I'm going to begin by quoting some representative statements:
They argued that the time for confession of sin that is acknowledged to have occurred is always now, and that if we admit that we have sinned, we should not delay but confess our sins now. Psalm 32 was appealed to, on which the Very Reverend Dr. Bryan Chapell preached the opening night of the Assembly, which says that if we delay in confessing our sins our bones will waste away. In fact, Rev. Jon Storck, during a time of prayer that preceded the vote, prayed that if our decision to refer to next year was wrong that our denomination would waste away until we confessed our sin. Speaking also for the substitute was Rev. Leon Brown, an African American pastor from Richmond, VA.
The personal resolution came from two of the most respected Teaching Elders in the PCA, Drs. Sean Lucas and Ligon Duncan.
The 2015 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America will be most remembered for how we responded to a personal resolution asking that the PCA acknowledge and repent of past sins during the Civil Rights era.
The latter argued that particular sins should be repented of particularly, so that after a year of education and work in the presbyteries, we would know better what exactly we were repenting of, so that the repentance may be more heartfelt and thus perhaps bear greater fruit.
How then do we add feet to our repentance regarding the Civil Rights era...
Our denominational profiles reveal patterns of ethnic and racial homogeneity.
Whereas, the effects of these sins have created and continue to create barriers between brothers and sisters of different races and/or economic spheres; and
Whereas, we also recognize that Scripture establishes precedents for the confession of the past sins of others without assessing personal responsibility for those past sins to the confessing party (Neh. 1:5-7, Neh. 9:13, Daniel 9:4-19)
i) I don't think it's asking too much that seminary professors (e.g. Lucas, Duncan, Chapell) be theologically accurate.
ii) Notice the sustained emphasis on vicarious repentance. The living should repent for the sins of the dead. That isn't incidental to this debate. Rather, that's how the issue is characteristically framed.
iii) Is there something intrinsically wrong with ethnically and racially homogeneous churches? Should we repent of black churches, Latino churches, Asian-American churches?
Certainly a member of one ethnic group should never be made to feel unwelcome by the majority. Suppose, though, I visited a Latino church or Korean church where service is conducted in the naive language. Suppose I don't speak Spanish or Korean. I'm bound to feel excluded, even though no one intended to make me feel excluded. Does that mean native languages worship services are wrong? Should they suspend worship in their native tongue?
iv) Certainly past evils can have lingering effects. But that's true of the past in general. That's true of World War I, or the Ottoman Conquest. Does that mean I need to repent of WWI or the Ottoman Conquest?
v) I daresay most Americans are very ignorant of American church history. How many Americans, including black Americans, have even heard of Thornwell or Dabney? How many are aware of the fact that in 1845, the Presbyterian Church in the USA passed the following resolution (by a vote of 168 to 13):
Resolved, 1st. That the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in
the United States was originally organized, and has since continued the bond
of union in the Church upon the conceded principle that the existence of
domestic slavery, under the circumstances in which it is found in the southern
portion of the country is no bar to Christian communion (p18).
How can that past action create a barrier between black and white Christians if only antiquarians are even cognizant of that resolution?
vi) Appealing to Ps 32 is inappropriate. That's a case of personal repentance for personal sin.
vii) But what about Daniel, Ezra, and Nehemiah?
a) To begin with, there's a failure to distinguish between "corporate confession" in the sense of acknowledging the sins of others, and repenting for the sins of others.
b) Daniel, Ezra, and Nehemiah bring up the past to bring it up to the present. This was about present-day Jews who repeat the sins for their ancestors. Daniel was a member of the generation that went into exile. Most of his contemporaries were covenant-breakers. That's not a thing of the past.
Likewise, the post-exilic community hadn't learned the lesson of the exile. Members of the post-exilic community were reiterating the transgressions of preexilic Israel–which is why God banished their forebears in the first place.
viii) There's also the question of what "the church" is. Do members of the PCA or OPC belong to the same church as the 1845 Presbyterian denomination that passed that odious resolution? If you've had a complete turn over in the membership, multiple times, so that no one who comprises the 2015 church comprises the 1845 church, then in what sense is that your church? That's so many steps removed from the offending denomination. That mentality reifies a historical abstraction. It's an imaginative projection, like watching a movie about WWII, in which we identify with the good guys rather than the bad guys. Lucas, Ducan et al. relate to dead Presbyterians the way moviegoers relate to a movie character. Although the history is real, the sense of solidarity is fictional.