For the last week, the Reformed Margins team has discussed, debated, and prayed through whether this post should be written. Even as we publish today, we do so with heavy and conflicted hearts.
Last week The Root, an online news magazine, posted an article commenting on Briarwood Presbyterian Church’s decision to establish their own police force. Within this article, Michael Harriot, the author of the report, uncovered information about Briarwood’s pastor, Rev. Harry Reeder, that we found confusing, disturbing, and potentially damaging for the witness of Christ’s Church.
Harriot uncovered an article in the Dothan Eagle, a local Alabama paper, which reported on an event organized by the neo-Confederate group, the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV). The event was a celebration of General Robert E. Lee’s birthday and was held on Martin Luther King Day in 2009. Further research by Reformed Margins shows that he attended a similar event in 2012.
In addition to selling a host of Confederate-flag memorabilia, the Sons of Confederate Veterans sell books that claim Lincoln was a Marxist bent on destroying freedom and democracy, that slavery was a social good, and fondly reflect on the exploits of southern military leaders who were fighting to preserve the institution of slavery.
For example, The Confederate Catechism that the SCV claims “should be read by every student not only in the South but in the United States” contains this passage: “The negroes were the most spoiled domestics on the planet. The Southerners took the negro as a barbarian and cannibal, civilized him, supported him, clothed him, and turned him out a devout Christian. Booker T. Washington admitted that the negro was the beneficiary not the victim of slavery.” These are racist ideologies distributed and defended by the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
The home-page of the SCV website extols the virtues of those who fought in the “Second American Revolution” for “the preservation of liberty and freedom,” neglecting to mention, more specifically, exactly whose liberty and freedom they were fighting for.
Rev. Harry Reeder not only attended the 2009 and 2012 events, he was a speaker who joined in SCV celebrations by giving a lecture on General Lee. We understand that with regard to General Lee, it is contested as to what extent he supported and opposed slavery. We also understand that, while inevitably having blind spots and flaws, he may have been a truly God-fearing man in many respects. However, it remains true that General Lee was the commanding officer of a military that fought for the retention and promotion of the enslavement of black men and women who were created in the image and likeness of God.
The appearance of a minister of Word and Sacrament alongside neo-Confederates sends confusing signals to those who have benefited from the work of Rev. Reeder. How are we to square these appearances with Rev. Reeder’s personal denunciations of racism on his blog? How does this fit with the PCA’s racial reconciliation statement, which Rev. Reeder signed?
We are not calling Rev. Reeder a racist. We are resolved not to impute guilt by association, nor to engage in name-calling and finger-pointing in a world already filled with heaps of unhelpful social media shaming. We believe that Rev. Reeder should be afforded the opportunity to explain his connection to the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Does he agree with their neo-Confederate cause? Does he agree with the literature this group produces and promotes? Is he a supporter of the Confederate flag, a symbol of hate and oppression? If not, why would he support the group by attending their event as a speaker?
We, the signatories of this letter, write as alumni of Westminster Theological Seminary where Rev. Reeder sits on the Board of Trustees. Is Westminster aware of Reeder’s connection to SCV? If they are aware, to what extent do Rev. Reeder’s actions reflect the views of the seminary?
Our aim in writing this article is not to smear Rev. Reeder’s name. Instead, our prayer is that Rev. Reeder and WTS would respond to this article and the article by Michael Harriot. We ask for this explanation publicly because Rev. Reeder made his actions public in 2009 by agreeing to speak with a reporter at the Dothan Eagle and explaining his role at the SCV event. Now that the connection between Rev. Reeder and the Sons of Confederate Veterans is nationally known, we believe that ethnic minorities who are alumni of Westminster or currently attend Westminster are justified in seeking an explanation.
We believe that those connected to Rev. Reeder’s other ministry endeavors – Briarwood Presbyterian Church, The Gospel Coalition where Rev. Reeder serves on the leadership council, the Presbyterian Church in America where he serves as a teaching elder, and Reformed Theological Seminary where he serves as adjunct faculty – should also encourage Rev. Reeder to provide an explanation.
We are not seeking discipline or punishment against Rev. Reeder, nor do we feel ill will toward him. We seek clarity of truth, the unity of the Church, and a spirit of openness toward ethnic minorities within the Reformed tradition. We believe Rev. Reeder’s actions have damaged the witness and action of the Church toward those biblical goals.
We pray that Rev. Reeder will denounce the racist ideology of the neo-Confederate movement, issue an apology to those hurt by his actions and, together with Westminster Theological Seminary, The Gospel Coalition, Reformed Theological Seminary, and the Presbyterian Church in America, commit to pursuing racial justice which includes supporting ethnic minorities and denouncing racist actions, ideologies, and policies.