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Belhar Confession passes first hurdle on journey to The Book of Confessions

‘This is the good part of globalization’

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Minister commissioner Wanda Lawry Hughes of Long Island Presbytery stood patiently at her microphone during Wednesday’s plenary session of the 219th General Assembly (2010). She was waiting to be recognized to speak following the presentation of the Belhar Confession overture by the Committee on Theological Issues and Institutions.

Recovering from a bout of laryngitis, Lawry Hughes reminded commissioners and delegates of the countless peoples over the centuries who have lost their voices due to racism and oppression, including the Native American members of her own family.

“Now is the time to speak up and out against racism, oppression and fear; now is the time to rise up for justice, reconciliation and unity!” she exhorted those who would vote to accept or reject this first step to adding a new confession to the PC(USA) Book of Confessions in nearly 30 years.

In the end, the Assembly voted 525-150-3 to send the confession to presbyteries for ratification by July 2011. If ratified, Belhar will join the 11 Eurocentric creeds and confessions in the second part of the PC(USA) Constitution.

“Today we took on our own denominational history of racism. By offering this affirmative vote, the Assembly accepted the challenge to work against racism and for reconciliation and justice throughout our church and country,” said the Rev. Sharon Stanley, who moderated the Assembly committee.

“Eighty-five million Reformed Christians live in the world today; 80 percent of them live in the global south,” said Stated Clerk Grady Parsons. “Through this first step, we will be able to hear all these voices and engage in rich theological discourse. This is the good part of globalization.”

Two committee-generated amendments will accompany the Belhar Confession to presbyteries. Original scripture references will be added as footnotes and the “Accompanying Letter,” customarily included with the Confession, will be provided as a background document without confessional status.

The committee also directed the Office of Theology and Worship to generate an inclusive-language version of the Confession for the Web, similar to the inclusive language of the Confession of 1967.

The Assembly voted to continue the work of the Heidelberg Confession special committee. Working in cooperation with the Christian Reformed Church in North America and the Reformed Church of America, this joint project to correct translation problems will be completed by the 218th General Assembly (2012).

Among other action, commissioners approved adding “prayer” to the denomination’s ordination and installation services in the Book of Order, welcomed three new seminary presidents, and approved the revised covenant with partner seminary El Seminario Evangélico de Puerto Rico.