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Persecuted Early Rain Church Elder Li Yingqiang and his family

In December 2018, Elder Li Yingqiang of Early Rain Covenant Church was arrested with Pastor Wang Yi and other leaders and jailed for 8 months in Chengdu, China. Li was then released on probation for one year, during which time he was required to leave Chengdu and live in his hometown.

After his probation ended last month, he and his family moved back to Chengdu to reunite with their fellow Early Rain Church members. When government authorities learned of his return, they immediately began harassing and threatening his family again. Below are the English translations (and Chinese text) of a few excerpts from his personal updates he shared recently regarding the renewed persecution his family is suffering.

Editor’s note: Special thanks to Brent Pinkall for translating these bulletins and helping make them available to the public. Please pray and share with others.

Sep. 27, 2020:

At about 8:50 pm, a group of six people from the Chengdu Public Security Bureau came to our door. Three of them identified themselves as Officer Chen, Officer Zhao, and Officer Xu of the National Security Bureau. Two identified themselves as Officer Wei and Officer Wang of the Qingyang Public Security Bureau. The other identified himself as Chief Dai of the Caotang Road Police Station. We received them into our home. They repeatedly told me, “You are not welcome in Chengdu! The Chengdu people do not welcome you!” And on and on. 

They informed us that they may take a number of measures including but not limited to strictly surveilling us, following us, “legally” making it uncomfortable for us to live here, “legally” depriving us of custody of our children, and so forth.

I stated to them that I wanted to communicate properly with them and did not want a confrontation. I told them I hoped they would not knowingly break the law or enforce it in an unlawful way. I told them that we are simply believers in Christ who want to bless the city of Chengdu. I said that we obey the authorities—even if they break the law, we will still submit to them and are willing to pay the price for our faith. 

[…]

When they left, they saw the spring couplets with the Early Rain Covenant Church logo hanging on our door and then proceeded to tear them down.

[…]

We came back to Chengdu because we wanted to share in the sufferings of our brothers and sisters and also to share in grace with them. May our gracious Lord be with us! May he keep our hearts so that we might always trust in him, praise him, and testify of him.

I also pray for the leaders and police officers of the Chengdu Public Security Bureau. I pray that through their contact with the church, they will come to know the God who made heaven and earth, who controls all things, and who shed his blood and laid down his life to redeem men from their sins. May God take a people for himself from these police officers and public officials who are persecuting his church.

Sep. 27, 2020:

Eight people arrived at our door from the Chengdu Qingyang District Public Security Bureau, the Bureau of Ethnic and Religious Affairs, the Bureau of Education, and the Subdistrict Office. We received them into our home.

The people from the Bureau of Education began by informing us that we had violated the compulsory education law by not sending our school-age children to public school. They said that if we would like to send our children to school, they could help us contact the relevant people.

My wife indicated to them that during my incarceration, people from the department of education in my wife’s hometown came to her home dozens of times to force her to send our children to public school, but because we were Christians, she would not allow our children to receive an atheist education.

The gentleman from the education department said that state authorities could lawfully deprive us of guardianship and then send our children to public school. We responded by saying that we would not allow our children to receive an atheist education as long as we were still the guardians of our children.

[…]

Sep. 28, 2020:

Today, we began to enjoy our “uncomfortable” life in Chengdu. At the request of authorities, the subdistrict office placed a guard at the foot of our apartment building to follow us whenever we leave and to forbid visitors from coming to our home.

My wife said [to the church], “Starting today, no one is allowed to visit our home. I cannot come out to escort you in. You are not even allowed to visit if you register your ID with the guard. A friend just came, and before I could notify the police the man who was following me notified the police. A while later, the police arrived and told my friend that it would be best if we moved out and lived with her. May the Lord give me endurance and joy.”

I took our two children to a nearby park this afternoon and was followed. The person following me was quite restrained and civilized in speech and behavior, calling me “Mr. Li” and giving us space while following us. Our two children kept curiously looking to see if he was still behind us. They wanted to shake him off. I told the kids that this is the new lifestyle that we have started, so do not try to get rid of it but rather start getting used to it. Don’t worry about what they do. Just focus on what you are doing and do what you have to do. Enjoy your time, make good use of it, and don’t let them disturb you. The kids got better afterwards.

At Huanhuaxi Park, we “ran into” brother and sister Dai and their two children. The four children enjoyed playing together. Brother Dai played the flute and we sang Amazing Grace and I Cannot Tell. When we parted ways, we sang Cast All Your Care Upon Him and prayed together.

Chengdu is rainy tonight and slightly cool. Thanks be to God.

Sep. 30, 2020:

At around 10:00 am, my wife and I planned to go out to play with our two children. As soon as we got downstairs, we saw that the guard sitting in the hallway had been replaced by two young men. They followed us out. We went to the street to wait for a taxi. When we opened the door to get in, one of the young men said to the driver, “I’m a police officer. You are not allowed to take them. Leave.”

I stood at the side of the road and reasoned with him for a while, but he said he was just fulfilling the task assigned by his superiors. I said, “Then how about we leave Chengdu today and go to another city?” He said a police car was on its way and asked me to wait. Soon, a middle-aged man on an electric scooter arrived and said, “Where are you going, sir?” (It looks like they are reading my journals too. Thank you, gentlemen, for the patience and restraint you’ve shown in accomplishing your tasks.)

I asked this gentleman if I could go to Leshan by train. He said, “We can drive you there.” I said that would be fine. But he quickly changed his mind and said that we couldn’t go anywhere today. We could either go home or they could drive us to the police station in a police car.

When the children heard that they couldn’t go out, they started to feel sad and even cried. I was also a little annoyed. Yesterday, when I went out, I took a taxi and they just took a picture of the license plate. Today they won’t even let me get a taxi.

[…]

We had to return home and drop off our belongings. Then we took the kids to a nearby park to play and went to a nearby street for lunch. Two plainclothes policemen (I’m not sure if they were official police or auxiliary police) followed us the whole time. They even followed me into the bathroom when I took the kids to the bathroom.   

When we ate, we invited the two gentlemen to join us for lunch, but they firmly declined. Since the restaurant was crowded, we asked the owner to set up a table by the side of the road. As we sang, prayed, and ate, I thought about how we used to come to this street to eat with our brothers and sisters when we were meeting at the sanctuary on Baihua Lane. Yesterday afternoon I went to look at our former church building. That spacious, bright sanctuary that sat more than 600 people is now the site of a pharmaceutical company. 

When we returned home at noon, we found two women sitting at the “guard post” in the hallway. I didn’t realize until we got home that many people from our church were being closely guarded that day. After December 9, 2018, many families of our church staff were strictly guarded and surveilled, but police later gradually relaxed their restrictions. To this day, there are still multiple (6 by my rough count) families of church staff that are under 24-hour surveillance.

So my family returned to Chengdu because we wanted to return to our brothers and sisters, to be chained with those in chains, to mourn with those who mourn. In a sense, I am not returning to Chengdu to shepherd these brothers and sisters but to share with them in the sufferings that God has given his people at this time, as well as to share with them in his peace that surpasses all understanding.

I was supposed to preach on September 27th but had to cancel it last minute because we had an unexpected visitor. The text I was going to preach from was 1 Peter 3:13-22. I will end this journal entry with verses 13-16:

“Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.”

May the Lord help us treasure up these words in our hearts, for it is a great blessing to be united with Christ through suffering and to have the opportunity to experience a few difficulties for the sake of the faith.

This morning when my son was very sad that he could not go out to play, I picked him up and said to him, “Yes, of course it is sad that our freedoms are restricted. But what is that compared to what the Lord Jesus suffered for us? The Lord has already given us freedom and revealed that we are his heavenly people. So we need not be sad. If we can’t travel to somewhere far away, we’ll go to somewhere nearby. If we’re not allowed to take a taxi, we’ll walk. If one day we are not allowed to go out, we will still thank the Lord because we don’t even deserve this little bit of freedom. It is a gift from him.”

I am reminded that the Lord in heaven is watching over us all the time, and not even a sparrow will fall to the ground apart from his will. So I have peace like a river. Thank you, Lord!

Original Chinese text:

【在成都·札记】

1,2020年9月25日,成都市青羊区草堂路派出所三位警官上门,说是接到住户举报,说我们这个房子住进了陌生人,所以来调查核实。我们在门口接待了他们,给他们看了租房合同和物业费缴费收据等。他们还说了许多别的话,要求我们证明我们是合法地住进来的。我就跟他们说:你们知道你们为什么而来,我也知道你们为什么而来,我们不需要兜圈子,你们今天应该是接到任务核实我们是否回成都,是不是住在这里。请你回去告诉你们的领导,就说我们已经回来了。他们就走了。

2,2020年9月27日,大约8点50分,成都市公安局一行6人上门,有3位自称是市局国保陈警官、赵警官、许警官,有两位据称是青羊分局警官魏警官、王警官,还有草堂路派出所戴所长。我们在家里接待了他们。他们向我反复表达:成都不欢迎你!成都人民不欢迎你!云云。

并告知了可能采取的一些措施和手段,包括不限于:严密看守和跟踪,“合法地”让我们这里住的很不舒服,“合法地”剥夺我们对自己孩子的监护权……等等。

我向他们表示:我希望能够和他们好好沟通,并不希望发生冲突。希望他们不要知法犯法、执法犯法。并且告诉他们我们只是信基督,是希望给成都这个城市带来祝福。我们顺服在上掌权者,即使他们违法执法,但是我们依然会顺服,愿意为信仰付出代价。

从9点到大约11点40,说了许多话,不一一记录了。

求主帮助我们!请弟兄姊妹为我们祷告。

我们教会从2018年12月9日以来,许多弟兄姊妹长期在被看守、被跟踪、被骚扰的状态,许多弟兄姊妹处在非常艰难的状态中,我们希望成都市有关部门遵法守法,停止用非法的手段逼迫秋雨圣约教会的弟兄姊妹。我向市局国保表达了希望与他们的高层领导沟通的愿望,但是他们没有正面回应。

【附图:一行人离开的时候,看到我们的门上贴的带有秋雨之福logo的春联,就动手撕掉,我劝阻无效,任其撕掉。】

今天的整个过程还算平和、克制,但相信后面他们还会继续来。如果可行的话,我会简单记录我们回到成都的蒙恩经历——我们相信上帝藉着这一切是要使我们更加地认识祂和依靠祂。

我们回到成都,就是希望和弟兄姊妹一起经历艰难,也一起经历恩典,愿施恩的主与我们同在!愿主保守我们的心,使我们总是可以信靠祂、赞美祂、见证祂。

我也为成都市公安局的领导和员警们祷告,求主使他们藉着与教会的接触,能够认识创造天地、掌管万物的神,为人流血舍命救赎人脱离罪恶的主,愿上帝从逼迫教会的警察和公务员中得着祂自己的百姓。

【在成都·蒙恩札记】

3,2020年9月27日下午约3点,成都市青羊区公安局、民宗局、教育局、街道办一行8人上门。我们在家里接待了他们。

教育局的人先说,告知我们违反了义务教育法,没有让适龄儿童上公立学校等等。表示如果我们愿意送孩子上学,他们可以帮忙联系。

我妻子向他们表示,在我被关押期间,我妻子家乡教育部门的人曾经几十次上门逼她送孩子公立学校,但是因为我们是基督徒,我们不能让孩子接受无神论教育,所以我们不能接受。

教育部门的先生表示,国家相关部门可以根据法律剥夺我们的监护人身份,然后再让我们的孩子去上公立学校。我们的回应是:只要我们还是孩子的监护人,我们就不会让我们的孩子接受无神论教育。

我接着向他们说明,中国政府在世界上庄严宣告、签署的《公民权利和政治权利国际公约》和《经济、社会、文化权利国际公约》,郑重承诺:“尊重父母和法定监护人保证他们的孩子能按照他们自己的信仰接受宗教和道德教育的自由”。”“尊重父母和法定监护人的下列自由:为他们的孩子选择非公立的但系符合于国家所可能规定或批准的最低教育标准的学校,并保证他们的孩子能按照他们自己的信仰接受宗教和道德教育。”中国政府不能自己出尔反尔,来侵害基督徒父母按照信仰来为孩子选择教育方式的权利。

另外,即使按照中国法律,我们也有权对孩子进行在家上学,如果你们要选择性解释法律和执行法律,我就没有话可以说。我们知道自己在做什么,并且预备承受任何代价。

民宗局的先生向我们宣读新宗教事务条例,我告诉他我非常了解,不需要宣读,但他还是坚持读了几条。他问我,你是否举行了非法的宗教活动?我回答,我刚才对你们宣告了天国的福音,这就是宗教活动,你们可以判断是否为非法。

派出所的警官表示了对我们孩子的关心,并且表达了今后更多互动的愿望。街道办的先生只说要搞好对我们的服务,其他的什么也没有说。

我在过程中再一次向他们表明,我们是经过慎重的考虑,计算了可能的代价,才回到成都的。我们所作的一切都是为了信仰。我们为他们祝福,希望他们通过跟我们的交往而能够认识福音。并且,我也说明一点:我并不是一个随便想欺负就可以欺负的人,当然我并非指我有什么样的后台,有什么关系,而是说,我是上帝所设立的牧者,是来牧养上帝的群羊。攻击上帝的仆人是非常严重的事情,上帝是公义的,我希望他们能够慎重行事,在法律的框架里行事。我也同时告诉他们,我尊重他们的人格和尊严,他们都是上帝所造的有良心的人,我尊重他们的工作,任何时候,他们想要来做一些损害我们权利的事情,我们了解他们只是奉命行事,并不会怨恨他们个人,我们反倒为他们祝福。

恩典的浪潮真是一波未平一波又起,感谢主!求主保守我们!

【在成都·蒙恩札记】4,2020年9月28日,今天开始享受“不舒服”的成都生活。在有关部门的安排下,街道办开始在我们家楼下设岗,出门跟踪,并且不许访客到家里来。

我妻子说:“今天开始,任何人都不能来我家,出门接也不行,登记身份证也不行。刚才有朋友来,我还没报警,跟踪我的人还报警了,一会儿警察到了,让我朋友把我接到她家去住最好。求主赐我忍耐和喜乐。”

我下午带两个孩子去附近公园玩,也是被跟踪。跟踪的人言语、行为都比较克制、文明,称呼我“李老师”,跟踪的时候也保持了一定的距离。两个孩子总是很好奇地看他是不是还在后面,而且总是想要“甩掉尾巴”。我跟孩子说,这是我们已经开始的新的生活样式,不要试图摆脱,就开始适应吧,不要管他们怎么样,你要专心在自己想要做的事情上,该做什么就做什么。要享受自己的时间,好好利用自己的时间,不要被他们搅扰。孩子们后来就好多了。

在浣花溪公园,我们“遇到”戴弟兄夫妇带着两个孩子。四个孩子在一起玩的不亦乐乎。戴弟兄吹笛子,我们一起唱诗,唱了《奇异恩典》《我并不知》。分别时,我们一起唱《你们要将一切的忧虑卸给神》,并且一起祷告。

雨夜成都,微凉。感谢主。

【在成都·蒙恩札记】5,2020年9月30日,上午十点多,我和妻子带着两个孩子,准备出去玩一下。一下楼,就看到楼道里坐着的今天变成了两个男青年。他们跟着我们出门。到了路边,我等到一辆出租车,打开车门正要上车,男青年甲对司机说,我是派出所的,不准拉他们,赶紧走。

我站在路边跟他理论了一会儿,他表示只是完成上级交办的任务。我说那我们今天离开成都,去别的城市行不行,他说警车正在赶来,让我等一等再说。不一会儿,就有一位骑电瓶车的中年男子赶来,开口就说:老师,你们这是要去哪儿啊?(看来他们也在读我的蒙恩札记。谢谢各位先生们在完成任务时所保持的耐心和克制。)

我问这位先生,我想去乐山,可不可以坐火车去。他说,我们可以开车送你去。我说那也行。但是很快他就改口说,今天哪儿也不能去,要么回家,要么他们用警车送我们去派出所。

孩子们听到不能外出就开始难过,甚至哭起来。我也有些恼火。昨天我出门的时候,在路边打车,他们还只是拍了车牌就算了。今天干脆不让打车。

一辆警车驶过来,把我们附近停泊的出租车和私家车都赶走了。我去问车里穿制服的一位警官,为什么号称警察的人不许我们打车。一开始他还招呼我到车里坐,不知为何后来他藉口说还要处警,急急忙忙关上车门就离开了。

我们只好回家把随身带的东西放下。然后我们带孩子去附近的公园玩,中午到附近的街上吃饭。两位便衣警察,不知道是正式的警察还是协警,一直跟着我们。包括我带孩子上厕所的时候他们都是跟进去的。

吃饭的时候,我们邀请两位先生一起用餐,他们坚决的推辞了。因为饭店用餐的人多,我们请老板在路边支了一个桌子,我们唱诗、祷告、吃饭的时候,我想着,以前我们在百花巷的会堂聚会的时候,也经常和弟兄姊妹到这条街上来吃饭。昨天下午我去昔日的会堂看了一下,那个宽敞、明亮,一堂能坐600多人的会堂如今已经是一个医药公司的场地了。

中午我们回到家里,发现楼道里还有两位女士坐在“岗哨”上。到家后,我才知道今天有多位同工都被加紧看守。2018年12月9日之后,我们教会有多位同工的家庭都经历过严防死守,后来逐渐松弛。到今天,依然有多位(我大略数一下就有6位)同工家庭依然处于24小时的看守之中。

所以,我们一家回到成都,本就是希望回到弟兄姊妹中间,和受捆绑的人同受捆绑,与哀哭的一起哀哭。在某种意义上,我并不是回到成都牧养弟兄姊妹,而是和他们一起经历上帝在这个时代所赐给祂儿女的艰难,也经历主所赐的出人意外的平安。

9月27日主日本来是我证道,因为不速之客来访被迫临时取消,证道经文原本是彼得前书3章13到22节。节选其中的13-16节在这篇短记的末尾:

13你们若是热心行善,有谁害你们呢? 14你们就是为义受苦,也是有福的。不要怕人的威吓,也不要惊慌; 15只要心里尊主基督为圣。有人问你们心中盼望的缘由,就要常作准备,以温柔、敬畏的心回答各人; 16存着无亏的良心,叫你们在何事上被毁谤,就在何事上可以叫那诬赖你们在基督里有好品行的人自觉羞愧。

愿主使我们将这些话存记在心,因为能够在受苦的形状与基督联合,能够有机会为信仰受到一点艰难,这是主所赐的极大的福分。

今天上午我的儿子因为不能出去玩非常难过的时候,我把他抱起来,对他说,是的,我们被限制自由当然会难过,但是这与主耶稣为我们所受的苦相比算得了什么呢?主已经赐给我们自由,显明我们是属天的祂的百姓,所以我们不需要难过。远处去不了,我们就去近处;不让坐车,我们就走路。如果有一天,不让我们出门,我们依然要感谢主,因为连这一点自由都是我们不配的,是主赐给我们的。

想到天上的主一直在看着我们,祂若不许可,一只麻雀都不会掉在地上。所以,我有平安如江河。感谢主!


In the first century, when the believers in the church in Jerusalem were experiencing an extended period of great hardship, the Gentile churches responded sacrificially – and with joy – sending offerings to relieve the suffering of their brothers and sisters in Christ. (2 Cor. 8 – 9)

The Covid-19 pandemic presents PCA churches with a similar opportunity to demonstrate the love of Christ in practical ways in the midst of this unprecedented need among our brothers and sisters in Christ throughout North America.


Thousands of ethnic minority members of PCA congregations throughout North America have been affected severely by the COVID-19 shutdowns. Some of our most vulnerable church members are now in our small, predominantly minority churches located in economically challenged areas.

Many worked as nannies, housekeepers, handymen, day laborers, dishwashers, busboys or home health care aides. Their jobs and their income have come to an abrupt halt, and few will qualify for any government relief. 

The majority lived paycheck to paycheck, and they’ve already exhausted their meager savings. Their unpaid bills accumulated during the shutdown now threaten to snowball and overwhelm them.

They’re facing genuine hunger and danger of eviction. Some have little or no food to offer their children. For many, English is their second language, which makes accessing any local government assistance programs challenging if not impossible. 

Many who were previously self-sufficient and among the first to help others are now turning to their trusted local churches for help as their families face exceptional privation. Their church is the one place they know and trust to find help amidst crisis. 

In response, the PCA has formed a relief fund, called the Ethnos Coalition Relief Initiative, to provide financial resources for the mercy ministries of PCA churches in North America to help them give immediate relief to their members in poor and marginalized ethnic communities.

Apply for Relief

For PCA churches in need of relief fund grants for their low-income households, CLICK HERE

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Hatch, Pat – Refugee and Immigrant Ministries; phatch@pcanet.org

Jun, Alex – Korean American Leadership Initiative; ajun@pcanet.org

Nabors, Randy – Urban and Mercy Ministries; chaprandy@gmail.com

Plummer, Wy – African American Ministries; wplummer@pcanet.org

Sáenz, Hernando – Hispanic Ministries (Chairman, Ethnos Coalition); hsaenz@pcanet.org

Sim, Bill – Korean Ministries; bsim@pcanet.org

St. Germain, Dony– Haitian American Ministries; dstgermain@pcanet.org


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Editor’s note: In October 2018, Jemar Tisby gave the Covenant College (PCA) Reformation Day chapel lectures. In response, on November 7, 2018, PCA pastor Andy Wilson published an online article titled, “Dear Covenant College Students: Jesus Can Set You Free from the Yoke of Being Woke.” In it, Wilson disagrees strongly with Tisby’s lectures, accusing him of presenting an unbiblical view of a justice-oriented Church that promotes a works-based legalism that is beyond the Gospel forged in the Reformation.

On December 7, 2018, in response to Wilson’s article, Covenant College students Aaron Anand, Sarah Lane Cochrane, Abby Gienapp, Will Payne, Ryan Rhodes, and Mark Roos published in their student newspaper, The Bagpipe, an online article (below) titled “Freedom in Christ to Obey His Word: A Response to Rev. Andy Wilson.”

Article summary: In this article, the students present a biblical case against what they consider to be Wilson’s narrow view of justice as merely “equal treatment under the law,” drawn from Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert’s position in their book “What is the Mission of the Church?” The students present biblical and social evidence for the necessity of a justice-oriented Church from within their PCA college’s Reformed doctrinal standards and confessional commitment. And they argue that biblical justice includes not only “equal treatment under the law” but also obeying Jesus’ command to “love our neighbors as ourselves” so believers are the “sweet aroma of Christ” in all places and to all people–especially the poor and marginalized.


Freedom in Christ to Obey His Word: A Response to Rev. Andy Wilson

Aaron Anand, Sarah Lane Cochrane, Abby Gienapp, Will Payne, Ryan Rhodes, and Mark Roos

Dear Rev. Wilson,

As students of Covenant College, we wish to offer a humble response to your recent article, “Dear Covenant College Students: Jesus Can Set You Free from the Yoke of Being Woke.” We present our own views in this letter, not the views of the College, nor of all our peers. We hope that this reply helps inform your perspective on the condition of academic and theological debate at Covenant. We further hope that our response will be a productive contribution to the broader dialogue that has surrounded Jemar Tisby’s recent Reformation Day lectures on our campus.

For the record, we do not agree with all of Mr. Tisby’s assertions. Students at Covenant are critical consumers of information—we are more than willing to question controversial or debatable assertions made by chapel speakers. His lectures sparked lively discussions on campus regarding several of the issues which you address in your article, including his creative rephrasing of Scripture, his stance on the centrality of activism, and his views on universal healthcare. However, we aren’t threatened by Mr. Tisby rightly pushing us to recognize weaknesses within our own Reformed tradition. As spiritual heirs of the Protestant Reformers, we do not assume that our theology has arrived at its terminus. In light of our cultural blind spots, we need to keep reforming our tradition in light of Scripture (sola scriptura!). Thankfully, God has given us the Body of Christ with many members from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. It is vitally important for our tradition to listen to those voices when they tell us we are falling short in significant ways.

In 1973, O. Palmer Robertson delivered an address to the first General Assembly of the PCA. In that address, he affirmed that, “The Continuing [Presbyterian] Church commits itself to ‘the faith’ as it affects the totality of man’s existence … it searches out the implications of Scripture for the totality of human life.” We believe that this commitment, drawn from the genesis of the PCA’s doctrinal foundations, has significant implications for the modern discussion of race and ethnicity within the church, and we call for interpretation of Mr. Tisby’s lectures in this light.

Biblical Justice and Collective Repentance

Justice, as you have defined it from Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert’s What is the Mission of the Church?, is “equal treatment under the law.” While this is a component of justice as laid out in the Scriptures, Christ takes us a step further. His explicit call to love our neighbor as ourselves, through our actions, thoughts, attitudes, and judgments, is a call to live justly (Matt 22:39). In Deuteronomy 10:18, “He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.” Doing justice, then, entails action that goes beyond creating a fair legal playing field. Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, ministering to the sick, and welcoming strangers are acts of mercy that must be involved in the administration of justice (Matt 25:35-39). By failing to welcome in and pray alongside our black brothers and sisters in Christ, the North American church—and more specifically, the PCA—failed to enact justice. We committed corporate sin by failing to love our neighbors as ourselves.

In some evangelical circles, talk of “corporate sin” is controversial. Properly understood, we don’t think it should be. The Reformed theological tradition contains robust support for the notions of corporate sin and repentance, beginning from the earliest pages of Scripture. The Fall affected the totality of human existence. With the sin of Adam and Eve, all subsequent generations sinned as well; individual sin impacted and continues to impact the body of Christ as a whole (WSC Q.16). While the doctrines of the fall and original sin are clearly a special case, they suggest that a corporate understanding of sin is woven into the biblical way of thinking. In the questions regarding the Lord’s Prayer, the Westminster Larger Catechism notes that “we pray for ourselves and others” for the remission of sin—such prayers would include the sins of people and their institutions from earlier generations (WLC Q.194). Thus, there is strong evidence throughout all our doctrinal heritage for collective, corporate sin and repentance (along these lines, see Sean Michael Lucas, For a Continuing Church: The Roots of the Presbyterian Church in America [P&R, 2015]).

The 30th General Assembly in 2002 addressed the need for the PCA to repent of racist elements of its past: “We therefore confess our involvement in these sins. As a people, both we and our fathers, have failed to keep the commandments, the statutes, and the laws God has commanded. We therefore publically repent of our pride, our complacency, and our complicity.” This was followed in 2004 by an extensive Pastoral Letter, “The Gospel and Race,” adopted by the 32nd General Assembly. The 44th General Assembly’s 2016 lament for the collective sin of racism “does recognize, confess, and condemn these past and continuing racial sins and failure to love brothers and sisters from minority cultures in accordance with what the Gospel requires; and be it further resolved, that this General Assembly praises and recommits itself to the Gospel task of racial reconciliation.” We gather that this 2016 denominational decision was contested at the time; nevertheless, through these formal actions, the PCA has affirmed collective responsibility for racist sin, and for the PCA’s past role in perpetuating injustice.

Individual repentance for individual transgression is called for throughout the Bible, but this is not the only sort of repentance with biblical grounding. Throughout the Bible, the entire people of God are treated as an entity that can be called to corporate repentance. All of Israel, in Amos 5, is condemned for their oppression of the poor and for turning their backs on the responsibility to carry out justice. Ezra prayed as an individual for the collective and historical sins of Israel (see Ezra 9 and 10). The prophet Jeremiah exhorts the Israelites to repent of their own individual sins and the sins of their ancestors (Jer 3:25; 14:20); in Isaiah, the Lord chastises the people for “both your iniquities and your fathers’ iniquities together” (Isa 65:7). In a similar vein, we should not forget Daniel’s heartfelt prayer in Dan 9:1-19. In the New Testament, as Stephen is condemned in Acts 7, he traces the sins of the Jewish leaders all the way back to the sins of Israelites who went before them—the effects of collective sin can span millennia. The body of Christ today should confess its collective failure to bring justice to those oppressed through the sin of racism.

An individualistic view of salvation is devoid of the important contributions of kingdom and resurrection theology—cornerstones of the Reformed tradition. The resurrected King Jesus, the righteous king who renders justice to the oppressed (Psalm 72), is reconciling all things to himself (Col 1:19-20). This redemption is cosmic. Christ will stand as preeminent Lord over all creation, with the Church as the primary instrument for the advancement of his Kingdom. The Gospel’s power is far broader than individual salvation—it’s about renewing creation to be the temple of God’s dwelling that it was always meant to be. Many lay believers forget that much of the goodness we take for granted in our governmental structures, marriage, education, medicine, business, scholarship, and the like, is directly related to past Christians proclaiming God’s kingdom far and wide. Hospitals, for instance, are the legacy of gospel-centered Christian stewardship (e.g., see Charles Rosenberg, The Care of Strangers: The Rise of America’s Hospital System; and for earlier Christian influence, see Gary Ferngren, Medicine and Healthcare in Early Christianity). Wilberforce and other evangelical abolitionists labored tirelessly to make the English slave trade illegal. American checks-and-balances style government had its inspiration from the Presbyterian understanding of total depravity. Literacy and liberal democracies grow in a more robust fashion in countries around the world which received proselytizing Protestant missionaries (e.g., see the Christianity Today article by Andrea Palpant Dilley, “The Surprising Discovery About Those Colonialist, Proselytizing Missionaries”). The renewal of the gospel is not limited to personal salvation, but extends into all creational structures.

Equal Treatment in Modern America

We have noted already that much of the discussion within the PCA turns on how we define justice. In your understanding, justice is “not about equality of outcome, but about equal treatment under the law,” and you assert that in America today, “people of all races do receive equal treatment under the law.” Even accepting this definition of justice, modern “equality under the law” is not a factually supportable claim. The racist attitudes of the past, which you are right to decry, have cast a long shadow. In his 1978 book Micromotives and Macrobehavior, Nobel Prize-winning economist Thomas Schelling found that if a population has been segregated, segregation will continue unabated even in the absence of discriminatory laws. Accomplished justice requires a new behavioral impetus, not mere deletion of the old.

Discriminatory structures are still present in America today. A brief perusal of national headlines provides ample evidence, as does widespread academic documentation and research. As one example, in May of 2018 the Vera Justice Institute published an evidence brief titled “An Unjust Burden,” which found statistical evidence to support the conclusion that past structural racism has placed minorities at a present disadvantage in America. Even beyond this source, we have little reason to believe that implicitly racist attitudes have disappeared from our country. Substantial research has shown that mild biases of individuals are capable of producing a broadly unjust system—systems are products of the sinful people who inhabit them, not creations of neutral written codes.

Your article assumes an individualistic, meritocratic interpretation of modern American social structures. This attitude has never been broadly accepted outside of Western cultural contexts. Research indicates that white Americans have always been more likely to believe in general social fairness than members of any minority. This difference in perception should alert us that we may be missing important information which is obvious to our nonwhite brothers and sisters. Indeed this is precisely what some of our nonwhite brothers and sisters are presently trying to tell us.

In America today, mortgage loan research indicates that people with “black” sounding names typically need to have a credit score that is 71 points higher just to receive the same response rate as identically situated whites. In emergency situations, whites call for help if the victim is white 75% of time and only 38% of the time if the victim is black. White-sounding names get job interviews at a 50% higher rate than ethnic-sounding names even when the resumes are comparable. Black people are far more likely to be incarcerated than white people charged with the same crimes. Juries are more likely to find blacks guilty, compared to similar white offenders. These are but a very, very few undisputed facts, and they are not representative of a fundamentally fair, fundamentally post-racial system.

The Yoke of the World and the Yoke of Christ

You object to the notion that Christians ought to do penance for social ills they haven’t directly caused, or for implicit racism. Since we are free from guilt and sin in Christ, we shouldn’t feel obligated to work out our repentance through acts of social justice. Calling such an obligation a manmade yoke, you call us to cast aside this burden and instead take up the easy yoke of Christ. We wholeheartedly agree with the picture of grace presented by your argument and join you in gratefulness for Christ’s lifting of every heavy burden.

Nonetheless, we believe that the notion of “Christ’s yoke” doesimply action. To assume that there are not difficult tasks involved in the Christian life verges on cheap grace. While it is true that we are saved by grace through faith, not by works (Eph 2:8-9), the apostle Paul goes on to say in the very next verse, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Jesus Himself specifically says that he will commend us or condemn us at the Judgment based on our works (Matt 25:31-46). As you said at the end of your article, “living under Christ’s yoke includes the call to strive, as best as you can, to extend comfort to those who are distressed, to defend those who are vulnerable, and to further the outward estate of others.” Our motivation is not penance; it’s to follow God’s call to be doers and not merely hearers of the Word (James 1:27).

Although your article claims that Mr. Tisby wants to make Christians feel guilty, at the end of his final lecture, Tisby also affirmed the danger of guilt. He distinguished a self-centered guilt from what he calls “Godly grief.” The former seeks resolution so that the sufferer may feel better about his or her own character; instead Godly grief appropriately recognizes injustice against our brothers and sisters and seeks resolution, not out of a desire for catharsis, but out of a desire to comfort the hurting. To ignore such feelings of sorrow would be a sin of omission (James 4:17). You also rightly condemn a wide range of racist attitudes, but fail to acknowledge that not actively opposing racial injustice allows an unjust system to persist. If we are to comfort the hurting and champion the vulnerable, then we are necessarily at odds with any systemic problems that put them in that position.

Conclusion

We write to you neither as apologists for Jemar Tisby, nor as enemies of your view. Instead, we wish to encourage you to consider the broad doctrinal and social evidence for the necessity of a justice-oriented Church. We proclaim this stance from within the doctrinal standards and confessional commitments of the PCA itself. We share your conviction that Jesus frees us from the burden of guilt and every burden imposed upon us by the world. At the same time, we are excited to be the sweet aroma of Christ in all places and to all people. Jesus frees us from paralyzing guilt to something far better, something that is much closer to what Reformation Day is all about: to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

For our sources, see Jillian Olinger and Kelly Capatosto, “Chipping Away at Implicit Bias,” Aug 23, 2017, available at: http://kirwaninstitute.osu.edu/chipping-away-at-implicit-bias/; Jonathan Kunstman and Ashby Plant, “Racing to Help: Racial Bias in High Emergency Helping Situations,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 96.6 (2008): 1499-1510; Marianne Bertrand and Sendhil Mullainathan, “Are Emily and Greg More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination,” American Economic Review 94 (2004): 991-1113.