Stated Clerk’s statement: ‘Are we complicit in the racism of the alt-right?’

Nelson: ‘Proclaimers and hearers of the gospel must engage this uncomfortable issue that damages the soul of our country’

August 14, 2017

“All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (John 14:25–26)

WE BELIEVE that any teaching which attempts to legitimate such forced separation by appeal to the gospel, and is not prepared to venture on the road of obedience and reconciliation, but rather, out of prejudice, fear, selfishness and unbelief, denies in advance the reconciling power of the gospel, must be considered ideology and false doctrine. (Excerpt from The Confession of Belhar)

White supremacy raised its head and occupied a weekend of the news. We are reeling as a nation from President Trump’s cursory statement that failed to aggressively condemn the existence of the alt-right and their promotion of vitriolic racial rhetoric and white supremacy. No longer can we make statements of denial that racial hatred and bigotry are isolated occurrences in our society. We witnessed the blatant actions of white supremacists giving declaration to their views of dominance, control and superiority in the streets of Charlottesville, a prestigious university town in Virginia. If the espousal of white supremacy was not enough, we now know that James Alex Fields Jr. of Maumee, Ohio is the driver of the car that killed one person and injured dozens more in the name of white supremacy. These occurrences are the result of a protest organized by the alt-right to maintain a statue of another white supremacist, Robert E. Lee. 

The handprint of racism is all over the United States in the 21st century. My question is: Where are we in the Church with the racist attitudes that have now been given an extreme voice from the highest offices in the land – both governmental and corporate? Where are the modern-day prophets – not simply in the streets and on television, but in local communities, organizing for a new day in the United States?

These rhetorical questions are a way of simply asking: What did you preach to your congregation this past weekend? Did you preach a prophetic word of liberation addressing the context, content and consequences of our urgency to act in these times, or did you preach on Sunday’s lectionary text about Jesus walking on water?

The lectionary text failed to presage that white supremacy in the United States would raise its ugly head on national television the day before we had to preach. However, for some pastors who encounter white supremacy every day, the preaching transition was not a shock. Changing sermon titles, tweaking Scripture readings and even discarding a sermon and starting over at midnight or hours before worship are a part of the contextual reality we face. Having lived as a child through the civil rights activity of my father, uncles and other clergy, I know that this strain of white supremacy in the United States is nothing new. New African-American pastors and others of color have adjusted their sermon preparation in response to Trayvon Martin’s Saturday (midnight) verdict; the Emanuel AME prayer meeting/Bible study shooting (midweek); the Walter Scott shooting by police (Saturday afternoon) and the countless numbers of detention lockups, deportations and police-sanctioned violence against their communities, including new immigrants. Midnight sermon challenges are not new. As a matter of faith, some do not even write sermons until midnight on Saturday. This is not an issue of laziness, but the overwhelming contextual realities of the community make it difficult to even carve out time to give 20 hours weekly to preaching/study time. In these cases their preaching is shaped by an overwhelming context of communal chaos.

President Trump affirmed this past weekend that white supremacy is not simply grounded in individual acts, but is often sanctioned by the complicity of systems that provide support through their silence and well-crafted statements that fail to name the structural “isms” of our society. Therefore, structural racism is deeply connected, even within the church. We are complicit through what we do and refuse to do. Therefore, to have ignored the issues of white supremacy and racism in our delivery of the Word of God this weekend was to be complicit with the very acts in Charlottesville. I know this may feel like an unfair judgment, given all of the pressures that we face in juggling church and personal responsibilities. However, we are always judged as leaders of the church (clergy, laity and baptized members). Someone sat in the pew yesterday seeking a contextual understanding of Scripture related to the events of this past week while trying to make sense of it all. If we did not address this issue, then we did not faithfully interpret the gospel message that was relevant in our cultural context as a nation of people. If we turned only to the lectionary to expound upon the miracle of Jesus walking on water without giving a contextual exegesis on the rise of the alt-right in the United States and preservation of the white supremacist call to protect the statue of Robert E. Lee, then we were complicit in their behaviors.

Jesus reminds us in the gospel of John, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever” (John 14:15–16).This word advocate comes from the Greek word advocare, which means to “stand beside or stand with.” Its connotation is akin to a lawyer standing beside a client. Jesus is preparing them to live a life in faith without his physical presence, while reminding them that the spiritual presence that guided him will still be with them; will stand beside them; will be an advocate for them. We use the words justice advocacy to explain the power of walking beside the victimized in our society. Racism represents a historic ill and victimization of people of color in this nation. It is a cancer in the soul of our country that can be driven out only by love. This love makes both the believer and nonbeliever uncomfortable, because it causes us to recognize that we can do more when we take our eyes off ourselves and place them on the Almighty.

White supremacy will not be eradicated until faith leaders become willing to risk their very lives (professional and otherwise) for the sake of the gospel. The Scriptures remind us that “Whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it” (Luke 17:33). Our denomination must be willing to lose its life for the sake of eradicating more than 400 years of white supremacy in the United States. Our great celebration of the Belhar Confession at the 222nd General Assembly was a joyous occasion and signaled to the world that we are prepared to begin a new journey of turning the world upside down, by engaging our (PCUSA’s) complicity in racism.

An excerpt from the Belhar Confession states: “We believe that any teaching which attempts to legitimate such forced separation by appeal to the gospel, and is not prepared to venture on the road of obedience and reconciliation, but rather, out of prejudice, fear, selfishness and unbelief, denies in advance the reconciling power of the gospel, must be considered ideology and false doctrine.”

The behaviors and ideologies of racial superiority are learned. Dylann Roof was 21 years old when he wore an apartheid patch on his vest the night he killed parishioners in Bible study/prayer meeting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Roof was born in 1994. He was too young to understand what the patch represented without the assistance of others. Therefore, the hatred that took the lives of those persons praying and studying God’s Word was taught to him. His white supremacist thinking was an indoctrination to hate-mongering and a superficial belief that superiority is grounded in race alone. We learned this weekend that the there are others who are willing to blatantly carry on the banner of racism even if it means the killing of others. What will you preach and teach in this era about the love of Jesus and the call to love one another? How will you as a leader in the Christian church courageously proclaim the Lord’s name in Spirit and truth for the sake of the kingdom of God?

I want to thank our co-moderators, Reverends Jan Edmiston and Denise Anderson,       for continuing their commitment to challenging the PC(USA) to live into our call of embracing Belhar. They have broadened the awareness of many through their book studies while living into their role of challenging our denomination to be transformers of this present age.

I must also give thanks for the deep work of the racial-ethnic ministries unit of the Presbyterian Mission Agency and the ecumenical witness of the Office of the General Assembly for continued heavy lifting to implement Belhar within the PC(USA) and beyond. We must witness to a new age regarding race in the United States. Our risk is not in engaging the issue of white supremacy. Our greatest risk is in failing to make every effort possible through the gospel to eradicate racism with the help of the Lord.  

Proclaimers and hearers of the gospel must engage this uncomfortable issue that damages the soul of our country. God is calling us to be a viable witness in these times. This requires courage and a deep faith to speak truth in love.

Stated Clerk Signature



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  1. The Presbyterian Church is losing members in part because while its members need spiritual guidance and understanding, it is choosing to take simplistic stands on complicated matters in the name of social justice and shutting down real discussion of those same issues. Our own families are interracial and you are preaching to us about how racist we are. You attribute the most vile things to people who worry that Chinese debt is funding America's "generosity" to refugees, and assume we want no immigration. What has happened to the church that used to be an intellectual bastion among churches?

    by Carroll Hoke

    August 27, 2017

  2. The sign out front of our church says: We disavow racism. Only one color counts. The red of our blood.

    by Gwin Pratt

    August 19, 2017

  3. Donald Trump is widely recognized as being a Presbyterian. His stated views are in no way consistent with those of the Presbyterian Church. It is right and proper to denounce his views. But for this religious body to accept this man as a member in good standing is to give his stated values our tacit approval. What action can be taken? Is there any way that his membership in our denomination can be severed?

    by David Fellows

    August 17, 2017

  4. Thank you.

    by Jack Porter

    August 17, 2017

  5. Thank you, Mr. Stated Clerk, for speakimg truth boldly. Truth trumps Lies all day long!

    by Deborah Flemister Mullen

    August 15, 2017

  6. I preached the lectionary and addressed the horror and racist white supremacy of the weekend. I did alter what I originally planned. And I frequently preach about racism and white supremacy. We have had weeks of conversation about these issues in our Adult education program.

    by Susan Andrews

    August 15, 2017

  7. Thank you for these challenging and faithful words, Dr. Nelson.

    by Ann Deibert

    August 15, 2017

  8. Thanks, J. Herbert, for your challenge to us! I did not preach on Jesus walking on the water. But I did preach on the lectionary -- Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28 -- which worked well with the news from Charlottesville. Here's an excerpt: When we hate our brothers (and sisters), when we cannot speak peaceably with one another, the unresolved tensions between us can tear us apart. The American Civil War ended more than 150 years ago! And yet, here we are, in 2017, fighting in the streets over how the Civil War will be remembered, whether “Black Lives Matter” in the U.S. or really only “White Lives Matter,” and whether Klansmen and neo-Nazis will be allowed to intimidate and terrorize our communities. Now it would be easy to point to events in Charlottesville and say it’s those white nationalists, those neo-Nazis and Klansmen that are the problem. It’s those hate groups that keep perpetuating racism. But then I am reminded of the words of Augustine of Hippo: “Never fight evil as if it were something that arose totally outside of yourself.” Or as the apostle Paul put it: “All have sinned and fallen short.” It’s easy to think of racism as something that exists completely outside of ourselves. I’ve come to realize that that’s a way of distancing myself from the problem and absolving myself of any responsibility for it. I have had to come to terms with the fact that growing up white in a racist society, I have benefited from racism and been shaped by racism, without my even being aware of it, just as a fish doesn’t know its in water. That’s part of the problem. Most of us who are white in America are simply oblivious. We are able to live in a bubble, if we so choose, in which we are blind to the racism in our society and unaware of how we contribute to it and benefit from it. Those of us who are white are very good at avoiding the subject altogether. If the topic of race ever comes up, most of us run the other way. It makes us uncomfortable. We’d rather talk about anything else. But if things are going to change for the better in our society, we need to look within ourselves, examine our own lives, and speak confessionally about our role and responsibility in perpetuating the deeply rooted systemic racism that continues to exist in our country. We must begin with confession before we can move to repentance. We need to be able to talk about race, openly and honestly. And we need to be able to listen to one another with open hearts and generous spirits. FULL TEXT HERE:

    by Rev. Roger Scott Powers

    August 15, 2017

  9. I know a great many pastors personally, and have heard those I don't, that sermons were ditched on Saturday for a new word. I dare say most of us did.

    by Laurie Palmer

    August 15, 2017

  10. I am astounded by Mr. Janowski's remarks. He sounds like someone from the 17th century who has been under a rock. Who is he to judge whether or not blacks are better off here in America than Africa? Who is he to note that there is a difference between blacks and whites and they should not intermarry? Is he basing that on his own physical attributes? Somehow the slave owners did not feel that way when they raped the slave women. Mr. Janowski, we live in the 21st century and we abide by the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. You need to crawl back under the rock from which you came and stay there. America is a far better place than we saw in Charlottesville, or at least it used to be until the likes of trump was elected as president. However, Dr. Nelson has very eloquently reminded us of our obligations as Christians. God Bless America.

    by Audrey Battiste

    August 15, 2017

  11. I did change my sermon - but not the Scripture - because in Matthew - Jesus does not calm the wind and waves when he pulls Peter out... Peter's sliver of faith was enough to walk with Jesus through drowning - so from that place of privilege - we must do more than give thanks - we must spend and spend and spend ourselves until everyone gets a place in the boat - when the storm finally stills. Thanks for your challenge J. Herbert. Thank you for leading us.

    by Anne Weirich

    August 14, 2017

  12. Dear J. Herbert, Thank you for these prophetic and pastoral words. These are the times that try our souls. You have not just spoken prophetically to the church, you have nourished my pastoral spirit.

    by Susan Barnes

    August 14, 2017

  13. Ms. or Mr. Woods, I think you failed to see the irony in my post. It was intentional and designed to be thought provoking. It was Lee who said in the end that slavery was an evil that eventually, through Christ, would come to its end. Lee did not fight in the Civil War for or against slavery, he fought for the rights of Virginia, which he considered his State. He believed like many, both North and South, that the Constitution limited the rights of the Federal Govt in favor of the many States. Unfortunately the emotion of the race issue in America today often clouds the history (Lee also took communion in an Episcopal Church after the War with a black man, and all the parishioners thought it scandalous at the time). Dr. Nelson is guilty of being a little short sighted in embracing the emotion of the moment (but not long winded nor what a lot of SAT words he uses to try and impress everybody) and then try to hijack the gospel into conformity to whatever progressive left-wing cause of the moment fits. His beef isn't about racism; his beef has been the is a recurring theme in his letters. He might as well cut and paste dialogue from MSNBC into his posts. It does get tiring.

    by Steve Janowski

    August 14, 2017

  14. Regardless of quotes from famous and usually respected men, the above quote purportedly from the debate reflects not the teachings of Jesus Christ, but those of the likes of Adolf Hitler.

    by P Kay Woods

    August 14, 2017

  15. What we saw in Charlottesville,Va. was the result of inaction by Christians for so many years. We have gotten so caught up into leaning on the Scripture. that says, the battle is not ours but the Lord. Yes He said the battle was not ours, but he did not say that we would not have to fight. There is a difference between a battle and a fight.As Christians the time has come for us to not just wear the label,but be the label.

    by Pastor Lee Johnson

    August 14, 2017

  16. Thank you . The church must speak up and out against racism in any form.

    by Anne Wood

    August 14, 2017

  17. Dr. Nelson, I will share with you two quotes One from Abraham Lincoln in the Lincoln-Douglas debate - 1858: "I will say then, that I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about, in any way, the social and political equality of the white and black races. I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of making voters of jurors of Negroes; nor of qualifying them to hold office. Nor to intermarry with white people. And I will say, in addition to this, that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be a position of superior and inferior, and I, as much as any other man, am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race. And from Robert E. Lee the white supremacist in his letter to his wife in 1856: "In this enlightened age, there are few, I believe, but what would acknowledge, that slavery as an institution is a moral and political evil in any country, [and] it is useless to expatiate on its disadvantages. The Blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa; morally, socially, and physically, and that while we see the course of the final abolition of human slavery is onward, and we must give it all the aid of our prayers and all justifiable means in our power […] emancipation will sooner result from the mild and melting influence of Christianity than from the storms and contests of fiery controversy.

    by Steve Janowski

    August 14, 2017

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