From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
Special Presbytery Committee Vindicates Pastors of Racism Charges
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
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
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."
For more information contact Presbyterian News Service
phone 502-569-5504 fax 502-569-8073
E-mail PCUSA.NEWS@pcusa.org Web page: http://www.pcusa.org
Browse month . . .
Browse month (sort by Source) . . .
Advanced Search & Browse . . .