Vernon Broyles, a volunteer serving in the Office of the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly, shared his thoughts on the Confession of Belhar during the annual Polity Conference of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Prior to his work as a volunteer Broyles served in the Social Justice area of the General Assembly Council, now the Presbyterian Mission Agency.
I’m Vernon Broyles and I’m currently a volunteer serving in the Office of the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly. Prior to that for many years I worked in the Social Justice area of the General Assembly Council (now Presbyterian Mission Agency) and among my duties was our relationship with partners around the world where issues of rights and other issues were rife.
Tell us about your experience with the Belhar Confession
My first experience with Belhar was in 1982 when the Dutch Reformed Mission Church in South Africa adopted it in a first reading. I was privileged to be invited to their General Assembly meeting in 1986 (when) Belhar was up for a final reading. That was a very emotional meeting. Dr. Allan Boesak was the moderator of the synod. At the completion of that vote, behind me sitting in the hall, were three young black men who immediately began singing, “We Shall Overcome.” And I was moved to tears and even get that way when I talk about it now because I knew what a profound evil apartheid had been. I knew the way it had been experienced by my brothers and sisters there and the emotion of that moment was something special to me.
What does the Belhar Confession mean to the PC(USA) today?
Well, at the heart of Belhar is the simple message that we are all one in Christ. There are others who have said that we don’t need Belhar because we already have something about racism in society. Um, Belhar’s not about that, it’s about the fact that in the Church, not only racism but many other issues, have divided us and made us something less than the united body of Christ. Belhar calls us to look inward at ourselves not out at the society. And remember that every one of us who declares that Jesus Christ is Lord belongs to all others who claim that Lordship. Therefore Belhar is particularly important to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). We’re well aware of many kinds of divisions that separate us from one another. If we could learn to live with Belhar and the message that’s there, which concludes with the simple statement, “Jesus is Lord,” we could stand together against all of the idolatries in Church and culture that our declaration of faith calls upon us to fight.