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     Two confessional views of the church today

For more news of the Presbyterian Church (USA) from 2010

'A different world is possible'

Accra Confession calls for economic, ecological justice

by Bethany Furkin, Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — April 29, 2010 — The Accra Confession  represents a ministry of ecological and economic justice, with the idea that a different world is possible, said the Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, president of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches.

Kirkpatrick spoke at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary's Festival of Theology & Reunion, held April 25-28.

WARC adopted the Accra Confession in 2004. It's not a doctrinal confession — it challenges economic doctrines that exclude the poor and vulnerable and deny God’s sovereignty.

Kirkpatrick, a former stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)' General Assembly and visiting professor of ecumenical and global ministries at LPTS, called the formation of the confession a "kairos moment" for the ecumenical community.

The WARC General Council met in Accra, Ghana, in 2004. During that time, participants studied the book of Ruth and heard from those who had suffered from loss of dignity, the affects of HIV/AIDS, genocide and global warming.

The economic systems that impoverish some while making others rich are "systems of evil," Kirkpatrick said.

At its heart, Accra is a series of affirmations of faith, such as the belief in God as the creator and sustainer of life, that God is a God of justice and that the public justice and peace ministries of Jesus attest to that God.

Kirkpatrick said that when he left Accra in 2004, he believed in the work done there but was unsure what would happen. He wondered if WARC was a match for the forces that sustain the global economic order.

"In the rest of the Global North, the Accra Confession was like a voice calling in the wilderness," he said.

But Kirkpatrick said he now sees a new openness to hearing the confession.

"I have a renewed hope that what was a kairos moment in Accra may yet be a kairos moment in the wider Christian community," he said, adding that economic issues have hit hard for many in the Global North.

It's becoming more clear that a global covenant for economic and ecological justice is needed, and that it's essential to "build up economies and ecologies that maintain life."

"Most of all, as always, we need to proclaim the gospel," Kirkpatrick said, adding that it's important to articulate biblical principles of justice and live these values as spiritual expression of the gospel.

"In a world where might makes right ... we are being called to build such Christian connections.

In Christ, a different world is possible," Kirkpatrick said. "This is the dream of the Accra Confession, and may it be our dream as well."

More on the Accra Confession
from the 2007 Witherspoon Global Mission Conference

Standing where God stands

Allan Boesak speaks of history, importance of Belhar Confession

by Bethany Furkin, Presbyterian News Service

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 Festival of 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 significance.

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 power.

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 said.

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 Confessions.

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.

Belhar espouses 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 Jesus.

"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.


Some blogs worth visiting


Voices of Sophia blog

Heather Reichgott, who has created this new blog for Voices of Sophia, introduces it:

After fifteen years of scholarship and activism, Voices of Sophia presents a blog. Here, we present the voices of feminist theologians of all stripes: scholars, clergy, students, exiles, missionaries, workers, thinkers, artists, lovers and devotees, from many parts of the world, all children of the God in whose image women are made. .... This blog seeks to glorify God through prayer, work, art, and intellectual reflection. Through articles and ensuing discussion we hope to become an active and thoughtful community.


Witherspoon’s Facebook page

Mitch Trigger, Witherspoon’s Secretary/Communicator, has created a Facebook page where Witherspoon members and others can gather to exchange news and views. Mitch and a few others have posted bits of news, both personal and organizational. But there’s room for more!

You can post your own news and views, or initiate a conversation about a topic of interest to you.


John Harris’ Summit to Shore blogspot

Theological and philosophical reflections on everything between summit to shore, including kayaking, climbing, religion, spirituality, philosophy, theology, politics, culture, travel, The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), New York City and the Queens neighborhood of Ridgewood by a progressive New York City Presbyterian Pastor. John is a former member of the Witherspoon board, and is designated pastor of North Presbyterian Church in Flushing, NY.


John Shuck’s Shuck and Jive

A Presbyterian minister, currently serving as pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton, Tenn., blogs about spirituality, culture, religion (both organized and disorganized), life, evolution, literature, Jesus, and lightening up.


Got more blogs to recommend?

Please send a note, and we'll see what we can do!


Plan now for our 2010 Ghost Ranch Seminar!


July 26-August 1, 2010



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