Panel approves addition of Belhar to the PC(USA) Book of Confessions
After an hour-long education session and nearly two hours of debate, the Assembly Committee on Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations overwhelmingly recommended Monday that the full 222nd General Assembly (2016) take the final step to include the Confession of Belhar in the Book of Confessions of the PresbyterianChurch (U.S.A.). The process for amending the Book of Confessions is significantly more involved than amending the Book of Order. It begins with a proposal to amend the Book of Confessions, which much be approved by a General Assembly. A special committee is appointed to study the proposed change or addition. The study committee’s findings are then reported to the next General Assembly, which considers whether to recommend it to presbyteries for inclusion. If it is sent for a vote of presbyteries, it must be approved by at least two-thirds of them. The proposal then returns to the General Assembly for a third time, where it must be approved again and enacted. This is the PC(USA)’s second attempt to adopt the Belhar Confession, which comes from the Dutch Reformed Mission Church in South Africa. The previous effort failed in 2010 when the Confession was approved by a majority of the presbyteries, but failed to reach the two-thirds threshold. The second process began at the 220th General Assembly (2012), then was sent to presbyteries after the 221st General Assembly (2014), receiving 84 percent approval. The committee vote to recommend approval passed 57-3 with one abstention. The recommendation now heads to the full assembly for vote later this week. Matilde Moros, co-moderator of the Special Committee on the Confession of Belhar, outlined its three goals: unity, reconciliation and justice.
- Unity (Articles 1&2) as a gift and obligation that “must become visible so that the world may believe that separation, enmity and hatred between people and groups is sin, which Christ has already conquered.”
- Reconciliation (Article 3) rejects any doctrine that “sanctions in the name of the gospel … the forced separation on the grounds of race and color.”
- Justice (Articles 4&5) declares that God is in a special way the God of the destitute, the poor and the wronged.