A Rambling Letter To Christ Covenant Pres. Church About General Assembly

Dear Church Family,

Andrew and I are in Mobile for the PCA General Assembly and I wanted to share with you the highlights for your joy and encouragement.
General Assembly is the annual meeting of PCA people to connect, refresh and do the business of the denomination. Reports are heard from each of the ministries of the denomination – like Covenant Seminary and College, Mission To The World, Mission to North America, Reformed University Ministries and so on. Pastors and elders from churches all over the country are called commissioners and the commissioners hear and vote on various items. One big item this year is determining a denominational confession of past racism, both of omission and commission, in the Presbyterian Church, and a commitment to deliberate efforts toward reconciliation. I am glad this debate is happening here in Mobile, Alabama because walking the streets of old downtown, the history of racial suffering cries out in so many ways. It is impossible to make this just an academic debate when ‘their blood cries out.’
The Assembly opened with a worship service last night. We sang, heard the word preached, took communion together – over 2,500 men and women with strong voices singing and sweet fellowship. What I most wanted to pull you church family in to share with me was the humility evident in the speaker and the listeners. Several thousand people on the eve of debating deeply-felt issues, yet all of one mind, agreeing that we can’t do anything without Jesus Christ, praying that the discussions of the next few days would be bathed in His grace and favor, that the debates over very important particulars of faith and practice would come from humble hearts that stand firmly on truth and that submit to a sovereign God. Be so thankful for the earnest prayer and heart of the leaders of our denomination! I am.
After the worship service, the assembly elected this year’s moderator and they elected none other than Andrew’s best childhood friend, George Robertson. While accepting this office, George mentioned his friend Andrew who had invited him to church as a boy, which opened George’s heart and eyes to the doctrine of grace. God is so good!
I missed this however, because I was in the exhibit hall (where all the vendors and book sellers set up) running my mouth and reuning with old friends and also calling Will to check on him. He had texted me earlier in the evening to assure me he was home safely from work and fed. Actually, his text read, “Home from work and doing illicit drugs. No worries.”
The convention center is right on the Mobile Bay and the moon over the bay last night was magical.
Andrew checked an item off his Alabama bucket list when we ate dinner at the original Wintzell’s Oyster House with dear friends Tom and Beth Ann Stein.  My reality on this excursion was rubbing up an enormous blister because we walked many blocks to get there – normally no big, but I was wearing a brand-new pair of platform shoes, hitherto unworn, in order to look, you know, young and hip. We see so many old friends at GA, the pressure is on to be thin and ageless. Tom, ever the practical Midwesterner said, “Yes, but bloody is not sexy.”  My southern Mother-in-law would counter that with her own ironclad truth:  “Beauty is painful.”  I was torn, but comfort won out and the brand new platforms sit bloody and upturned in hotel room corner.
This morning I did one of my favorite things – the urban run. I know calling Mobile ‘urban’ makes New Yorkers chuckle, but to us Cullmanites, Mobile is quite urban and the run was delightful.
Well, this is long and rambling, but I really wanted to share the experience with you so you can rejoice in our great, great God!




I saw a heartbreaking story recently about a man from India who had come to Alabama to help his son care for his newborn child.  The elderly man went out for a walk and woke up paralyzed from a police beating.  The person who posted the article included the hashtag #ohalabama.  I don’t think the hashtagger was commenting on police brutality.  He was mourning the racial nature of the incident.

According to the article, the man was trying to express that he could not speak English and to point to his son’s house.  But the police saw him as a threat and one of the officers present proceeded to break the man’s back.  The man’s skin is brown and this is Alabama, hence the hashtag.

The image of a vulnerable, desperate man unable to communicate his innocence is beyond sad to me.  It is one of those I-can’t-look images. You know the kind; you have to look away because the brokenness is too sharp, the flesh too exposed and close to home.  My skin is not brown, nor is it exactly white for that matter, but the man could have been my father or brother or son.  What agony to think of someone I love enduring this.  #ohhumanity!

But the hashtag really bothered me.  Is it naïve of me to say, “Wait.  I didn’t do that!”?  I am an Alabamian and I hope that I would have had the courage to intervene even if it meant I could have been arrested myself.  I am Alabama.  Why “ohalabama”?

Is it because of our history?  I acknowledge our history.  I’ve seen the pictures of fire hoses in Birmingham.  I’ve read the literature like Beloved and Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.  I’ve heard and dismissed those who try to minimize what it is to enslave another people, to say that many slaves had it good and were worse off after they were freed.  Nonsense.

I have been stupefied unto silence that someone, one day, said, “Hey, I have an idea.  Let’s go chain up those people over there who look different from us, and let’s beat them and sell them and starve them and separate them from their families and then we’ll be rich and happy.”  And then someone else said, “Good idea.  I’m in.”  I’ve been horrified by that, and simultaneously convicted that due to many subtle factors I might have been one of those people.  I hope not, but there’s no way to know, is there?  We all have it in us.  Yes, you do too.  And to those who have argued that it wasn’t an Alabamian who originally floated the slavery idea, but ancient cultures and economies were built on it the world over, I say, how does that excuse the practice here on American soil?

So should I just accept that because of the great wrongs committed, the descendents for many generations will pay the price, will rightly be referred to as “ohalabama”?  Should I sit still and say, “This is right.  We – white Alabama, anyway – had it coming.”?

I could.  Except I don’t think that is intellectually or theologically honest.  Or helpful.  Of course there is a price to pay for wrongs, consequences that follow.  Ultimately, those wrongs were paid for at the cross of Jesus Christ.  I cannot do penance for our white ancestors; neither am I called to.  That price, along with the price of every sin, was extracted from the body and blood of Jesus, and then was declared sufficient payment at the resurrection.  I cannot add to a payment that was paid in full.

Though many scream against a God of justice, I am thankful for One.  Without Him the slaves of old and the paralyzed man in Madison, Alabama would never be vindicated.  Their blood cries out and has been heard and answered with the just blood of a spotless Lamb.

That doesn’t mean consequences, like distrust and strife between the races, just go away. They don’t.  But it does mean that in Christ we have hope for reconciliation.  We have a common ground, a place of peace and forgiveness, a place where the barrier is removed.  Without the cross, there is no place of cleansing and forgiveness, no place where the atrocious wrong was righted.  But on this common ground we can report not that a white man beat a brown man, but that a man made in God’s image beat another man made in God’s image, and that a just God noticed.  We can stop keeping tabs on how many white on black crimes stack up against black on white crimes.  Let’s say they are equal because from a bird’s eye view of this earth, humanly speaking, they are.

At the cross, #ohalabama! and #ohearth! received the promise that one day the oh! will be one of wonder and awe, not sorrow and shame.

This earth cries out for our reconciling Savior to be acknowledged and worshipped by people of every nation, tribe, and tongue.  The noise of strife is loud and painful.