July 8, 2020
In light of current events and, more importantly, in an attempt to correct our position as a church with regard to our past and express a necessary contrition, especially over the issues of slavery and race in the nineteenth century, the Session met on Tuesday evening and unanimously approved two motions that came from the recently appointed Community Relations ad hoc Committee. The Committee recommended to the Session the following:
The Community Relations Committee recommends to Session the following: In June of 2016, after a searching study of the history of race relations in our churches, our denomination made the following statement of contrition: “We, the General Synod of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, do confess the sinful failings of our church in the past in regard to slavery and racism.” First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, South Carolina, fully and without reservation affirms that contrition. On July 1, 2020, National Public Radio broadcast and posted on its website a report which, among other things, stated the views of a former, antebellum minister of First Presbyterian Church, James Henley Thornwell. Thornwell held that slavery was Biblically justified. Tragically, this view was not his alone, but widely embraced and influential. First Presbyterian Church regards his positions on race and slavery as directly contrary to Biblical teaching. Indeed, these erroneous positions and variations of them have acted as an impediment to the Christian message and to the preaching of the Gospel. Quoting further from the 2016 statement, “We reaffirm that all people are made in the image of God. We also reaffirm our historic stance that the Gospel should be offered freely to all sinners regardless of race or ethnicity through preaching and teaching of God’s holy, inerrant, and infallible Word.” At First Presbyterian Church, all people are welcome regardless of race or ethnicity to the fellowship of this congregation, and we pledge ourselves to Christ in the building of his church which he ransomed “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9).
The Community Relations Committee also addressed the issue of the use of the names of James Henley Thornwell and Benjamin Morgan Palmer, and the Session unanimously agreed the following calling for the “immediate removal of the Thornwell and Palmer names on church buildings, the summer lecture series, and church publications.”
I will be sending our church family a pastoral letter to explain the reasons behind these actions. The decisions were made because they are the right thing to do in order to enable the church to do its primary task — preach the gospel and make disciples from every tribe and nation. I urge you to be in prayer for the peace and unity of the congregation in the days ahead and for the Community Relations Committee as it continues to work to address further issues.
Derek W.H. Thomas