Dear Siblings and Friends of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.),
Grace and peace in the name of Jesus Christ our Brother, Savior, and Lord! We, as past Moderators, Co-Moderators, and Vice Moderators of previous General Assemblies, issue this statement out of grave concern for what occurred during the 224th General Assembly (2020) and the work we feel is yet undone in our walk with Jesus.
We watched with great joy as the Assembly elected two capable leaders as Co-Moderators, both of whom are BIPOC (an umbrella term for Black, Indigenous, and people of color), including our denomination’s first Indigenous Moderator. We saw commissioners exhibit great enthusiasm for racial justice, even amid an abbreviated Assembly. However, we also witnessed micro- and macro- aggressions towards the Co-moderators, commissioners, corresponding members, BIPOC generally and Black women specifically in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). And, despite numerous attempts by commissioners, the 224th General Assembly adjourned without addressing the plight of Black women and girls.
As leaders who have been and continue to be deeply committed to dismantling racial and gender inequality, racial and gender inequity, and in calling out white supremacy and misogyny in the Church and in society as sin, what occurred at the 224th General Assembly was nothing short of white supremacy, white privilege, misogyny, and hypocrisy expressed as indifference, apathy, and outright inaction. These ubiquitous viruses are what is endemic in society, and, sadly, in the Church. You can well understand our moral indignation when we rightfully expected that we as a Church would have come a long way in translating our prayers and statements for #BlackLivesMatter to actual official, public actions by the Assembly that would confess, reckon with the truth, and repent.
Instead, the 224th General Assembly chose to do otherwise. The Assembly acted to defer to 2022 any consideration of Item 02–020, the Disparities Experienced by Black Women and Girls Task Force. The Assembly voted down an amendment to specifically name Black women and girls in Item 00–29, “On the Church in this Moment in History: Responding to the Sin of Racism and a Call to Action.” The Assembly voted down one attempt to suspend the rules to allow for a discussion of a statement on Black women and girls, and then voted down by a narrow margin a second attempt to reconsider suspending the rules to allow for a discussion. The Assembly then considered new business concerning the creation of a task force to study the plight of the pre-born. That was voted down, but during a vigil of silence lamenting police violence against Black people, a commissioner who supported that new business displayed a sign in protest that read “Pre-born lives matter.” While the diversity of perspectives is one of the things we treasure about our tradition, we should note that proclamations of “Black Lives Matter” have been co-opted in abortion debates, which have then been used in very racist ways to misrepresent abortion practices in Black communities and deflect from the realities of police brutality. This is, once again, a racist affront to Black women, Black girls, and Black grief in a time when we were invited to sit with one another in that grief.
The torrent of signals and votes for inaction concerning Black women and girls grieves us. The Assembly did not heed the wise and prophetic counsel of two corresponding members — both of whom are Black women clergy — our fellow Moderator colleague, The Rev. Denise Anderson, and The Rev. Kerri Allen, moderator of the Task Force. Their advocacy for action was set aside and ignored. And, though ultimately corrected, we should wrestle with how we could have omitted The Rev. Dr. Joan Salmon Campbell, — the first Black woman Moderator of the reunited Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) — from the original memorial to recently-deceased Moderators.
What is at stake? Why are we emphatic and categoric in calling the Church’s attention to this travesty and injustice? Read and internalize the words of the preface of the Task Force Report:
This report has been prepared in response to the immediate effects and long-term consequences of interpersonal and institutional violence perpetrated against black women and girls in U.S. society and in the PC(USA). This intersectional (race/gender) and multidimensional (physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual) violence manifests in dehumanizing expressions of black womanhood (e.g. pejorative stereotypes) and in theo-political sanctioned and socially accepted practices of disenfranchising (e.g. policing, silencing, making invisible, criminalizing). The dehumanizing tropes are intended to negate black female identity and the disenfranchising practices serve to restrict black female access to resources and opportunities otherwise afforded to those who enjoy hegemonic race/gender/sexual privilege.
Had the 224th General Assembly considered this report, or suspended its own rules to discuss and consider a public statement, the Assembly and the wider Church would begin to grapple with the realities of our Black women and girl siblings, the violence perpetrated against them often in silence, and that for so many is fatal. The Assembly missed an opportunity, and we grieve that. But more than that, we weep because the Church which we love, in which we serve, and for which we continue to serve refused to declare unequivocally, “This must stop!”
As with this Assembly’s theme, we pray and serve “From Lament to Hope.” We call upon all of us, in all of our ministries — congregations, worshipping communities, fellowships, mid-councils, national agencies, theological institutions, historically-related colleges and universities, camps and conference centers, young adult volunteer sites, mission co-worker assignments, etc — to reckon with, confess, and repent of white supremacy, white privilege, and misogyny particularly against Black women and girls, for we believe, in the words of the Belhar Confession:
“. . .that the church must therefore stand by people in any form of suffering and need, which implies, among other things, that the church must witness against and strive against any form of injustice, so that justice may roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream; that the church as the possession of God must stand where the Lord stands, namely against injustice and with the wronged; that in following Christ the church must witness against all the powerful and privileged who selfishly seek their own interests and thus control and harm others.”
May it be so.
Yours in the work of God’s justice,
Elder (Dr.) Thelma Davidson Adair, Moderator, 188th GA (1976), UPCUSA
The Rev. John Fife, Moderator, 204th GA (1992), PC(U.S.A.)
Elder (Dr.) Patricia Brown, Moderator, 209th GA (1997), PC(U.S.A.)
The Rev. Dr. Fahed Abu-Akel, 214th GA (2002), PC(U.S.A.)
The Rev. Dr. Susan Andrews, Moderator, 215th GA (2003), PC(U.S.A.)
Elder Rick Ufford-Chase, Moderator, 216th GA (2004), PC(U.S.A)
The Rev. Dr. Byron A. Wade, Vice Moderator, 218th GA (2008), PC(U.S.A)
The Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow, Moderator, 218th General Assembly (2008), PC(U.S.A.)
The Rev. Landon Whitsitt, Vice Moderator, 219th GA (2010), PC(U.S.A.)
The Rev. Dr. Neal D. Presa, Moderator, 220th GA (2012), PC(U.S.A.)
The Rev. Larissa Kwong Abazia, Vice Moderator, 221st GA (2014), PC (U.S.A.)
Elder (Dr.) Heath Rada, Moderator, 221st GA (2014), PC(U.S.A.)
The Rev. T. Denise Anderson, Co-Moderator, 222nd GA (2016), PC (U.S.A.)
The Rev. Dr. Jan Edmiston, Co-Moderator, 222nd GA (2016), PC (U.S.A.)
Elder Vilmarie Cintrón-Olivieri, Co-Moderator, 223rd GA (2018), PC(U.S.A.)
The Rev. Cindy Kohlmann, Co-Moderator, 223rd GA (2018), PC(USA)