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What is your church doing with the Belhar Confession? Synod 2009 has recommended that the CRC adopt it as a fourth confession and thus has promoted a three-year process of discussion around the denomination. All that arose after a well-led and participated series of round tables led by the Ecumenical Relations Committee throughout the denomination in the year or more leading up to Synod 2009’s recommendation.

Funny thing, though—after a flurry of presentations around many (probably all by now) classes by members of the Ecumenical Relations Committee; and despite a pretty well-built webpage with resources to discuss the confession, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of public conversation.

This IS important—isn’t it???? Are we quiet about this because we’re thinking? Or are we quiet about it because we’re not really engaging in the discussion except to say we’re “fer it or agin it”? I pray it’s not the latter, because this IS important.

Is your church doing anything to take part in this conversation? A relative's church council looked at the Belhar over the course of a few meetings, but didn't use outside resources to structure that study. A synodical office staff member recently mentioned that requests for Belhar study resources are not what they thought they'd be at this point--even though they've been promoted in a variety of ways (including a flyer and copy of the devotional mailed to every church).

My congregation hasn’t done much with Belhar yet, but we are requesting to Classis Niagara this Wednesday, February 20, that we engage in a “circle discussion” led by members of CRCs from Classes Toronto and Quinte. The idea of this kind of conversation is that, as all are seated in a circle, everyone respond to a series of questions that do NOT pounce on the end issue of whether or not we should adopt Belhar; that seems antagonistic and not a healthy way of facing the real issue at hand. Rather the proposed conversation deals with the question of the importance and need of the doctrines and teachings of the Belhar: “How do you respond to the need for racial reconciliation as expressed in the Belhar?”

OK—today is Valentine’s Day, a day to celebrate love. Doesn’t the best and truest of all love come from God? Can we talk about the love and reconciliation from God among races within the framework of Belhar? Let’s see if we can get some healthy discussion going on this—maybe in a forum, in comments, certainly within our congregations. A video trailer for the resources, plus other links are available at our main Belhar page.

What is YOUR church doing to study The Belhar?

Comments

All Nations has an "interim" term between 2 "semesters" of Sunday School in which the high school and adult SS classes join in one class.  So, we have a 5 week period and are using the Belhar materials (DVD and study guide) for this combined class.  Attendance in the class has been about 20 +/-, but the time limit of a Sunday morning class slot (about 45-50 minutes) has been limiting.  The material has more good questions to chew on than we have time.  So far, we are saving the "yes/no" discussion until the final class.  I'm also trying to avoid the 50 minute monologue of a retired prof.  :-)

Here are my reflections on the round table discussions that were brought to our area.  They were really not discussions of pros and cons but a presentation in favour of adopting it.  Everyone I talked with afterward said these were "Belhar promotional events" and not a discussion that helped them a whole lot.  This was especially true for those who had already been wrestling with this document.  In our church context I have not come across anyone who disagrees with the basic thrust of the document as to unity and justice and the sin of racism and whatnot, but many are wondering about making it a confessional statment.  There are a few lines in the document that would need re-wording or clarification.  And it does not strike people to be of the same type as our confessions, even if they can't put their finger on it.  Most feel it reads like Our World Belongs to God. 

Since these presentatons came across as promotional events I wonder if  the congregants get the feeling they aren't really being asked their input but are being sold something that they can buy into or not.  Perhaps that fuels the lack of discussion on this document.  Add to that the reality that it is difficult to speak against such a document without others pigeon holing you as a racist or simply negative to all things new.  The default them becomes to remain silent. 

My concern in such a context is that if this becomes a confessional standard in the CRC, and those serving in ecclesiastical office have in silence disagreed with the document, they will simply carry on and ignore it completely.  (We are after all, west of the Rockies in Canada and there is a tendency to ignore what happens out east in the Grand Rapids anyway.)  I worry that a document promoting unity will result in either further indifference to the Confessions or simply more disunity. 

I was a delegate to the "plague" Synod of 2009 (because we all got sick :) where this was first approved by Synod to propose as a new confession.  There was much pressuring going on emotionally to be in favour of it and not a whole lot of discussion of the problem parts of the document.  It seemed at times that the primary discussion was how not to offend anyone and how this document will keep us from sinning futher in specific areas, neither or which were very helpful discussions.  I am glad for our practice of giving time between Synods to let the churches discuss and wrestle with this document.  I am not so sure the denominational leaders have done a very helpful job as yet in letting people actually tussle with their difficulties, at least not in the presentations I have seen or others from my congregation have attended. 

Our Council has had some preliminary discussions of Belhar and we are planning to discuss it at our Spring congregational meeting in some way.  My intention is to make sure the pros and cons are laid out as clearly as possible and then encourage people to seek the Lord in prayer for a time for discernment and a decision. 

Yes, we're avoiding it because we have enough controversy to deal with, and have dealt with enough controversy over the first attempt to change the form of subscription. Right now it is nowhere near our agenda, and that has to do with the place where we are at as a congregation, receiving a number of members who are returning to the CRC from the URC and Canadian Reformed churches. Personally, I cannot endorse the Belhar on the confessional level, although I can tolerate it or subscribe "quatenus," i.e. to the extent that it agrees with the word of God, with my fingers slightly crossed. We as a congregation are not studying it because we are still struggling with women officebearers and a growing controversy related to our safe church policy, and we are very shy of division at this moment. And personally, at this moment I do not have the desire or the spiritual-emotional energy to debate it, because my self-differentiation will go right out the window. I look forward to John Cooper's response to Peter Borgdorf in the next CTS Forum. My perspective is the same as Kevin DeYoung of the RCA:

http://www.rca.org/Page.aspx?pid=6245

I think Randy's and Ken's comments are very appropriate and relevant.  And Colin's comments also.   Is the Belhar important?   No, not really.   Not in our context.   It was born of a different need, and speaks to a different ethos.   And it is being manipulated towards a different agenda.   We will not be better for adopting it, and will not be worse for not adopting it.   As Colin said, "they will simply carry on and ignore it completely".  

We need to obey the important commandments, including to love our neighbor as ourself.   This is much more inclusive, and in a much better context than the Belhar, if it is preached properly.  

I'm leaning towards disagreeing with John and others on this. After having studied the Belhar and having led our congregation through it in sermons and in Council and other places, I'm left with the conclusion that the Belhar is very relevant to our Canadian and American contexts. Racial issues and social justice issues are huge for us. In Canada I think we have a tendency to say that we don't really have a problem regarding race, but I beg to differ. Where are the First Nations people in our churches? There are some areas in Canada where some First Nations people are present, but by and large First Nations peoples are still marginalized to a tremendous degree. They have poorer life expectancy, poorer educational and financial prospects, greater problems with drugs and alcohol and crime. Certainly they, like anyone else bear their burden of responsibility for their actions, but the fact is that the system here is broken and the church has not been a significant positive contributor to any solutions here.

I would venture to say that the problem is one that needs to be brought into great relief in our churches, and that the Belhar addresses these issues well. It would be extremely relevant to our congregation, classis, and denomination, I believe. 

Having said that, we haven't had to deal with the "controversy" that others are mentioning here. When we went through the Belhar together, no one seemed to have issues with it, that I was aware of, and the few comments that I have had since then expressing some concern have all been mild and easily dealt with. I'm very aware that heaping fuel on fires of controversy that may be present in other churches might indeed be unwise. That's why I'm only "leaning" toward disagreeing with the others.

All the same, I do believe that, if possible (using pastoral discernment), a discussion on the Belhar is important for us to have as a denomination.

Blessings all,

 

in His service,

Dan.

Daniel, I appreciate your disagreement because I can sense it comes from good motives.   However, perhaps our media and popular perception of race seems to color our perspective too much.   Think about this.  You asked about our approach to aboriginals?   I will ask how does our approach to Aboriginals compare to our approach to Italians, to Ukranians, to Germans, to Russians, to Hutterites or Amish, or to Norwegians?  

I maintain that it is not a race thing, but a love thing.   Perhaps we have defined our neighbor as narrowly as the pharisees, sometimes, in order to avoid the commandment to love.

If we were worried about race, we would get confused.   If we help the needy and treat all people as people, then we will be less confused. 

In our church, we have a number of aboriginal children, either adopted or foster children.   But we didn't do that because of some race issue, we do that because they need help and we have decided to help whoever needs it, within our capacity.   

The Belhar would be an entire waste of time for our congregation, and would divert us from the real opportunities for ministering to others. 

John,

Thanks for your response. I also appreciate your responses thus far, as I know that your concern is for the wellbeing of the church and, more importantly, for us to fulfill the command to Love.

I would certainly agree that at heart it is a love issue. Unfortunately, I think that our heart issues with love are sometimes most clearly seen when we take a good hard look at the "symptoms" of those heart issues. If you use a sickness metaphor, we often know we have a cold because our nose starts running, or we get a fever or whatever. But what happens if the symptoms are such that we either don't notice them, or cover over them with "medicine" that only masks the sickness. That is what I feel we have done with regards to love AND race. We have, in Canada at least, often pretended that there is no problem at all. That there is no sickness, and we ignore the symptoms of our sickness. In addition, the sad truth is that we DO treat different races in our countries differently. Why else would it be that some segments of our population have such radically different health, education, and wealth demographics? It's certainly not that those people are less gifted by God (not that you're implying that, of course). The fact is that there exist among us systemic, and societal, and personal racial issues.

An example that really struck me once was one that I experience when living in the U.S. for a brief time. When we lived there we were invited to a "block party". We thought that this would be a great experience. We were living in a primarily African American & Latino neighbourhood, and, having come from primarily white Peterborough, we assumed that our children would have the opportunity to meet and be friends with people from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. That was exciting to us. However, when we got there we found that ALL of the people there were white. After digging around a bit (discreetly) we found that the "block party" was sponsored by the neighbourhood homeowners' association. Thus, all the people invited were homeowners. The fact that none (or very few) of the African Americans or Latinos owned the homes in which they lived in that neighbourhood meant that none of them were invited to the block party. It got me thinking about how, in Canada, it's not even so much that we (unintentionally or otherwise) exclude aboriginals from things like block parties--we still all have the complicated baggage of how to deal with the "reservation" system and what was (and still is to some degree) essentially apartheid.

Now don't get me wrong. None of the people in the homeowner's association meant to be racist. For all intents and purposes they were not racist at all, in fact. BUT due to various systemic and societal things the majority of the people living in the neighbourhood were not invited, and NONE of the homeowners thought about changing the situation. The exclusion of two races who were the majority of the people in the neighbourhood was a symptom of a heart and societal issue that needed to be addressed. The Belhar has value at least (but I think more) insofar as it points out those symptoms, and directs us to the true sickness.

Those symptoms include (but are not limited to) race relations. We do marginalize certain segments of our own populations (or of the world's population), and then we turn around and ignore the very things that we're doing and pretend we don't have a problem. It would be like us all having a fever and pretending we didn't (let alone acknowledging that there must be some sickness driving the fever in the first place).

The Belhar helps us to give our heads a shake, by pointing out to us some of the symptoms that point to our sickness. To that extent I believe it is very important for us--it doesn't give us the option of pretending we don't have a fever. 

But I don't believe that it serves only that purpose. My reading of the Belhar is that it DOES go beyond just simply race, gender and/or social justice issues--that it clearly and explicitly points us to the very points you're making about the critical importance of loving our neighbours (wherever and whoever they are). 

Good point about block parties, Dan.   But I'm not sure the Belhar would solve that one.  The other thing is that much of the race issues you mentioned are political.   The reason that aboriginals in Canada are treated differently is because of constitutional issues, and that they want to be treated differently;  they want to maintain treaty rights and self-government based on race.  

At a personal level however, if you believe all peoples are the same before God, then you will act accordingly.   If we only concentrate on race, rather than on people, we will become reverse racists, which is still racism.   We will pay more attention to those with different colors of skin, than to those who have the same color of skin but different nationalities and languages.   Are we less racist if we help out the blacks vs the latinos?   Or help out the yellow skins vs the white russians? 

It is better just to look around and see who needs help, to whom you can witness, and then help and witness, rather than looking for or concentrating only on a different race, whatever that is. 

The Belhar is driven by race issues, and most of the language is colored by the baggage of that issue.   Periferally attached are other issues, but the language of social justice is not attached to a scriptural sense of justice as much as a system of rights, and now the Belhar is being used by some to condemn discrimination of any kind, even when the discrimination is based on moral and scriptural guidelines. 

Perhaps the Belhar does not serve any purpose whatsoever, and is distracting from real effort and Christian living by making a discussion out of it, rather than people paying attention to scripture and loving their neighbor.   I've wondered if the church seriously considered as a whole, making a mission effort out of adopting abandoned children and being foster parents to needy children, how much more success and obedience they would exhibit, than adopting a political statement like the Belhar, and then go on living much like they did before, aside from possibly writing a few political letters about equality, which minimizes and distracts from their personal involvement. 

Daniel Zylstra on February 26, 2011

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

John,

Thanks again for the response. Just to clarify, I don't believe that the Belhar in and of itself can solve anything. However, I do believe that it points us to our need as individuals and churches and societies to deal with those kinds of issues--issues that otherwise may go unnoticed. I'm fully aware that many of the race issues that I mention are political. I don't see that that makes any difference. I hate to pull the Kuiper card here, but don't we agree and believe that "there is not a square inch of this earth over which Christ does not stand and say 'It is mine!'"? Politics is just as much an area for church and confessional involvement than any other sphere of human existence, in my opinion (and, I think also in good reformed tradition and understanding as well in most circles).

As to constitutional rights and differences, I would agree that, generally speaking, first nations people want "different" treatment than others in Canada. However, I don't think any of that difference extends to them not wanting as many educational opportunities, health care options, etc. First nations folks here in Canada, when we listen to them carefully, really only want (again generally speaking) the land claims and treaty rights and self-governance rights that WE agreed to long, long ago. They're not, for the most part, being unreasonable (any more than the rest of us are unreasonable about other things). Even so, the Belhar helps to point the church in the direction of doing something about the injustices that various people DO in fact face due to the colour of their skin, or the difference of their gender or cultural heritage. I maintain that these are important for the church to address within our own ranks and in the larger society. The biblical call for justice is not just one for personal justice (ie, person-to-person) but also one of national and cultural justice. Just look at the minor prophets (especially Amos--I love Amos). He holds up the mirror to society not just in terms of how they treat their own poor, but also in terms of how they treat the foreigner in the land. 

I would agree with you wholeheartedly when you say that "if we only concentrate on race...we will become reverse racists, which is still racism." I don't think the Belhar heads us in that direction though. On the contrary, it firmly heads us in the direction of treating all people as "people" rather than races exactly as you claim to want. I don't think the Belhar leads us into thinking about helping the black vs. the latinos or any other such nonsense.

Again, I think I would have to disagree with you about the Belhar not being attached to a biblical sense of justice. My reading of it seems to indicate that it is very well rooted to biblical principles. Also, I don't see the fact that the Belhar is rooted in the church's response to racial issues as being a problem. The Belgic Confession was rooted in an attempt to free reformed people from political oppression (strikingly similar in some ways to the attempt to free blacks from political oppression in South Africa, I think), but we don't throw that confession away because of it's political roots, do we? 

As to the Belhar being used to condemn even "biblical discrimination" (although I'm not sure what you mean there). That of course, is a misuse of any of the confessions. Ultimately the creeds and confessions are there to point us back to the Bible. If we believe what the confessions say, we must believe them because they truly reflect what scriptures say. If they don't do that, then I would agree, why bother with the Belhar? Or any other confession for that matter. I married a Baptist woman (she's thankfully seen the light since then! ;-) ), and one of her greatest issues with growing up amongst Reformed people was that she would sit down with them for a faith debate and she would talk about the Bible and they would talk about the Heidelberg Catechism. The creeds and confessions are not weapons to use against each other but helpful summaries and challenges to our "normal" ways of thinking. We must not rely on them to condemn behaviours in and of themselves, but must allow them to point us back to scripture always.

That being said, however, if the confession points to an issue, accurately understood scripturally, then all the better! If the bible truly condemns discrimination in many forms then so should we! 

As to your last point about maybe the Belhar encouraging a few to write political letters which "minimize and distracts from their personal involvement." I don't see how you can say that at all. Many of the people that I know who are most involved politically in justice issues are also most personally involved in these things. Take a look at the group here in Canada, Citizens for Public Justice. They lobby the government here regarding social justice issues on a regular basis, and it doesn't seem to me that their involvement in that way necessarily negates their personal involvement in social justice issues in their own lives.

Besides, the implication you've thrown out there is one that puts up a false dichotomy. You seem to be essentially saying, "It's EITHER you fight injustice on a personal, individual level, OR you fight injustice politically and corporately." That's malarkey, and I'm sure you know it. 

Sorry to end on a harsh note like that, and I do love the idea of the church concentrating more on mission (amen to that), but I just don't see that it has to be either/or.

John Zylstra on February 26, 2011

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

To keep this a bit shorter I will try to be more concise: 

God's sovereignty over this world includes politics, but I do not think confessions should be political statements.

Dan, it was previous generations that made the treaties, and for most Canadians, it was not our ancestors (nor WE) that made them.   In the days when some of those treaties were made, France and England and Spain were exchanging lands between themselves like they were poker chips. 

The political oppression of the reformed peoples was based on religion, not on race, and thus the confession to explain that religion was appropriate.   Interesting how the reformed peoples also oppressed the anabaptists, and included statements within the confessions to seemingly justify that oppression. 

I agree that the confessions should be appropriately used.   Therefore we should not have too many of them to distract us from scripture. 

I have no difficulty with political letters and supporting political causes.   And you are right, you can do both.   And if we were living in an apartheid system, or a slave society perhaps the political approach would be most appropriate.  However, our constitution, labor practices, public policy do not support, and rather condemn racism and discrimination already.   So it is at the personal level that we will have the most impact.   The Belhar is like DonQuixote fighting imaginary windmills.  

Again, rather than spend endless reams of paper on someone else's confession, why don't people put their money where their mouth is, and each family  befriend, assist and/or protect a needy person or persons irrespective of race: some person or persons who are from a different culture, national heritage, ancestry, language.   And in particular, volunteer to be a foster parent, or adopt one or two children.   You will be amazed at how meaningless the Belhar becomes in that situation. 

 

 

John Zylstra on February 26, 2011

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Ken, I do believe your understanding of discrimination is different than scripture.   The Psalms often talk about the wicked and the righteous, and the new testament advises to have nothing to do with certain people who cause dissensions.  We may differ in judgement about who fits into what category, but that type of discrimination is what I call scriptural discrimination.   Although there is always a desire and an opportunity to love people, there is also a need to discriminate in some cases based on actions and beliefs.  We would not permit a buddhist to become an elder in our church, for example.   This has nothing to do with us being better than buddhists. 

John Zylstra on February 27, 2011

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

There are two types of discrimination, Ken.   One is based on outward appearances.  The other is based on actions that come from the heart.   Jesus pointed out that the sheep would be separated from the goats, and the wheat from the weeds.  But I do agree that we do not have all the answers, nor can we see into the eye of the heart, and therefore we follow Jesus example to love all those who would be loved.   However, when people use this non-discrimination policy to assume that Christians should not discriminate in their lives about how they live, or about which lifestyles they approve then that is a perversion of scripture.   Even though we are all in the red, yes, that does not justify ignoring sin in our own lives, nor should we act as if we have no responsibility to speak against sin.   If we ignore sin, then we are reducing God's claim on our lives.  If we use the excuse of non-discrimination to reduce the significance of sinful lifestyles, then we are being phony.   For after all, if sinful lifestyles do not demand require change or approbation, then why are we worried about discrimination as a sin?   Racial discrimination is not the only sin.  

I've stayed out of this exchange for awhile, in part because I found the initial comments in this thread moderately depressing and requiring a response beyond my time limits to create.  Thanks to Dan for coming in and offering a response that fits my perspective.  The Belhar Confession offers us an opportunity to formally incorporate broad themes of unity, justice and reconciliation that will challenge us in our denominational, congregational and personal expressions of our faith in Christ.

The discussion thread also highlghted for me the broad continuum of individual church experience.  The contextual issues mentioned earlier in this thread (other division/fractures) are not adequate reasons for setting aside the Belhar Confession.  If these contextual issues remain salient for those attending a future Synod, it will be a painful discussion.

John Zylstra on February 27, 2011

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

We don't have to set it aside.   We do not have to adopt it.  We do not have to claim it as ours. 

We need more action, less talk.  Belhar is talk.  The command to love our neighbors, to realize there is neither Jew nor Greek, has been around for 2000 years.  It has been preached, discussed, dissected.   If you really do it, then Belhar will become irrelevant.   If scripture does not speak to you, then it is not likely that the Belhar will. 

Well, friends, thanks to all for this continuing growing conversation. There is engagement here--even though only five or six different people have posted on it. It looks from my count that I see on my Guide's Page that 460 people have read this in just over a week. Hardly viral (which is "sick"!), but rather healthy.

Now I'll dip my oar in again. Aren't oars supposed to guide boats?! And I'm a guide after all. So here's my dip:

I'm seeing a few interesting things in this discussion. It reminds me of synod conversations and debates that tend to drift and sway in several always interesting, if not pertinent, directions. First of all, there are several different viewpoints about the content and place of Belhar. That doesn't surprise me. But what does surprise me are the distractions we are experiencing even in our small dialogues from what I think are the central points of the Belhar discussion. I am fully in sympathy with Randy Blacketer's sense of current limitation because of local stresses and problems, but that is not everyone's case--and besides, the rest of us have to pray for congregations and leaders dealing with such stresses that can pull us away from deeper gospel work and life.

A few folks have commented that Belhar doesn't have anything to do with their congregation. Others have looked more broadly and said that the issues go far beyond a given congregation's ministry or limits. That's heading in the right direction. Belhar is NOT merely a congregational issue. It is a covenantal and ecumenical issue that surely has to bear on attitudes that affect in some way of other all congregations--unless yours is a perfect one, perfectly and completely reconciled to God in all forms. Mine isn't. Nor am I perfectly reconciled to God--except through the work of Jesus, but I don't always show that perfectly. Just ask my wife and kids. No; don't, please.

Although ever more we Christian Reformed folk are acting and living congregationally, it is extremely important from a communal and covenantal perspective to think, live, pray and fellowship beyond the hopes and limits of our local, even regional and national areas of ministry and interest. A few blogs ago I confessed to the racism that was part of the air I breathed in my birth community in Chicago.  Apartheid was happening right there in Roseland and Englewood neighbourhoods and I was part of it.

Maybe if something like Belhar had been on our confessional and ecclesiastical radar, there would have been some kind of ethical, spiritual and moral impact on our lives, churches and communities. Instead, in the space of seven years six Christian Reformed congregations fled Englewood and Roseland for the southern and western suburbs of Chicago. Now some of those suburbs are "turning black." Guess what? Some of those suburban churches are now fleeing to northwest Indiana to whiter pastures. Apartheid in North America, not racial reconciliation. Belhar speaks to that. 

Furthermore, Belhar offers us an opportunity to embrace a timely, passionate contribution to the ministry of reconciliation that originates with people who might have left Reformed fellowships in South Africa, but--unlike our white Chicago CRCs--chose to stay. Some say Belhar is not a comprehensive gospel statement. Neither are the Canons of Dort. But I can still preach on 'em (carefully, with limitations of time) and do. I'd love to be able to preach on Belhar, not because it's Belhar, but because it's profoundly biblically based and contextually fruitful--kinda like the Apostles' Creed, Nicene Creed, Athanasian Creed and Heidelberg Catechism were, as is Our World Belongs to God today.

We are members of a local, regional, national and international body called the church and can be enriched by the sufferings and lessons of our sisters and brothers. I will never forget hearing from a Lebanese Christian who was listening to the BBC World Service as the bombs were falling one Sunday morning in Beirut. He had tuned into the regular Sunday morning worship at an unnamed Anglican congregation in England. During the prayers of intercession, the leader lifted up to God "our brothers and sisters in Beirut." For a moment the Lebanese heard no more bombs and shelling. He heard only the voice of God: "I am with you."

Belhar gives us a chance for the Lord to be with us in the voice of people whose voices we need to hear and give thanks to God for.

Well, if this sounds like a sermon, that's what it is. It's Sunday, after all!

Keep writing, thinking, praying, confessing, thanking God.

I'm going on two weeks of holidays, but will probably check in on the Network now and again. Blessings. 

John Zylstra on February 28, 2011

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

The Belhar will not change churches moving to different places, unless the churches have a mission to reach others.  If they do have a mission to reach others, the Belhar will not be necessary.   I think if preachers lack the courage to preach scripture, or to live from scripture, and if people consider their wealth and comfort more important that their neighbors, then they are not listening to scripture.   If they do not listen to scripture, why in the world would they ever listen to the Belhar?   That logic escapes me. 

 

I'm very surprised that you feel that you cannot preach on the Belhar merely because it is not in the back of the hymnal.   It is not really the belhar that should be preached on anyway, but certainly if the themes are valid and the principles are scriptural what would be stopping you from preaching on those themes or applying scripture in a practical way? 

 

Other confessions were born out of life and death issues, usually in great turmoil, persecution, and earth-shaking times.   The Belhar comes at a time when most of the principles it espouses are already supported by laws of our countries.    The adoption of the Belhar is more of a whitewash over our own actions and attitudes.   It is a way of looking good, rather than being good.  And because it follows society, rather than leading it, our motives are suspect.   And because it follows society, it will have a tendency to follow society down the broad path to destruction, rather than following Christ down the narrow path to God's will.   

John Zylstra on February 28, 2011

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

One other thought:   What is our great concern with empathizing with people in south africa, if we do not first have concern with our own motives with regard to our very neighbors.   Is it easier to claim we believe what they believe as long as they live far away, but if we had to apply this to our everyday lives, particularly from a misssional perspective, then we would change the subject? 

I have had one son and his wife adopt a child from Haiti, another son and wife adopt three boys from Russia, and we adopted an aboriginal child.   There are others who have done similar things both in the CRC and in many other denominations.   This was not because of the Belhar, or adopting some other foreign testimony or confession, but because of understanding God's call to us to be a witness, to demonstrate Christ's love, which scipture is clear on.   Perhaps convicted thru preaching, or thru bible study, or thru personal devotions and prayer.  

It is good to talk about these things, but not under the cover of adopting a piece of paper, when instead we should be adopting real people.  

John Zylstra on February 28, 2011

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I appreciate your comments, Ken.   As far as empathy goes, hmm, I do.  That's why I think action matters more than words.   To love is to do.  To do, without love is yes, nothing.   To say you love, but not demonstrate it by your actions, is falsehood and empty.  Don't you think? 

If  I implied that you don't understand scripture, then I apologize for that misunderstanding. 

Interesting reading all these comments.  A few more reflections on adopting the Belhar ... at the 2009 Synod discussions on this it was pointed out that one of the reasons that we should adopt it is that it has been given to us as a gift and we can't say no to a gift.  It is certainly rude to turn down a well meaning gift.  However, since a confession of faith seems to me to have to be something that comes from the person or congregation or denomination confessing it, then this document should be re-written to reflect our particular situation in the CRC perhaps reflecting such things as mentioned in the previous comments.  Our present confessions arose in the context of the congregations dealing with those situations.  I think it would be different if we were coming out of a similar aparthied situation here or something, but our issues, though some racially driven, are not the same context.  I guess I wonder why in the CRC, who can produce some very helpful study reports, cannot accept the Belhar as impetus to write a new confession of faith that would incorporate the good themes highlighted by the Belhar.  I wonder why, if we need to adopt the Belhar out of respect for ecumenical relations (a theme repeated at the Synod discussions) that we do not also adopt the other main Reformed confessions: The Westminster Confession and Catechism, the Scots Confession, the Second Helvetic Confession, the Theological Declaration of Barmen; the Gallic Confession and so forth?  It seems first up would be the Westminster confession.  I suspect that one of the reasons we do not is because themes in those other Reformed Confessions are already covered in the Three Forms of Unity.  And if the Belhar has new themes from Scripture that are missing in our confessions some how, then let's write a new confession or apend what is missing to our present ones.  I can see no reason to not simply add a few more articles to the Belgic Confession that address the  justice and shalom issues present in Scripture.  I have difficulty with the unwillingness of our denomination to update its confessions.  The reason has been that we should not mess with an historical document.  However that approach also lends creedance to the reality that their meaningfulness is also tied to a receeding historical era, one that we are less and less connected to as we enter a post-Christendom context.  And with that unwillingness to update a document once accepted still in place, adopting the Belhar will mean that once in place, we can't do anything about its flaws or need of a further edit etc.  I still would rather accept it, with some initial editing for clarification, as a second Testimony or position statement.  We seem way more comfortable updating our testimony than our confession, so let's put it there for now. 

Colin

Good comments, Colin.   As to a gift.... when someone gifts you a book, you will probably keep it, but you don't have to put in on your night-table.   And if someone gifts you a hymnal, that doesn't mean that you have to replace your own hymnal, or purchase copies of the gift to sit side by side with your own.  This Belhar can be received, appreciated, etc., without making it another form of governance for us. 

Not to change directions so much,

but for a long time I've been wondering,

if the CRC would spend just a fraction of the time that we have spent studying and talking about the Belhar confession, on studying and talking about Isaiah and Amos, wouldn't we be further ahead on both issues of social justice and our awareness of Scripture?  I feel like this denomination places less and less emphasis on Scripture.  What happened to Sola Scriptura? What happened to our history of being people of the Book?  Is there really anything in the Belhar that both Isaiah and Amos have not said better?

Bev Sterk on March 5, 2011

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

maybe this is really simplistic, but I'm good with Isaiah 58 for our confession on justice  :)

John Zylstra on March 6, 2011

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Isaiah 58 is really good.  Of course, it should be; it's scripture... but it's appropriate too. 

I'm very sorry to hear that this is your impression of the CRC, Daniel W. My strong understanding is that part of what the church is called to do is to constantly re-examine herself in the light of the gospel (all of it, of course). Part of THAT process, in a confessional church, is for the church to re-examine the confessions that she holds as accurate summaries of that gospel. Whether that means we talk about the Canons of Dordt and whether or not they truly reflect the scriptures, or whether that means that in the light of a new potential confession we re-examine our actions and beliefs and consider adopting that new confession--whatever the circumstance of our discussion about creeds and confessions, the ultimate aim is for us to "grow into the fullness of He who is our head, that is Christ the Lord." 

This, of course, can only be done if creeds and confessions are never allowed to stand on their own, but are only expressions of faith that point always back to scripture. Even the early Reformers who advocated "Sola Scriptura" most strongly did not deny the value of creeds and confessions as summaries of the teachings of those scriptures. In fact, their cry of sola scriptura was, of course, historically one of decrying the idea of placing tradition or papal authority on the same authoritative leve as scriptures--it had nothing to do with whether or not people adopted creeds per se.

I hope, and believe, that actually the discussion around the Belhar HAS been one that has led us to dive into scriptures like Amos and Isaiah more thoroughly--one is almost irresistably drawn to prophetic literature relevant to social justice issues through the Belhar. 

Part of the beauty of creeds and confessions that come out of different cultural contexts and/or times, is that the writers of those documents have just a sufficiently different perspective on scripture that they challenge us and our presuppositions about what we have always assumed to be true. 

The Belhar, for example, challenges (I believe) many North American's assumption that consumer capitalism is wonderfully at peace with democracy and Christianity. I believe that the Bible expresses grave doubts about that kind of thinking, and that the Belhar can redirect us back to scriptures to analyze ourselves on those points and others.

Blessings,

Dan.

Dan: What do you mean, precisely, when you say "consumer capitalism"?  I understand your perspective of the need to re-examine and use things like the Belhar to do that. But I always get a bit frustrated when folks throw out rather ambiguous phrases like that and then juxtapose it to what they advocate for.

North America has a good deal of political/economic freedom, so that each of us has the legal right to choose to be materialistic or not, spend our money on bad things or good, love mercy or not, etc.  Who is this "consumer capitalism" person who is "wonderfully at peace with ... Christianity?"  By referring to it, are you referring to a person, people, or a political principal (and thus want to change our political system)?

The Accra Confession (like Belhar but less ambiguous, and already adopted by WARC, now known as WCRC) explicitly condemns "neo-liberalism," which is essentially political/economic freedom. A fair reading of the Accra would indicate that subscribers to it do want to change the political system (reducing/eliminating political/economic freedom). Is that what you are suggesting, or otherwise?

Thanks, Ken. I would not want to say that Kevin DeYoung is being disingenuous, any more than others who have some concerns about the Belhar, including myself. To disagree is not to be disingenuous. Disingenous means "lacking in frankness, candor, or sincerity; falsely or hypocritically ingenuous; insincere." Kevin might be wrong, but he's not insincere.

The historical fact is, as some church leaders have observed, that Marxist-influenced Liberation Theology does come through, especially in that one article of the Belhar, and which has to be significantly qualified in order to be squared with a biblical definition of justice, found in Leviticus 19:15: "Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly." Another historical fact is that one of the main authors of the Confession, A. Boesack, has insisted that one implication of Belhar is that the church embrace and affirm homosexuality (homosexual behavior), and even resigned his church offices over the matter. If the primary author of the confession declares that the implication of Belhar is the embrace of homosexuality, then there is good reason to doubt the “theological adequacy” of this confession, as Richard Mouw and others have argued. (http://www.netbloghost.com/mouw/?p=108 ) . So, my basic point is this: People of integrity can have serious concerns and disagreements about this confession without being "disingenuous," and without being opposed to social justice, unconcerned about racism and the poor and oppressed, etc. I react with moral outrage and indignation when I go back and study what happened at a certain school in the Chicago suburbs, disallowing the admission of African-American students. But for some of us, we are very concerned about the wording of the confession itself, among other things. I also understand that pastors and theologians of integrity do not agree with me on this, and have arguments to counter those above. But I don''t think they/we are disingenuous. We might be wrong, but not insincere.

And I think it is the "among other things" that shapes opinion on both sides of the debate (though the debate probably has more than two sides, with various shades of nuance and/or unsettled opinions). For example, some are concerned that we maintain good ecumenical relations with other churches; which I would agree with, but for me it is not adequate grounds for adopting a confession that is, in my judgment, somewhat weak and ambiguous and also highly localized in its context and application. Who doesn't agree that Apartheid was a damnable practice, supported by reprehensible theological principles? I think the CRC has treated the real problem of racism very well in its synodical actions and in the Contemporary Testimony.

One of the "other things" pertains to the identity of the CRC, which is one of my "issues" personally. I was nicely in the confessional middle of the CRC when the 1990's came along and many of the hardliners left the CRC for the United Reformed Church (URC); I freely confess that I still feel anger about that schism. Now I feel like I am uncomfortably on the "right," to use the term loosely, though there are still a number of CRC folk who are much more "conservative" than I, which gives me some comfort (e.g. I am pro-women's ordination, and I changed my mind on children at communion, too--but only after careful biblical-theological reflection, which for me is paramount). This is all a long way of saying that I personally want to see my church, the CRC, steer a middle course, a confessional course, between North American Evangelicalism / Fundamentalism on the one had and Mainline liberalism on the other. I am neither a fundamentalist nor a liberal; I am confessionally Reformed, and in a way that is particularly shaped by the CRCNA, into which my mom and sister and I were evangelized in 1976. I was heartened by James KA Smith's Banner article on the subject. As a convert to the CRC in my childhood, I have a close personal attachment to the distinct riches of the CRC and a deep emotional attachment to what I see as its core principles. I think the Belhar pushes us further into the mainline-liberal direction. This is also why I do not support a CRC-RCA merger, though it's obvious to me that we should work as closely as possible together. I also mourn the disconnection from NAPARC, even though I don't agree with those guys on women's ordination. I wholeheartedly support ecumenical efforts (Dan Meinema and I, though we don't necessarily agree on Belhar, regularly meet with pastors of other traditions to study the Lectionary, and I think I speak for both of us when I say what a blessing it is to learn from other strands of the Christian tradition, and also to share our own peculiar treasures). But confessing one holy catholic and apostolic church does not necessarily require institutional unity, nor is it always healthy to push for that, in my judgment; nor does it require adopting each other's confessions. Moreover, we can support our sister church in South Africa without adopting their very particular and contextual confession as our own; in fact, I've heard one missiologist make the argument that to do so might actually be condescending to them and smack just a wee bit of colonialism on our part.

Also something that would be of great import for me as an ordained pastor in the CRC is whether I would in good conscience be able to subscribe wholeheartedly and robustly to this confession, as I do with the three forms of unity. Would I have to file a gravamen, and if so, would it be a confessional-difficulty gravamen (and I can already see the response: we don't mean by the Belhar what you think it means), or a confessional revision gravamen (which would be doomed to failure, most likely). Or would I subscribe with a Jesuit ethic of mental reservation? Or would I just practice some really massive self-differentiation and say I only subscribe to the Belhar quatenus (a technical term for agreeing with something "insofar as" it reflects the teachings of scripture, which is not really the way of integrity). Is there a grandfather clause? Obviously I don't have that sorted out yet.

I said earlier I am not on this forum to debate the Belhar; but I do appreciate the opportunity to share some of my own personal feelings and struggles with this issue, and I hope that it remains a safe place to express those things, without recriminations or questioning people's motives, wherever they may come down on the issue.

More discussion of the Belhar can be found here:

  • Viola Larson, The Belhar Confession: The Wrong Time, The Wrong Place, The Wrong Confession Larson argues that the Barmen Declaration is more of a real comprehensive confession, but that is also rather debatable.
  • Richard Mouw, Allan Boesak: Earlier versus Later
  • Kevin DeYoung, The Belhar Confession: Yea or Nay or even better: Why Not Belhar? Note the final paragraph: The Belhar Confession, for all its good words and noble intentions, creates more problems in the RCA than it solves. A “no” on Belhar is not a “no” to multiculturalism, learning from the global South, or racial reconciliation. It is a “no” to an ambiguous, open-ended document that, despite the relentless and one-sided efforts of the RCA leadership, is better left as a statement of South African courage than a binding confession that defines us a denomination for years, decades, and possibly centuries to come.”

John Zylstra on March 6, 2011

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Randy, I appreciate and agree with all your comments (well except for women ordinates),  and I appreciate the way you have described your background.   I also find it beneficial to communicate and commune with christians from other denoinations, but I agree with you that doesn't mean that we always need institutional unity, or unity of formal written confessions.   Our unity is in Christ and in scripture. 

 

JOhn

I'm not for the unnecessary (in my judgment) multiplication of confessions when are own foundational confessions are being neglected (again, in my judgment). We already have good strong statements about racism and social justice. But now I have to go and finish my two sermons for tomorrow so I can't delay it anymore by reflecting on ecclesiastical politics.

Randy Blacketer on March 30, 2011

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Ken, you should know that the Belhar is not being proposed as something we can alter and modify, but to accept it as it is, "as a gift" from the South African Churches, according Dr. Borgdorff. Of course, any confession can be changed and modifed through the use of confessional revision gravamina, but I wouldn't expect that to happen with Belhar.

It is crazy to me that we are looking to adopt this as a confession - and that is not because of it's content. I do not understand the need to go so far as to add a 4th confession, especially one which was written by others in a place different from ours (yes our other 3 were written in a place different from ours but we descended from them theologically). It is not like we have not struggled with and wrestled with racial issues and the call to unity in Christ. Can't we speak to this ourselves? Do we actually need to adopt a confession?

I really do wonder where the energy for adopting this comes from? Acknowledging the value and truth stated in the document, yes, recognizing our need to say and do more, sure, but adopt it as a confession? What? We've had three confessions for nearly 500 years - why suddenly the need to adopt this short document from half-way around the world?

As I commented in a post elsewhere on the network, I believe the discussion should distinguish between the truth and value in the Belhar on the one hand, and whether we should adopt it on the other - affirming the former does not lead to the latter. The latter requires a ton more discussion. I do not believe we should adopt it as a confession or even as a testimony. Speaking to the truth of it does not convince me, because we do not adopt as confession everything which is true and valuable - if we did that we'd have an endless list of confessions.

Randy Blacketer on March 30, 2011

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

We have three confessions, thee creeds, and on Contemporary Testimony. That's endless?  I'm not sure what you're getting at, Ken.

On the other hand, the PCUSA does have a large collection of confessions, and some argue that the multiplication of confessions dilutes the normative character of all of them. The more confessions you adopt, the less relevant they are.

Randy Blacketer on March 30, 2011

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

No I didn't. In that case, interpret my response rhetorically. A man's life consisteth not in the abundance of his confessions. (Faux King James)

John Runner on March 30, 2011

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Ken, thanks for explaining. As Randy said below, the CRC has only three confessions, that is not endless. It is true that we confess everything Scripture says, but that is equivocating on the word confess(ion). A formal confession which has been adopted by the church as a summary and guide to the teaching of Scripture is a particular thing. That is the sort of thing we are being asked to make of the Belhar.

I'm sad that you think of me as close minded. I'm open to changing my mind - I've been wrong before and surely will be again. It is clear to me, however, that I have not heard a good case for making the Belhar a formal confession of our denomination. I'm not going to change my mind simply because I hear some people wanting me to do it.

As I likely will not be at Synod, I won't have a vote except through the long route of congregation, classis, and then synod. However I will continue to ask why we should declare it a 4th confession for our denomination in hopes that those who do have a vote consider the question. To deny it confessional status says nothing about the importance of unity in the body of Christ or the sin of racism, it simply says that we can speak to these and many other issues without going to the lengths of adding confessions.

In the end, though, I appreciate your point. There are many, many, many, many things which we confess without having formal confessions. In fact, we can and do stand for and do many good things and stand against many bad things without requiring a formal confession to be added denominationally - so why do we need a formalized confession in this case? 

John Runner on March 30, 2011

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I appreciate you giving a picture of your perspective and also believe that discourse around the issue is very healthy and good, especially since we as members of a denomination are being asked to discuss and make a decision.

I am not sure I follow your thought contained in your reply, however. I feel no loss of 'shalom' and in fact believe that finding wholeness (shalom) in a broken world is going to be tough, confusing, and at times conflicted work because Christians do not always agree on the path - in fact the shalom may come as we wrestle and struggle with the conflict.

Part of the search, for me, is asking why the drive to make the Belhar a formal confession, the topic of this discussion thread. Simply to make a sort of statement does not make sense to me as we can make statements many other ways and there are many other issues which deserve formal statements but may not deserve formal confessions (abortion is an example of something which is very culturally relevant yet is not directly discussed in our 3 confessions - might we need to adopt a confession on that too? What would be next?). I have yet to hear a case for adopting it as a formal confession.

I wonder if the urgency/energy/pressure to adopt the Belhar is out of a sense of guilt that we still have racist attitudes and actions present among our congregations and denominational structures?  Or that we seem to not be making a big enough dent in the culture concerning racism or speaking loud enough for people to hear us in our and other cultures world wide?  Adopting the Belhar, we can then point to something we have done in response perhaps?  Just a wondering ... 

I have the feeling that adopting Belhar makes us feel good about having done something concrete about racism without really having done anything concrete about racism. It's ironic that in a point in our history where some of us are trying to loosen our confessional straitjacket (as the Form of Subscription is questionably portrayed), we want to adopt another confession that we can ignore just like many of my older colleagues who graduated in the 1960's and 70's ignore the Canons of Dordt (or worse, denounce them with a wink like it's a commonly held joke). It's easy to condemn the racism of South African apartheid. It's easy to adopt a piece of paper to make us feel good. It's a lot harder to face our own prejudices and stereotypes. If we had a testimony (and that's what a statement on a particular issue should be called, not a confession, just as the Barmen document was originally called a Declaration, Erklärung), we should have called it the Timothy Christian School Declaration, decrying the exclusion of African American children from "our" covenantal Christian school for white Dutch children in the 1960's, and the recalcitrant opposition of the local classis to the whole denomination's stance against segregation. I gave a lesson on that ugly incident to my congregation during a series on CRC history during our 150th year. That is our history, and it is quite different than that of the Boers in Zuid Afrika, though our apartheid is often more subtle, and therefore more insidious. I am a Reformation historian and my work has  much to do with the Reformed Confessions, and the Belhar is a testimony, not a confession. Our two main confessions are the Heidelberg and the Belgic, which cover the full main points of Biblical teaching and Christian practice, with the Canons being a supplementary judicial judgment on the interpretation of Belgic Confession art. 16, in response to the five Remonstrant articles. And with the Belhar, what happens to the Contemp. Testimony? Is that now ignored? One could argue that it does a better job than Belhar dealing with racism see §§ 11 (1986 12, which more clearly said "race" rather than 2008's "every hue," which is a dubious "improvement"), 16 (17), 40 (41), and especially §47, which revises the old  §50 to specifically exclude racial segregation in schools, no doubt reflecting the Timothy Christian School affair. I think the Contemporary Testimony is a better basis from which to teach than the Belhar with its ambiguous language about God being (in some unspecified way) the God of the poor, which for liberation theologians meant the proletariat, and which the primary author of the confession means also practicing homosexuals. Of course the denomination is at great pains to say that's not what we mean, but what are the implications of adopting a confession that is so ambiguous? As Richard Mouw observes, the confession lacks "theological adequacy." We don't overcome prejudice with documents; we overcome prejudice by interacting with and listening to the stories of people who are different from us.

John Zylstra on March 30, 2011

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Randy, this was well said.   Thanks. 

John Runner on March 30, 2011

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Very well written and argued. I hope the folks in leadership take this to heart.

So you believe that the people pushing this Belhar are giving lip service to racism and that the Bible does not give the poor a "special" treatment. You also think the Belhar as being an agenda of liberation theology by the people who promote the it. You also believe the Belhar should have been a testimony and not a confession. You believe it lacks theological adequacy and  is also ambiguous because as you say one of the writers has a different approach to homosexuality. You also indicate that this may stem from one main incident. You are also concerned about the Contempt. confession being  abandoned when it speaks to this issue of racism. You also indicate that we or some of us do not understand the how isidious racism is. Did I miss anything Randy?

Ken

I have to admit that I haven't read every exachange above... but with that said... this might add something to think about.

Synod is going to be in an interesting spot this year.  The BOT is asking that Synod approve their new mandates for racism training and sensitivity.  This includes setting quotas for minorities in leadership, and on search committees for new leaders.  This is entirely contradictory. 

Out of one side of hte mouth, we are promoting a confession that insists that race should not be used as a defining factor in any part of the life of the church.  Race shouldn't be used to determine membership, leadership, involvment, etc. 

Out of the other side of our mouth, we are imposing a limit on how much one race can be involved, and how much other races must be involved. 

This is embarassing.  We're trying to use a form of "law" to bring about the gospel of reconciliation.  We can't have it both ways.  Either we don't use race as a determining factor, or we do.

Good point, Rob.   Some would say that this is why we would need the Belhar, but they are wrong.  Mandates are more important for racist organizations, and are not useful for the CRC.   I think it is a good idea to pay some attention to whether certain cultural or ethnic groups have enough representation, but I don't think it should be a mandated prescription, other than possibly in an informal sense to consider whether it would be valuable to have a Korean CRC representative on the BOT.    Other leaders ought to be selected on their merits.  

Hi John and Rob,

   Merit is pretty subjective would not you agree? Take pastors and elders roles in church order, pastors make all kind of assumptions based on a perceived merit. You argued against this previously.

 Rob don't be embarrassed about the apparent conflict of ideology. They mesh quite naturally. We are not  giving them our representation but allowing them to have representation.

 I suspect you guys will object to this this kind of reasoning, But if we are equals in Christ lets find a common ground to frame this discussion in a context respect and realization that not one of us is completely objective.

  Ken

I don't see how they mesh at all.  This is a form of legalism -- trying to change behavior through rules and mandates. When we do this, we will elevate the rules (and by rules, I mean the quotas that are being mandated).  That will be our primary objective; "do we have the proper percentage of minorities?"  I guarantee that that will become the focus here.  That only masks a deeper problem; "In our hearts, are we seeking true reconciliation with other races?"  We can fool ourselves inot thinking that we are, by looking at quotas and numbers, and policies and procedures.  Following rules can't change hearts. 

And suppose I applied this practice here in our church.  "25% of new members must be minorities."  Would that fly?  I doubt it.  It flies in the face of hte gospel.

It seems to me that the problem trying to be addressed by ethnic quotas is that the competencies and/or screening processes are generally geared to anglo-saxon ethnicity, and, perhaps, also along particular lines of white, western approaches to business.  In other words, if the criteria for hiring someone are closely tied predominantly to a single ethnicity's way of approaching such work, then using ethnic quotas simply gives the appearance of multi-ethnicity, rather than a truely multi-ethnic approach to how we do the leadership work in the first place.   If the above is the problem, then let's work on that, so that competent individuals, regardless of ethnicity, can adequately serve in positions available.  And then the hiring process needs to be done blind to ethnicity.  Perhaps we have some things to learn yet about the balance of productivity and relationships in our denominational work environment.  Could other cultures teach us some thing about this? Of course they can.  To get to such actual multi-ethnic leadership, we may need to be intentional about bringing such voices together to try this out and make the changes they present themselves.  The quota route by itself seems to be either condescending on the one hand and racist against persons who are more highly qualified for a position, but get passed over finally because they are the wrong ethnicity.  There is also the difficult situation of being church in a culture that persists in bringing larger numbers of one ethnicity into high ranking leadership postions, so that other ethnic groups seldom get the experience or mentoring needed to excell at the higher levels.  What are we, denominationally, doing to respond to that? 

 

Colin.

I think if ethnicity is the perceived problem about why only some ethnic communities get represented in some positions, then perhaps we have not looked closely at criteria used for "hiring" or appointing.  

First, there needs to be a difference between criteria for different positions.   Some positions ought to require a certain amount of writing and speaking as a background for selection.   In some cases, this might favor one ethnic community over another, but the requirements should not be changed to solve this. 

In other cases, the amount of formal writing and speaking engagements need not be a criteria at all.  It may be an artificial uneccessary requirement that simply eliminates more qualified persons who have other talents or contributions to make.  The determination of the criteria thus should be appropriate.   I think this will help to remove ethnic barriers, and may also give a better selection even when ethnicity is not even at play. 

When I saw the comment yesterday re the BOT's request, I had an immediate burden to pray for them... I don't think I've ever prayed specifically for the CRC BOT...often pray for the pastors and elders and council and teachers and leaders in general and Synod come every June...but not specifically for this group... 

I cringe when we try to use intellectual "human" ways to orchestrate Kingdom dynamics instead of letting the Spirit guide us with fasting and prayer...Have we ever tried selecting our leaders after prayer AND fasting?!?!  (Acts 13:1-3, vs2 - As they ministered to the LORD and FASTED, the Holy Spirit said, "Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.")...  not very intellectual, but amazing results (trust me, our elders did this last year with calling a new pastor)... I just weep in desperation that we will become far more sensitive to the Holy Spirit, and fasting does help us be more sensitive as well as other things we don't understand...  Listening to the Holy Spirit blows our intellect to bits...  Be still, listen for that still, small voice... and then obey!

I know merit is a starting place for leader selection, but as followers of Christ, we need to go much deeper than that and look at eligible leaders from a spiritual perspective...ie. are they Spirit led, men and women of prayer (like 2+ hours a day -no, the Jesuits spirituality on the run of 15 minutes a day does not usually cut it, unless that is a specific call God gave you), with a close relationship with Jesus, that have been obedient in their walk with the LORD...  we often assume this of course when someone is talented and successful, but do we actually ask about their prayer life, what is a recent testimony of God working in their life, how they are growing in their relationship with God...   and then after prayer and fasting, listen for the Spirit's leading...make sense!?!??!   hahahaha...only in a God way....

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