From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Pittsburgh Presbytery Responds to Racism And Sexism

Date 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 
notice of 
          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 
society including 
          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 
self-supporting Grace 
          Memorial Presbyterian Church $150,000 for needed repairs to make 
its building 
          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 
focusing on: 
          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   Web page: 


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