We, the Session of First Presbyterian Church of Jackson, Mississippi, being cognizant of our duty to “do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God,” acknowledge and confess the sin of racism. In particular, we repudiate the 1954 actions of our Session affirming segregation of the races and upholding an unbiblical tradition of worship that was divided according to race.
As a congregation, First Presbyterian Church, Jackson, has been a leader in our denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America, from its inception. That ongoing leadership role requires us to acknowledge our errors as well as our successes. Across our denomination there is an important ongoing conversation taking place about race and racial reconciliation, and we have a vital part to play in advancing that discussion for the glory of God.
We believe that the founders of our denomination, many of whom were prominent and beloved members of First Presbyterian Church, are heroes to be admired and for whom we must be deeply grateful to God. They defended the inerrancy of Scripture, upheld the Reformed faith, and advanced the cause of global mission at a time when all three were under fierce attack. Yet we also acknowledge that even our heroes have feet of clay, and that while we honor God for their faithfulness in many areas we freely recognize their failures, often finding the mirror image of those failures still lurking in our own hearts also. This is sadly true on the question of race and racial reconciliation.
As many of you know, at last year’s General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America our own Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III, along with Dr. Sean M. Lucas of First Presbyterian Church in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, introduced a “Personal Resolution on Civil Rights Remembrance.” The resolution called on the PCA to acknowledge and repent of the sinfulness of racial prejudice found in many of our churches during the Civil Rights Era. The resolution urged the Assembly and the Presbyteries and Congregations of the denomination to engage in self-examination and prayer, and, where appropriate, to take steps to address this sinful past.
The discussion of this question was committed to the forthcoming Assembly to be held in Mobile, Alabama, in June, and the process of self-examination was commended to the churches in the meantime. Our own Session, taking the Assembly’s advice seriously, erected an Ad Hoc Committee on Racial Reconciliation. The committee began to read, discuss, and reflect on the complex history of race relations in our country and denomination, and the prior actions of our own church during the Civil Rights Era. A ‘town hall’ meeting was held, to which all our officers were invited, where Dr. Duncan and Dr. Jim Baird spoke frankly about our past and helped inform the elders and deacons about the resolution and its implications.
After much discussion and prayer the Ad Hoc Committee then brought two motions to the May meeting of the Session. The first motion rescinded and repudiated actions recorded in our Session Minutes from the 50s and 60s that excluded African Americans from worship in our sanctuary. The second motion made a public statement to express our stance as a church on this important subject. Both motions were approved, and the public statement, which is the substance of the second motion is included below.
We desire to stand with our African American brothers and sisters in gospel partnership and to offer, where we can, our encouragement and support for the small but growing number of ethnic minority ministries in the PCA. As a congregation we have been laboring for racial reconciliation in a variety of forums for many years, and we do not believe the public statement below reflects a change of stance or conviction. Rather, prompted by the welcome discussion across the denomination, it is an attempt to put into words what has long been the settled conviction of our hearts. If, by these few words, we can take small steps towards healing old wounds for our African American brothers and sisters, we rejoice, even as we pray and work to make our congregation as diverse as the kingdom of Jesus Christ.
“We, the Session of First Presbyterian Church of Jackson, Mississippi, being cognizant of our duty to “do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God,” acknowledge and confess the sin of racism. In particular, we repudiate the 1954 actions of our Session affirming segregation of the races and upholding an unbiblical tradition of worship that was divided according to race. We deeply regret the injury such actions have given to the cause of Christ, the way they have undermined our ability as a church to minister effectively to all people, and the harm such actions have done to the spiritual welfare of our African American brothers and sisters over the years.
We believe that dealing with our past in humility and honesty before God is often the key to spiritual progress in the present, and so we praise Him that, by His grace, the slow and often difficult work of sanctification continues among us. We recognize that there remains progress to be made in our congregation and a great deal of work to be done in our community to deal with the biases of the past. Nevertheless, as we pursue reconciliation and meaningful partnership in the gospel with our African American brothers and sisters, we earnestly desire and renew our commitment to become a congregation that reflects the beauty of the ethnic and cultural diversity of the kingdom of Jesus Christ. This we do for the honor of Jesus’s name, the salvation of sinners, and the advancement of His cause at First Presbyterian Church, in Jackson, and around the world.”