My attitude toward racism has carried over into ministry. I had the dubious honor of announcing to three rural Missouri congregations from the pulpit that God says there’s nothing wrong with interracial marriage, based on God’s approval of Moses’ marriage to a Nubian woman in Numbers 12. (The mushroom cloud has since dissipated.)
I firmly believe that God is not a “lifter of faces” (prosōpolēptēs), as we find proclaimed in Acts 10:34, Luke 20:21, et al (the expression originates in the Greek version of Leviticus 19:15). God doesn’t check your face first to see if you are black, Oriental, white, aboriginal, male, female, gay, straight, rich or poor. And Jesus’ brother James commands that we also must avoid showing prosōpolēpsia as we practice our faith in Christ (James 2:1).
Consequently, I really didn’t have much problem with the Belhar Confession at first. Since I had been told that our Confessions are really museum pieces that we shouldn’t try to change because we no longer subscribe to them, I didn’t see why we should add this one, but I didn’t see any outright heresy in it, either. That’s because I was assuming that Belhar means what I mean when I speak of subjects such as Christ, unity, and justice.
The problem is that today, meaning is entirely in the mind of the reader. Today, we have wildly different Christs, and use the same words to mean totally different meanings. That may be OK for our Brief Statement of Faith. But we already have the word of Allan Boesak that Belhar will be used for a different purpose than what it was written for: it will be used to shove the radical gay agenda down our throats.
If a joke has to be explained too much, it’s a lousy joke. Likewise, if a confession of faith is not clear about what it’s trying to confess, it’s not a good confession. If Belhar is merely about racism, then why does it say so little specifically about racism? What we need to say about racism and injustice has already been said much more clearly and completely in the Confession of 1967 and the Westminster Larger Catechism.
What does Belhar mean by “justice”? The Larger Catechism (Q 141–142) has a long, highly detailed description of what it means by “injustice,” a list that is still useful for us today, while Belhar gives no such definition of what it means when it speaks of injustice. The Confession of 1967 (9.44) says that God “breaks down every form of discrimination based on racial or ethnic difference, real or imaginary. … Therefore, the church labors for the abolition of all racial discrimination and ministers to those injured by it.” What more needs to be said? What could be clearer as to what it means and does not mean?
It has been said that we will be sending the wrong message to our African sister churches if we disapprove Belhar. No, if they find out that Belhar was rejected because it was too closely tied to the gay agenda, our African fellow Christians will fully understand.
A far, far better African confession is the 2006 statement written by the Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern Africa, which is worthy to replace our entire Book of Confessions as a comprehensive statement of what we currently believe.
I am sure that Belhar will be pushed as a symbol that is more important than its content. How much better to write a new statement that proclaims that God is no respecter of persons, and that racism is a contradiction of the Christian gospel.
TOM HOBSON is of Belleville, Ill., a PC(USA) pastor for 27 years, has degrees from Gordon-Conwell (M.Div.) and Concordia (Ph.D.).