From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Special Presbytery Committee Vindicates Pastors of Racism Charges

Date 14 Aug 1996 12:22:45

96296        Special Presbytery Committee Vindicates 
                    Pastors of Racism Charges 
                         by Julian Shipp 
RICHMOND, Va.--The Presbytery of the James Special Disciplinary Committee 
has vindicated two pastors of racism charges.  The two commissioners from 
the presbytery to the Synod of the Mid-Atlantic -- the Rev. Cheryl Duke and 
the Rev. James A. Payne Jr. -- had been charged with "racist, ungodly, 
un-Christian and unethical" actions toward synod executive the Rev. Carroll 
D. Jenkins during the 209th Synod Assembly meeting held here last Oct. 
     The presbytery will hear the committee's report Aug. 27, according to 
the  Rev. Nathan Dell, moderator of the Special Disciplinary Committee, who 
said he would not comment on the report until after the presbytery meeting. 
     An Oct. 18 letter written by the Rev. Warren Lesane Jr. and addressed 
to the presbytery council accused Duke and Payne of  racist activity on the 
floor during the Oct. 14 synod meeting, which was interrupted by a walkout 
of protestors in support of Jenkins.  
     According  to Lesane's letter, Payne and Duke  "occupied the floor in 
a relentless manner" and "sought to discredit and challenge the authority 
of [Jenkins] and the synod council in matters that are uniquely theirs to 
resolve" during the meeting. Furthermore,  Lesane wrote, "the issues they 
raised only served to derail the work of the assembly, tire, confuse, 
alienate and inflame other commissioners, who had no idea what their 
motivations were." 
     Jenkins, an African American, has served as synod executive since 
1981. In 1994, he was connected to allegations of questionable financial 
and management procedures and was the subject of several synod 
investigations. While the inquiries revealed some noncompliance with 
existing synod policy, they did not reveal any serious financial or 
management discrepancies. 
     Even so, Jenkins became the focal point of criticism and controversy. 
Some said the criticism was racially motivated, while others said the 
problem occurred because of  poor administrative oversight and 
misrepresentation of the facts. (See the related story in the Dec. 8, 1995, 
"NEWS BRIEFS," #95437). 
     The report, signed July 10 by Dell and obtained by the Presbyterian 
News Service from Duke, reads as follows: 
     "This Special Disciplinary Committee heard attentively and carefully 
all the concerns and perceptions of racism presented by Mr. Warren J. 
Lesane Jr. within the Synod of the Mid-Atlantic and the Presbytery of the 
James and his reasons for writing his letter dated of Oct. 18, 1995, to Mr. 
John Rickard and the Council of the Presbytery. 
     "This Committee, having carefully examined, individually and 
collectively, the transcripts of the 209th meeting of the Synod of the 
Mid-Atlantic, finds that the records show no evidence to support the 
accusations made by Mr. Lesane against Mrs. Cheryl Duke and Mr. James Payne 
in his letter of Oct.  18, 1995. The committee also agrees that no evidence 
was given by Mr. Lesane in his presentation to this committee to 
substantiate the accusations in the above-mentioned letter. 
     "This Special Disciplinary Committee does, therefore, completely 
vindicate Mrs. Cheryl Duke and Mr. James Payne of all accusations contained 
in Mr. Lesane's letter to Mr. John Rickard and Presbytery Council dated 
October 18, 1995." 
     In addition to Dell, those serving on the Special Disciplinary 
Committee were the Rev. Xel Sant'Anna, clerk; and three elders, one each of 
Asian, African and European descent. 
      Duke told the Presbyterian News Service that she and Payne sought 
vindication of the charges after a six-month pastoral inquiry led to a 
report exonerating them, but affirming that "perceptions of racist 
behavior" among some, particularly members of the Black Caucus of the Synod 
of the Mid-Atlantic, made them appear to be guilty. 
     Because the charge of racism was not confirmed, Duke and Payne sought 
vindication by the presbytery, a judicial process that calls for the 
appointment of a special disciplinary committee. The committee's job is to 
gather documentation and listen to evidence. Their report to the presbytery 
is nondebatable and will be entered into the record, according to the Rev. 
William  M. Boyce Jr., interim stated clerk of the Presbytery of the James. 
     "The presbytery will not be able to modify or change the committee's 
report, it will just simply receive it," Boyce said. "The only thing that 
people can do is ask questions about procedure and that sort of thing, but 
it's not open for discussion." 
     "I'm glad that the system, in this case, corrected what I think was a 
pretty serious misperception and a potential injustice," Payne told the 
Presbyterian News Service. 
     Payne said that from his perspective, the Presbytery of the James has 
been "less torn" by the controversy surrounding Jenkins than the 
neighboring presbyteries of National Capital, Charlotte and Salem. He said 
those presbyteries responded to last year's synod assembly protest through 
overtures acknowledging both the validity of the walkout and/or the 
subsequent concerns of the Black Caucus. 
     However, Payne said, the Presbytery of the James did not adopt the 
statement of concern by the Black Caucus, but responded to the walkout by 
first establishing a special committee and then a special disciplinary 
committee to investigate the charge of racism.  
     "Following the recent restructuring of our presbytery, I think there 
has been an attempt to hear folks' hurts and folks' perceptions of 
injustice and begin to deal with it," Payne said. "My perception is there's 
a mildly hopeful, cautiously optimistic spirit that we're going to come 
     Duke told the Presbyterian News Service that she and Payne requested 
the Special Disciplinary Committee report be published as a way to help 
clear their names. She said Lesane sent copies of his letter to all the 
Black Caucus leaders in the presbytery and synod, and also communicated his 
accusations in person to black leadership in other parts of the 
     Lesane could not be reached for comment. 
     The Rev. Lawrence Bethel, Black Caucus chair of the Synod of the 
Mid-Atlantic, said the caucus "has not been in official dialogue" regarding 
the presbytery's ruling, but will address the issue during an October 
     In the meantime, Bethel said, the Black Caucus held a recent summit 
focusing on racial issues with synod council members. Additionally, during 
the July 24-27 synod meeting in Raleigh, N.C., the caucus gave a similar 
presentation on racism to synod commissioners and visitors. 
     "We also brought in some consultants to do an exercise on racism to 
raise the consciousness of the synod commissioners and visitors to the 
synod about their own perceptions of racism," Bethel said.  "Two symposiums 
on racism are planned synodwide this fall to deal with the issue of racism. 
We're certainly going to see what kind of effect this has, and we're just 
hoping for the best." 
     Jenkins said that while it would not be appropriate for him to comment 
on a sensitive, pending presbytery matter, he believes the synod is taking 
the appropriate action to foster a climate of racial reconciliation. 
     "I think the mood across the synod was, at least at the synod meeting, 
a sensitivity to the kinds of [racial] issues that were being raised and to 
try to be sure as we set priorities for the future that we were sensitive 
to some of those needs and [that we] tried to address them as we allocated 
resources, people, time and all of that," Jenkins said. "I thought the 
meeting turned out to be very positive." 

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