Currently there are about 55 African American Teaching Elders (pastors) in the Presbyterian Church in America. This represents a little over one percent of all the pastors in the denomination. Although this number may be small, it is greater than other theologically conservative Presbyterian bodies. For example, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church has only one African American Teaching Elder.
A number of years ago John Frame asked the question, "Why are there so few African Americans and Latinos in the PCA? Or in any Reformed church, for that matter?"
(Note: His article may be found by Googling: Minorities and the Reformed Church). In the article he lists seven reasons. Although I appreciate the reasons John gives for the paucity of minorities in reformed circles, I also appreciate the way AAM Operations Manager Denine Blevins describes some of the cultural hurdles that African Americans face coming into the PCA.
Based on conversations with African American pastors and congregants, as well as her own experiences, she identifies
three broad categories of hurdles: cultural dissonance, pressure, and isolation. (Note: Keep in mind that these are broad generalizations.)
African Americans generally have very different expectations and preferences regarding the church worship experience. For many, participation in a PCA church can lead to a feeling of cultural dissonance
due to some of the factors outlined below.
- Preaching (low emotion; lecture style vs. call & response; propositional vs. narrative)
- Worship style (contemplative vs. celebratory; low vs. high energy)
- Leadership (higher value placed on articulation of theological truth vs. godliness/pastoral gifts)
- Diminished role of African American women (lack of respect for church matriarchy)
Being one of few people of color in the church produces externally (or internally) applied pressures of various forms:
- Being treated or viewed as "special" or "unique"
- Pressure to assimilate to avoid being different
- Tokenism (used for website photos, justification that the church is inclusive, put into positions that aren't a good fit)
- False sense that one's presence will solve the Church's diversity problem/attract others
- Viewed as the representative voice for all African Americans
- Called upon to intervene in cases of racial offense, or legitimize "well-meaning" offenders
African American PCA congregants report cultural isolation as one of their primary challenges. Though there may be hundreds in the denomination, we are spread out and disconnected. Congregants cite these specific examples:
- Social gatherings and church activities more geared to interests of white congregants
- Being greeted as a visitor to the church after being a member for years
- No one to talk to when racially-charged tragedies occur in the news
- Church's defense of political decisions that disregard the care of black personhood
- Inability to share frustrations or receive culturally-sensitive counsel by leadership
Historically the focus of the AAM has been to recruit African Americans into the PCA by any means necessary. In the '90's this meant church planting since few churches were hiring people of color for pastoral positions. This has changed significantly with congregations calling African Americans into associate and senior pastoral positions. Although a lot has changed since I started this job we still have a long we to go before the PCA becomes an attractive denomination for African Americans and other minorities.
The AAM leadership team is in the process of redefining our vision, mission, and goals to address many of the issues facing African Americans already in and those coming into the PCA. We have hired a strategic planning consultant who has helped other institutions similar to ours.
Our hope over the next several months is to create relationally supportive systems for African Americans so that new minorities feel that they have a place in the denomination and are also compelled to develop as leaders. We will be sharing these plans with you in upcoming newsletters.
Would you consider joining us as prayer partners and financial supporters in making the PCA a truly multiethnic denomination which feels like home for all its members?
As always we are very grateful for those of you who are currently supporting us. For those interested in joining the support team
you may send your gifts to Mission to North America at PO Box 890233, Charlotte NC 28289-0233
with the designation "African American Ministries." Further information about the ministry of MNA can be found on our website (
), where you may also
Cultural dissonance is an uncomfortable sense of discord, disharmony, confusion, or conflict experienced by people in the midst of change in their cultural environment. The changes are often unexpected, unexplained or not understandable due to various types of cultural dynamics.