Imagine that I was a keynote speaker:

I thank you for the honor of speaking to you on this important anniversary of the pro-choice movement and in memory of the pro-choice leaders that are an example for us today.

Of course, as we remember, we must recognize the shortcomings of the movement. But as we acknowledge the mistakes of the past, we can learn from the sacrifice of those brave men and women who fought for a woman’s right to choose.

We must be cautious. There are those extremists who would make the pro-choice movement all about abortion. And for some, I suppose it is. But for others, the legacy of the pro-choice movement is not abortion, but a woman’s right to choose. It is not hate, but empowering women toward equality. It is not the eugenics of Margaret Sanger that we remember, but the strength of her leadership and the example she shows. Sanger reminds us of the importance of fighting for what we believe and defending the values we all hold dear.

Jesus, the one who died for our sins and rose from the grave to give life to all who believe, is our ultimate example. He elevated women and sought for their inclusion in the body of Christ. He was a friend to Martha and Mary. He lifted Mary Magdalene to a place of honor among his disciples. And his church followed his lead by embracing leaders like Phoebe, Priscilla, and Junia. Yes, the same principles of love that led Jesus to elevate women are the principles that the pro-choice movement employs to ensure equality and liberty for women today.

And so let us not allow the history of the pro-choice movement to be co-opted by hate. Let us instead remember women’s rights, the heritage of our pro-choice history, and work together to serve women. Who knows, maybe we can even be a force for limiting abortion by sitting down with pro-life groups and coming to a greater understanding of how we might work together to make abortion unnecessary through the empowerment of women.

I thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today. God bless you all.

If I were a PCA pastor (I’m not) and gave this speech at a local chapter of a Planned Parenthood rally on the memorial of Roe v. Wade (I wouldn’t), there’s a good chance I’d be brought up on charges. And they would be right to do so.

On Confederate Memorial Day, Rev. Harry Reeder III gave a similar message. He was the keynote speaker in his hometown of Birmingham, Alabama, invited to take part in Confederate Memorial celebrations and share with those gathered. There is no recording of the message, but we can piece together the substance of what he said based on the explanation he posted on his personal blog a couple days ago.

In his defense of speaking this week, Rev. Reeder argued that this was a bridge opportunity to share the gospel and further the cause of racial reconciliation. He admits that he seriously considered not going, but when it was clear that he would be able to preach Christ he agreed to join them. According to Reeder, his willingness to speak at the Confederacy Memorial event was solely based on a desire to share the Gospel.

I appreciate Reeder’s sentiments. I do. Yet, here’s where I just can’t get on board:

In his response, he repeatedly states that one main theme of his talk was that it’s important not to allow hate groups to co-opt history.

But that’s the problem. The Confederacy was a hate group. It was a hate group with a lot of guns and soldiers and they killed a lot of people in the bloodiest war in American history all for the goal of continuing and expanding the practice of slavery. Yes, it’s about state’s rights — to own slaves! Yes, it’s about heritage — the heritage of white supremacy. Yes, it’s about history — the history of subjugation and the abuse of an entire people group.

There is no credible historian alive, Reeder included, who would deny that slavery was the sole issue that led to the Civil War. Every other contributing factor is inextricably tied into and informed by the institution of slavery.

So as much as I want to commend Reeder’s impulse to build bridges and share the Gospel, we have to consider whether it is appropriate for a Pastor to speak as a supporter of an organization that’s very existence celebrates and memorializes a rebellious hate group. I would understand people being angered and even bringing me up on charges if I was the keynote speaker for a regional conference by Planned Parenthood at which I extolled the feminist ideals of Margaret Sanger.

Because of common grace, no individual is purely evil. I’m sure there are “good things” we can learn from Sanger, just like there are “good things” to learn from Confederate General Robert E. Lee. But she was an abortion advocate who based her works on eugenist principles. Lee, and other confederate soldiers, were slavery advocates who based their work on white supremacy. The legacies and ideals of Lee and Sanger far outweigh any “lessons” we can learn from them.

I just can’t get to a place where I’m willing to say what Reeder did was ok. And apparently he doesn’t care that minorities and particularly African-Americans are offended or feel attacked by these engagements because this is not the first time this particular controversy has come up. He keeps agreeing to appear at pro-Confederate events. By being a keynote speaker at this celebration, he has tied his church, denomination, and by extension the Reformed tradition, to neo-Confederates.

A deep divide is being exposed in the Reformed tradition and evangelicalism as a whole. A couple of the largest wedge issues are racial justice and ethnic equality. A number of events in April — from reactions to this month’s MLK50 Conference (co-sponsors by The Gospel Coalition where Harry Reeder is still listed as a member of the leadership council) and sermons at Together for the Gospel, to the closed door meeting at Wheaton, to Christian embrace of Confederate Memorial Day — makes me wonder if the divide can be bridged or if a breaking of fellowship is on the way.

I pray for healing. And I pray for the repentance and bold stand for justice needed to bring that healing about. May God heal our church.

Posted by Marcos Ortega

Marcos Ortega (MDiv, Westminster Theological Seminary) is an Assistant Pastor at Goodwill Church (Evangelical Presbyterian Church) and lives in the Hudson River Valley in New York with his wife and two daughters.

5 Comments

  1. For the record, I would not bring you up on charges, and I’m not convinced Reeder must be brought up on charges either.

    Reply

    1. Just for kicks, why shouldn’t Reeder be brought up on charges specifically?

      Reply

      1. There is definitely room to debate the wisdom, sensitivity, and effectiveness of Reeder’s decision to speak where he did, but I think it’s very difficult to pin him down for undeniably sinful intentions and behavior. Perhaps, the point of bringing people up on charges is to get down to the nitty gritty within presbytery discussion concerning whether or not there were such sinful intentions and behavior, but in my limited own understanding, the point of bringing someone up on charges is to charge them with explicit and undeniable sin. In this case, though I am personally uncomfortable with Reeder’s choices, I am not confident that what he has done is undeniably sinful before God.

        Reply

  2. Indeed, the inability to recognize racial hatred and to speak clearly, lovingly, and even redemptively by calling for repentance must be confronted lovingly but also with urgency. The heritage the Confederate flag represents cannot be celebrated as it is the symbol of preserving slavery. It is a symbol that in the past supported Jim Crow and currently is a symbol used to terrorize minorities.

    Thank you for speaking with clarity on these issues. Our credibility as ministers of the gospel depends on clarity and faithfulness in the times we now live.

    Reply

  3. The Civil War began in April, 1861. There is no record of President Lincoln attempting to rally the northern states to fight for the abolition of slavery. The abolitionists were an important part of a coalition that came together to prosecute the war but the claim that this was the sole reason for the war and that any historian would agree with it is simply an assertion without merit. Also, the claim that Robert E. Lee was a pro-slavery ideologue is a gross exaggeration as anyone interested to do serious historical research could easily learn. In my opinion the insistence on propagating this absolutist mythology makes true racial reconciliation impossible. It is the other side of hoisting the confederate flag in the 1950’s as the symbol of white supremacy. Exaggeration and incompleteness.

    Reply

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