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Embarking Blog

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Synod: Discussion on Belhar 1

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Here are some of the discussion points from the floor of General Synod 2009 regarding the Belhar Confession:

  • Language on reconciliation is not based strongly enough on the cross of Jesus Christ.
  • The Bible does allow and require us to deny membership to the church in some cases.
  • Belhar denounces the notion that one culture can have the power and rule at the expense of the many.
  • The RCA has not stepped up to the challenges of reconciliation, unity, and justice in times in the past when we have had the opportunity.  Therefore, this is long overdue.
  • The structure of the discussion has been framed over the past couple of dates has violated the value that all voices would be heard.  For instance, "Belhar is a gift," "there are two roads," "history will judge us by what we do with the Belhar."  We were not given time for concerns or dissent.  How we discuss things is an important as what we discuss.  (this phrase was one phrase which opened General Synod)
  • Confessing the Belhar will shape our children for the future.
  • The Belhar says too much and too little.  Too much:  "Therefore we reject any doctrine which explicitly or implicitly maintains that descent or any other human or social factor should be a consideration in determining membership of the church" the issue being with "human and social factor."  Same issue as bullet 2.  Too little:  "Anything which threatens unity may have not place in the church."  Suggestion of an amendment was made to remove the first and to change the second to "Anything contrary to the word of God."   This was ruled out of order by the President.  An argument was made that changing to inclusive language is a change, so why not these other pieces?  Response:  translation is different than modification.
  • Motion to table the Belhar until next Synod to come back with a "Canon of Hope" instead.  Failed.
  • Fear of the misuse of the Belhar is unfounded.  Example:  Canons or Dort antipathy against the Catholic church has not coerced the RCA agains the Catholic Church that could derive from the attitude espoused by the Canons of Dort.  Future General Synods can also lead us against any future coercive use of the Belhar if adopted.
  • Two key doctrines mission:  The Belhar is missing total depravity as the locus and reason for sins or racism and division and that the cross of Jesus as the fountain of all reconciliation and unity, and so potentially minimizes the power and teaching of the cross.
  • There are other ways to say not to racism without saying yes to the Belhar.
  • Argument against the idea that God is God of the poor in a "special way."  He is God of all.  "We believe that God, in a world full of injustice and enmity, is in a special way the God of the destitute, the poor and the wronged..."
  • Promotion of approving the Belhar alongside Song of Hope without accepting it as a doctrinal standard.  (this is one of the Overtures).
  • Concern about being perceived as rejecting the Belhar from those who agree with it, but do not want to raise it to confessional status.
  • Love your neighbor as yourself.
  • Faith in Jesus Christ is the sole requirement for membership.  We have to ask questions of true ethics, but true faith in Christ is what matters.
  • The poor have not greater claim to God's mercy than those who are rich.  Yet once we are united to Jesus Christ, we are called to do what Jesus Christ does.  The opening sermon Jesus gives in Luke 4 says that he was anointed to preach good news to the poor.  Can we do anything less?
  • Is this the time to pass the Belhar?  We've had world wars, apartheid, civil rights, and too often the church has been silent.
  • Question regarding President Elect James Seawood's comments that he doesn't believe race exists but is a social construct... and that our continued talk about it increases our racism.  Seawood responded and says he supports the Belhar and hopes we will take a risk.  "For me, the Belhar is very important because I believe that as we take a stand as a denomination to be more open, more multicultural, multiethnic, and open our doors for all of God's people, this kind of standard will be the kind of thing that will be embraced by the people of God, by all of humanity, and it will put us at a new place among God's churches.  I'm very, very excited about the Belhar and just pray that the holy spirit will move in this place today." James Seawood.

PS - Some think that Belhar is a Trojan horse for the introduction of changes in our theological stance on homosexuality.  The two big phrases people who are concerned about homosexuality are these:

"Therefore, we reject any doctrine which absolutizes either 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, or even leads to the establishment of a separate church formation" and

"Therefore, we reject any doctrine which explicitly or implicitly maintains that descent or any other human or social factor should be a consideration in determining membership of the church."


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