People of color have had a long history of resistance to the racism that has been deeply embedded in the life and history of this nation. It took the Black resistance of the 1960s, however for Mainline churches to begin to address racism. In May 1963, Edler Garnet Hawkins persuaded the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America to create a Commission on Religion and Race with unusual power to act in behalf of the denomination. The assembly appropriated $500,000 for the newly created commission. The commission was renamed the Council on Church and Race and was the genesis for many of the racial justice programs now existing in the PC(USA).
During the 1970s and 1980s affirmative action and equal opportunity became central themes of mainline churches in the search for racial justice. The 193rd General Assembly (1989) of the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America said:
In many ways the church's failures have been due to a lack of understanding, or perhaps naiveté, as to the nature and depth of racism. Whereas, it was once assumed that racial justice was merely a function of overcoming individual attitudes and bigotry, it is now clear that racism also exists in complex and subtle institutional ways. Despite the well-intentioned and nonracist attitudes of individuals, our religious and societal institutions, structures, and systems can and do perpetuate racial injustice (Minutes, UPCUSA, 1981, Part I, p. 201).
As a result, in 1991, the 203rd General Assembly (1991) passed a resolution confessing to the ongoing struggle of Presbyterians against racism in and outside the church.
We acknowledge and confess that:
The Presbyterian Church has failed to respond faithfully to the gospel and the racial justice challenges it set forth for itself, as expressed in both its confessional statements and its past pronouncements.This failure is found at all levels of the church, including those groups and instrumentalities charged with racial justice responsibilities.
The reasons put forth for failure and the lack of action by the church are very familiar ones that have been articulated frequently over the years. [T]he major obstacle to racial justice in society, as well as in the church, is in the nature of racism itself. Racism has developed primarily as a means to protect and legitimize the privilege of one race over the others. (Minutes, 1991, Part I, p. 695).
In 1993, the 205th General Assembly (1993) approved the creation of the two advocacy committees with direct access to the General Assembly and General Assembly Council (now General Assembly Mission Council), one of which is the Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic Concerns (ACREC). The 207th General Assembly (1995) elected the first class of ACREC members who met for the first time in the fall of 1995. Since its inception, ACREC has advocated for full access for all racial ethnic/immigrant groups to all programs, ministries, middle governing bodies and congregations in the PC(USA) by monitoring implementation of policy and corresponding actions, decisions and issues of concern to people of color in the church and in their communities. The committee also reviews all actions coming before the General Assembly for any impact on people of color and provides advice and counsel to the commissioners.