Monday, September 7, 2009

Using the Belhar Confession to overcome Israel’s “racism,” and as a means to bring about repentance from those desiring a Jewish State!


Sometime after the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s General Assembly I posted an article, The Belhar Confession & God's final revelation on my blog about how it might be possible to use Belhar as a means of insisting that a denomination must ordain practicing homosexuals.

What I did not know at that time was that at the General Synod (2004) of the Reformed Church in America[1], two speakers, one from South Africa, the other from Palestine, insisted not only that the Belhar confession would provide a means for “justice” for homosexuals in the church and unity among the three monotheistic faiths, but that it might be a means for bringing those who desire a Jewish State to repentance.

The first speaker, The Rev. Christo Lombard from the Uniting Reformed Church of South Africa laid out some of the more positive aspects of Belhar and attempted to give it a strong connection to Barmen and Barth. That in itself calls for a different posting. But as a contextual theologian he emphasized how Belhar could be used in other contexts, including Palestine.

Under the subtitle “the Palestine struggle for independence and justice,” Lombard stated:

“ It is with grave and almost bewildered concern that South Africans (and other citizens of our planet) witness the typical violent and oppressive (“apartheid”) route the Palestinian struggle for justice is taking under the almost unbelievable measures of the Israeli state to “control” the lives of Palestinians in the smallest details, like in the “old” South Africa. With bitter irony, walls are now being erected around Palestinian cities or enclaves, reminding us of the Jewish ghettos of the holocaust. If there is one situation in this world that contextually fits the antiapartheid struggle and its dynamics, for which the Belhar Confession was written, it must be the Palestinian situation, currently. Only, the situation in the “Holy Land” appears to be even more serious, threatening, and inhuman than the terrible days of apartheid in South Africa. Is it possible? Does this not cry out for another status confessionis? Do we have any consistency in the very heart of our Christian convictions about justice?”

Lombard’s speech covered a wide range of uses to make of Belhar including the idea of justice for those he considered marginalized in the church. But the next speaker, The Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb, pastor of Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem and General Director of the International Center of Bethlehem, dealt chiefly with Palestine, including the three monotheistic faiths in the area.


Raheb, of course, found it necessary to show the differences between the problems of South Africa and the problems in Palestine and Israel. That is, since the problem in South Africa was between different churches or Christians, Raheb looked for divisions among the churches in his area and found it mainly between those Christians who consider themselves Christian Zionists and the churches that reject Christian Zionism. He found it also between those who support Israel as a Jewish State and those who do not.

But an important thought here with both Lombard and Raheb is that one must see Israel as racist in order to use Belhar as a confession to address the issues. And besides the racist label, one must expand the definitions of those involved since the scenario moves from Christian unity to ethnic unity combined with interfaith unity. This is interesting because Belhar pointed to a church denying the Christian faith because of the lack of unity between believers.

Raheb asks, “My reading of the Belhar Confession suggests that there could be a small open window, which might help us to do exactly this. On several places in the confession the word “church” is replaced by another category called “the People of God.” The Belhar Confession uses this term to describe the church. My question would be, is it possible to expand this “People of God” terminology to encompass the “peoples of God,” including in this Jews and Muslims? And by this to provide a monotheistic platform for unity?”

In his attempt to contextualize the confession Raheb clearly moves far beyond Barmen and Barth. And as I have contended in other postings this is due to a lack of placing the confession of Christ as Lord as the foremost reason for the Belhar Confession.

Raheb goes on to refer to Barmen as a Confession directed against the “racist ideology” of the Nazis. But he fails to understand that its main focus was confessing Christ. Christ as Lord means that the commandments of other lords such as “hate Jews” or “tell lies about Jews” cannot be obeyed.

After referring to Barmen he now turns to Israel and the Jews insisting that now it is time for a Jewish confession. He states:

“Where do our Jewish dialogical partners stand with regard to the apartheid system which is being perpetuated by the Israeli government? Why don’t we hear more Jewish clergy raising their clear voices against this? Isn’t it time for a clear Jewish confession or for maybe a joint Jewish-Christian confession regarding the lands and the people under Israeli occupation? We have been confessing our sins to the Jewish people over and over again for fifty years now. And we do not regret doing that. But we should now expect our Jewish partners to confess their sins against the Palestinian people. A moment of truth has come. This issue, I believe, will either make or break Jewish-Christian dialogue. It is in this spirit of the Belhar Confession that I hope we can come to forge a unified Jewish-Christian confession on this issue.”

But one must deny several issues to state any of this. One has to deny the need for a Jewish State, which means that the history of the persecution of the Jews has been ignored. And above all else a denial of the very reason for a confession has occurred. The main reason for the Church’s Confession is to clearly confess Jesus Christ as Lord.


[1]see REPORTS ON MISSION AND CHRISTIAN UNITY 218 GENERAL SYNOD/JUNE 2004

2 comments:

reformedpastor said...

God defend us from people who think that words can mean anything they want them to mean. And from people who think that they know better than Jews what Jews ought to do for the sake of their being considered acceptable company.

David Fischler
Woodbridge, VA

Viola Larson said...

Amen David.