The major lesson from this assembly on this matter is that we need to double down on our Presbyterian principles. Witnesses and evidence with biblical process for those who are guilty and vindication for those who have been falsely charged. This has always been the Presbyterian way and is doubly necessary in the negative world.
The 88th Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) General Assembly has happened.
There were many things that occurred at that meeting, one of which has gotten the attention of the NAPARC social media sphere. I am talking of course about the accusations of racism made at the 88th GA. As one who has been burned by social media in the past and as a commissioner to the 88th GA, I think some perspective is in order. I offer this commentary to set the record straight and to point out to my brothers in the OPC, officers and congregants, that what we need now, more than ever, is to double down on our Presbyterian principles. These episodes will happen again. It is only by walking in God’s ways that we will be able to see a path through.
If we take Aaron Renn’s “negative world” interpretation seriously, we need to take this lesson seriously as well. His negative world interpretation sees American culture as negatively disposed to Christianity. The previous generation was neutral towards the church. The generation prior to that was positive. Now, America sees being a member of the church as a negative thing and in some cases, a moral fault. Evil, one might say. I agree with Renn’s interpretation. But more than that, his interpretation helps us understand the lay of the land and enables us to understand how things operate in the world. It helps us understand what happened on the campus of Eastern University.
When the Assembly gathered for our first business session (Thursday afternoon) we were greeted with a sobering announcement. Eastern University reported to us four instances of racial disparagement committed by members of our group. They informed us that if this happened again, they would pull the contract and kick us off campus. This would have been the first time in the history of the OPC that a GA was suspended midway. Bewildering to say the least.
The moderator held us in recess until after the dinner break for the purpose of prayer and conference. In this announcement we were told the substance of the four instances. As has been recounted elsewhere, one of the four was so beyond conception that no one at the Assembly gave it any credence. The other three were probable.
Many of you have already read the Christianity Today article about this Assembly. In that article, the author characterized the first two incidents as joking about “slave labor.” Here is the first lesson for all OPC members. While the CT article is not outright lying, it is presenting the incident in a deceptive frame. The instance we were told about was that a commissioner made two jokes about the 13th amendment. This is the amendment that outlawed slavery. The essence of the joke was that since slavery is no more, don’t work too hard. This was a case of wrong place, wrong time. The term “slave labor” wasn’t used, as far as I can tell. The CT article uses the term “slave labor” in its reporting for the emotional effect. That term evokes all kinds of visceral responses. Hence the author uses that term, which was never reported to us at the GA. Thus, we have a case of deceptive framing in the CT article.
The lesson here is to recognize how words are used in the negative world. They are used, more often than not, to manipulate emotion rather than to convey reality. This is a principle of the post-modern world we live in where truth is nothing, power only is the object of speech. Hence, in the negative world “speech is violence.” Most Christians do not think this way as a matter of course. We tend to think of words as communicating reality (either of our own hearts or of God and His Gospel). Thus it may come as a surprise when less than good faith actors use language in less than good faith. This is becoming more and more common within the church. The lesson here is to recognize that this is going on.
I do not fault the moderator nor the other men who represented us in our interactions with Eastern University. They were between an eight ball and a bowling ball, trying to avoid a crushing. I do take issue with the posting of our statement on social media during the assembly.
This statement was approved without dissent. Whatever breaches of order that occurred to accomplish that are not the point here. The larger point was the posting of that statement to social media. The Assembly approved that statement to be given to Eastern. The decision to post it to social media was never brought before the Assembly. I voiced these concerns to the parties responsible and am satisfied with their reasons, though I disagree with their decision. Here is the second lesson.
If words are bullets in the negative world, social media is gunpowder in the casing. As far as the situation was concerned, there was no need to post the statement to social media. The party that complained was being dealt with. That was as far as it needed to go. This is due to the unsubstantiated nature of the accusations. Not being confirmed, there was no need to publicize.
For my OPC brothers, consider an issue on your own session. Let’s imagine a man is accused of beating his wife. Let’s say that the woman’s father is the one making the accusation to you. He is furious. All understandable. Let’s further imagine that in order to placate the father, you make an announcement to the congregation, post it on your church’s website and socials denouncing wife beating. What would the effect be? People will draw the conclusion that your church is a hot bed for wife beating.
All of that could be avoided if you deal with the father in private, assuring him that you take this as seriously as he does and that you will investigate. After an investigation, you are then able to proceed wisely and properly. Before an investigation any admission of guilt or hint thereof will damage the reputations of the parties involved.
The major lesson from this assembly on this matter is that we need to double down on our Presbyterian principles. Witnesses and evidence with biblical process for those who are guilty and vindication for those who have been falsely charged. This has always been the Presbyterian way and is doubly necessary in the negative world. Take it from one who has been on the receiving end of false accusations, no amount of apology for mere accusations will satisfy the mob.
All those who are calling the OPC racist are slandering her. All those who are accepting those slanders at face value are parties to gossip. As the testimony of Eastern University shows, the only real instance of a GA commissioner giving offense was the instance of a bad joke made at the wrong time. He intended no offense. Rather he intended encouragement and rapport with the student helpers. To call this racist is to succumb to the verbal weapons of the post modern negative world.
Recognizing that we live in the negative world is imperative for all shepherds today. Daniel was able to persevere in Babylon because, at one level, he recognized that the culture of Babylon was opposed to the culture of Judah. And the culture of Judah was based on the religion of Jehovah. Many, many OPC members and officers have grown up in and known nothing but the culture of Judah, as it were. I praise the Lord for this. And it is to these that would simply say, “Look around. You are not looking at Mount Zion when you look at America in 2022. You are looking at the Hanging Gardens. You are not in Judah anymore. Don’t eat the kings meat (don’t adopt the cultural concerns of post modern America as Christian concerns).”
The OPC is better than this. We need to be better than this. For the warfare has just begun and the weapons of our warfare are mighty in God for pulling down strongholds. We need only to use them and to behold the salvation of Jehovah.
Bennie Castle is Pastor of Grace Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Lynchburg, VA.