From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
Pittsburgh Presbytery Responds to Racism And Sexism
04 May 1996 16:06:14
96128 Pittsburgh Presbytery Responds to Racism And Sexism
Charges, But Fails to Satisfy Its Black Caucus
by Julian Shipp
PITTSBURGH, Pa.--Stung by allegations from its Black Caucus last December,
the General Council of Pittsburgh Presbytery has responded to charges that
some of its actions have been "racist and sexist" toward ministries among
the poor and African American communities throughout the city. However, the
Council's response failed to satisfy the Black Caucus.
The Rev. Johnnie Monroe, chair of Pittsburgh Presbytery's Black Clergy
Committee, said he and other Black Caucus representatives met with the Rev.
Beverly W. James, Pittsburgh Presbytery moderator, on March 11 because they
were "unsatisfied" with the Council's response to their allegations.
"We told [moderator James] the council's response was not
satisfactory," Monroe told the Presbyterian News Service. "Really, we felt
the response was more racist than the original actions. The response just
didn't get it."
After a walk-out on Dec. 7 by approximately 30 Black Caucus members
during a regularly scheduled presbytery meeting, a "40-day Season of Prayer
and Fasting" was declared by the caucus through Jan. 15. During that time,
the Pittsburgh Black Caucus and African American pastors called upon their
membership to not attend any gatherings or meetings of the presbytery.
"Until we decide that we have a single mission that is understood by
the entire presbytery and something we can work directly towards, we won't
be satisfied," said the Rev. Samuel W. George, Black Caucus moderator. "Our
intention is not something against the presbytery per se, but it is against
the fact that some progress that we believe could have been made in this
presbytery has just been sat down on."
James said Black Caucus leaders informed her that they want Pittsburgh
Presbytery to prioritize the Presbyterian Urban Ministry Partnership (PUMP)
which the presbytery adopted on Sept. 14, 1995. Among other things, PUMP
calls for and commits the presbytery to address problems in the inner city
and encourage partnerships with urban congregations.
She said the Black Caucus also wants Pittsburgh Presbytery to
intensively seek representation on all committees by African Americans and
other minority groups and that recruitment of a wider group of racial
ethnic elders and pastors is also desirable.
"Pittsburgh Presbytery considers itself an affirmative action and
equal opportunity employer, but there should be some evidence that these
polices are actively pursued and that those policies be made public," James
James said Black Caucus leaders also told her that general policies
regarding church loans should be applied fairly and should be common
knowledge among elders and minsters in all congregations.
In the meantime, Monroe said, the Black Caucus has decided that it
needs to take the initiative in addressing the urban community's problems.
"We have decided that we are not going to expend a lot of energies
reacting to the presbytery," Monroe said. "We have pulled ourselves
together and we are doing some things among ourselves as African American
churches to address unity among us and the problems that we find among our
For example, Monroe said, a special "unity service" designed to
demonstrate community love and solidarity was held on March 31 (Palm
Sunday) at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. He said the congregations of
every black church in the presbytery except one participated in the
According to Monroe, recent actions by the presbytery have not been
supportive of women and children, as well as racial ethnic minorities. He
said mission programs have been cut in the name of financial conservatism
while institutional self-support has become the presbytery's central focus.
Specific actions cited by the Black Caucus include:
the firing of seven female employees (four of whom are African
American) to save
$65,000 next year. These women were given less than three month's
termination. Yet, according to the Black Caucus, the presbytery
approved a much more
costly severance package last year for its former executive
presbyter, who was offered
nearly a year to find other employment.
the cutting of mission funds during the middle of the fiscal
year, damaging the
presbytery's assistance efforts toward the most needy segments of
services to the elderly, poor children, feeding programs and help
for the homeless.
the closing of poor churches in African-American
communities--Melrose Church (now
Pleasant Valley Shelter) and Blackadore Church (after a promise
to build a new church
which never materialized)--and cutting mission funding at
Hazelwood Church. The
trustees and presbytery also refused to lend the financially
Memorial Presbyterian Church $150,000 for needed repairs to make
handicapped accessible. (These actions reportedly were taken to
save funds). According
to the Black Caucus, however, the presbytery granted more money
to congregations in
predominantly white communities than it was willing to lend Grace
James, who is also interim pastor at Highland Presbyterian Church in
Pittsburgh, said the council met on Jan. 24 to discuss the allegations and
recognized that the termination of the seven women, (six administrative
assistants and one printer), was and is an action that can be perceived as
"racist and sexist."
Furthermore, she said, the council recognized that inadequate
communication between all council members and the presbytery regarding the
history of why such action was considered, combined with the present
reasons for taking such action, intensified negative perceptions of the
presbytery by Black Caucus members.
In reference to the status of the seven vacant positions at the
Pittsburgh Presbytery Office, James said that in the fall of 1995:
Three new positions were created for which all seven terminated
staff members could
Two persons (one African American, one white) found employment
Three people (two African American, one white) decided not to
Two people (one African American, one white) applied and were
James said the council proposed that the other charges cited by the
Black Caucus be responded to by the appropriate presbytery units or
committees if they desire to respond, and that clarification or comment
about each area of concern be offered in a "spirit of willingness to be
informed, and not in a spirit of defensiveness or accusation."
In addition to the six regularly scheduled presbytery meetings this
year, the council also recommended that the moderator and council consider
no less than three special meetings to consider the presbytery's future
racial and social justice
evangelism and congregational development
Pittsburgh Presbytery's vision for the year 2000.
James said the council's response was presented as an information item
during a Feb. 10 presbytery meeting, and that there was no discussion of
the matter at that time. She said the council met again on March 27 to
discuss the issue further and agreed that the suggestions of the Black
Caucus should be made "more explicit" and given more administrative
"I'm hoping that people who are really unhappy will re-address these
issues," James said, adding she will meet again with the Black Caucus on
May 22. "There's obviously a lot of anger and pain and things that have
been building up, but I think there is a will to work through this and that
we're in a better place than we were, say, a month ago."
For more information contact Presbyterian News Service
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Louisville, KY 40202
phone 502-569-5504 fax 502-569-8073
E-mail PCUSA.NEWS@pcusa.org Web page: http://www.pcusa.org
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