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25-year-old Belhar Confession still relevant for South African churches

October 7, 2011

CAPE TOWN

Twenty-five years after a Christian statement of belief known as the Belhar Confession was adopted, the issues it raised are still important, according to a South African theologian.

“We have not united, we have a lot of challenges, we do seek authentic church unity, but issues dealing with restorative justice have yet to be fully tackled,” said Rev. Thias Kgatla, Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa (URCSA) moderator.

Kgatla said the Belhar Confession, adopted in 1986 by the Dutch Reformed Mission Church (DRMC) in South Africa, and which stated that fostering unity is an obligation of the church, still resonates in the messages his church preaches.

Kgatla, a University of Pretoria lecturer, was among those celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Belhar Confession from Sept. 25-26 at Cape Town’s Gestig church, where the document was adopted.

The Confession called for people to fight injustice and come together in truthfulness, said Kgatla. “What it meant to the church then, it still means 25 years later,” he said.

The Confession  was originally written by Dirkie Smit, assisted by Jaap Durand of the of the University of the Western Cape, Rev. Gustav Bam of the DRMC and Rev. Allan Boesak, then president of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC).

Translated from the original Afrikaans, the Confession says, “We believe that separation, enmity and hatred between people and groups is a sin. Therefore, we reject any doctrine which in such a situation sanctions in the name of the gospel...the forced separation of people on the grounds of race and color.”

Kgatla said that a task team set up by the DRMC and World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC) in 2009 would report before the end of 2011 on what should be done on restorative justice in the country in order to bolster the relevance of the Confession.

“The impact of Belhar is tremendous. There is much to be done yet for the justice and reconciliation theme it so eloquently articulates,” said Rev. Setri Nyomi, WCRC general secretary, as he congratulated the Southern African church community on the anniversary. 

Nyomi said the Belhar Confession was a gift to the church worldwide that is still relevant today, not just to South Africa in the 1980s. “We hold the Belhar Confession as a standard which our member churches should take very seriously,” said Nyomi.

“We were happy to be associated with processes in which churches outside South Africa were considering adopting it,” he added.

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