Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Belhar Passes - and Why I Voted No

This week I am blogging from the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly

The Belhar Confession is a great confession.  It is a landmark in the fight against apartheid in South Africa.

The Presbyterian Church (USA) has a Book of Confessions, the first part of the constitution of the church.  There has been a movement for the past decade to add the Belhar Confession to our Book of Confessions. The previous General Assembly passed the overture, and sent it to the presbyteries for adoption.  A majority of presbyteries voted to adopt the confession - but not quite the super-majority which is required to amend the Book of Confessions.

This General Assembly, the proponents of Belhar tried again.  They had strong leadership, made a glossy presentation to the Assembly on the first day, and this evening proposed, once again, to add Belhar to the Book.

The commissioners voted,  86% to 14%, to adopt the Confession.  It will now go to the presbyteries again, seeking that super-majority.

I was among the 14%. 

I did not vote against Belhar because it is a bad confession.  It is, as I have said, a great confession.  Its message against racism is timely and apt for the PC(USA).

My objection is to the entire project of the Book of Confessions. I have written against the theory of the B of C several times before.

From the founding of the Presbyterian Church on this continent the church had one confession, the Westminster Confession and its attendant documents. This Confession was not a static 17th century British document, but a living part of the constitution, as living as the parts of the constitution regulating order and worship.  The denomination periodically amended the Westminster Confession, as needed.

In the 1960s, to conclude a merger of two Presbyterian denominations, a new confession - the Confession of 1967 - was commissioned.  Rather than replacing Westminster with this new confession, though, the seminary professors who wrote it also advanced the theory that confessions were not living documents, but documents of their time and place.  Thus they sold the church on the peculiar idea that for the theological foundation of the constitution, the church should have many confessions, all listed together.

The effect was to make the confessions optional.  Officers of the church were left to take whatever 'guidance' they chose from the confessions.  The action in the church shifted to the Book of Order, which became the only truly living part of the church's constitution.

Because I object to the whole idea of a book of confessions, I voted against adding the Belhar Confession to our Book.

I know this is a minority position, which is not likely ever to be victorious.  But I thought, in consistent conscience, I should vote and tell you why.


Jim Moore said...

Thank you again for your time in doing this and for the posts.

Reformed Catholic said...

The BoC is what has caused many a traditional motion to fail when people who do NOT understand the history of the PCUSA, point to women's ordination and the Scot's Confessions.

The UPCUSA was ordaining women (as did the PCUS) when their only confession was the Westminster Confession of Faith.