS detector which, as far as we know, was going off before Urbana and hasn’t stopped. Something about generational sinning. Indiscriminate, you say? Well, there’s a lot of white privilege going down and how can you know without it.”
    “War Eagle”
    “And there’s a manifestation. Seersucker’s another”


  8. Several decades of GA watching leads me to the conclusion that this is this decade’s “issue.” The GA will tug it back and forth for a couple years and eventually it will go nowhere.
    While this does put its finger on the dirty skeleton in the PCA’s closet (the racial component of its secession from Brand X Presbyterian denomination back in the ’70s) it’s hard to see this amounting to much in any practical sense even if it does past.
    Having stepped off the Session at my church after I got tired of being set dressing for a staff-led church I still try to check in annually to see what the GA is up to. The thought that crosses my mind on this issue (as it does with the intinction furor) “The world’s on fire. Doesn’t the PCA have anything more important to spend it’s time and treasure on?”


  9. Nick, I think the GA will *do something* — wise or otherwise. I think expectations have been raised. I don’t think it will bring lasting peace and harmony, unless lasting peace and harmony means running some old school confessionalists off.


  10. The best way to repent of the ‘Jim Crow’ sin is to first be cordial and kind to the black race, and try to understand their plight. A friendly smile, a handshake, and a kind greeting go a long way. If you become a better friend, or even have a very deep friendship, and can forbear political differences and understand the why of it all, and especially listen more than try ‘to set them straight’ about the number of issues which have made for shipwreck in our society and culture, the opportunity will present itself more fully to acknowledge the sins of the previous church fathers and beyond, and you can say it, express it, in a way which will have a deeper impact than what the PCA has proposed and is seeking to do at present. What the PCA doesn’t realize is that this action that they are pursuing is a type of Pandora’s box; if they are going to do this for the black race, then they are going to become obligated to do it for the Native Americans, Mexicans, Jews, Arabs, LGBT, and so on. It would be more effective to address the historical sins of church fathers from the pulpit, and address the context for why this was so, and square it with God’s sovereignty over His church through the ages, recalling the bondage of the Hebrews under Pharoah, and other types of oppressions which have existed in other nations, and how the Gospel is the salving cure.


  11. We need a denominational apology database so we can know who has apologized and for what. I was raised SBC and they apologized numerous times so I’m good. Maybe the Mormons can help us with this generational curse and genealogy thing.


  12. Semper, first, that all sounds swell but unless you’ve been schooled by Higgins in one of her white privilege awareness seminars, you can’t really know and what you know is inadequate. You’re still trying to mete out your own scolding and repentance. That’ll never do. You need to receive it from the pseudo radicalized hand of a SIPTSD afflicted black, college aged, female. Second, when did the gospel become the salving cure for slavery?


  13. Sean, what is the Higgins reference about? was not familiar with it….thanks for your candor. The Gospel is the cure – maybe in some measure, or fuller measure, individually, socially, culturally, in this life, but completely in the next. For sure, because of the total depravity of man, there are always those who try to score off of social injustice. No man, or church, even, can right all of the wrongs.


  14. Semper, I still don’t understand how the Gospel is the cure for slavery or even racism(considered socio-politically-this is part of liberal theology’s shibboleth) you’ll eventually lose the historic gospel in service of political ends. But, at least part of this PCA repentance involves a reckoning. And for there to be a reckoning there has to be an exchange of power. This exchange of power takes place when the victim(slavery induced PTSD victims-blacks afflicted generationally in this case) are in positions of power to mete out the demands of recompense. Politics and political movements always melt down to who’s in a position of power to exercise control. The PCA’s repentance will never be adequate enough until this transfer of power takes place(radicalized racial politics). IOW, it can’t be white men taking themselves to the woodshed to mete out their discipline. That doesn’t work, at all, for the other side. This is about control and comeuppance. Spiritual repentance, even biblical prescription isn’t even involved.


  15. Sean, those are noteworthy points. This is very deep and complex. CW, thanks for the link – helps in understanding very much now.


  16. Sean: Spiritual repentance, even biblical prescription isn’t even involved.

    doesn’t God always call His people, now and later, to forsake agreement with evil world systems which would include confession?

    …13 slaves and human lives ….4 I heard another voice from heaven, saying, “Come out of her, my people, so that you will not participate in her sins and receive of her plagues; 5 for her sins have piled up as high as heaven and God has remembered her iniquities. Rev 18


  17. Ali, you and Michelle, quoting scripture at me apart from historical and covenantal context is part of the problem. Scripture isn’t a magic incantation even when you sing it at me in the blues. Plus, I’ma white male and I can’t hear Jimi or Muddy.


  18. What does one do when ones family wasn’t even here on US soil until the early 20th century? – and was one of the targets of racism/hate groups?


  19. Semper,

    I think the issue has more to do with events in the mid-1970s, such as the fact that a key figure in the PCA’s founding, Morton Smith, advocated in favor of racial segregation.

    This issue has arisen in a number of urban PCA congregations, mostly outside of the former Confederacy. This fact is being proffered as a reason in support of these churches making a move from the PCA to something like the EPC or ECO. Truth be told, these folks couldn’t care less about racism. Instead, they prefer to move away from things like inerrancy, “biblical” gender roles, “family values” theology, political social conservatism, and the like. Racism is just a much easier target.

    Frankly, I don’t see the PCA in its current form for too much longer. A recent Pew survey found that 49% of members of PCA churches favor civil same-sex marriage. That suggests that the folks paying the church’s bills are a lot less conservative than those who find themselves on the receiving end of those charitable gifts. Sooner or later, the theological views of those paying the bills will win out. As a former mentor used to tell me, “Remember the real-world Golden Rule: He who has the gold, makes the [darn] rules.”


  20. Evan 773, It’s good to learn more about the ‘big picture’ – thanks. I was acquainted with the very deep ‘gray’ streak that runs through the PCA, and am familiar with sermons as far back as the 19th century which clearly favored segregation. I liked your earlier post also – couldn’t agree more. There is an ‘Establishment’ element to the present-day PCA.


  21. @DGH

    Thanks for the correction, although I’m not sure that it materially affects the conclusion. I heard the information second-hand through a friend who’s a PCA pastor.

    Even so, as someone who travels a fair bit for work, I don’t see much uniformity among PCA churches. I recently spent a few weeks in a mid-sized Southern city. The city has a large former PC(USA) (nor ECO) church that occupies a city block. It is a quintessential Southern mainline Presbyterian church: It has a basic evangelical-orthodox disposition, but would depart from the PCA on issues like inerrancy, gender roles, “family values,” and the like. Most in that church, I suspect, would agree that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. If the church held its own primary election, John Kasich would win by a large margin. Notably, these features largely describe most of the Redeemer-inspired PCA churches in the North. The latter simply operate within a denomination whose official views on these matters they reject.

    In that same Southern city, there is a PCA church a few blocks down the street from the ECO church. The PCA church in question feels more like a museum of what we think Puritanism must have been like. The book table is covered with books from Puritan authors, although John Piper and David Barton books were present too. The bulletin mentioned the word “family” 17 times, and, as far as I could tell, I was the only unmarried adult in attendance. The sermon mentioned the phrase “Christian nation” three times. Many of the vehicles in the parking lot had bumper stickers for Ted Cruz. I saw no cars with bumper stickers for any other candidate. I asked someone about First Presbyterian (the ECO church). The person referred to it as “godless,” explaining that it was soft on inerrancy. He mentioned that one of its Sunday School classes had even studied Pete Enns’ book, whom he wrongly claimed had been “thrown out of the PCA as a heretic.”

    If the PCA church in this city believes that the ECO church down the street is godless. Then, what hope is there that you can hold a denomination together in which a significant number of Northern churches in that denomination are no less godless (by his standard)? I see no such hope. I feel like it’s time to let the confessionalists in the PCA have their own denomination, where they can sit around and wax eloquent about inerrancy, biblical masculinity, family values, David Barton, Ted Cruz, and the like. I don’t see why the leadership in many Northern PCA churches insists on remaining affiliated with a denomination that was founded for and by segregationists, and which continues to lurch toward a fundamentalism on things like inerrancy, gender roles, etc.


  22. Dr. Hart, Thanks. It’s good to know when the Flying Jenny is starting to swing out too far. The point I was trying to make was diluted, upon reflection. I was trying to speak to the way ‘The Holy See’ of the PCA does things. Evan 773 expressed it succinctly and on-point.


  23. And yes, I am related to Adam (not West), but the original Badtman. Did anyone know there is a city named Batman in Turkey?


  24. Upon reading my earlier comment, I felt like it was a bit too negative on the confessionalists in the PCA. I should say that the people in the PCA church in said mid-sized Southern people were wonderful and gracious people. We disagree on certain points of theology. But when it comes to whether they or the TKNY crowd is more entitled to have its way in the PCA, I’ll cast my lot with the confessionalists. That’s not to say that I think they’re right. But I do think that they shouldn’t have to fight to preserve the denomination they founded.

    As for race, I’d suggest that white mainliners are just as racist as white evangelicals. It’s just that the mainliners often have enough money to separate themselves from non-white people. Because fewer evangelicals are sending their kids to private “day schools” that cost $20+k a year, they have to deal with the clash of cultures that often fuels racism.


  25. Evan773, I thought that you and Sean had hit it right on the head from your March 19 11:52 post – which made me think of the ‘Establishment’ culture of the PCA.


  26. Hmmm, as much as I’m not a gentrified PCAer, or a radicalized activist, I do think those two factions deserve each other. If the progressives want to depart from historic Christianity and make it all about narrative and their story, well, get ready to make room for everyone’s story. It’s all been white ‘story’ to this point, here comes black ‘story’. Captive Meeeeeeeeeee.


  27. Regarding the PCA stats reported at March 20 above (and linked in red), it’s probably worth noting the Pew Forum only surveyed 158 people who purported to be PCA. (Group sample size shown in lower left corner of tables.) While the responses of many of those 158 are obviously concerning, perhaps a grain of salt should be taken with data from a sampling that small.


  28. For Howie…….I thought Andrew Kohut was better than that…………he appeared to be on the Newshour with Jim Lehrer……


  29. semp ref and Howie, The sample size for the LCMS and SBC is larger in those stats. I wonder if they asked all their respondents for church membership data and that’s why the PCA came up small.


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