A Powerful Statement from General Synod 1957
The following statement was adopted by the General Synod of the Reformed Church in America, not in recent years, but 54 years ago, in 1957. Its adoption followed the historic U.S. Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education, near the end of the second "Red Scare" (1947-1957). The Red Scare or McCarthy era was a period of time during the Cold War when certain Americans were aggressively persecuted and charged with being communist sympathizers if their actions were suspected of being subversive or oppositional to U.S. policy or life as it stood then. That this credo was adopted at all reflects that members of the Christian Action Commission and delegates to the 1957 General Synod possessed profound levels of focus, courage, and faithfulness in the face of profound societal, systemic, institutional, and ecclesiological sin and sanctions. Such focus, courage, and faithfulness are needed in every era, including ours.
Earl James, coordinator of multiracial initiatives and social justice
CREDO ON RACE RELATIONS
As prepared and recommended by Christian Action Commission of General Synod of the Reformed Church in America.
Adopted at the General Synod held at Buck Hill Falls, Pa., June 7, 1957.
I. We believe that the problem of race is a problem of human relations. We believe that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments provide the final authority for all matters of human relations. We believe that all problems of human existence are resolved in the love for God above all, and for our neighbor as ourselves. We further believe that such love has been fully revealed to us in the life and work of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour; and that the grace to participate in that love is readily available through the Holy Spirit by faith. We believe that the primary function of the Church of Jesus Christ is to witness to that love to all people in every walk of life.
II. We believe that in the light of the Biblical revelation, we have fallen short in the demonstration of that love. We hereby make an act of confession and repentance for:
- our insensitivity to the needs of others.
- our acquiescence through silence in a sub-christian social pattern which denies the full rights of human dignity to some minority groups within our national borders.
- our failure to realize the mission of the Church in our own communities, while advancing the Church’s mission at a distance.
- our persistence in pursuing the historical pattern of ethnic exclusivism in the face of the mounting pressures of social heterogeneity.
- our emotional prejudices which often sap our spiritual vitality and snap our moral nerve.
For these and other acts and attitudes, Gracious Lord, forgive us.
III. We believe that sincere repentance manifests itself in acts of obedient love. We, therefore, believe that our sincerity will be demonstrated through concrete local acts, such as:
- identification with minority groups victimized through unjust discrimination.
- conscientious efforts to open the doors of all churches to all people.
- the support of those laws and agencies designated to uphold and guarantee the rights and health of all.
- the promotion of inter-group discussions, where in atmospheres of understanding and good-will, the forces for reconciliation may operate creatively.
- the education of our youth in the privileges and responsibilities of life in a free, mixed society.
IV. We believe that Christian love represents the highest criterion for all human relations. In its light, all personal relations are judged; through its power, all tensions in race relations can be resolved. We believe also, that in a responsible society, the immediate goals of such love will be structured into laws. We believe that the Church exercises its prophetic role when it inspires its constituent society to construct such laws, and when it subjects such laws to the scrutiny of Divine revelation. In that spirit, we believe that the recent Supreme Court decision on the ordered, gradual desegregation of the public schools of our land, represents an effective legal expression of Christian attitudes and convictions at the present time. We believe that we should support and implement the intent and content of that decision.
V. We believe that many difficulties dog the steps of the effective reconciliation of the races in our day, not least of which is the problem of inter-marriage. We believe that this emotionally charged issue is often used by Christian people to becloud clearly perceived Christian responsibilities. We believe, also, that disproportionate emphasis has been placed on this aspect of the problem of race relations. We further believe that when the problem is sincerely presented, sober reflection is in order. We believe that the origin of the races is obscured in antiquity; that neither Scriptural revelation nor scientific investigation has been able to penetrate that obscurity. We, therefore, believe that the will of God cannot be identified dogmatically or exclusively either with the maintenance of the separation of the races or with the amalgamation of the races.
We believe that marriage is a Divinely appointed institution to perpetuate the human race, to preserve the order of society, and to realize the fullness of human personality. We believe, therefore, that when two people are so joined, regardless of race differences, society and church must respect that marriage.
We further believe that the Church recognizes the sanctity of marriage, and bestows God’s blessings on those who marry “in the Lord.” We believe that being “in Christ” transcends all ethnic and cultural barriers. We believe that the Church misconceives its function when it actively hinders, forestalls, or denies, the marriage of any two people who, loving Christ, love each other. We also believe, on the other hand, that the Church has received no Divine mandate to actively foster the inter-racial marriage. We believe that when two people present themselves before God and the Church for marriage within the Scriptural context, the Church unites them with the blessing and under the aegis of God, and welcomes them as a family into the full Christian fellowship. We further strongly believe that when children born into this creative relationship receive the stings and outrages of a sub-christian society, the Christian fellowship as the Body of Christ, acting in compassion and mercy, binds up the wounds and heals the hurts of its injured members. We also believe that at the same time the Church must bring the righteousness of Christ to bear on a society wayward in its offense of “these little ones.” We believe that by so bearing one another’s burdens, the burdens of offended and offender, we fulfill the law of Christ.
VI. We believe that the racially inclusive and culturally integrated church represents the highest demonstration of the transforming fellowship of reconciliation which characterizes the Christian fellowship at its best. We believe that where opportunities for such churches exist, conscious efforts be made to realize this ideal. We further believe that those who are ministering in these frontier areas of Christian faith and life be actively encouraged and warmly supported.
VII. We believe that racially restricted housing covenants, real or implied, are inconsistent with Christian integrity. We believe that according to Scripture, the rights of property are subservient to the needs of people. We believe that there is nothing inherent in race differences to necessitate the decline in property values. We believe that restrictive pressures and flight-in-panic on the part of dominant groups often lead to unnecessary real estate declines and contribute to the establishment and perpetuation of ghetto-existence.
VIII. We believe that Christians should actively support those groups or agencies which are striving to achieve social justice; especially those which do so from Christian motives. We commend the method of non-violent resistance as an effective immediate demonstration of the power of Christian suffering love. We believe that the church acts in the Spirit when, through continuous intercessory prayer, it strengthens the power of this expression of Christian righteousness.
IX. We believe that the problem of race relations in our day presents to the Church splendid opportunities to make effective witness to the energizing power of Christian grace which we have found in Jesus Christ. We believe that the basic problem resides not in society, but in the individual soul. If a house divided against itself cannot stand, how much less can a soul divided against itself? We believe that through the Gospel of Reconciliation, Christ unites divided souls. We further believe that in His grace are resources sufficient to conquer deeply-rooted emotional prejudices, and to transform divisive customs into patterns of social cohesion.
X. We believe that each generation inherits from the past problems for which it cannot be held directly accountable, but for whose solutions it is held responsible. We believe that race relations is such a problem. We believe that the Cross of Christ, seen as vicarious atonement, points the way to the Christian resolution of this dilemma. We believe that we are called to bear the wounds (or crosses) of vicarious suffering, so that the least of Christ’s brethren may find their rightful places in the society of men and the Kingdom of God.
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