27 May 2009

answering the bell of Belhar

“We know that such an act of confession and process of reconciliation will necessarily involve much pain and sadness. It demands the pain of repentance, remorse, and confession; the pain of individual and collective renewal and a changed way of life. It places us on a road whose end we can neither foresee nor manipulate to our own desire.”

I went to my first presbytery meeting yesterday since we came to the Presbytery of Geneva. This presbytery has been incorporating the study of the Belhar Confession into its meetings as worship. Yesterday was session four. Belhar emerged from the South African church’s struggle with apartheid—within itself and within the nation. At the General Assembly last year in San Jose, the Presbyterian Church (USA) proposed adding the Belhar Confession to our Book of Confessions.

The quote above is taken from the Accompanying Letter to the Belhar Confession. Certainly, the South African church’s “act of confession and process of reconciliation” doesn’t precisely match the conditions in America. Their context isn’t identical to our context. But that’s the case with every confession of faith. That’s the case with the scriptures!

Still, as I listened to that letter being read yesterday, images of what we in this country are going through kept filling my mind. The courage of South African Christians—as well as those of other faiths and no faith—to grapple with the legacy of apartheid has indeed placed them “on a road whose end we can neither foresee nor manipulate to our own desire.”

In America, we have our own grab bag of issues: racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. We also have the troubling issue of torture. My prayer, using the words of the letter, is that the church can address torture in a spirit that says, “We do not wish to serve any group interests, advance the cause of any factions, promote any theologies, or achieve any ulterior purposes…Our earnest desire is to lay no false stumbling blocks in the way, but to point to the true stumbling block, Jesus Christ the rock.”

(The image is “I Heard the Cry of My People” by Margrit Roussos, South Africa.)

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