At the 44th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) in 2016, forty presbyteries presented overtures touching on the subject of racial reconciliation. The Overtures Committee voted to answer Overture 43 from Potomac Presbytery in the affirmative (as amended), and to answer the other 39 overtures concerning racial reconciliation in reference to the Assembly’s anticipated action on Overture 43. The General Assembly adopted the Overtures Committee’s recommendation by a vote of 861-123, with 23 abstentions. The language of the overture is as follows (Minutes, 77f):
Be it resolved, that the 44th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America does recognize, confess, condemn and repent of corporate and historical sins, including those committed during the Civil Rights era, and continuing racial sins of ourselves and our fathers such as the segregation of worshipers by race; the exclusion of persons from Church membership on the basis of race; the exclusion of churches, or elders, from membership in the Presbyteries on the basis of race; the teaching that the Bible sanctions racial segregation and discourages inter-racial marriage; the participation in and defense of white supremacist organizations; and the failure to live out the gospel imperative that “love does no wrong to a neighbor” (Romans 13:10); and
Be it further resolved, that this General Assembly does recognize, confess, condemn and repent of past failures to love brothers and sisters from minority cultures in accordance with what the Gospel requires, as well as failures to lovingly confront our brothers and sisters concerning racial sins and personal bigotry, and failing to “learn to do good, seek justice and correct oppression” (Isaiah 1:17); and
Be it further resolved, that this General Assembly praises and recommits itself to the gospel task of racial reconciliation, diligently seeking effective courses of action to further that goal, with humility, sincerity and zeal, for the glory of God and the furtherance of the Gospel; and
Be it further resolved, that the General Assembly urges the congregations and presbyteries of the Presbyterian Church in America to make this resolution known to their members in order that they may prayerfully confess their own racial sins as led by the Spirit and strive towards racial reconciliation for the advancement of the gospel, the love of Christ, and the glory of God; and
Be it further resolved, that the 44th General Assembly call the attention of churches and presbyteries to the pastoral letter contained in Overture 55 as an example of how a presbytery might provide shepherding leadership for its churches toward racial reconciliation; and
Be it finally resolved, that the 44th General Assembly remind the churches and presbyteries of the PCA that BCO 31-2 and 38-1 provide potent and readily available means for dealing with ones who have sinned or continue to sin in these areas.
On the basis of BCO 45-2 regarding dissents, TE David Coffin (Potomac Presbytery) “requested that his dissent with respect to Overture 43 be recorded in these words: With respect to the otherwise laudable resolutions adopted by the Assembly, I dissent from the use of the word ‘repent’ in the first two paragraphs. I do not believe one can repent of the sins of another” (Minutes, 71). Notice that TE Coffin gave clear “reasons on which [his dissent] is founded” (BCO 45-2).
This recent occasion in the life of our church provides us with a useful case study of a dissent at the General Assembly level outside of a judicial case. Notably, this was the only dissent recorded in the Minutes of the General Assembly outside of judicial cases from the year 2000 through the year 2020.