What Jemar Ignored

Details from Presbyterian church history about race relations in the United States are not pretty. Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, for instance, saw members and officers leave when Mariano Di Gangi, predecessor to James Montgomery Boice, preached about racial prejudice, opened the church and session to African Americans, and served on the mayor’s commission on civil rights. At the time, Tenth Church was still part of the Presbyterian Church USA and did not join the Presbyterian Church in America until 1982; but that denomination had hurdles of its own to overcome. Sean Michael Lucas’s history of the PCA’s founding, For a Continuing Church (2015), includes stories of Southern Presbyterian conservatives who defended racial segregation on biblical grounds and sought ways to guard the church from important figures regarded as having erroneous understandings of racial equality.

The OPC herself debated the merits of civil rights during the 1960s in the pages of The Presbyterian Guardian that showed opposition to political reforms designed to end segregation. A black pastor in the church, Herbert Oliver, wrote an article about the positive contribution the Christian church had made to social reforms in the past and that supporting Civil Rights for African-Americans was another instance when Christians could be instruments of social change. Letters to the editor indicated that Oliver had failed to persuade some Orthodox Presbyterians. E. J. Young, for instance, wrote a letter to the editors in which he objected to both a view of egalitarianism that was clearly unbiblical and an understanding of the church’s role in society that failed to highlight the ministry of the gospel. If these instances seem inconsequential, perhaps J. Gresham Machen’s 1913 letter to his mother, strongly objecting to the integration of Princeton Seminary, will show how much ideas of white supremacy afflicted conservative Presbyterians who contemporary Orthodox Presbyterians esteem. If a black man were to take up residence in Alexander Hall, Machen wrote, he would consider moving out, which would have been “a great sacrifice to me.”

The rest of the review of The Color of Compromise.

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8 thoughts on “What Jemar Ignored

  1. It’s been a bit sparse lately, but you and I have “known” each for a little while now Darryl. One thing I have never done is deny you your God given brilliance. You know that.

    This piece is a case in point. Very VERY good indeed.

    Lemme make you this promise. There are huge sprawling topics in here, but nothing will EVER satisfy these people. Nothing. I’m up to my eyeballs in it over here in Detroit.

    In the next few days, I’m going to ask for your help on something that you and I will be on the same page about. You are of course under no obligation and I will not fancy myself ill treated if you decline, but I do not have your historical acumen and I need it. Once I explain, you’ll see what I mean.

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  2. It’s not implausible that the sentiment behind your description of – presumably – your fellow churchmen as ‘these people’ is part of the problem.

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  3. “What Tisby fails to allow, by this logic, is that the 360,000 Union soldiers who died (almost 100,000 more than the South) were willing to give up their lives to abolish slavery. ”

    This is not necessarily so; there doesn’t necessarily have to be this kind of symmetry of purpose between opposing sides in a war; one would have to examine the media/pronouncements of each side at the time to determine the focus of their messaging.

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  4. No doubt some of those 360,000 Union soldiers “were willing to give up their lives to abolish slavery.” [And obviously the southern planter class wanted to preserve slavery.] That said, fighting to preserve the Union [and revenues from tariffs on imported goods coming in through southern ports, the imported goods often consumed by southerners] was very much a motivating factor for northern politicians. Also, fighting to free southern slaves, particularly being drafted for it, was hardly popular — consider the New York City draft riots of 1863.

    Plenty of southern soldiers, particularly those not of the planter class, likewise were not fighting primarily to defend slavery. They fought because their state(s) were leaving to defend and newly formed nation; it was a Second American Revolution, just as the colonies (many of which, including New York, permitted slavery at the time) left to establish a new nation less than a century before.

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  5. So you are you defending or deploring Machen inexcusable racis?. Too bad an NT scholar never read Galatians 2 or Ephesians 2. Maybe Machen could have learned something from NT Wright!

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  6. Where are you Harvey Conn? What happened to your prophetic voice? You were hard to listen to when you challenged the OPC in their complacency. But you were right. But now no one will listen to you. You are dismissed as a social fraud. Now the prophetic voices in the OPC do not call for mission and reconciliation, but justification for white America’s failings. Now the prophetic voices in the OPC come from history professors who teach home schooled children in a rural Michigan town telling us it right to live with racism, it is right to avoid mission, and it is right to live an insular culture as long as we scorn celebrity pastors and observe communion in the right way.

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  7. Chris s., which is what Jemar does not do by “proving” the South fought in defense of slavery. He doesn’t examine the motives of the north.

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