Belhar Confession generating spirited discussion online

Theological conversation indicate confessions still matter in Presbyterians common life together

February 15, 2011

Charles Wiley, sitting at his desk with computer and files.

Charles Wiley moderating on-line conversation on Belhar confession. Vigorous discussion help Presbyterians think, pray, live the faith. —Photo by Paul Seebeck.


The Belhar Confession, which is being considered as an amendment to The Book of Confessions of the PC(USA), is generating a  vigorous and spirited discussion on the General Assembly Mission Council’s website.  Underneath the fully downloadable version of the confession, which was adopted by the Dutch Mission Reformed Church in South Africa in 1986, are more than 100 posts that fill nearly 50 screens.

“For six months we’ve had this sustained, challenging theological conversation—online— about the nature of the church’s unity in Christ,” says Charles Wiley, coordinator of the PC(USA)’s  office of Theology and Worship. “The call of Belhar to unity, reconciliation, and justice has people thinking about the faith, engaging each other with questions and reflecting thoughtfully.”    

If two-thirds of Presbyteries approve adoption of Belhar by July 2011, final vote for amendment to The  Book of Confessions will come at the 220th General Assembly in 2012. Regardless of the decision, Wiley believes this ongoing conversation is incredibly helpful and spiritually beneficial.  “As expected Belhar has become part of the political debate in the PC(USA),”  he says, “which is reflected in some of the comments on the resource page. Presbyterians value hard, open debate.  This discussion demonstrates that.”  

The ability to have online discussions is one of the most important collaborative tools built into the new PC(USA) website--and  Belhar has generated the most active discussion of any site. In one of his early posts, Wiley wrote, “I am fine discussing sexuality as it pertains to Belhar, but this is not the place for a full-court-press debate on that issue in particular. We’ll continue to keep a light hand on moderation.”  As moderator he hasn’t had to censor any of the discussion at all.   

“One of my colleagues pointed out [that]  Belhar’s strong call to the unity of the church is a judgment on an ‘us against them’ use of the confession itself,” says Wiley. “At the end of the day it is a call ‘to consider the log in your own eye before removing the speck in another’s.” [Matthew 7:5]

Wiley pauses for a moment, letting the words settle. “Theology and Worship is about thinking, praying, living the faith.  Doing this together has been helpful in understanding the nature of our confessional heritage and authority.  At some level the confessions matter in our common life together as Presbyterians.”

Continue to follow the conversation on Belhar and the vote by presbyteries on Belhar as an amendment to The Book of Confessions.

  1. Rodean, you can actually download the confession and read it - just copy and paste this link in your browser Joy.

    by paul seebeck

    March 1, 2011

  2. The Belhar brings to Reformed standards something not seen in any other, namely, a Trinitarian model for the church's praxis. It wisely avoids modalism by not assigning unity, reconciliation or justice to any of the Godhead, but instead focuses on the "distinct yet indistinguishable" nature of relationship in the Godhead. Yet the contribution of Belhar shouldn't be adopted because it is unique. It should be adopted because it is necessary. In my observation and study, churches tend to major in either unity, reconciliation or justice. They'll be good at evangelism, but not engage social justice issues. They'll go after systemic problems in the community, but not have a clue how to do so with an obvious witness to Christ. They'll circle the wagons to protect the membership and not expose them to possibly divisive issues needing deeper dialogue, study, prayer and action. Very rarely does once see a church successfully doing all three. If Belhar is any threat, it's to the church's "business as usual" praxis. With it, we may all be challenged to embrace models of ministry that galvanize the church in bringing both tangible and eternal salvation to those whom God has given to our care.

    by Rev. David Willerup

    March 1, 2011

  3. Please explain what Belhar Confession contain, I feel like this is just a way to allow homosexual ministers into the pulpit. Let's leave the Bible alone it actually can not be changed . You will loose members .

    by Rodean Frakes

    February 28, 2011

  4. As much as I love each of the confessions as subset statements, I am frustrated that there are so many of them. This decade we will study and vote on the Belhar Confession, most likely adding it to our banner. And fifteen or twenty years from now as the political/theological climate changes, another fine statement of belief will be created and eventually added to our Book of Confessions. We Presbyterians have too many words undergirding us. Often I wish we listened to Thoreau's advice, "Simplify, simplify!" rather than adding layer after layer. Peace!

    by bud warren

    February 18, 2011

  5. It is without a doubt one of the most profound Contemporary Declarations of Faith. I still read it during my Private Devotional times.

    by Rev. Ron Hooker

    February 16, 2011

  6. The Belhar Confession is wonderful for seeking unity and breaking down the walls between races. But I am afraid that many within our denomination will misuse this confession by twisting it's words to promote active homosexual persons in our pulpits and to redefine marriage. This is sad but true. If we could act like the Reformed Church in America or the Christian Reformed Church and only use the confession when addressing racial issues, then it would be fine. The confession has absolutely nothing to do with sexuality. The only thing we need on sexuality is the Bible. God created this world and He has a perfect design, He made Adam and then his partner, helper, companion, and complimenter, Eve; Adams wife. The discussion should stop here. If we allow the sin of Homosexuality in our church, then we have to let in other sins like Adultery, Lying, Stealing, Blaspheming, Idolatry, Bestiality, Pedophilia, etc..... PCUSA, let us just stick with God and His Perfect Word. He knows what is best and He wrote it in the Bible. Amen.

    by Caleb

    February 15, 2011