The Outlook speaks with James A. Belle

TPO: In your opinion, what is the most significant matter to come before this General Assembly, and how do you propose that the Assembly respond to it?

JAB: Without a doubt, the new Form of Government changes would radically change the way we do business within the Presbyterian Church, both in theory and in practice. At present, the “wisdom of the pews” comes to each Assembly through overtures born in sessions and at presbyteries. Concerns are debated at the lowest level of the church before they are “sent up” to the highest level, and if passed, go back for the wisdom of the entire church again. The changes that many feel necessary can and should be made within the present system of reform, which is not as sweeping as the new Form of Government would be. I would like to see our Assembly respond with ongoing reform without dismantling our unique system representative of our American form of Presbyterianism, which presently works from the “bottom up and down again.”

TPO: What do you believe are the causes of conflict in the PC(USA), and what do you hope this General Assembly will do to help bring resolution?

JAB: Conflict always results when anyone but God believes they possess the “whole truth” on a particular issue. Too often, when there are issues of deep concern and sincere conviction, people talk “at” one another instead of with one another. Our polity allows us to “discern the will of God through the voice of the people,” and I pray we can begin with the acceptance that does not come from merit, but from grace. My hope for the Assembly resides in the phrase that defines my candidacy, and which is also an exegetical tool for decision making: “A Common Faith, with Common Sense, serving an Uncommon Savior.” I pray that in all the decisions of this Assembly, commissioners will ask … : “What is common in our faith about this issue; what is the common sense answer to this question; and how does this serve our Uncommon Savior Jesus Christ?”

TPO: In your opinion, what is the most urgent need in the PC (USA) over the next five years?

JAB: The most urgent need in our denomination is two-fold. First, we need to engage in “seeing one another” to borrow a phrase from the recent movie, “Avatar.” We need an atmosphere of sincere looking at one another under the umbrella of true “family” and with the understanding that you don’t condemn, throw out, or forsake your family members. This conversation is too necessary and primal to our survival to be limited to a task group or a committee. It must be done by everyone at every level, particularly with those we see on the “other side of the fence.” Secondly, we are to engage in dynamic missional ministry together across all lines of former demarcation and separation: race, gender, age, self-identity and awareness, congregational size, worship traditions, and theological perspectives.

TPO: What are your goals for your moderatorial years, and what strengths do you bring to the task?

JAB: I want to create an atmosphere for communication and mission, particularly between those within our Presbyterian Family who look at others as “somebody else.” I also strongly support Campus Ministry as a means of keeping our youth within our denomination. While working with music and youth in a former PCUS Church in Chapel Hill in the mid 1970’s, Campus Ministry affirmed my calling to ministry. I consequently bring nearly 40 years of doing ministry with and  being nurtured by “somebody else.” Growing up in one of the four all-black Synods (Catawba) of the former UPCUSA in North Carolina, I later worked with youth and music with Korean and Caucasian youth in another PCUS church in East Point, Ga., in the 1980s. Later, as an ordained Minister, I was blessed to serve a congregation in rural Nebraska. Today, I serve a diverse urban congregation in Philadelphia intent on teaching the faith.