What's Going on in New York City?
Headlines around the country have proclaimed that racial unrest is the latest social ill which the "establishment" believes you should be worried about. Even President Bill Clinton has gotten on the bandwagon.
Let us say up front that the ethnically-diverse and racially-integrated congregation which sponsors this publication deplores racial hatred and ethnic cleansing. We by word and deed declare the good news to all peoples, and we rejoice in the resultant unity in the Body of Christ.
But that does not mean that we believe that historical revisionism should be employed by the church in order to guarantee that certain "politically correct" conclusions would be drawn. Nor does it mean that we favor the use of the potentially explosive issue of race in order to foster a certain social and political agenda.
It would appear that the celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X by a ministry of a prominent PCA congregation utilized historical revisionism. To hold up the anarchist, murderer, and terrorist John Brown as a great example of racial harmony is like setting forth Joseph Stalin as the great preserver of Russian family values. Furthermore, as is evident not only from the special gathering but also from the suggested reading list (especially coupled with comments by participants in the ministry), the race card is played so that, if you don't agree with a redistribution of wealth, you are a racist and an oppresser of the disadvantaged.
There are other disturbing aspects about that evening. One is the very definite impression that an unrepentant plagiarizer and adulterer was held up as a great Christian hero.
Another is that the gospel was downplayed. Consider the fact that racial strife was set forth as "the" problem of the twentieth century. Is that really true? Instead of accepting a Marxist-type evaluation of history, should we not see that man's basic problem is not rooted in political or social considerations, but in spiritual matters and particularly in his relationship with God? It is at the foot of the cross that the ground is equal. But someone attending the event, or reading the suggested books, would most likely get a very different impression regarding man's basic problem and the solution for it. Although perhaps not intentional, the church's message became politicized in this presentation.
A further problem arising from the evening has to do with the heart of the gospel. One of the presenters, in a later interview, implied that the fact that Martin Luther King, Jr., may not have preached the gospel of Christ (including justification by faith alone and the imputation of Christ's righteousness) would not necessarily disqualify him from being a Christian minister.
Now, perhaps he is using the term "Christian minister" in a novel way. However, the Apostle Paul addressed just such a situation when he said, "But if I or an angel from heaven preach any other gospel, let him be accursed!" (Galatians 1). It is hard to see how someone under the anathema of Scripture can legitimately be considered a minister of Christ.
A similar problem arises from the public assertion by the other presenter that the ethics of Malcolm X are aligned with the prophetic ethic of Scripture. But is it not true that such an assertion denies grace? If we have a gospel-oriented rather than works-oriented understanding of the prophets' messages, we will see Jesus, not principles of egalitarianism.
Furthermore, we will submit to the Triune God, not to the false god of Islam. After his trip to Mecca, Malcolm X came to believe in the possibility of the unity of the human race, but only as united in the unitarian god of Allah.
And yet another difficulty revolves around the very fact of having such a seminar in the first place. Certainly it is true that, deep down inside, the sin of racism lurks: total depravity means that sin goes into the inner recesses of the soul. But we do not believe in perfectionism: we do not believe that in this life all sin will be eradicated. It is one thing to deal with sin. But to have a special presentation on the sin of racism, built apparently on the assumption that everyone is a racist (especially if you enjoy "institutionalized white privilege"), is to engender turmoil and strife. It would be similar to having a special conference based on the assumption that everyone is an adulterer, even though in most cases manifestations of seventh commandment violations are, by God's grace, suppressed.
We understand the perspective of the pastoral staff of the congregation in question. That church has self-consciously tried to be apolitical in its pulpit ministry. It has also tried not to offend people up-front, thereby inviting them to give the church_and the gospel_a chance. And, it has sought to incorporate people with differing perspectives_including radically differing political philosophies_into the church's ministry. While a noble effort, the result, in our opinion, can be disasterous, as is evident from this event and brochure.
There are many good things about this sister church of ours in New York City; there is much good ministry that goes on there, including that performed by the folks in the Racial Unity Ministry. It is precisely because there are good things and good people there that we are so concerned about what went on. We wonder if perhaps this congregation's leadership needs to rethink very carefully whether this approach, which allows not merely different political philosophies but questionable theological expression, adequately protects the church, both locally and more broadly, from false teaching.