When It Happens Among Us…

The unspeakable, which normally takes place far from the door-step of denominations like the OPC, has kicked in the door and left carnage: a race-inspired shooting, death and destruction.

There is no defense for such an act. There is no justification. No explicitly Christian theology can ever justify such terror mingled with anti-Semitism or other racial bias and sin. Orthodox Presbyterians know this is not the norm. Racial bias and violence are not taught explicitly or implicitly from its pulpits (at least not in my experience). The only explicit racism I have encountered in the OPC was that which was dealt with in a church discipline case, to the credit of the church in which it occurred. Those who have truly embraced Reformed theology know that God’s plan of salvation transcends racial, social and economic borders.

 

Great sadness and shock have struck the denomination of which I am a minister–the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. That shock pales in comparison with the tragedy faced by the members of Chabad Poway who suffered grievous loss at the hands of John Earnest, a member of an Orthodox Presbyterian Church. The unspeakable, which normally takes place far from the door-step of denominations like the OPC, has kicked in the door and left carnage: a race-inspired shooting, death and destruction. The statements released by the Pastor of the church, and the Moderator and Stated Clerk of the OPC speak clearly for themselves, and also for all Orthodox Presbyterians.

There is no defense for such an act. There is no justification. No explicitly Christian theology can ever justify such terror mingled with anti-Semitism or other racial bias and sin. Orthodox Presbyterians know this is not the norm. Racial bias and violence are not taught explicitly or implicitly from its pulpits (at least not in my experience). The only explicit racism I have encountered in the OPC was that which was dealt with in a church discipline case, to the credit of the church in which it occurred. Those who have truly embraced Reformed theology know that God’s plan of salvation transcends racial, social and economic borders. They know that the free offer of the gospel goes out to all regardless of race or religion. In fact, those who truly adhere to Reformed theology have a better-than-average understanding of the globalization of the gospel, promised early on to Abram (Gen. 12) and then commanded in the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18ff). In fact, I would adamantly insist that any racism that was historically tolerated or propagated in churches that professed to believe Reformed theology was glaringly antithetical to the system of doctrine which they professed.

The purpose of this article, however, is not to defend Reformed theology or the Orthodox Presbyterian Church from charges of racism, charges made either from within and without. That is easy enough to do. We have such clear words in Scripture. For instance, Ex. 22:211 Sam 16:7Acts 17:26Gal. 3:28Revelation 7:9. Particularly when it comes to anti-Semitism, the most obvious refutation from a Christian perspective are the words of our Lord Jesus from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). We also have clear teaching on our doctrinal standards. Westminster Larger Catechism 191 abundantly speaks to the matter of racism as a heinous sin and our duties towards others. Neither do I wish to contest that racism exists in reformed denominations: that would be like saying the pride does not exist in Reformed denominations. Nor do I wish to contest the argument that there has been a long history of anti-semitism in the church. Martin Luther was guilty of it. However, one is hard-pressed to provide convincing argumentation that the modern-day American church is anti-Semitic–actually, quite the opposite. Given the ill-advised admixture of politics and faith, the American church has largely been pro-Israel.

Neither do I wish to dwell on the unhelpful rhetoric of some within the church towards this situation. “Pastors need to take a look at themselves,” we are told. Of course we do. As long as that means all pastors, including those who are making these calls (and in all areas of our lives). Some comments coming out of those quarters have come close to insinuating that a lack of careful teaching in John Earnest’s church was the cause of this shooting. That argument is facile and is guilty of the very error it accuses others of: it lacks nuance, sensitivity and any real insight of that church’s preaching and teaching. By the same argument we might as well blame Jesus’ teaching and lack of learned sensitivity to the Jews (of two thousand years ago!) for their rejection and crucifixion of him. The church is not to blame, though it is an easy target. The pastor in question is not to blame either, and these accusations appear to pander to the current knee-jerk reaction of the world which reduces everything to bias, race or inequality of some kind.

Moreover, I do not wish to take a pot-shot at the family of the shooter. I do not know the family, their parenting, family-life, or church commitment. It is simply impossible to speculate on whether such were causes.

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