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Embarking Blog

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Filtering by Tag: justice

Synod: Discussion on the Belhar 2

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

  • We don't expect our confessions to be "complete" as theological statements.
  • This is not a "staff, top-down" process.  This work comes from us, the people of the RCA and delegates.
  • We need to pay more attention to how we treat all people inside and outside our doors.
  • The Belhar is a beginning, not an end.  Our actions will be more important than our words.
  • Racism is real.  The Belhar shows our shortcomings in how we treat those on the margins.  It calls the church to be the church it has never been.
  • Voting down this recommendation does not mean that the Belhar is removed.  There is another recommendation that will allow us to keep using it, but without exposing us to its possible dangers.
  • Clarification of Jim Brownson's statements requested about what "true faith in Jesus Christ is the only condition for membership of this church" (Belhar) means and if that is in contradition of the Belgic Confession, and whether that statement means the visible or invisible church.  Brownson responded "visible."
  • Argument that the confession is steeped in the cross of Jesus Christ.
  • All 24 seminarians voted yes in favor of the Belhar.  (GS3 is a group of seminarians who are here.  They don't have true voting privelege, but do have privilege of the floor.)  One reason was that the Belhar addresses issues that our current confessions do not.
  • Our reservations to change the Belhar are more about our training, than about how the Holy Spirit works in different people in different ways.
  • "I have been too afraid to preach about racism, but have been pricked to the heart."
  • The Belhar was written by those who suffer the most.  How could we, as people of privilege, think that we could change it to make it better?
  • Justice from Christ is a claim that comes from Scripture that we have never made, and it is about the unity of humanity, not even about racism.
  • "If anyone feels the Belhar will open the church to them, then I will vote for it."
  • I have separation, enmity, and division in my white homogenous congregation.  We need the Belhar to tell us how to act towards one another.  I need it in my family when anger and hurt and bitterness comes up.  I treat my children in ways that I shouldn't.
  • It's time for us to love all people in all conditions.
  • I have never spoke to anyone in the global south who spoke against the Belhar.
  • The risk of voting against outweighs the risk of voting for the Belhar.
  • The Belhar gives future generations an understanding not only what it means to be reformed, but what it means to be a child of God.
  • I need this for my ordination vows.  I need this to hold me accountable.
  • The RCA and others around the worldneeds to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in South Africa   to make this witness.

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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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      Summit: Session 2

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      from Willow Creek Leadership Summit 2008: Session 2, Gary Haugen, International Justice Mission, Just Courage: Charging the Darkness I can't remember when I first learned about Gary Haugen and the International Justice Mission.  I heard him at The Urbana Missions Conference back in 2000.  He was inspirational then, and has continued to be in my life.  Haugen wrote a book years ago now called The Good News about Injustice, which has been meaningful and foundation text in my life.  I haven't seen the most recent version, but when I read it, it was foundational to God's plan for dealing with justice in the world.  (see Gary's talk below)  I had the privelege once to meet him in Ann Arbor at small talk he did to law students at the Law Quad at the University of Michigan sponsored by Intervarsity and James Paternoster, I think.

      Leadership Matters

      Leadership that matters to God deals with issues that matter to God.  So, we need to ask ourselves the question, "Are Jesus and I really interested in the same things?  What is God passionate about?"

      Two fundamental, and unfamiliar passions of God

      1. God's passion for the world. (John 3:16)  The whole incarnation was motivated by God's passion for the world.  What's the hardest thing for our world to believe?  That God is good in the midst of all the pain.  What is God's plan for making it believable?  We are the plan, and God doesn't have another plan.
      2. God's passion for Jusice.  The Scripture is replete with passages about God's desire for justice.  (cf. Psalm 11; Micah 6)  "What if justice is not my thing?"  Then God says, "You're not my thing."

      But the work seems hopeless, scary and hard.  How do we lead in times when these are the circumstances?  Here is what IJM has learned in these times:

      • What have we learned with the task seems hopeless?  By recentering the basis of our hope.  When we focus our eyes on what we do, it leads to dispair.  Hope is recovered when we remember who God is.  If God is passionate about it, he's responsible for it, too.  Jesus asks when he feeds the 5000, "What do you have?" and then invites them to give it to him so that he can do the work through what they have.  Sometimes God is asking you to lead in a situation that seems hopeless and give Him what he have, and that the miracles are His job.
      • What have we learned with the task seems scary?  Jesus didn’t come to make us safe, he came to make us brave.  If my life isn’t scary, I might check if it’s really Jesus I’m following.  Jesus is asking us to lead out of lives of triviality through his passion for justice in the world.  The church today is too often like spending your day in the visitors center, safe, but missing the vigor and life of the real mountain.  "I sense among many of my Christian friends that we're on the journey with Jesus but we're missing the adventure."  God invites us to follow him beyond what we can control, and we will experience Him and His power, and His wisdom and His love.
      • What have we learned with the task seems hard?  God wants to take our strengths on a more demanding climb in which we will actually need Him.  Effective Leadership comes from  four choices:

        +Choosing not to be safe - this will be evidence in our prayer life because our prayerlife will demonstrate that we are out of control and actually need God.  We don't need God at the visitor's center.

        +Choosing deep spiritual health - the more demanding climb requires a higher level of spiritual health.  We can't do hard things without it.  Our devotional lives are boring in the safe, suburban suburb of the safe Christian life.  Our spiritual disciplines, on the demanding climb, have a desperate purpose.  Discipline turns into desperationObedience turns into urgency.  If you want to ignite purpose and passion in the people you lead, lead them to a place that is unsafe in which they need to depend on God.  Real justice in the world is that place.  Nothing will get done unless we take an hour doing nothing but seeking God.

        +Choosing excellence - the church is generally not known for excellence today.  That wasn't always the case.  In years past, the opposite was true.  As Christianity in the last century has moved into climate controlled cul-de-sacs, something has changed.  Rigourous of thought and excellence in execution matters, and in areas of justice it is often a matter of life or death.  Enough of the Christian adjusted scale of mediocrity.  It is bad for those we serve and for our own souls.

        +Choosing to see the joy - Dallas Willard:  "The first thing to disappear when spiritual health declines is laughter." [paraphrase]  It is humorous that God deploys such flawed and humorous people as us for His plan and his appeal to the world.  That's hilarious!!  Jesus came to bring us his joy, to make our joy complete, and to fill us up to overflowing with the joy of the Lord.

      If you think about what Hybels said about axioms, here is Haugen's leadership axiom: If you want your leadership to matter, lead in the things that matter to God.

      This all reminds me of a CS Lewis quote that talks about our contentment to make mupdies on the yard in exchange for what we could have - a vacation at the sea.  We are near-sighted, and we exchange the glorious, beautiful, amazing things that God has for us.  So, here's my own personal question:  why do I settle for comfortable, controlled-environment cul-de-sac Christianity instead of seeking the adventurous battle of hopeful, meaningful, and passionate journeying with Jesus as he ushers in his Kingdom of love, justice, and joy?

      "Your courage asks me, 'What am I afraid of?' Your courage asks me, 'What am I made of?'"


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