Wednesday, December 15, 2010

An experiment with Belhar: racism or unity?

Dr. Charles Wiley and the Office of Theology and Worship have provided a public forum for discussing the Confession of Belhar, almost continuously since the 219th General Assembly. The discussions have been extremely interesting and helpful. One part of the discussion I read offered by Pastor Edward W. Eissabake of St. John's Assyrian PCUSA, struck me as an excellent and convincing argument against adopting Belhar. It is his experiment and its results should be shared. I asked if I might print his remarks on my blog and he graciously has allowed me to post them.

After thanking Dr. Wiley for allowing all of us to share our views Pastor Eissabake wrote:

“Besides standing on all my theological and confessional views on Belhar in this forum, I did something different and practical. I read the Belhar over and over and read it to the people who did not know the background and reason for composing Belhar.

I read it to the following people: 1) a friend of mine who is an African American and Executive Director of a company in field of human and social services; 2) a Cambodian student with Master degree in Sociology; 3) to a Mexican lady and Office Manager of a foster care company; 4) to a Caucasian with doctorate degree in English literature; 5) to a Kenyan Director of Development in an multicultural business. I did not tell them ABOUT the Belhar. I simply read it to them and asked them what they concluded from the message of Belhar. None of them mentioned anything about racism and racial conflicts!!! They all stated that the message of Belhar is about unity.

This was an eye opening action that the matter of racism has been mentioned in Belhar only in two TINY references under 11.3 paragraphs 3 and 5. I realized that we all are focusing on notes ABOUT Belhar rather than Belhar by itself. The whole Belhar is talking about unity in an inclusive form, not racism.

Please try it. Do not read ABOUT Belhar or its background. Simply read it, and you will find me true. I conclude my notes on Belhar in this forum by repeating my two fundamental questions: B) WHY do we need Belhar as a confession while the matter of racism has been considered in a stronger way in C67 and even A Brief Statement of Faith? Why do we need it while we have a mechanism that is functioning very well in handling racism in our denomination? B) HOW does Belhar examine the false doctrines? The simple and general/inclusive language of Belhar lacks the message of racism and lacks the theological standards to determine and reject a false doctrine. Thank you again."

I encourage all to try this; here is a copy of the confession, The Belhar Confession


Pastor Dennis said...

I think these comments about Belhar are correct, in terms of it being more about unity than racism. Thinking a bit about this, it does seem to me that the issue of racism has been either couched or lifted up into the issue of unity. But maybe that is the proper place for the issue of racism. Maybe racism is a symptom of not seeing ourselves in exactly the same boat, spiritually, as another person. Racism refuses to see the same image of God in the unregenerate that would be ours in our unregenerateness, and refuses to see the very same fullness of Christ in another Christian that Christ has given us; that we share the same access to God in Christ and belong to each other.

Viola Larson said...

Pastor Dennis,
I don’t disagree with you; perhaps racism does have to do with not seeing another in the same boat as far as sinfulness goes. At least I am sure that is a part of racism, certainly not seeing the image of God in the other is racism.

But a Confession of faith that has as its main focus unity and yet does not make any distinctions about what unity means in the Church is very troubling. Are we called to be in unity with those who deny the deity of Christ or the salvation he bought on the cross? That would mean that for the sake of unity we, as a connectional church, would deny the faith.

Are we called to be in unity with those who refuse to repent of a sinful lifestyle? What does the Bible say about that?
“I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or reviler, or drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one. “ (1 Cor 5: 9)

Some today would say that was certainly not unity, because we no longer practice church discipline we have forgotten what unity in the body of Christ is about.

Jesus in the 17th chapter of John, the high priestly prayer asks that his followers be given unity but that is not all. He prays “sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” He goes on to pray “As you sent me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. For their sakes I sanctify myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.”
Our unity is in Jesus Christ as he is known in Holy Scriptures; it is in his person, united to him that we have unity. So that unity is always true to the word of God. But that is not clear in Belhar.