Would Moderates Let Slavery Split the PCA?

Maybe it was a different time. It was at least before Mike Brown, Carter Paige, “both sides” in Charlottesville, Robert Mueller, Volodymyr Zelensky, Brett Kavanaugh, Nikole Hannah-Jones, and Anthony Fauci — June 2010 to be precise. But it is hard to imagine any moderate or progressive in the PCA today, after George Floyd, describing the place of slavery in the Old School vs. New School Presbyterian split (1837) the way Tim Keller does. This is from his essay about his positive regard for the PCA:

There is a third reason that we should learn to live together. Because we are brethren, we need each other. Let’s recount a sad case study that illustrates this–the issue of 19th century African slavery. The New Schoolers lacked doctrinal robustness but they were strongly abolitionist. The Old Schoolers saw the danger of the New School’s intense campaigns to reform society—they saw how they could distract from the ministry of the Word, evangelism, and the sacraments. They saw how the New School’s cultural accommodation was leading to doctrinal decline. As a consequence, much of the Old School, especially in the South refused to denounce African chattel slavery as being the evil that it was. Mark Noll has shown in The Civil War as a Theological Crisis and America’s God that the church’s inability to agree that slavery was evil directly led to the disaster of the Civil War and that was the reason that evangelicalism has never again had the cultural credibility in the U.S. that it had before the 1830s. Old School leader Charles Hodge was caught in the middle of this, perhaps because he was one of leaders who tried to achieve a balance of confessionalism and revivalism in the Presbyterian church. On the one hand, he saw what poor theological reasoning lay behind the arguments of the abolitionists and the New School. On the other hand, he rightly sensed the danger that ‘the spirituality of the church doctrine’ could lead to cultural captivity in the other direction—the conservative one. Noll points out that Hodge began to criticize slavery too late to have brought about unity within Presbyterianism on the subject. In short, the Old School’s fear of cultural engagement caused it to fail this great test. And yet the New School’s overinvolvement in politics and social reform did indeed lead it later to doctrinal compromise. So both schools were right in their criticism of the other.

Can anyone imagine a PCA pastor today arguing that opposition to slavery resulted in theological decline? For that matter, has anyone but a few conservatives recently worried out loud that Christian support for defunding police, wearing masks, or mocking elected officials could actually be at odds with biblical teaching and church conviction? To his credit, Tim Keller did.

But eleven years later, that same argument against splitting the PCA is part of the set of convictions that run along with Revoice. If slavery shouldn’t have split Presbyterians, surely Presbyterian pastors who identify as homosexual in orientation (not in practice) will never break up the PCA.

Social Justice Warriors Then

Mencken explains how to pursue social reform without eschatology or sanctity:

I do not hold, with the suffragettes, that the extension of the suffrage would bring the millennium, that the will to power would become the will to kiss, that sin would perish from the earth. Far from it. But I do hold that the dear girls could do no worse with the vote than men have done, that the present discrimination against them is unjust and absurd, that they ought to have their equal chance to inject their favorite antitoxins into the body politic and perform their pet mazurkas.

The common theory that women would not vote as intelligently as men is one that doesn’t appeal to me. I see no evidence in support of it. Women, in general, are certainly not less intelligent than men. On the contrary, they are probably more intelligent. That is to say, they keep in closer contact with reality, they are less romantic, they yield less to emotion. A woman’s eye is always upon the immediate certainty, not upon the remote possibility. She is not an idealist; she seldom dreams great dreams. But in the everyday, commonplace business of living she renders inestimable services to the human race. She keeps it upon the track; she sees that it gets three meals a day; she darns its socks and bathes its fevered brow; she assiduously counts its change.

In the great business of marriage, for example, the attitude of women is far less sentimental than that of men. A man usually marries romantically: he is full of magnificent visions of incredible bliss. Many men, indeed, are so romantic that they never marry at all—the true explanation of 90 per cent. of all masculine celibacy. But women marry with an eye to the main chance. They seldom allow romance to obliterate worldly prudence. In the whole history of England, I am told, no woman has ever actually refused a Duke. And here in free America it is not often, I venture, that a sane woman ever refuses a man who is her social equal and of good repute and able to support her. She may do it if she has a free choice between two such men, but such opportunities, it must be plain, are rare, and even when they occur there is commonly a Palpable difference between the two men, and so the woman’s choice is not free. She picks the better, not the worse. Her eye is on her number.

Such instinctive sagacity, I believe, would have a good influence upon politics. The woman voter would decide public questions, not from the idealistic standpoint, but from the standpoint of bread and butter. She would regard all political wizards and windjammers with distrust and aversion, just as she regards them now. She would bring to the business of government that salubrious cynicism which she now brings to the business of ensnaring and managing her husband. In brief, she would introduce a sharp common sense into political controversy and combat—a quality now almost wholly lacking.

But the suffragettes! The suffragettes! What of them? Isn’t it a fact that their present propaganda is utterly without sense, that their panaceas are all bosh, that their arguments and claims are romantic and nonsensical? Maybe it is. But don’t make the mistake, beloved, of confusing suffragettes with women in general. The suffragettes, by the irony of fate, are the worst of all imaginable specimens of their sex—not in the sense that they are evil, but in the sense that they are untypical. They no more represent the normal habits and mental processes of women than the fantastic Ibsenites of yesterday represented old Henrik, or than the S. P. C. A. of today represents that kindly and lovable creature, the Canis familiaris.

No; the suffragettes are not typical women, and so it would be absurd to charge their extravagances to the normal feminine character. On the contrary, they are untypical women, romantic women, women without womanly common sense. The thing that attracts thern to the suffrage cause is not the cause itself, but the excitement of the campaign. In brief, they are emotionalists—which is exactly what normal women are not. This explains their eager adoption of such ludicrous jehads as the vice crusade. This explains, too, their willing alliances with prima donna preachers, Chautauqua “sociologists,” Socialists, play censors and other such bogus “thinkers” and laryngeal bravos. And this explains, finally, the curious fact that many of them also belong to other windy lodges—of anti-vivisectionism, of anti-vaccinationists, of medical freedomists, of initiators and referendors, of deep breathers, of eugenists.