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.”