Perhaps I haven’t learned my Lesson

July 2022 marks my third year of pastoral ministry.  Needless to say, I am young in the ministry and have many lessons to learn.  Rev. Jerrell is a retired minister.  He has served many years in the pastoral office.  I am sure he has many lessons to teach me.  After reading his response to my article on the 88th GA, I have questions.  These questions are put forward with the hope that Rev. Jerrell, with his many years of experience, can provide answers.  As a young pastor I am eager to learn from the greater experience and wisdom that I trust a man such as Rev. Jerrell has.

I am planning to publish these questions in series of three articles on our church’s blog. If you are entering this discussion midstream, you can get up to speed by looking at my initial article here and Rev. Jerrell’s expanded response here.

I will take each of his points in turn followed by my questions.  The overarching question I have is simply this: Is what the 88th Assembly did in response to the accusations of racism a Presbyterian response?  Put simply, did we act like Presbyterians or did we act like something else?  I have much to learn about Presbyterianism.  I hope older men can teach me.

1. A negative world is nothing new. Ask the Suffering Servant about a negative culture. From our first parents Adam and Eve through Christ to the apostolic witness, sin is exposed in every generation and that is why the Word makes clear from beginning to end that a Savior from sin is absolutely necessary. Racial disparagement is a destructive and negative manifestation of sin.

I am confused by this opening point in Rev. Jerrell’s response and think he misunderstands my use of Aaron Renn’s “negative world” analysis.  When I use this concept, I mean to point out a specific societal dynamic not a general truth about our fallen world.  Historically, there have been times when society was amenable to the Christian Church.  Not long ago, Patrick Henry could argue from the Bible in civil court and carry the day. In more recent history, President Bill Clinton signed DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) into federal law. This is no longer the case today. Right now, in western formerly Christian nations, you can be arrested for quoting the Scriptures in reference to homosexuality.  This is true in Great Britain, Canada, and potentially in Australia.  What I mean, and what I think Aaron Renn means, with the term “negative world” is not that our world is fallen.  Rather, I mean that our society in early 21st America is hostile to the Church.  We must assume that secular institutions and those committed to the secular vision for America are not acting in good faith when they interact with the Church.

My question under this point is simply this, does Rev. Jerrell recognize that accusing someone of an offensive comment is a common weapon used by the secular and hostile society we live in?  Consider the story of Nick Sandmann.  Through an edited video clip, this high school student was framed as having been “racially disparaging” to a Native American demonstrator.  After the truth came out, this young man was able to sue CNN for slander.  Is it too much to assume that this same tactic will be used against the Church?  

2. I share Mr. Castle’s criticism of social media, though he and I may have distinctly different takes on the criticism. But, nonetheless, we should both confess that sins of the tongue can be like a fire, they spread rapidly in a negative and as well in a positive culture.  Given the ability of social media to spread information rapidly (a curse and a blessing), the 88th General Assembly (GA) was pastorally on target to make a statement rapidly. The GA’s statement on race addressed a specific situation and contains statements that we would use in a sermon without having a trial. Those statements are simply good applications of the Scriptures to a specific situation.

If Rev. Jerrell’s shares my criticism of social media, how can we have different takes on that criticism?  It would seem to me that if two share a criticism, the substance of their “takes” would be the same.  The phrase “criticism of social media” is a verbal place holder until it is backfilled with content.  Normally this content would be elaborated in one’s “take.”  So, I am confused.

As many have taken my “criticism of social media” and backfilled their own takes as if they were my takes, let me give you my actual take.  When I said that I have been burned by social media, I meant to say that I was foolish in my use of it.  I allowed my time and energy to be sucked away by the platforms and I foolishly thought that I would get a fair reading of what was posted therein.  I have found that this is not the case and that whatever is put on social media takes on a life of its own.  All of the above were the mistakes of my youth.  I am interested in what Rev. Jerrell’s critique of social media actually is.  Because, based on his response to my article, he and I have very different views on social media’s place in pastorally dealing with our sheep.  

Yes, social media spreads information quickly in a “negative and as well as in a positive culture.”  Given, however, that we are in a negative culture, would that not mean caution and perhaps refraining from posting to social media things of this nature?  Rev. Jerrell states that the 88th GA was “pastorally on target” to post this statement to social media.  He states twice that this statement dealt with “specifics” and was an application of the Scriptures to a specific situation.  Was it?  

The 88th (2022) General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church hereby express to the faculty, staff, and students of Eastern University its grief, sorrow, and disgust regarding four recent incidents of racial disparagement reported being made by some present at our Assembly.  There is no place in the church for such conduct.
The church seeks to magnify and honor Christ as the Creator of every human being, each one reflecting dignity and value as the image of God.  Therefore, in accordance with God’s Word and the two great laws of love, we repudiate and condemn all sins of racism, hatred, and prejudice, as transgressions against our Holy God, who calls us to love and honor all people.  In keeping with the law of God and the right order of  the church for Christ’s honor, we resolve to deal directly and biblically with any such sins of hatred committed by members of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.  In keeping with the gospel, we resolve to offer our assistance to Easter University to confront offender(s) and to seek reconciliation. 

Statement of Regret and Sorrow, adopted by the 88th General Assembly of the OPC, June 10th, AD 2022  

A brief observation is in order here.  The debate between Rev. Jerrell and myself trades, not on the passing of this statement itself, but on the release of that statement to social media.  The release of this statement to social media was never approved by the Assembly.  As can be seen from the statement itself, this was only intended by the Assembly to be given to Eastern University.  This fact needs to be kept in mind when we discuss pastoral wisdom.

The fire storm that this created on social media, in the wider Reformed world, and in many of our churches was due to the lack of specificity in this statement.  It was the vague generalities that caused many of my sheep, and the sheep of other pastors, anxiety. 

If a dog barks at your children, that can cause fear in the child.  But when you clarify that the dog who barked is the family pet barking at a squirrel, the fear departs.  The reason fear departs in this example is the greater clarity that comes from knowing the specifics.  It wasn’t any dog; it was our dog.  It wasn’t barking at me; it was barking at a squirrel.  This statement doesn’t do that.  It says in effect that barking dogs are scary.

Rev. Jerrell states that the assembly was pastorally on target to release this statement on social media.  I contend that this is the direct opposite of the truth.  One of my congregants had a concern over this whole episode.  Their concern can be phrased in this way: If the GA was ready to say all this on social media without evidence or witnesses, what will they do if I am accused of something?  What if someone who is accused in this way is identified on social media before the court can adjudicate? How does posting the accusation of sin protect the one accused from abuse?  How does posting this further the work of an ecclesiastical trial when a statement like this essentially poisons the well against the accused?  In sum, this congregant’s confidence in the GA was greatly wounded, not by the accusations themselves, but by the way these accusations were handled.  

This leads to my question.  Is our target as Presbyterians to protect the flock?  Does posting to social media statements like this help or hinder our process of adjudicating accusations with evidence and witnesses in the church?  Does this order of proceeding match Mathew 18’s method of dealing with the smallest group possible and only when there is no repentance moving it up to the wider circle? Or, is it in line with Matthew 18 to release a general statement to the world via social media before the court has had a chance to assess the accusations?

Perhaps it is wise, in seeking to protect the flock from false accusations and to ensure they everyone gets a fair trial, to release statements like this to social media.  I don’t think so.  But perhaps I am mistaken.

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