The Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic Concerns and the Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns have now commented on Sacramento’s overture # 16-01, “on commending confessions that uphold the oneness of all believers and discontinue efforts to include the Belhar Confession in The Book of Confessions.”
They both disapprove the overture and in peculiar ways lift up the Confession of Belhar. And both ignore the need for a strong confession of the Lordship of Christ. While commissioners do not have to follow the advice of any of these comments I will still make my own comments about their advice.
The Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic Concerns is opposing the overture for several reasons. First they write that, “The Belhar Confession arose in a context of racial hatred and oppression, when the church was separated by sinful practice and belief. The confession states that belief in Jesus is the only condition for membership, arguing for a radical unity in Christ.”
Their account of history is certainly right and they correctly link the racism of apartheid with the racism foundational to the past institution of slavery in the United States. However, their apologetic for Belhar simply echoes Belhar. It lacks a proper confession of Jesus Christ. For example they argue that belief in Jesus is the only condition for membership in the church. They then equate such membership to radical inclusiveness. Their words as well as Belhar’s words should be compared with the Book of Order’s statement on membership.
While the BOO insists that it is a sin to deny membership to those who profess Christ it explains the meaning of the Christian’s profession in this way:
“The incarnation of God in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ gives to the church not only its mission but also its understanding of membership. One becomes an active member of the church through faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and acceptance of his Lordship in all of life. Baptism and a public profession of faith in Jesus as Lord are the visible signs of entrance into the active membership of the church.” G-5.0100.
Radical indeed! It is both one’s commitment to the Lordship of Jesus as well as the diversity of members that must be included in the term radical. Belhar does not offer a clue about such faith because it fails to properly confess Jesus Christ.
Next their comment attempts to show that one need not be concerned that the Belhar Confession will be misused because even the Bible has been misused. Which is true, yet, the Bible has, will and does correct those same evils. But Belhar will not correct its misuse because it has no boundaries. Its concept of unity has no qualifications.
Belhar’s call for unity, without a clear Christological confession set within the boundaries of Scripture, may lead to unscriptural unity. In fact, the ACRC wanders beyond Belhar with this statement: “We are more diverse in culture, race, and ideas, and as a result, there is a need to gather together all groups with love, based upon the common principles of reconciliation, justice, and unity.”
The authors are assuming that Christian unity can be founded on the principles of reconciliation, justice, and unity. They have it backwards. The Church’s confession of Jesus Christ as the one and only Lord as he is known in scripture is the only basis for unity. From this unity will flow scriptural justice and reconciliation.
The Advocacy Committee for Women’s Concerns, who in their comment state that they are advocating for people who are marginalized due to race, gender, or sexual orientation, disapprove the overture but are mainly having a language problem. But it isn’t with Sacramento’s overture but rather with Belhar.
Interestingly, they ask to have the language of the Confession of Belhar made more inclusive, but this is placed on Sacramento’s overture not on the recommendation for Belhar. (Here they are referring to language about God.) Perhaps they do not wish to place anything negative on the Belhar recommendation.
This is a part of what they write regarding the need for inclusive language:
“While exclusive language for God may not be a primary cause of women’s oppression, exclusive language is certainly a reflection of patriarchal society and encourages us to see women as subordinate to men and to view men as more closely resembling God’s image. If we are to truly confess solidarity with all people who are oppressed and to witness against apartheid of all forms, then we must also address the language that divides women and men and encourages us to see separate and often very unequal roles as divinely ordained.” (Italics mine)
Since the ACWC offers no rationale for rejecting Sacramento’s overture but instead speak of what they don’t like about Belhar, I can only guess that the reason is lodged in their advocacy for those who they feel are marginalized because of race, gender and sexual orientation. (This is after all the GAMC Committee that advocated for the passage of same gender marriage on overtures in committee 12, Civil Union and Marriage issues.)
So we come back around to the same problem. The ACWC has nothing to say about Christology, or confessing the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Instead they are concerned with confessing solidarity with all oppressed people, which isn’t bad but isn’t what a confession is about.
I believe I should end this with the statement that is placed at the end of the rationale on Sacramento’s overture #16-01. It was written by Dr. Arthur Cochrane in his chapter on the nature of a confession in his book The Church’s Confession Under Hitler.
A Confession is therefore not the publication of the opinions, convictions, ideals, and value judgments of men. It does not set forth a program or system of theology or ethics. It is not a set of principles or constitution for a fraternal order, social service club, or a religious society. It is not a political or ethical, religious platform. It does not bear witness to certain events, powers, figures, and truths in nature and history that may be championed by certain groups in society. It confesses Jesus Christ as the one Lord, the one justification and sanctification of men, the one revelation, and the one Word of God which we have to hear, trust and obey in life and in death. Thus, the Belhar Confession, for all its strengths for its time and setting, does not qualify as a confession of the church for all times in all places, since it centers on local circumstances rather than on Jesus Christ.
The actions of the ACWC become even more confusing and strange when one notes that they direct the reader of their Belhar approval to item # 16-03 On Amending W-2.3008b Regarding Baptism of Children. That rationale seems to be an attempt to say that unborn babies are not already claimed by our electing God and that Calvin has been taken out of context? It has nothing to do with Belhar.