Friday, June 25, 2010

A yes for Sacramento's overture Item 16-01 rather than a yes to a combination of Belhar, Accra and Kairos

The Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP) recently placed their advice on Sacramento’s overture item # 16-01, “On Commending Confessions that Uphold the Oneness of All Believers, and Discontinuing Efforts to Include the Belhar Confession in the Book of Confessions.” The committee disapproved and lifted up not only Belhar but tied it to the Accra Confession and the Palestinian Kairos document.

As I have stated before, although commissioners do not need to follow ACSWP’s advice I will comment on it. But first I would like to look carefully at Sacramento’s overture.

Sacramento’s Overture, item # [16-01].

The overture lifts up all of the important statements in the Church’s constitution, which focus on the unity of the body of Christ. (The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s Book of Order & Book of Confessions) In recommendations 1& 2 the overture insists that diversity, including, racial ethnic diversity, be encouraged and lived out within the Church. “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal. 3:27-28)”

Within the body of the overture both the “Brief Statement of Faith” and the “Confession of 1967” are singled out. Those two Confessions speak in particular to ethnic unity. In fact, the Confession of 1967 has very practical statements that fit well the racial problems in the United States:

"God has created the peoples of the earth to be one universal family. In his reconciling love, he overcomes the barriers between brothers and breaks down every form of discrimination based on racial or ethnic difference, real or imaginary. The church is called to bring all men to receive and uphold one another as persons in all relationships of life: in employment, housing, education, leisure, marriage, family, church, and the exercise of political rights. Therefore, the church labors for the abolition of all racial discrimination and ministers to those injured by it. Congregations, individuals, or groups of Christians who exclude, dominate, or patronize their fellowmen, however subtly, resist the Spirit of God and bring contempt on the faith which they profess." (The Book of Confessions, The Confession of 1967, 9.44)

This is a much clearer statement and far more demanding than Belhar.

In recommendation # 3 the overture asks the General Assembly to not adopt the Confession of Belhar. The reasons given involve the complexity and confusion of the document. This has led some to desire to use Belhar as liberation theology and to insist that it can be used as an advocacy tool for same sex issues. But the overall problem with Belhar which allows for such use is that its main focus is on confessing unity rather than confessing Jesus Christ.

As a means of contrasting the Christology of Belhar with the Christology of other confessions, Sacramento’s overture asks the GA to add a comment to their yes to item #16-01 which is a quote from the Declaration of Barmen. That is:

“'I am the way, and the truth, and the life: no one comes to the Father, but by me' (John 14:6), 'Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. … I am the door; if anyone enters by me, he will be saved.' (John 10:1, 9.) Jesus Christ, as he is attested for us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and death. We reject the false doctrine, as though the church could and would have to acknowledge as a source of its proclamation apart from and besides this one Word of God, still other events and powers, figures and truths, as God’s revelation." (The Book of Confessions, The Theological Declaration of Barmen, 8.10–8.12)

The Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy and their advice:

The ACSWP makes some statements that are concerned with only the Confession of Belhar but then turn to what is called the Accra Confession.

Their first statement is, “The Belhar Confession adds a voice from the Reformed church in the global south to our Confessions.” It should be noted, however, that our Confessions are not chosen as a way of accommodating numerical fairness of any kind but rather when it is time to confess, we then confess Jesus Christ as Lord.

The ACSWP also states that: Belhar stresses that if the church is to be the church it is called to be, it must make visible that reconciliation. It asks us to look at our church and see what others see. Do others see a people reconciled in Christ, bearing one another’s burdens, needing and fulfilling one another’s hopes? Belhar asks how we can be the church of Jesus Christ and not exhibit this gift of unity across racial divides.”

But the open door that Belhar offers to those seeking to ordain practicing homosexuals as well as marriage for same gender couples will bring a great deal of disunity to the Church. As can be seen by recent events most Christians in the global south do not share the western Church’s slide toward sexual perversity. Not only will members of the PCUSA be thrown into greater disunity but division will be a global reality.

The unfaithfulness of some churches in the west in sexual matters is of far more concern to the southern cone than western Reformed Churches adopting a southern cone confession.

The ACSWP and the Accra Confession:

Beyond these two statements the ACSWP speaks of the 2010 Colloquium of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches on the Accra Statement and the Belhar Confession which was sponsored by both the ACSWP and the Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic Concerns. Quoting from a paper presented by the Colloquium they write “This Colloquium, or structured conversation, was designed to explore complementary elements in the Accra document and the Belhar Confession.”

That was the conference, Confessing When Empire Trembles: Belhar and Accra Confessions in Conversation: held at the Presbyterian Conference site, Stony Point. I have written about the Conference here, The goddess, Belhar & Accra at Stony Point and the Accra Confession here, How many confessions is the PC (U.S.A.)'s 219th General Assembly voting on?.

A resource added to the advice by the ACSWP is the paper that ACSWP quotes from[1] In that paper three documents are lifted up, the Confession of Belhar, the Accra Confession and the Kairos Document, “A Moment of Truth.”

The documents looming behind the Confession of Belhar:

If the ACSWP is suggesting that the three documents are related, and they seem to be, they are right. None of the documents confess Jesus Christ in a proper manner. All are careless of the complex situations in their area of interest. The Kairos Document is totally focused on the rightness of the Palestinian’s cause without any room for Israelis needs. All terrorism is blamed on Israel and the Jews are denied their need of a Jewish state. Complete divestment and boycott of Israel is promoted. The Accra Confession is a document that caricatures capitalism and points toward socialism as the more biblical economic point of view. And Belhar does not properly confess Jesus Christ.

The ACSWP have allowed their disapproval of Sacramento’s overture to tie all three documents, Accra, Kairos, and Belhar together. Using their rationale to vote for Belhar would be to approve of the other two. Sacramento’s overture, item 16-03 is by far the better option. It upholds ethnic diversity in the Church, points to a wonderful confession of Jesus Christ and in the rationale explains what a Confession is meant to do: Confess Jesus Christ.

[1] I am aware of the theological outlook of at least two of the participants who affirmed the statement of the conference “Confessing When Empire Trembles: Belhar and Accra Confessions in Conversation”.
Cynthia Holder Rich-hopes to use Belhar as a means of gaining ordination for LGBT persons.
Rita Nakashima-Brock- denies the atoning death of Jesus Christ. She sees it as child abuse.
Also one of the presenters, Rebecca Told Peters, sometimes refers to deity as goddess and advocates for same gender marriage and ordination of LGBT persons.

1 comment:

will spotts said...

Here you have the perennial problem of varying degrees of imprimatur. The presbyteries would, of course, have to vote to approve changes to the BOC, but getting GA's to support them grants a degree of Presbyterian support to them without actually putting it to the whole denomination.

This tactic - some form of bootstrapping - is a regular feature.

Will Spotts
North East, MD