Belhar—Up, Down or Sideways?

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I first read the Belhar Confession when our family was serving with Christian Reformed World Missions in Venezuela between 1984 and 1986. I don’t know how often I’ve read it since then, but it has always been with appreciation and gratitude to the South Africans for presenting this on both their and the larger community of Reformed churches’ tables over the years. The Belhar echoed deeply and harmoniously in the atmosphere in Latin America then. Its main theme of reconciliation in Christ reaches far more deeply into cross-cultural relationships between developed and developing world Christians than its flashpoint theme of apartheid. The Belhar gained attention in many Latin American ecclesiastical bodies and local congregations for its bold biblically resonant address to gospel-related social issues. Not all agreed; but all did benefit from being exposed to it.

So, I was pleased to see Belhar gradually find (some would say worm) its way into the minds and hearts of many Christian Reformed people over the better part of the last decade. I took part in round table discussions both locally and regionally about the Belhar long before it was officially placed on synod’s agenda by Ecumenical and Inter-Church Relations Committee in recent years.

Belhar has now officially toured the denomination for three years before this synod’s official discussion. In 2012 it reached the agenda prematurely via an overture from Classis Niagara; that overture was thoroughly reworked this year and appears as Overture 27 in this year’s printed Agenda. In all 35 overtures from classes, a few churches and individuals address Belhar this year, with one more published in the recently posted Supplement.

The overtures display a wide range of well-argued thought surrounding Belhar. There does not seem to be any clear line-up of opinion following geographical lines within the CRC. The positions argued are literally “all over the map.”  Three classes support it as a fourth confession. Ten overtures propose adopting it as a “Testimony,” in the same category with Our World Belongs to God. Fifteen overtures advocate not adopting the Belhar as a confession, with several  not wishing it to be a part of CRC documentation at all. Two classes and one congregation propose delaying decision on Belhar, offering different means for continuing discussion: recommit to the churches or appoint a study committee. The remaining overtures take slightly different tacks in the confessional wind by wishing to appreciate the Belhar without adopting it or consider a new category of confessional conversation in which to place it.

All that could lead one to consider that synods debate could deteriorate into Belhar confusion.

What route, if any, will the CRC take? I am not a prophet, but only the son of an accountant. So, I will not predict an outcome. But I will be bold to suggest that the following process will unfold: the advisory committee will consider all the overtures. It will consider dividing into minority and majority, one favouring dismissal of Belhar, another (which, I dare not say) opting for adoption as a testimony. Rumours will percolate during coffee and meal breaks. After several days, the committee will present a unified report (again, I won’t say for which option). There will be no big surprise, but no one will have won. There will be relief, but not great satisfaction. There will be thanks for a long, interesting and not totally predictable debate. The delegates will thank God for wisdom granted, for thorough discussion—and return home united, respected and respectful, if not homogeneous.

And what will the rest of the Reformed churches hear, think and say after our decision?

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When reading/counting overtures on the Belhar, there may not be "any clear line-up of opinion following geographical lines within the CRC," but there certainly is a very clear line-up on opinion on whether or not to adopt the Belhar as a confession.

Here's the bottom line (using numbers from this articles): of the 35 overtures, only three support adopting the Belhar as a fourth confession.  That's only 8.6% (3 divided by 35).  All other overtures (91.4%) explicitly or implicitly reject adopting the Belhar as a fourth confession.  I would also argue that these positions are not, as suggested, "all over the map."  I would suggest, being part of the process in my own classis, that many, perhaps most, of the overtures that propose adopting the Belhar as a testimony or "something else" were drafted/passed in order to offer a compromise, not as the classes' first choice position. The logic goes as follows: if we just say "no," maybe Synod will pass the Belhar as a confession, but if we say "no as a confession, but OK to pass it as a testimony," it might lessen the chances that the Belhar will be passed as a confession because it "offers a compromise."

I also am not a prophet, just a lawyer, but one who has spent many years providing advice to churches (CRC and otherwise) who are in "split" situations or having major controversy.  Based on that, I don't want to predict either re the Belhar, but I would suggest that Synod 2012 would be so, so unwise to adopt the Belhar as the denomination's one-of-four foundational statements when 90%+ of the membership, calculating by extrapolating classical overtures, do not want that.  Indeed, I would suggest it would be dramatically unwise not to REQUIRE at least a two-thirds majority for adopting a foundational confession.  If a church or any other organization is constantly battling to get 51% of the votes on matters as important/foundational as these, that church/organization is asking to be in near-constant internal conflict. Which is a more than a bit of where the CRCNA is these days.

 

I totally agree, Doug! I wonder what percantage vote will be required if it does come to a vote (which I doubt it will). For the sake of unity, those in favor and those opposed should both agree it needs to be 2/3.

I also appreciate your assessment of this article's muddying the waters on classical support/rejection of the Belhar as a confession. Let's begin with a simple question. Should we adopt the Belhar as a 4th confession? The answer has been a resounding, "No!" Synod 2012 should at least affirm this truth. After this, we can sort out how we will handle the Belhar once its status as a possible confession is taken off the table.

Thanks to Doug and Mark for your wise comments!  I hope the synodical delegates read them.

It's interesting to me that in all of this speculation about what Synod may do, no one has mentioned prayer and reliance on the Holy Spirit. This is particularly strange since Synod is a deliberative assembly, called to meet to open itself to the voice and leading of God. Everyone seems to know what to do with the Belhar but no one seems to want to ask God what he wants us to do with it. Let's check our opinions at the door, create space for God, and ask him for direction.

Harry Weidenaar

Community Builder

With respect, I don't know why one would presume that Synod has some sort of monopoly, or even is specially gifted, to pray, or seek reliance upon the Holy Spirit, or to open itself to the voice and leading of God.  Nor do I understand why one would presume that those opposed to the adopting the Belhar, probably including over 90% of classical delegates, have not prayed, or sought reliance upon the Holy Spirit, and have not opened themselves to the voice or leading of God, regarding the Belhar.

There was a nationwide tour lead by Peter Borgdorf among CRC membership in which he explained, even pitched for, the adoption of the Belhar.  His doing so, and the actions of those members who came to those meetings, as well as those who didn't but have engaged themselves in the discussions and deliberations a prior synod has requested members engage in, should not be presumed to have been done withoug reliance upon the Holy Spirit that "only delegates to Synod can do."  Again, respectfully, that is an offensive idea and assertion (if only by implication).

In the reformed tradition, we have come to believe in the priesthood of the believer.  I'm a bit astounded by the suggestion that regardless of what CRC members say, by whatever numbers, delegates to synod know better (or are "more guided by the Holy Spirit") just because they are delegates to synod and so are able to invoke God's guidance in ways mere members cannot. This smacks of Romanism, something quite foreign to the reformed tradition, and, in my mind, is a violation, as least in spirit, of our own Church Order Article 85, which suggests that holders of office ought not "lord it over" others in the CRC.

This perspective particularly concerns me because Synod has been reduced to one week (I was at Synod 1992 and two weeks was too short for true deliberation), and because the denominational beauracracy has expended considerable effort "pitching for" the Behlar (Exhibit A is the rather well done multimedia pitch video hosted by the CRC website, not to mention the Borgdorf tour).  If synodical deliberation was the only way to invoke the guidance of the Holy Spirit, why cut its deliberation time in half?

I would suggest that denominational decisions, even those as fundamental as choosing our foundational confessions, are increasingly made from the top down, without regard to the perspective of the bottom up (which I would argue is as guided by the Holy Spirit as that from the top down).  In that sense, the better question to ask here is whether synodical delegates believe they should seek private and special counsel from the Holy Spirit as to the Belhar and disregard the deliberations of the members (the bottom up) has having any meaning at all. 

Interestingly, my church was the first in the denomination that (un-named) attempted to rip from the denomination in the early 1990's (over WICO).  What was astounding to me was the pronouncement of the elders who were inclined to follow the lead of (un-named).  In an attempt to justify actions I would described here with particularity, they confidently pronounced that they were only responsible to God for their decisions.  Very high sounding of course (although it also sounded like a cult), and a claim that silenced the voices of many, but that perspective resulted in little more than an excuse for disregarding the voices and perspectives around them (not to mention rules they had covenanted to follow).  Should the delegates to Synod 2012 decide they have a monopoly on God's guidance, refuse to give due respect to the voices and perspectives of CRC members, they will be a bit like the elders of my church back in the early 1990's.  (Don't misunderstand -- I don't believe 2012 delegates will do that).

If the CRCNA's top-down does not want to listen to its bottom-up, including lowly members who hold no office, it will, in my mind, have rejected the guidance of the Holy Spirit, not to mention Christ's constant reminders that the kingdom of heaven is upside down when viewed by worldly perspective.

Note that the Belhar is solidly biblical.  No argument on that point at all.

Second: None of our creeds or confessions are intended to stand alone.  Therefore we should not hold the Belhar to a standard to which we do not hold any of the creeds or confessions that now define us.  Should the Belhar become a fourth confession, it belongs to the package we already have.

Third: The South African church holds to the same confessions we now have in the CRC and in spite of that it took the road of apartheid.  It is highly unlikely that such a position could have been adopted had the Belhar been one of its confessions when it assumed that unblblical position.

Fourth: Put yourself in the place of minority persons who have suffered from rejection and injustice.  My opinion is that if I were in their shoes, I would be highly in favor of adopting the Belhar as a confession in the CRC.

Fifth:  Today the CRC is afflicted by a declining membership.  Many young folks drop out of church.  It is often stated that a significant reason for dropping out is the perception that the message of the church is no longer relevant.  We may counter that the three forms of unity are relevant.  I agree with that.  However, we appear to be talking past each other. One says the confessions are relevant and others disagree.  But add the Belhar to the package we already have and we are back on the front page where the action is.  There is nothing irrelevant about the biblical call that we be committed to unity, reconciliation and justice.  This blblical emhasis is well defined when such truths are recognized as flowing out of the confessions we already have.  We need the Belhar to stay alive and vibrant in today's broken world.  Al Hoksbergen

Community Builder

Al: Responding:

First: I understand arguing that the Belhar is biblical.  I don't understand, or even consider credible, the suggestion that there is "no argument" that the Belhar is biblical.  That's like Al Gore saying this is no argument about anthropogenic global warming alarmism.

Second: I don't get your second point.  Even if we assume for the sake of the argument that none of our confessions aren't intended to stand alone (I actually think both the Belgic and HC do that pretty good job), I don't understand that as an argument for what we need to adopt a rather poorly written document that has some highly objectionable points (e.g., God is not THE God of the poor and oppressed, but rather of all).

Third: Do you seriously think the CRCNA is in danger of supporting apartheid if we don't adopt the Belhar?  It may be that for the South African church, passage of the Belhar was needed as a very wordy way of saying "racism is a sin," but they could and can do that without pushing on other churches the same wordy confession that says so much more than "racism is a sin."

Fourth: All kinds of people, majority and minority, suffer from rejection and injustice.  Indeed, one of the problems with the Belhar, and it's advocates, is the implicit assumption that racism is a seething foundational motivation for nearly all injustice.  Injustice is injustice, and the Belhar doesn't help make that clear, as perhaps illustrated by you own point four.

Fifth: Ah, this is the real reason I think most pro-Belhar folks want to see the Belhar passed -- it's seen as "progressive" and that's a good thing because it is presumed that "young people like progressive."  I'm glad the CRC didn't take that approach in the 1960's with what was progressive/fashionable then, nor should it now.  You suggest we can solve our declining membership by  adding "the Belhar to the package we already have and we are back on the front page where the action is."  Even if we could (although I don't think we can), that's simply not a reason to adopt the Belhar.  I think you are looking for a form of denominational salvation in a place where it cannot be found.  Indeed, I think passage of the Belhar would have the opposite effect, membership-wise, from what you presume, as suggested by the 90% of classical overtures for NOT adopting the Belhar.  The Accra Confession (sequel to the Belhar, adopted by WCRC) is really cutting edge.  Should we adopt that too?

There are quite a number of churches that are not moving in a so-called "progressive" direction that are doing just fine, and indeed much better, membership-wise, than the CRC.  And in reality, very few churches of the reformed perspective have adopted the Belhar.  Do you really think we have to be out in front with progessive doctrinal fashion in order to save ourselves from membership decline?  I'm baffled by that sort of thinking.  I actually think the opposite, although I also think it is far more important to be faithful than fashionable, regardless the membership effects.

Participant

in response to Al's last sentence... We need the power of the Spirit to stay alive and vibrant in today's broken world, which His power seems to be lacking to some debatable extent in the crc for a variety of reasons.

Al Hoksbergen, by saying that there is no argument at all that the Belhar is biblical, you have reduced your credibility.  If you have been paying attention, you will have noticed that there is indeed an argument that the Belhar is making statements and arguments that are definately not biblical.   Two places where it makes non-biblical statements is 1.  where it says that God is a special God of the poor and oppressed (implying not so special for the wealthy and blessed, such as Job, or King David, or Nicodemus).  2.  where it says that there should be no distinctions made for any human, social or other characteristics (implying that we can make no judgements about behaviour or lifestyles).  

It is difficult to see how adopting a confession that only highlights what we are already generally doing, fifty or one hundred fifty years after the fact, will in fact change declining membership, or change the attitude of anyone who has already decided to ignore the confessions. 

As a society, this is not where the action is;  we are so far past this action, that we do not even know its history very well.

If this warrants a confession, then a more pertinent confession, more relevant, more "today's action" would be a confession that specifically refers to abortion, divorce, child custody, broken families, paedo communion, unity and separation with baptists and pentecostals,  creation care, drug use,  pornography, islam, bahai, use of the internet, etc.   These are the issues of where the action is at.   These are the issues of difficulty.   These are the issues of relevance. 

If unity, and racial and ethnic diversity and equality are really serious issues that require their own "confession", more than what is already clearly indicated in existing confessions, then we should write a confession that really deals with these issues from a biblical perspective rather than a human rights perspective.   We should write something much better than the Belhar, and write it from a relevant, modern day, north american perspective, with a truly biblical foundation.  More careful use of words, and a better thought out holistic perspective should be used. 

But by and large, this would not be a good use of our limited resources, to focus on such an old issue in this way. 

Take this South African statement as information.  Appreciate its intent.  Express our unity with most of its intent.  Realize its context.  But do not adopt it as a defining legal statement for our denomination. 

The Bible (first) and Heidelberg Catechism (second) are totally sufficient for fighting racism in all forms.

One other omission from this discussion is the centrality of the Gospel. The HC spells it out clearly throughout but most explicitly in Lord's Days 1 & 7. The Belgic Confession tells the Gospel in Articles 20 & 21.   The Canons of Dort articulates it very clearly in Article 7. The Gospel is nowhere to be found in the Belhar. There is some language about the Triune God and corporate reconciliation, but not a word about sinners saved by grace through faith in Jesus. The Belhar Confession is a fine document, but it doesn't address Gospel issues. It troubles me that this has not been discussed more often when dealing with the Belhar's confessional status.

Participant

I just want to say that I think John Cooper nails this whole arguement on the head in his paper "Affirm the Belhar?  Yes, But Not as a Doctrinal Standard."  His points as to why it does not fit a doctrinal standard are excellent.  The Belhar is certainly more a declaration than a confession which is a totally different genre.  It is missing key components to be a confession and is so ambiguous that other faith communities have used it to support their agendas in ways we would not appreciate.

And I'm with Mark that just because we may not adopt it as a confession does not thereby suggest that we are in support of racism and such injustice.  I think the issue will be whether or not it holds the same clout as a confession.  It's ambiguity would suggest otherwise since it can only be understood in the light of the Gospel teachings of the confessions. It is not strong enough to stand on its own as a confession.

Spectacular about Cooper's analysis of the Belhar is his missing the point. The genius of the Belhar is its call to fellow Reformed Christians, all of whom confess the Three Forms of Unity, not to compromise the gospel. In the opinion of the authors and signers of the Belhar the Dutch Reformed Church was accommodating the gospel to the prevailing culture of apartheid rather than reforming the culture by the good news of the kingdom. The result was that the gospel was being robbed of its power, injustice continued unchallenged, and fellow Christians remained intractable and unrepentant. In his Banner article Cooper is silent about this.
Someone alleged in this conversation that the Belhar taught contrary to the Bible when it said that God is in a special way the God of the poor. Really? In his teaching in Mattew 25 Jesus speaks about feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing thos who need it, visiting the sick, comforting those in prison, Thes people qualified as the poor in Jesus' day. They qualify as poor in our own (most people in prison in th USA are black and poor). Then he says if you did these things to them, you did it to him, and if you didn't do these things to them, you go to hell even if you say "Lord! Lord!" or can recite the Three Forms of Unity by rote. It seems then that Jesus has a massive preference for the poor.
The suggestion that we have dealt with racism in this country, that it is a thing of the past, and we should move on is preposterous. Has the person who made this statement talked with African Americans, Navajos, Hispanics, Koreans, and other minorities in the CRCNA to find out how the feel? Has the Banner published a lot of minority voices on the Belhar? Hmm!
For Synod to receive the Belhar as a testimony would be, in my opinion, the worst thing it could do. It would be a public relations nightmare. A testimony doesn't have the status of a confession, so we're we to accept the Belhar as a testimony, we would ion effect be saying to people of color that they have a place in the CRCNA: their place is in the balcony.

Harry weidenaar

Community Builder

Harry: Do you really want to say, "Jesus has a massive preference for the poor"?  Really?  Honestly, that blows me away.  Beyond that, it even more persuades me that the CRCNA passing the Belhar as anything would be so deterimental to the CRCNA.  If we did, there would be people saying, hey, even our own confession (or testimony or declaration or affirmation or whatever) says God prefers poor people over rich people (or even not so poor people), which means that we should ________________, and that we should not _________________, merely based on economic status.  Again, wow!

Don't get me wrong on this.  I've quoted Matthew and the parable that concludes with "inasmuch as you have done to the least of these, you have done to me" more often than I can count.  I choose to live in what is arguably the poorest area of my city (including highest percentage of hispanic and black that our town has).  I personally do more work (and spend more dollars) for the sake of my neighborhood (especially those who are poor and of other races) than I do for any other cause. But to say that God (Jesus or the Father) "massively prefers" (even "prefers") the poor over others??

Let me suggest a book, not written by a Christian (I don't think at least), but informative notwithstanding.  It's "Stuff White People Like," and it has a sequel, "Whiter Shades of Pale."  It's not just about white or black or brown, or about race or ethnicity, but about a certain kind of current zeitgeist. I think there is a lot of what these books talk about (in a humorous but still real way) in certain parts of our denomination.  Certainly, not the majority (in fact this particular zeitgeist dominants in only a distinct minority in the CRCNA) but it includes many who have power positions in the CRCNA.  It's a zeitgeist that makes certain kinds of people (WASPs) feel horribly guilty about their lives in a lefty political kind of way, and respond in fashionable, knee-jerk kinds of ways (white is bad, any amount of wealth is bad, affirmative action is good, private sector economics is bad, government aid is good, etc etc etc). I'm amazed at how much of that I'm seeing in the CRCNA (at least in some influencial parts).

Doug, You lost me. Is your argument that you've quoted Mt 25 often, that you've done tons for the poor, the elites in the CRCNA are under the influence of a liberal zeitgeist from which they can recover only by reading Christian Lander's latest tongu in cheek opus, therefore Synod needs to reject the Belhar. Seriously? Here's a suggestion on how to deal with the Belhar. When faced with a contentious problem that could rip the nascent church in two, the apostles in Acts 6 turned the problem over to the complainers to solve. Let Synod follow this example by giving the "Belhar matter" over to a committee composed of Black and Reformed, Hispanics (Lugo and people of his choice), Navajos (under the lead of Stanley Jim) and Koreans. Tell them to consult the Holy Spirit, pray often, make a decision, and the church will embrace it. Harry

Community Builder

Harry.  No, my argument is that if we conclude "Jesus has a massive preference for the poor," it's got to be something other than what we've understood to be a reformed hermeneutical process that gets us to that conclusion.

Acts 6?  The apostles choosing 'deacons' to pay more attention to providing for the widows of Hellenistic Jews?  And you say these deacons were the complainers?  And that the apostles appointed them as deacons because they were complainers?

OK, I'm back to recommending "Stuff White People Like."  I'm persuaded that if Christian Landers did a "White CRC" version of his book, the Belhar and Accra Confessions would be high on the list of "things liked."

I would genuinely like to see a defense of the the assertion "Jesus has a massive preference for the poor,"  as would quite a few classical overture authors.  Acceptanance of that  doctrinal point, assuming it means what the words seem to me, would pretty dramatically and foundationally change the reformed tradition.

Harry Weidenaar, its interesting that in Matthew 25, Jesus is not talking to the poor, but He is talking to those who are rich, or are at least richer than the poor.  He is not commanding the poor to do anything;  He is giving thanks and appreciation to the rich for demonstrating their love.  He is not commenting on how the poor ought to love, nor even about his relationship to the poor.   Only about how the rich demonstrate their love for Christ, by helping those who are less fortunate.  Would Christ do this if He did not care about those who were rich? 

Matthew 25 's message is about how to show the love of Christ.   To give to those who cannot pay back, rather than currying the favor of the rich and powerful.   This is how the wealthy and powerful can demonstrate that they belong to God.  And interestingly, this is also how the poor themselves can also demonstrate that they love God and belong to Him.  Because there is always someone who has a need greater than your own if you have eyes to see. 

Does God love the poor more than He loves the rich?   Did God love the poor widow more than the prophet Elijah?  Who was rich and who was poor in that case?  Did God love King David less than the people that David ruled and helped, ie. the lame son of Jonathan who under normal circumstances might have been mistreated or killed?   Did God love king Hezekiah less?   Did God love Abraham less?  Did God love Jacob less?   Moses?  Nicodemus?   According to your interpretation, God was not a special God to them? 

Of course God loves the poor also!   But not because they are poor.   Rather because they are also his creation, His children.   Do you think that a poor man who detests and hates God and curses and rejects Jesus Christ will be saved by his poverty?   By his race?   By his gender?   By his age?   I don't think you believe that. 

The rich centurion and the poor samaritan woman were both loved by Christ, and were equal in the gift of faith received from God.  God loved them both, and I daresay God would not be pleased to hear someone say that he loved one more than the other based on some human materialistic criteria. 

Participant

 

I have discovered that in my discussions over the Belhar with people across North America, but mostly in the US there is a strong group with a Liberation theology stand.  Very dangerous for sure.

I'm not saying you are Harry W. but as John points out some of your points of arguement ride that line.

Harry, I have already replied to your allegation about Matthew 25.  But I wish to respond to a couple other points you made as well.   You wonder whether I have talked with Afro-americans, aboriginals, Koreans, etc.  I have just come from a weekend retreat where staff and board members of christian radio stations come together to share experiences and trials and God's blessings.  One of the ladies there was chinese born, married to a Swede who speaks many languages.  Another couple was Indian (Hindu origin), the wife from a Christian family, the husband a born-again christian from a strong hindu family.  Others there were of Ukranian origin, or low german ancestry, or English, or American background.   It takes awhile to get used to different cultures, regardless of the color of skin.   We have adopted an aboriginal girl, and my children have adopted a "black" child from Haiti, and three children from Russia.   I work with people from the Sudan, Pakistan, South Africa, and other southern hemisphere people.  I've met and admired strong native christians in Dominican Republic and Mexico.  Our church could benefit greatly from the excitement and strong trusting faith exhibited by people of other cultures.    But the belhar is not the answer nor the solution to a kind of natural inclination to seek out people who are similar to ourselves.   The belhar merely states things that we already know about the equality of peoples, along with some things that are basically incorrect and unbiblical, mixing truth with falsehood.  

At a theoretical level, people understand that people are equal.  At a practical level, we also know as you said, that most people in prison in  the USA are poor and black, and in Canada are aboriginal and poor.  That culture and background influences our acceptance levels.   But in a way, it is not really merely about race.   The issue is fear, and our worship of our false gods of convenience and materialism.  When we are more concerned about getting a scratch on our shiny new car, or about hearing non-classical music,  or about a house-style that doesn't fit in the neighborhood,  than we are about the eternal salvation of our aboriginal neighbor or our Indonesian waitress or mexican mechanic, then we have an indication of where our heart is at. 

Good preaching, and a better understanding of scripture, and a better awareness that it was Jews and Greeks and Africans and Asians and Romans who were the original church, not Northern European caucasians, would go much further to helping our understanding of how God works with various peoples.  

You guys are a hoot! You've feigned surprise, warned me of the dangers of liberation theology, and suggested darkly that my hermeneutic may not be reformed. Does this stuff really work on people? In Acts 9 Jesus asks, Paul, Paul, why are you persecuting me?" thus identifying himself with the church. In Matthew 25 Jesus says, "Inasmuch as you've done it to the least of these, you've done it to me," thus identifying himself with a class of people I referred to as the poor. In addition in Mt 25 the Lord says that one's eternal weal or woe depends on how one has treated those with whom he identifies. I take him to mean that a saving faith in him will inevitably show itself in seeing others and serving them as he did himself. Absence of service indicates absence of saving faith. What you guys need to do is show how Jesus' identification in the Acts passage is different from his identification in the Matthew passage. Otherwise, your case falls to the ground. You need to need to make a compelling case, and I sorry, John, your interpretation of Mt 25 is neither cogent nor convincing. Without it it seems that you're opposing the Belhar on this issue because of prejudice and not principle. One other matter: if it is the case that the Belhar was written within the context of the Three Forms of Unity and the main point of the Belhar is to oppose the acculturation of the gospel to the sociology and practice of apartheid, it seems obvious why the Belhar does not summarize the gospel. The people to whom the Belhar was addresses knew the gospel and confessed it in the Forms of Unity. They just didn't live their confession. The Belhar calls upon the to not only acknowledge the gospel but live it as well. At a time in SouthAfrican history when some black leaders were singing "Bring Me My Machine Gun," the Belhar folks did the Christ-like thing: They appealed to their white brothers and sisters to stop their persecution, stop compromising the gospel, let the gospel speak to them again in all of its power, and begin living by the teachings of Jesus. This took real courage for the Belhar was written when the whites were still in power and apartheid was the order of the day. I loved to see the CRCNA adopt the Belhar as a fourth confession because when my kids and grand kids ask about it, I want to be able to tell the this contemporary Hebrews 11 story of faith. Harry Weidenaar

Community Builder

Harry: You say "us guys" (the 'hooty ones') have "warned [you] of the dangers of liberation theology..." and have "suggested darkly that [your] hermeneutic may not be reformed." 

I'm actually at a point bit farther.  I intend to say this with respect, and I actually assume you already know (??), but your thinking, at least if it is accurately reflected in what you post, is liberation theology.  Not at the fringe, not in danger of, but is.  Why do I say that?  Because the essence of liberation theology is viewing Scripture through an interpretive paradigm in which the assumed overriding and foundational theme of Scripture is the liberation of people from political/economic oppression and injustice.  The political/economic aspect of life becomes absolutized (to use a Dooyeweerdian concept) and becomes a defining filter for all (or at least nearly all) interpretive/hermenutical activity.

Outside the church (and pre-existing "liberation theology" historically), Karl Marx developed (using a bit from Hegel but also in reaction to what he saw resulting from events during the early industrial revolution) a similar kind of perspective, that is, one that absolutized the political/economic aspect of life, and so was the definition filter for all truth.  Marx was no friend of Christianity, however, describing religion as an opiate that just confuses and misleads.  Thus, when the same sort of perspective took hold within the church (so-called "liberation theology," which began in the Roman Catholic tradition), it was also referred to as neo-Marxism (a new Marxism -- a "christianized marxism" ).  My best example of modern day liberation theology/neo-Marxism is Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas, whose revolution against the Somozan  government in Nicaragua gained the support of those within the (RC) liberation theology tradition.

As a historical matter, when the liberation theology perspective filtered into protestant traditions, it more often went by (and goes by) the labels "social gospel" or "social justice."

I suspect you will chastise me for articulating this history but I do so because the Belhar isn't the only something here with a story/history behind it, and to encourage you to understand the broader perspective of those opposed to the Belhar.  We are not opposed to the Belhar because it condemns racism.  This one document (Belhar) says multiple things, but is being pushed as a whole package.  Condemning racism is an easy thing to agree on, but the Belhar does much more than that, as is made a lot more clear by reading also the Accra Confession, which is big sister to the Belhar and useful in confirming the liberation theology (aka "social gospel", "social justice", neo-Marxist) perspective written into the Belhar.

Let me be clear about this too.  I do not consider someone who is of a liberation theology perspective to necessarily not be a brother or sister in Christ, as severely as I might disagree with their perspective on how to read Scripture.  I think one can be of a liberation theology perspective (or a neo-Marxist if you will) and still hold to the Apostles Creed type truths that mark one as essentially "Christian."  But the question involved with regard to the adoption of the Belhar is much more than "can one hold to all the statements in the Belhar and still be a Christian?"  The question is whether the CRCNA should adopt it, given the CRCNA's present and past hermeneutical/confessional perspective.  Some might say the CRCNA should essentially jettison its historical perspective and buy fully into the liberation theology / social gospel / social justice / neo-Marxist narrative.  That causes me to shiver and cringe, but some others to smile with genuine delight.  And indeed, the CRCNA can be said to have done just that in some ways by choosing to affiliate/align itself with the WCRC (World Council of Reformed Churches), which is very clearly of that (liberation theology / social gospel / social justice / new-Marxist) perspective.

In a real way, the argument over the Belhar does represent an argument over whether the the CRCNA will depart of its fundamental, historic theological perspective and move to a new one.  I think you want to move to that new perspective (given the contents of your posts), although I could be misreading you.  I don't.  Hopefully (in my mind at least), delegates to Synod will realize what they would be choosing if they were to adopt the Belhar.  This isn't just a tweak on CRCNA perspective but a foundational shift.  Again, examining the Accra and the WCRC helps to illuminate that.

Community Builder

Harry: If you want to tell your kids and grandkids the story of faith as exhibited by some in the Dutch church, by all means, do that, along with tens or thousands of other stories of faith by good people deciding to do right throughout all of human history.  Some of these stories are in Scripture, many (most) are not.

But why does the CRCNA have to adopt a confession for you to tell that story, especially when that confession includes assertions that of supposed "truths" that are in contradiction to Scripture?  The adage, "hard cases can make bad law" applies here.

I'm still waiting for a defense of the statement, "Jesus has a massive preference for the poor."  Abraham was pretty favored (preferred), yet not poor.  Lot was pretty poor, yet not particularly favored (preferred).

Harry, if I am a "hoot", then I am perhaps an owl.... considered by some to be "wise"... so thankyou. 

Of course Jesus identified with the poor.  No question about that.  But that doesn't mean that he did not also identify with the rich.  Such as Zacheus, the rich centurion, with King David, Joseph, Abraham, Job.   He identified with people, not with a class of people.  Absolutely I agree that an absence of service indicates an absence of faith and love.  That is the real point of Matt 25, so you got that right.  I don't think I really need to make a compelling case, since I am not proposing a new confession.  The proponents need to make a compelling case, which they and you have not done.   Your interpretations of the passage seem to be out of context of the rest of scripture.   This seems to be a case of making a half-truth into an absolute, and in this case the absolute is false, as we have already demonstrated. 

I can only demonstrate by my personal life that I oppose this being adopted as a north american confession not by prejudice, but on principle of scripture being understood in its fulness. 

If this issue is so pertinent, and if this issue is not a political issue, and if this issue is not mere public relations, then you need to explain why we are picking on this issue rather than more significant and relevant issues such as the issue of abortion.  If mistreatment of other races, ethnicities, nationalities is so important (I do think it is important...)   then is not the issue of abortion even more important?   Who is more poor, more helpless, more discriminated against than the unborn?  Who is more hated, neglected and abused?   In Canada alone, 100,000 unborn are not just relegated to the balcony in churches as you put it, but are stuffed into the garbage bins of society each year.  Not just to be discriminated against in various subtle ways, but to have their lives snuffed out.   Does this not deserve a confession? 

What about the issues of serving other gods, worldly ideals?   Is this not a much larger threat to the significance of the church?   Has this not led to a much more significant diminishment of church participation and church membership?   Where is our specific new confession on that issue? 

Where is our confession on the evils of homosexuality, pornography, or divorce, or single parent families?   Are these not at least equal if not greater threats to our profession of faith, to our christian lifestyles, to our christian witness?  

What about the threat of Mormonism, Islam, or Bahai?   Where is our confession to counter these three cults which threaten to swamp and persecute Christians of all races in all nations? 

The Belhar mentions unity of peoples or races.   But what of the unity among Christians?  It says: "Therefore, we reject any doctrine which absolutises either natural diversity or the sinful separation of people in such a way that this absolutisation hinders or breaks the visible and active unity of the church, or even leads to the establishment of a separate church formation; "   ... does this mean that different denominations are not permitted, such as the distinction  between CRC and ORC, or between CRC and Baptist churches?   Is this statement well written?   

 Why is the issue of the Belhar so much more significant than these others that I mention?  The onus is on you to demonstrate this also. 

The lack of the Belhar is not stopping you from telling the Hebrews 11 story or stories.  It certainly has not stopped me from doing that. 

Community Builder

Harry: I'll exegete Matt 25 when you first respond to my earlier (repeated) request of you, to defend your assertion that "Jesus has a massive preference for the poor."

The ultimate irony of this conversation is that the purpose of the Belhar Confession is UNITY. Whether or not Synod 2012 approves the Belhar it will lead to greater DISunity in the CRCNA. That one thing is for sure!

See above comments for proof.

Community Builder

And the Belhar would be merely a beginning of the disunity, because the next step (already half-taken) is the Accra Confession (the Belhar's sequel), adopted by our own ecumenical organization, the WCRC (World Communion of Reformed Churches), which quite vigorously pitches a dominant therme of oppressors vs. victims of oppression:  rich against poor, northern hemisphere against southern, first world countries against second and third, men against women, youth against adult, etc.

Beyond that, the WCRC and/or Accra condemns private enterprice economics (its the "worship of mammon") literally praises "liberation theology models" (in those words), almost bringing back and east/west cold war theme (with the CRCNA, as members of the WCRC, essentially being on the side of the east this time).

If you care to peruse the WCRC site long enough, you'll soon enough figure out that the big pitch for unity is really for the purpose of having a united political front, which creates (they think at least) power to tell governments to stop with the free market stuff and start seriously regulating evil private businesses.  The biggest fracture in the WCRC's current "unity front," is NOT coming from us (the CRCNA), amazingly, but from the eastern European countries, who for some odd reason think much of what the Accra represents is simply a throw-back to a USSR-styled central planning system they were quite pleased to escape not so long ago.  Read about this being discussed in one of the WCRC "reports" at: http://www.wcrc.ch/sites/default/files/Europe%27s%20discussion%20about%2... .  Read the whole report, but here's an excerpt:

The general feeling among Eastern European WARC [now WCRC] member churches is critical, to say the least. One can hear sometimes that the language being used in the Accra Confession and also in the overall covenanting for justice work reminds one of the Marxist ideological language so favoured by the former communist regimes.

AARP needs "unity" to be an effective political power in the US.  WCRC wants unity to have that power as well.  The more they have that unity, the more they can (try at least to) tell governments what to do.  The adoption of the Belhar, were the CRCNA to do that, and our existing membership in the WCRC moves the CRCNA toward becoming much more of a political association than a confessional church, and one that opposed market based economics at that.

And 'no' Harry, that "Marxist" talk isn't coming from my drooling on my keyboard, but rather a WCRC person who has adopted the Belhar, it's sequel, and is wanting to move full steam ahead with the working premise of "Jesus having a massive preference for the poor."

Just as I thought: you really have no argument. Harry Weidenaar

Community Builder

Oh come on Harry -- that's too old and cheap of a strategy.  In response to several people explicating serious assertions about a serious subject, you thow back some hyperbolic claims but refuse to defend them, then do a bit of attention redirection with a little Stephen Colbert styled mock routine, then demand that the other side of the argument be permantly on the defensive while at the same time refusing to offer a defense for your own hyperbolic claims.  And then you claim victory without ever having to defend your own defenseless claims -- declaring that everyone who thinks differently from you is just "opposing the Belhar on this issue because of prejudice and not principle".

No, I still won't bite, but whenever you care to first defend your claim that "Jesus has a massive preference for the poor", I'll then exegete Matt 25 for you, even without the mock routine.

Community Builder

Friends--though it's getting hard to tell. I haven't flagged anything yet, but we are getting close to the bounds of "Flagistan" according to the guidelines to which Network guides have to sign their names in blood to hew to. Please start watching the tone. I hear voices rising. I'm all for freedom of speech, but I also like to see significant effort not merely at winning arguments, but also at practicing some spiritual virtues of respect, kindness and self-control. Thanks.  jcd

A fair warning, James.

Community Builder

That is fair warning James, and thanks for that.

Let me try this from another angle.  If the concern of pro-Belhar advocates is, as suggested in this thread (but also a number of others), that not adopting the Belhar would be to communicate our prejudice (given the South African context of the Belhar), with purported arguments of principle being merely a rouse to oppose, why don't we (Synod 2012 in fact) consider getting more directly to the point.  Let's condemn racism, not as a confession or a testimony, nor even as a fancy worded something else, but rather as a simple and direct Synod 2012 resolution.

Here's the bones of a possible resolution that is pretty short but to the point.  (Sorry if it sounds like legislation -- that's my experience -- it could be 'styled' otherwise).

The CRCNA condemns racism.  For purposes of this condemnation, "racism" means:

  1.  a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races  determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one's own race is superior and has the right to rule others.

  2.  a policy, system of government, personal action, etc., based upon or fostering such a doctrine.

  3.  a policy, system of government, personal action, etc., that favors or disfavors members of any particular race.

  4.  hatred or intolerance or disfavor of another race  or other races.

  5.  a practice or promotion, whether government enforced or merely adopted by society or individuals within it, of apartheid, as that was enforced and practiced in the history of South Africa.

Certainly, the above could be adjusted (changed, added to, detracted from), but sometimes (and I think this is the case with the Belhar), the longer a document is, the less able it is to make a specific point.  Indeed, we've already had to make clear that if we were to pass the Belhar, we wouldn't be intending to say about homosexual practice what one of the Belhar authors has already claimed it says.

So, lets reduce the words, get to the point, and support Synod passing a simple, more direct, more clearly-understandible-by-all resolution.  And if further "points" that are now considered valuable points made by the Belhar should be made, Synod (2012 or of whatever year) could make those too, again by simple, straightforward resolutions that don't mire down in so many words and so much ambiguity.

I can't imagine a resolution of this sort receiving many (any actually) negative votes in Synod.  A unanimous resolution of this kind would communicate more that a split adoption of a longer text (Belhar) containing many, less unambiguously stated, thoughts and themes.  Beyond that, I can't imagine a resolution of this sort receiving negative reaction from any Classis, nor even from any local churches.  Indeed, Synod 2012 passing a resolution of this sort would avoid creating disunity, and would (for once) demonstrate that we can have unity.

I'm more concerned for what it could mean if we do not adopt the Belhar, what this could mean for our denomination.  I have for a long time been concerned that our denomination has made really wonderful, and often interestingly written policy documents.  Where I don't see us being very effective is in the area of developing church policy that guides how we interpret the Bible through our actions.  I believe that if we love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength that we need to take seriously that "faith without works is dead."  If, as many are concerned about, the Belhar brings up issues that muddy the waters of the CRC coming out and officially condemning racism (which is hardly a controversial idea) ... we should boldy go and write a document that does so in a way that is acceptable.  From my vantage point, our denomination has not had documents that clearly set forth a widely-held understanding that compels us to stand against or even recognize our own incivility towards other humans, or to speak to many of the social evils of our time now.  We are more guided by political ideas than scripture, which I believe is sad.  Did we have a theological understnding of justice to stand against moving Native Americans to reservations or later to boarding schools?  Did our theology guide us to rise up against the racism that was rampant both in our own denomination and our society through the late 19th, 20th, and 21st century - racism that expressed itself through red-lining, mobs, and race-riots among other things?  Have we taken to heart the scriptural precidents that have always fused our faith to caring for caring for the poor, widows, and immigrants in the contemporary debates over immigration and care for the poor with healthcare reforms in the United States?  Have we confessed and taken seriously the divides in all our cities when we so often voluntarily segregate along racial lines on sunday mornings, when so many people of all colors worship the same God but do not choose to do so in the same pew?  Does our denomination have widely accepted documents that help us avoid these kinds of sins, or do we feel that this is a tolerable place to remain comfortable and unchallenged?  I pray that we do not.  I pray we have the boldness to find ways to agree to live our faith in our socieities, with boldness and distinctiveness that is guided by scripture.  

I fear that what will happen instead is that we vote it down and subsequent generations will see this as one more reason to continue to leave the denomination of their birth who seems to be retreating from speaking relevantly to the world we inhabit in this day and age.  

I pray we will act with boldness.  I fear we will not.

Community Builder

Eric: I have been trying to figure out exactly what it is the causes pro-Belhar folk to want to adopt the Belhar.  The reasons I have concluded thus far are not generally well received by those pro-Belhar, but I'm having a hard time coming up with others.

You say in your above that your long time concern has been that the CRCNA had made really wonderful and often interestly written policy documents, but you don't see the CRCNA has being very effective in the area of developing church policy that guides how we interpret the Bible through our actions.

I'm 57, born/raised on a farm in NW Iowa.  Moved to Oregon in 1976 and have been a practicing lawyer in Oregon for 32 years.  I'm a thorough-going Kuyperian, straight from the tradition at the core of NW Iowa based CRCNA-ness.  If there is one thing that I can definitively say is that my CRC church tradition has in the course of my life been more effective in developing within me a theological/worldview tradition that guides "how I interpret the Bible through my actions" that any other US church tradition could have been (and I know a lot of other traditions, have lived where I do and having done what I've done now for decade).  Indeed, it is the CRC/Reformed emphasis of world and life view, a phrase that didn't even exist in other Protestant traditions, that has since the 1970's, captured the attention and excitement of so many other traditions such that "worldview" is now a common reference.  Quite literally, CRC and other reformed traditions transformed the US Protestant landscape, again beginning in the 1970's, by persuading the broader Christian community that there is not one square inch not subject to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

It is because of my CRC/Reformed worldview that I never applied for a position with a larger law firm but instead started my own law practice (I saw worldview clashes as inevitable).  It is the result of my the CRC/Reformed worldview that I never made all that much income (I'm fine but ...), but rather donated probably close to half of my productive time/career to people with problems who didn't have money or necessary causes that didn't pay.  Because of my CRC/Reformed worldview, I still live on the poorer, hispanic side of my city where I have more opportunity to help individual neighbors who have less than I do and help the community at large by reviving/maintaining/improving the neighborhood park that the county had left to be grafittied and vandalized by Surenos and Nortenos (hispanic gangs).

I consider the CRC/Reformed tradition/worldview to be incredibly bold, so much so that people from other church traditions across the country have moved in our direction and emulated it.  And when I know they see that in our tradition, I can figure out why those within the tradition can't see it.

So why do you and I see our heritage so differently?  And what is it in the Belhar -- specifically -- that you believe will make us more bold than what I think I (and I'm not alone) have already found over 40 years ago?

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I agree with Mr. Nykamp  As the author of the only overture offered by an individual and who supports adopting the Belhar as a confession,  I believe it is time to act in boldness.  If not now, when?   The Belhar will never be accepted as a contemporary testimony because it is not a testimony.  It is a confession that seeks to bring truth and grace and is a given as a gift to give guidance to the church that has lost its way related to some important issues.  The Belhar seems to exemplify this struggle in our denomination between how we see truth and grace.  As we learn to pursue both, rather than focusing on truth, we will begin to see the possibilities in the areas of racism and other “social factors” we have never seen before. 

 

It was disappointing for the author of this blog to propose some sort of scenario of how we get through this.  Do we have a faith that the Lord will do a mighty work in the next few days that will change the way we  live as a denomination in the future.? Let’s give the delegates the space to see what the Lord has in store for us.  

Community Builder

After reading all the comments over the last few days, I'll take the opportunity to make a multi-faceted one of my own.

Thanks to all who are engaging in this issue of Belhar. Things got a little heated a few days ago, but I am grateful for the renewed tone and efforts at listening and working through this thing together, if not always in agreement.

In response to Jim Panozzo: I'm a veteran of lots of synods and my "prediction" is based on experience of the process. What I described is pretty much was I've seen happen with almost every significant issue over several days of committee meetings and plenary. I firmly believe that such an odd process is actually how people of faith make decisions. What's more, I believe that the Holy Spirit is mysteriously working in almost all of those decisions and processes, regardless of whether I personally agree with the outcomes or not. I have seen some remarkable--miraculous?--things happen at synods even when the process looked mightily flawed, whether that had to do with accepting Bible translations or discussion of language and doctrines in confessions (Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism)  restructuring, women in office (that over many years) and more. Mr. Panozzo--I applaud your faith and am delighted in your trust. The Lord will work mightily. And, by the way, thank you for your overture. I wish your own congregation and classis had endorsed it.

Doug Vande Griend, Harry W., John Zylstra, Allen K-D and others: I to am almost constantly wondering how people who share and love the same tradition and clearly hold to many of the same values and interpretation can still disagree pretty strongly. I have the following idea about it: We all respond not always rationally to the environments in which we live and develop over many years. I was raised in Chicago during the time of racial discrimination and fear that soaked deeply into our communities. Figuring I knew everything about everything in the late 1960s, I was almost on my way out of the faith and surely the CRC when two pastors knocked on my door as I was starting graduate study. They were and are faithful servants of God who agreed heartily that we were hypocrites to our confession of Jesus' work for the world and its people, regardless of colour or class or brains. They also heartily agreed with each other that I, of all self-righteous people, also had a pretty wide streak of hypocrisy and were not afraid to point that out. They helped point me into experiencing and believing more deeply than ever the power of forgiveness that I needed as much as or more than the people I was raised with and trying to run from. 

Then I lived and worked in Latin America where, as I said, documents like Belhar, even Liberation Theology, resonated deeply in that climate. I know LT's shortcomings and also its significant contribution. Belhar does not breath LT nearly as much as some assert. What I find remarkable, Doug, is that the very things you wisely propose in your post of yesterday sound a whole lot like a lot of the language of Belhar. So maybe that's why I don't understand your own articulate opposition to it. Do your proposals not have a confessional ring to them (even though there is lawyer tone to them)?

Again, Doug: I did a little bit of searching in the on-line Index: Synodical Decisions 1857-2000 (http://www.crcna.org/site_uploads/uploads/resources/Index%201857-2000.pdf  and found pioneer references to decisions on race in Acts of Synod 1959  http://www.calvin.edu/library/database/crcnasynod/1959agendaacts.pdf , pages 82 ff. and 258 ff. These things are a little tedious to look through on-line, but they are readable and interesting. The RC as Eric N wrote HAS written and done a lot of pretty good stuff on race relations.

Now, from MY perspective as an old Chicago kid and a missionary to Latin America, I see a pretty straight line from 1959's Acts to 2012's Agenda and Belhar. I know! Not all will agree with me. Let's continue this discussion and keep praying for Synod. So, on the Belhar: Confession? Testimony? Statement? Or dismissal entirely? I pray nothing of the last.

Community Builder

James: Thanks for diving in, and especially your research into past synodical acts. 

You find remarkable that what I wrote/proposed sounded a lot like the language of the Belhar.  I'd like to explain that.

I agree there is much in the Belhar that I have no disagreement with.  In fact, measured by the number of used words, I think I can say with certainly that I have no disagreement with MOST of what the Belhar says.  Indeed, were the Belhar minus its Section 4 (which BTW says nothing about race), I don't think I'd have strong negative feelings about the Belhar.  (I want to be honest, though: I've often thought we say too much in our already existing confessions, especially because they are are "constitutional in nature," and the Belhar tends to merely add to that problem without adding anything really new -- except Section 4 of course).

So what do I think is wrong with Section 4?  Quite a bit.  Not only is it simply wrong to say "that God is ... in a special way the God of the destitute, the poor and the wronged", it is wrong in a way that will quoted as justification for the CRCNA's already happening, wrong-headed plunge into left wing oriented political action.

The litany of items in Section 4 can "kind of, sort of " be argued to be true, but the truths selected are just that: selected, cherry picked, read without regard to the context of the entirety of Scripture.  The entirety of Section 4 will be used to move full speed ahead in a liberation theology tradition. That would be, in my mind, the end of the CRCNA as a historically reformed tradition.

So, what do I have against Liberation Theology?  First, I don't disagree with everything LT stands for.  I do believe in justice.  My goodness, if my life has been about anything, it has been about justice.  But LT does a couple of thing I consider completely at odds with the reformed tradition as held to by the CRC for many decades.  First, LT transforms nearly all that used to be characterized as mercy into justice.  Our CRCNA bylaws (from the 1990's) talk of mercy but never justice.  Flash forward: today, if you do a word search of the CRC web site, you will find precious few references to mercy but incessant references to justice.  (Or try WCRC.ch -- I can't find even one single reference to mercy there).  Micah 6:8 (my favorite verse since decades ago -- hey, I'm a lawyer) has been transformed.  It's no longer "do justice and love mercy" but rather "do justice and demand justice."  This isn't just a symantic quibble.  When people in need of mercy are told/taught should demand justice instead of see themselves as in need of mercy, they are enormously changed and damaged.  In the US, the recharacterization of the need for mercy into a cause to demand justice has created multi-generationally established dependency for literally tens of millions.  This is a terrible thing for a government or church to do people.

Second, LT casts nearly all social issues as battles between the oppressive wealthy and the oppressed poor.  Certainly, any absolutization contains truth.  The problem is the absolutization.  Life is about more than relative degrees of material wealth and LT does not allow for much of anything else.

Third, LT, by definition, requires the church, AS INSTITUTION, to be a political force (Kuyperian sphere sovereignty thinking goes out the window).  For LT, doing justice fo the poor demands that government, using the power of of the sword, make it happen (after all, government is predominantly involved with justice and has the guns).  But LT demands that the church, AS INSTITUTION, be responsible for making sure justice happens.  (See Belhar, "that the church must wintness against AND STRIVE AGAINST any form of injustice...").  Exactly how does the church, AS INSTITUTION, do that without becoming a political association that focuses on lobbying government and re-educating its membership about political issues?

Fourth, LT leaves very little time or resources for the institutional church to do anything else by "justice" because of the priority of "striv[ing] against any form of injustice."  (Belhar, section 4)  I'm a big believer in the James theme that we show our faith by our works, but LT too often only talks about works, and within that, only works that bring economic justice, and within that, works that are done or directed by the church, AS INSTITUTION.

You suggest the "Belhar does not breath LT nearly as much as some assert."  I agree but only if you take out Section 4.  Section 4 absolutely reeks with it.  Moreover, I would suggest one gains additional perspective by looking at the subsequent Confession of those who gave us the "gift of the Belhar," which is the Accra Confession of course, which is perhaps the core operating document of the WCRC, which is much more political association than ecumenical organization.  I consider Section 4 of the Belhar to be a short version primer for the Accra.  Some would say we should take the Belhar on its own.  I disagree.  If the intent of the Belhar's authors is to be understood more clearly, to see what other statements the authors and givers of the Belhar are making.

Getting back to the beginning: the Belhar is not a mono-message document.  Which is why I suggested that the resolution I proposed would probably pass unanimously in Synod, perhaps even unanimously in a vote taken of the CRC nationwide membership.  I think that's how much we agree in the CRC that racism is sin.  And that's consistent with the historical materials you provided.  It is not new news that the CRCNA opposes and condemns racism.  But the givers of the Belhar have packaged something very acceptable with something very objectionable and have asked the CRCNA to accept it as a package, and as a foundational 1-in-4 document at that.