Perhaps the best criticism of the PCA might be that the efforts especially of young ministers—often from Evangelical and Fundamentalist backgrounds—at racial reconciliation, instead of being increasingly “woke” have been rhetorically vague and socio-intellectually contrived, and have led to certain forms of social and intellectual naïveté regarding the consequences of adopting modern taxonomies of social change. Much of the push for racial reconciliation, and the subsequent perception of wokeness, is not purposefully or even willfully Marxist or sentimentalist, but instead is an earnest desire for Evangelicals to have their moment in the sun and join the rest of liberal-capitalist American society’s consensus on racial justice.
Is the Presbyterian Church in America—the largest ostensibly conservative Reformed denomination in the United States—going woke? Erick Erickson is a member of a PCA church and worries about that trend, even if he still sees the PCA as largely conservative.
Churches like the PCA that identify with largely non-credal and non-confessional Evangelicalism in the United States have been rent by increasing political, ideological, and, yes, theological division in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s election. Prominent teaching elders like Tim Keller have taken to Twitter and social media to warn against Christians seeing one party as more Christian than another. Keller also rhetorically equated policies to reduce poverty with policies to end abortion. “The Bible,” Keller explained, “tells me that abortion is a sin and great evil, but it doesn’t tell me the best way to decrease or end abortion in this country, nor which policies are most effective.”
Keller pastored in New York City for years and largely adopted the rhetorical and socio-political commitments of mid-century socio-cultural liberalism. Keller’s liberalism—if it can even be called that—is the same as Dwight Eisenhower’s. Neither man could ever be called Marxist, or “woke.” Keller’s theology, however, is more conservative than that of mid-century liberal Protestants, so much that it cost him an award—but not a speaking gig—at Princeton Seminary.
Race in particular is the paradigm with which the PCA, and most low-church Protestant groups, seem most likely to bend toward perceived wokeness. In 2016 the PCA passed Overture 43 by which the denomination condemned and repented of “corporate and historical sins, including those committed during the Civil Rights era, and continuing racial sins of ourselves and our fathers such as the segregation of worshipers by race” as well as “the exclusion of persons from Church membership on the basis of race; the exclusion of churches, or elders, from membership in the Presbyteries on the basis of race.” The assembled elders lamented past ministers who taught “that the Bible sanctions racial segregation and discourages inter-racial marriage” as well as condemned those who participated in and defended white supremacist organizations. The language and the resolution were relatively innocuous, and not particularly woke.
The PCA was not founded until 1973 and many of the ministers most involved in the denomination’s liberalizing factions have little or no history with the historical Presbyterian Church. Duke Kwon and Greg Thompson, two PCA pastors who recently published a book arguing for Christians to embrace racial reparations, are not representative of the rank and file pastors in the denomination. Thompson in particular has argued that the United States is the world’s longest-lasting white supremacist social order. White supremacy, he argued, was not about “Klan hoods [but] systems + structures that make things easy for people like me.” Thompson’s rhetoric is increasingly that which is associated with critical theory.
Thompson’s rhetoric defending critical race theory and the sometimes violent protest that followed the death of George Floyd also resorts to the heavily contrived notion of a unitary “American church” that has perpetuated white supremacy, and uncharitably obliterates men and women of goodwill in white churches who worked against Jim Crow and other forms of racism. Grace DC, a network of Presbyterian churches in the DC area where Thompson and Kwon serve, also used a creed written, according to the citation, in Honduras in 1980 as a part of something called the “Mass of the Marginalized People.” For people who claim to be redressing historical sins, they are remarkably incurious about who was confecting quasi-Catholic liturgies in Honduras around that time. Thompson, however, is not particularly representative of the PCA and doesn’t even serve as a head pastor in a church.