Last night at the 222nd General Assembly, the Presbyterian Church took the final step in approving the Belhar Confession. It is a wonderful document that came out of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa that takes a stand against racism, injustice, and disunity. It calls the Church to action as God’s instrument of reconciliation.
It now joins 11 other documents to become our 12th in the Book of Confessions. (Hey, I need to order a new Book of Confessions!). You know some of the others: Apostles’ Creed, Nicene Creed, Westminster Confession, a Brief Statement of Faith (OK, some of you may not know that last one).
Getting to the point of having a new confession is not easy! After a super-majority of the presbyteries approved Belhar over the last couple years – much like the process of getting a new amendment in our US Constitution – the last hurdle was a second vote of the General Assembly. Yesterday this confession finally “went live” after many years of discernment, deliberation, and votes.
Here is why I am excited about Belhar:
- It is the first non-European document in our Book of Confessions since the Apostles’ and Nicene Creed.
- It is a newer document, written in 1982, allowing God to speak again to us through new voices.
- Belhar is humble. It witnesses to some not-so-wonderful history in South African churches, and radiates and preaches to today – a witness for the greater Church. This confession, growing out of the church’s practice of apartheid and exclusionary practices of the church’s worship in South Africa, witnesses to how injustice emerged from distorted understandings of the sacraments and the unity of the church.
- Belhar confronts racism (which isn’t an issue at all in America. D’Oh!)
- Belhar is a conversation starter about how you see injustices in your community or own life.
- It is a cry of hope – and we need to learn how to cry out to God, instead of whining and complaining
- It takes a stand – which the Church needs to do an awful lot more of today
- It’s an ecumenical bridge, adopted by other Reformed Churches, and could help us celebrate similarities instead of always focusing on differences (which we PCUSA people seem so apt to do).
- It is flexible and wonderful for worship! See the Belhar Study Guide for ideas.
- It is prophetic – calling for social reconciliation and renewal
In our US culture reeling from the never-ending supply of mass shootings most recently Orlando, still seeking justice and transformation surrounding the quagmire that still is Ferguson, the Trayvon Martin tragedy, and any other number of injustices in our culture that seems to accept guns as the norm, Belhar echoes out to us!
Into this culture so politically divided, where mistrust, division, rancor, and where disunity seems to be celebrated, Belhar quietly calls the Church to action.
Into this culture which seems obsessed with its gun culture and is all too lackadaisical with violence, demonstrated and proven by the overly dismissive “thoughts and prayers” motif that riddles social media after every violent act, Belhar cries out! (I hate that stupid phrase btw – “thoughts and prayers” – which is really a signal of utter surrender and inaction, and which my friend John Pavlovitz recently called it the “social media cliché du jour from those wishing to appear moved without actually moving, those who want to feel good about feeling bad without any real response.”) To that culture, Belhar doesn’t allow us to sanitize the injustice anymore. It forces a mirror in front of the church’s eyes and says, “And what are you going to do about it?”
I love Belhar. And I hope over the next few years, it will grow on me even more – that God will shape me and challenge me through this document. My prayer is that the same happens for you too.
To check out the Belhar Confession or the Study Guide put out a few years ago, check out: