Wednesday, February 26, 2014

A reposting of my 2011 Presbytery presentation against Belhar

I saw on my feed someone looking at the presentation on Belhar I gave on March 24, 2011. I thought perhaps it would be helpful to some people again in this next round of voting at General Assembly. I am reposting:

My presentation against Belhar at Sacramento Presbytery
At Sacramento Presbytery's last meeting, in February, before we voted on the three big amendments, two presenters gave a short, five minute presentation, one for and one against. I gave the presentation against the Confession of Belhar. Just in case my presentation has any thoughts that will be helpful I am posting it here.

Adding a confession to the PCUSA’s Book of Confessions is a very serious action. So serious that it requires a two/thirds vote by the Presbyteries and a second vote by the following General Assembly. The Confession of Belhar, within its text, must above all confess Jesus Christ as Lord in order to be a true confession of faith. That is what we must consider as we vote.

On the Racial Justice web page of the PCUSA, one finds information about Belhar which includes this: “It [Belhar] calls the church to a deeper appreciation of the values of unity in diversity in relation to the divisions of race and culture and many other facets of the human condition.”

History: Belhar was written by the Dutch Reformed Mission Church of South Africa in the midst of apartheid; black Christians of South Africa were sinfully excluded from fellowship with their white brothers and sisters. A statement about such horrific conditions was needed, Belhar fulfilled that need. It was faithful in its context. But it is not a universal confession. Although structured in the same manner as the Theological Declaration of Barmen it does not confess Christ in the same manner rather it confesses unity.

Unity: Belhar calls for an unqualified unity. In one place it states: “We reject any doctrine “which absolutizes natural diversity or the sinful separation of people in such a way that this absolutization hinders or breaks the visible and active unity of the church ...” In another place it states, “a refusal earnestly to pursue this visible unity as a priceless gift is sin,” and still further, “anything which threatens this unity may have no place in the church and must be resisted.” While “true faith in Jesus Christ” is mentioned as a boundary it is not defined.

So let me ask, are we, as a church, called to be in unity (that is in agreement) with those who deny the deity of Christ, the authority of scripture, or justification by faith? Unity without qualification could mean that we, as a connectional church, would be denying the faith.

And notice, as I have pointed out, the Racial Justice page interprets Belhar’s unity in terms that not only include unity in the midst of racial diversity but also unity in the midst of “many other facets of the human condition.” But, the human condition is broken and sinful. Unity needs a foundation; a Savior who transforms. We must confess Jesus Christ before we confess unity.

Racism: There are only two small references to racism in Belhar. But both the Confession of 67 and the Brief Statement of Faith speak to racism and diversity in the context of the United States’ particular problems. The Confession of 67 speaks of fair housing, education, work and even political rights. And both the Confession of 67 and the Brief Statement of Faith carefully confess Christ.

The many uses of the Belhar Confession: Because Belhar does not, above all else, confess Jesus Christ, as he is known in Scripture, it may be used for unintended purposes. Insisting on the oneness of Islam, Christianity and Judaism is one suggested use. Others are the ordination of GLBT people, the ‘racism’ of Israel and power sharing. Now you may agree with one or all of these, (certainly the first is not a confession of Christ) but you may agree. Nonetheless you can see the danger of having a document in our Book of Confessions which can, so easily, be used for any particular group’s cause.

Some have countered this argument with the thought that even the Bible has been misused. That is true. But the Bible has corrections within it. One of Belhar’s weaknesses is that it does not.

The need for a Confession from the Southern Cone: Some have suggested that we have no confession from the Global South and Belhar meets this need. But even the racial Justice page admits that the Nicene Creed is a Global Southern Creed. And so is the Apostle’s Creed, since some parts of it were formed in Africa. However, the important point here is that we do not choose Confessions on the basis of where they come from but because it is time to confess anew Jesus Christ. A Confession confesses Jesus Christ that is its purpose.

Please, vote no on the adoption of the Belhar Confession.

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