DETROIT, Mich. – Commissioners to the 221st General Assembly voted to send the Confession of Belhar for presbytery approval, with 86 percent of the commissioners voting in favor. If approved by a 2/3 majority of the presbyteries, the Belhar will be added to the Book of Confessions at the 222nd General Assembly in 2016.
Quinn Fox, moderator of the Theological Issues and Institutions and CE, introduced the overture to the General Assembly commissioners. “The Belhar Confession comes to us at a time when the church is facing a critical time in our history. We are rent apart from division and schism, and we have not confessed the racism that is part of our own history. This confession is a profound statement on unity, reconciliation, and justice. The committee believes that it comes as a word of God for this particular time and place in the PCUSA.
In speaking to what relevance a confession written to address South African apartheid might have for a church at this time and place, Rev. Laurie Hartzell, a commissioner from Lake Michigan, commented, “Our brothers and sisters know this road. They know of the racism that affected them and continually affects the church. Pain, polarization, and separation are fostered by racism. We are more and more marginalized, and we can learn from our brothers and sisters who have walked that road. We are uncertain about our future, and we have disunity among us. They know this road, and we can learn from them. The confession gives us a strong biblical and Christological foundation that will help us walk the road … unity is a gift and obligation and can mentor us to foster it through the power of the Holy Spirit. When my children read the Book of Confession (and I will be sure they read it), I will be proud to tell them of this moment. We have the opportunity to make history, to do God’s will, and make a stand against racism and make a stand for generations to come.”
Commissioners’ questions focused on the committee recommendation not to include the accompanying letter written by the special committee. Fox answered by saying, “We spent a good part of Tuesday afternoon talking about various aspects. The summary statement is that the committee felt for various reasons that the letter might get in the way and provide reasons to not be for it (The Belhar Confession).”
When asked if the letter would ever be seen again, the moderator said, “It appears in the online study materials and will continue to be available. However, the accompanying letter will not be sent with the amendment materials prepared for presbyteries, and it will not be included in the Book of Confessions if approved at the presbytery level.”
Following approval of the committee recommendation on Tuesday, six commissioners from the Committee on Theological Issues, Institutions, and CE voiced their disgruntlement that the special committee’s letter was removed. At the time of that vote Robert Prim, a commissioner from the Northeast Georgia Presbytery commented, “I believe that the entire accompanying letter should be attached and included in the Book of Confessions. I am voting against the amended overture even though I am in support of the Belhar Confession to allow me to file a minority report.”
However, when the overture was brought to the full body of the General Assembly, no minority report was on the docket. Although some dissent against the Confession of Belhar was expressed during the committee hearing, none was voiced on the floor of the full body.
The Belhar Confession was first adopted by the mixed-race body of the Dutch Reformed Mission in South Africa in 1986. It has been adopted as a confession also by the Reformed Church in America. It was approved by the Christian Reformed Church as an “ecumenical faith declaration,” but not as a confessional statement. The PC (USA) attempted to admit it to the Book of Confessions following the 2010 General Assembly but it fell short of the 2/3 majority for ratification in the presbyteries.
DIRECTORY OF WORSHIP DRAFT
A draft of a new Directory of Worship will be circulated for comment after the 221st General Assembly of the PC (USA) approved it on the consent agenda.
David Gambrell, associate for theology, said the proposal draft of the Directory of Worship is authentically reformed, culturally appropriate, accessible and helpful, and better organized. It is also shorter by nearly 10,000 words.
Although shorter, it is not a complete revision, according to Gambrel. “We have sought to preserve the spirit and strength of its precursors, including the Westminster Directory of Public Worship. It is a thorough revision that seeks to uphold essential reformed tenets of Christ crucified and risen. The hope is that it will be more accessible and apply to a number of new contexts such as new worshiping communities. There is also a stronger focus on the work of the Holy Spirit.”
The committee thinks the revision will be more helpful to the church, and reorganization will make it easier to find answers to questions about worship. At some point, a study guide will be created with an executive summary for worship leaders along with on-line links to related worship materials.
The Presbyterian Mission Agency and the Office of the General Assembly will accept comments, consideration and all forms of feedback from the church through July 1, 2015. Following comments, another draft will be prepared for the 2016 General Assembly.