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Belhar Confession study receives approval

SAN JOSE, June 24, 2008 — Members of the General Assembly Theological Issues and Institutions Committee approved a recommendation on Tuesday from the Advocacy Committee on Racial Ethnic Concerns (ACREC) to “initiate the process described in G-18.0201b [Book of Order] by appointing a committee to consider amending the confessional documents of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to include the Belhar Confession in The Book of Confessions and to report to the 219th General Assembly (2010).”

The Belhar Confession emerged out of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa and speaks to the persistent reality of racism. It calls the church to unity and reconciliation as marks of faithfulness, the unity of God’s people in a prophetic witness of the gospel by confronting the sin of racism and the work of justice in church and society.

During the 216th General Assembly (2004), Presbyterians were called to confront the sin of racism and confess a heritage of injustice that continues to distort human relationships in the church and in the United States. The Assembly commended the Belhar Confession to the church as a resource for beginning a transformative dialogue as “a means of deepening the commitment of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to dealing with racism and a means of strengthening its unity” (Minutes, 2004, Part I, p. 701).

According to the rationale of the recommendation:

The Belhar Confession speaks to the worldwide realities of racism and calls the church to a deeper appreciation of the values of unity in diversity in relation to the divisions of race, culture and other facets of the human condition.

Including the Belhar Confession in The Book of Confessions would make an important witness to the unity of the church and a global ecumenical movement. As Presbyterians seek to become a multiracial, multicultural community of faith, this confession would add an important voice to our existing confessional documents — one that does not come through the historical experience of European and North American Church life. Adding the Belhar Confession would reflect a new awareness of the global nature of our faith and our unity with the Church.

As mandated by the 216th Assembly, the Belhar Confession study materials have only recently been made available. Staffing reductions and vacancies prevented the Office of the General Assembly and the General Assembly Council’s Office of Theology and Worship from carrying out the instructions of the 216th Assembly “to receive responses, prepare a summary, and report the results to … (this) 218th General Assembly (2008), together with possible recommendations for further engagement with the Belhar Confession.” Rather than refer Item 13-07 to the 219th General Assembly in 2010, the committee approved the recommendation.

In other actions, the committee approved Brian Blount as President of Union Theological Seminary/Presbyterian School of Christian Education and presented the Committee on Theological Education (COTE) Award for Excellence in Theological Education to Sara Covin Juengst, former Christian educator, missionary, author and Columbia Theological Seminary professor.