What is the OPC’s view on slavery and specifically slavery in the United States? Does the OPC see racism and prejudice as existing issues in today's culture, and how would the OPC respond to racism and prejudice?
Thanks for your question sent through the OPC website; I’m not sure why you are raising the issue of slavery. There is actually a lot of slavery in the world today, but it tends to be either part of the international sex trade or the forcing of poor immigrants into unpaid domestic service. Our Church stands in opposition to both of these manifestations of slavery and to any parallel manifestations. If you are asking if the OPC (begun in 1936) has any sympathy for the African slave trade and human slavery as carried on in the United States from colonial days until the end of the American Civil War, the answer is an unequivocal “No!” All these things are condemned by Scripture under the headings of stealing, sexual immorality, cruelty to one’s neighbor and injustice.
There is a lot of disagreement on what constitutes racism. One group will say, “If you disagree with me, you are racist.” Another group will insist that nothing they say or do is racist, and that charges to the contrary are, in fact, racist.
From my point of view (and I believe this is the OPC’s point of view) the issue is settled in the so-called Second Great Commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This is found in the Old Testament (Lev. 19:18), reiterated by Jesus (Luke 10:25–37) and insisted upon by the apostle Paul (Gal. 5:14) and by James (2:8). Especially in the Luke passage just cited (the parable of the Good Samaritan), Jesus addressed a racially motivated issue (Jews vs. Samaritans) and invested considerable time to illustrate that hatred of another because of his race is unacceptable to God, and that even indifference is sinful. We are to love actively and sacrificially.
The position of The Orthodox Presbyterian Church is—and, I trust, always will be—that of the Bible. Someone will point out that the Bible makes allowances for slavery in both Old and New Testament contexts, but a closer look will show that within Israel “slavery” was mostly indentured servanthood initiated by the servant or the legal system in order to pay debts. Furthermore, the indenture was ended by the Year of Jubilee (Lev. 25). Freedom is a strong theme in the New Testament. First and foremost there is freedom from the controlling power of sin (Rom. 6:17–19), followed by freedom from the curse of the law (Gal. 3:10–13). Then, insofar as it serves God's purposes, comes freedom from human bondage as articulated by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:21–24 and in his short letter to Philemon, especially verses 15 and 16.
But the problem for us and for all Christians is our imperfection. Although we are forgiven through Christ’s death on the cross, we remain sinful men and women, and we will continue to struggle against indwelling sin. We will not be perfect until Jesus comes again. The “flesh” will lead us to be prideful, jealous, prejudiced, vengeful and discriminatory. The result is our need to repent of such sins and pray for grace to live apart from such behavior. Thanks to the power of the Holy Spirit, we can move more and more in that direction (Gal. 5:16); this is called sanctification. So the answer to your question is “yes,” there is racism (assuming a definition of one race belittling another race) and prejudice in our culture and even in the church. But it is not all one-sided, and people of all races need to repent and seek the Lord’s forgiveness.
The OPC does not see itself as a band of “social justice warriors” but rather as servants of Christ who are “battling” to bring people out of darkness and into the glorious light of the Lord, where justice and mercy prevail. Occasionally our General Assembly has addressed the civil government, but this is not our usual practice. “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds …” (2 Cor. 10:4) Any OPC congregation or individual is free to participate in popular movements having to do with civil rights, right to life, employee rights or a similar project. But as a denomination our focus is on winning men and women to Christ and building a community of love, care and unity. I am thankful to report that God has given us members from a variety of ethnic backgrounds: Asian, African, Latino, Native American, Middle Eastern and more.
Thanks again for writing.
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