A Call for Courageous Discernment

Language, Racial Reconciliation, and the PCA

This is a call for forbearance and love, with a long-term view of growing in holiness. Whether we are correcting sins towards minorities or towards women, we should expect that it will take many years (perhaps multiple generations) to fully see the fruits of repentance. Courage is required to stand against long-standing sins, but patience is needed to see God gradually produce the fruits of repentance. May we work through these issues with godly sincerity and with assurance that God will complete this work within his church.


Over the last few years, two issues have overshadowed many others within the Presbyterian Church in America: (1) racial reconciliation and (2) the role of women in the church. Although there has been much progress in addressing these concerns, the conversations continue to evoke strong responses. Moreover, it has become commonplace to include modern sociological theories into these discussions. In my opinion, the import of these theories has not been accompanied with sound wisdom and discernment. In a desire to exercise discretion, I think there are four important considerations we need to have whenever we address sociological concerns within the church.

1. Consider the Historical Context of Language

Whenever we address any controversial topic, it is necessary to deliberately choose our words carefully because our language frames the parameters and tone of the discussion. We should consider both the historical and the modern context in which our language will be interpreted when discussing various ecclesiastical issues. For instance, when discussing social strife, the terms marginalizedoppressedmajority culturesubdominant culturejusticepatriarchy, and misogyny are often used, but they are rarely defined or the definitions change to fit the speaker’s argument. This usually means that we often speak past each other or engage in equivocation. Moreover, many of these words do not arrive from Christian tradition, but from the academy. Unless we provide qualifications to the appropriation of this language, we must beware of borrowing outside language when attempting to diagnose problems within the church.

This is particularly true when discussing racial reconciliation. Embedded within these words are two basic concepts. First, reconciliation assumes that there is a restoration of friendly relations between two parties. In addressing the history of minority participation within the conservative churches, we must ask whether this is an accurate description of our history. Second, when discussing race, we must ask whether or not we are being affected by an outdated, 19th-century definition of race (for an introductory discussion of this topic, see the following article).

2. Consider the Pervasiveness of Sin

From a Reformed perspective, sin affects man’s moral faculties as well as his rational faculties, including his intellect. The effects of sin on the mind—known as the noetic effects of sin—cause us to have intellectual prejudices, faulty perspectives, intellectual inconsistencies, irrational deductions, closedmindedness, intellectual pride, incomplete knowledge, and a host of other problems. Furthermore, the noetic effects of sin also cause miscommunication in how we speak to one another.

But what is true for the individual is often magnified for the group. In other words, what is true for the biblical view of man must also carry over into sociology and how we understand social interactions within and outside the church. Therefore, we should expect that much of academic sociology—which is typically divorced from biblical anthropology—will have significant errors. If sin adversely affects human judgments, such that we are prone to develop faulty perspectives, how much more will the noetic effects of sin affect our interpretation of human behavior? This is why we must be especially careful in using sociological concepts and theories to analyze and remedy social conflicts within the church.

3. Consider the Motives

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