Heal Us, Emmanuel, edited by Doug Serven

Heal Us, Emmanuel is “a call for racial reconciliation, representation, and unity in the church.” This collection of essays written by PCA Teaching and Ruling Elders was published in 2016.

It came as a response.

In 2015 Ligon Duncan and Sean Lucas brought a Personal Resolution on Civil Rights Remembrance to the 43rd PCA General Assembly. In response, more than 40 presbyteries brought overtures on racial reconciliation to the 2016 General Assembly (there are only about 80 presbyteries in the PCA). The General Assembly selected and then overwhelmingly voted to approve Overture 43 on Racial Reconciliation.

In the year between the 2015 and 2016 General Assemblies, Doug Serven mobilized 30 PCA Elders to write chapters in 6 different areas:

  1. An Invitation to Listen
  2. Awakening to Privilege
  3. Sins of Omission and Commission
  4. Historical and Theological Perspectives
  5. Confession and Reconciliation are Necessary
  6. A Way Forward

Some of these essays are educational, like Alexander Jun’s essay, “Unintentional” Racism. Jun familiarizes readers with ‘microaggressions,’ ‘White normativity,’ and ‘intent vs. impact.’ In another essay, Duke Kwon makes a concise and compelling biblical argument for the need to confess our sins corporately pointing to ‘imputation’ and ‘corporate identification.’

Other essays are about a personal journey, like Scott Sauls’ essay, Meet My African American Mentor. He shares how his public mistakes have shaped his appreciation for minority-culture voices and led to a life-giving relationship with his friend, Ronnie Mitchell. He also explains how the racial dynamics in Acts 7 led to the appointment of deacons in a way that gave power to the minority.

Kevin Twit’s essay, Forming Friendships Through Music: Why Style Matters, deconstructs the argument of the Western classical tradition as the ‘best’ way to praise God (e.g. ‘The Great Tradition’) and argues that “the Gospel is bigger than any particular cultural expression.” Kevin founded Indelible Grace Music which retunes old hymns to new tunes, and his story of retuning the William Cowper hymn “Heal Us, Emmanuel” to a Black Gospel voice involves our very own Pastor, Elbert McGowan!

Our own Ruling Elder Otis Pickett tells his story in Race, Reconciliation, and the American Church. True to his South Carolinian roots, Otis shares the impact of his pastor, grandfather, and mother, as they exposed his blind spots and shaped his understanding of race, history, and the church.

As our denomination continues to press into racial reconciliation, Heal Us, Emmanuel provides a robust resource to map the way forward.