Black Lives Matter
Moves to the Forefront
|Michelle Higgins Speaking at Urbana|
The threads of history can weave strange cloth.
I became interested in InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in college. I was much impressed when Pete Hammond spoke at an after-Christmas retreat sponsored by my home church. I was also a devoted reader of HIS magazine. When I went to seminary in 1969 I enjoyed a good friendship with George Hunsberger. who had strong ties to IVCF, and appreciated the interaction George facilitated with Pete during Pete's visits to the Reformed Theological Seminary campus. I talked seriously with both of them about becoming an IVCF worker. Later, when I became a campus minister with Reformed University Ministries, I knew we were building on a foundation laid partly by IVCF, and all our campus minsters made much use of books published by InterVarsity Press in our work with students.
In the spring of 1970 I sat with George and several other Reformed Theological Seminary students in the office of the Rev. William Jones, pastor of the Faith Presbyterian Church on Bailey Avenue in Jackson, Mississippi. We met to discuss how seminary students might become involved with and assist Mr. Jones, the only black minister in Central Mississippi Presbytery. That night Mr. Jones said, "I guess it wouldn't hurt to have some of Morton Smith's theology here."
George Hunsberger graduated from the seminary that summer, and his first post-seminary ministry was with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship in Florida. George was ordained in and remained in the PCUS (now PCUSA). It was a joy to Susan and me that, when I was ordained in 1972, George made the effort to attend. George went on to become Dr. Hunsberger, graduating cum laude from Princeton Theological Seminary with a Ph.D., and today is Professor Emeritus of Missiology at Western Theological Seminary.
Dr. Smith, who was the founding professor and Professor of Systematic Theology at RTS, went on to become a founder and first Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church in America. Later he became Professor of Systematic Theology at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. He lives in retirement at age 90.
I went on to become me.
The fruit of that meeting in Mr. Jones office was that I was his summer assistant for the next two summers. I taught Vacation Bible School, played softball on the back lot, and hung around the office. One afternoon Bill, who had left for the afternoon, decided to circle back by the church and intervened when he found me being confronted by some unhappy teenagers (why, I cannot remember.)
These threads of history have been woven into a cloth that strains the eyes if you spend much time looking at it.
Those familiar with conservative Presbyterian history will know that one of the reasons the Presbyterian Church in America was founded in 1973 was the conviction by ministers, elders, and members that the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. was exchanging the Biblical Gospel for the Social Gospel. Among the moral concerns was the practice of civil disobedience in support of the Civil Rights Movement by some PCUS ministers.
No more. At last summer's General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America, Dr. Ligon Duncan, Chancellor of Reformed Theological Seminary, and Dr. Sean Lucas, Professor of Church History at the Jackson Campus and Senior Minister of First Presbyterian Church in Hattiesburg, MS, introduced a Resolution calling upon the church to acknowledge its covenantal and generational racial sins and to confess that members and churches had not only failed to support the Civil Rights movement but in some cases had actively opposed it. One of the goals of the authors of the Resolution was to promote racial reconciliation in the denomination. After much discussion the Assembly, believing the Resolution needed to be perfected, did not adopt it but deferred the matter to next summer's Mobile meeting of the Assembly.
In the immediate aftermath of the Assembly a number of ministers felt it incumbent upon themselves to call attention to Dr. Morton Smith's unenlightened racial views, to encourage others to renounce him, and to call upon him to do public penance. It appears to me unseemly that a father of the the church should be circled by modern day bulls of Bashan.
Now the PCA finds itself right in the middle of Black Lives Matter thanks in part to the ministry of the Rev. Michael Higgins. Dr. Higgins is a retired U.S. Army Colonel and has served as Dean of Students at Covenant Theological Seminary. He is the pastor of South City Church, a PCA congregation in St. Louis. He is committed to civil disobedience in the cause of racial justice and has been arrested.
In the last week, however, it is Dr. Higgins' daughter, Michelle Higgins, who has put the Presbyterian Church in America at the forefront of Black Lives Matter because of a talk she gave at the Urbana Missions Conference sponsored by InterVarsity. The Conference was led in worship by a team wearing Black Lives Matter tee shirts. Then Ms. Higgins spoke.
What did Ms. Higgins say? The Christian Post reports:
The activist explained that, when it comes to social issues, society is unwilling to admit that minorities live with harsh realities like police brutality, mass incarceration and portions of society whose actions suggest that "black bodies are grotesque ... " Instead, society has fallen in love with " ... being comfortable and being correct."
Higgins issued strong medicine when she challenged the conduct of the Evangelical Church. "We have committed adultery with white supremacy. The Evangelical Church has taken the dominance and power of Eurocentrism and made it its side piece, or part-time lover. ... The Evangelical Church in North America is convinced that African worship is weird. The Evangelical Church is perpetuating 'white is right,' and that is a burden that none of us can bear, especially my white brothers and sisters. ... God wants to relieve you of the burden of being in control."Some of what she said upset the Pro-Life Movement. The Life Site News commented:
A keynote speaker at InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s Urbana missions conference criticized the pro-life movement as “a big spectacle” on Monday in St. Louis where 16,000 evangelical Christian students gathered together.
The comment came from Michelle Higgins... during her discussion (video) on racial injustice. “We could end the adoption crisis tomorrow. But we’re too busy arguing to have abortion banned. We’re too busy arguing to defund Planned Parenthood,” charged Higgins. “We are too busy withholding mercy from the living so that we might display a big spectacle of how much we want mercy to be shown to the unborn. Where is your mercy? What is your goal and only doing activism that is comfortable?”All this could be taken as just another evangelical leftist statement made at a Conference sponsored by an increasingly progressive evangelical ministry organization - except that Ms. Higgins is a member of the Presbyterian Church in America. A graduate of Covenant Seminary, she is Director of Worship and Outreach at her father's church. The Urbana website brochure described her in this way:
A native of St. Louis, Michelle Higgins is actively engaged in the #BlackLivesMatter movement through participation in civil disobedience, leadership development, logistics, and administrative support in both sacred and secular spaces. Michelle holds an MDiv at Covenant Theological Seminary. She is a proud supporter of local activism groups MCU (Metropolitan Congregations United), MORE (Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment) and OBS (the Organization for Black Struggle), through which she has learned a great deal about collaboration and solidarity. She is also the director of Faith for Justice, a Christian advocacy group. She serves as an organizer for the Leadership Development Resource Weekend (LDR Weekend), an annual gathering founded to address the core concerns of dignity, identity, and significance for people of color.
During the recent Christmas season, she wrote on her blog in favor of "people over profit":
This does not end well for the PCA.
If profit is the language of corrupt systems, then people are the centerpiece of systems renewed by justice. For this reason, Faith for Justice is answering the call to participate in a movement that esteems people over profit.
“People over profit” means that human beings matter more than money, plain and simple. On the daily, it means that our quality of life is not connected to the type and number of items we have in our closets or cabinets. So we choose not to define our political value by the amount of money we spend. Instead, we strive for access to power structures that SEE the people they serve, and see us truly, as equals.
If our dollars speak louder than our pain, then we must use our dollars to “kind of redistribute the pain” as Dr. King described in his famous speech the day before he was assassinated.
There has long been a greater concern for wealth and acclaim than healthy relationships, and little attention given to alleviating the struggles of underprivileged people. This is why we disrupt the daily habits that distract us from addressing our privileges. Habits like absentmindedly avoiding small businesses that enrich our communities are easily changed by directing money to businesses owned by people of color as often as we can.This is political progressivism, liberation theology, and social gospel. Historic theological orthodoxy cannot long cohabit with this liberal version of orthopraxis. One or the other will have to move out.
This does not end well for the PCA.