Standing where God stands
Allan Boesak speaks of history, importance of Belhar Confession
by Bethany Furkin,
The Belhar Confession
will be "an issue"
in the 2010 General Assembly,
so Allan Boesak's look at it in this talk
may be very helpful.
LOUISVILLE — April 29, 2010 — The
Belhar Confession was formed out of
parochial necessity, but its appeal is ecumenical and universal, said
Allan Boesak, the opening speaker of Louisville Presbyterian Theological
Seminary's April 25-28
Theology and Reunion.
Boesak, a well-known
theologian, anti-apartheid activist and political leader in South
Africa, spoke about the Belhar Confession's roots, meaning and
Adopted by the Dutch
Reformed Mission Church in South Africa in 1986, the confession was a
response to apartheid in that country and particularly focuses on
reconciliation, justice and unity.
The Presbyterian Church
(U.S.A.) is considering adding Belhar to its Book of Confessions as the
denomination’s response to ongoing racial prejudice in this country. A
task force will recommend to the 219th General Assembly, to be held July
3-10 in Minneapolis, that the study process continue.
The Belhar Confession
seeks to uphold the gospel while responding to heresy, said Boesak, who
was instrumental in drafting the confession.
"We do not announce, we
proclaim," he said. "We do not pontificate, we profess."
To really understand
Belhar, it's necessary to know the situation in which it was formed.
From 1948-1994, South Africa was in the grip of the system of apartheid,
which legally separated races, oppressing blacks and lifting whites to
Churches, including the
dominant Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa, also played a role in
maintaining apartheid, not only creating space for oppression but
actually helping to shape the policy based on racial prejudice and
oppression, Boesak said. Apartheid was presented as an all-embracing,
God-given solution to the "race problem."
But the contradictions
between Jesus' teachings of love and the oppressive system of apartheid
soon became unbearable.
"The bondage of slavery
and the bonds of Christian love could not live side by side," Boesak
Because the church
couldn't deny or ignore such contradictions in its message, it chose to
remove the presence of such problems through racial segregation of the
church, he said.
"Now Communion could be
served without the broken body of Christ being a reminder of the broken
bodies of the slaves," Boesak said.
But the Belhar Confession
rejects the idea that not all believers are the same. Instead, it
"celebrates diversity that affirms humanity ... and accepts it as a gift
of God for the church," Boesak said.
Part of the confession
speaks of God as one who wants to bring justice and peace to the world.
"... God calls the church to follow him in this, for God brings justice
to the oppressed and gives bread to the hungry," the confession reads.
"The church too must
learn to stand where God stands," Boesak said.
Belhar gives voice to the
voiceless, he said. It wasn't born in the steeples of white power, but
with the socially disdained. It's not a product of esoteric academic
debate but instead speaks with the eloquence of the faithful.
There is some debate
about whether Belhar should be added to the PC(USA)'s Book of
In a June 2009 meeting of
the committee that will make recommendations to the GA, the Rev. Joseph
Small, director of the denomination's office of Theology Worship and
Education, outlined some possible barriers to including Belhar.
inclusivity and unity, and some could argue that it opens the door to
gay and lesbian ordination.
The Presbytery of
Sacramento has submitted an overture to the GA calling for discontinuing
efforts to add Belhar to the Book of Confessions, calling it "a complex
and somewhat confusing document, which some parties — theologians as
well as the ordained and laity — have attempted to use to press issues
other than racial equality."
Boesak said others have
questioned the value of Belhar. But he said that the church cannot voice
a doctrine that its life doesn't reflect.
The confession never
mentions the word "apartheid," Boesak said. It calls for reconciliation,
not revenge or hate, and expresses inclusion, unity and the lordship of
"The spirit in which
Belhar is offered is a spirit of obedience to Christ," he said. "It can
never be a spirit of condemnation of a group or a person.
"The inclusiveness of
Belhar reflects the inclusiveness of God in the embrace of Jesus
Christ," Boesak said.