Dear Members and Friends,
I wrote last week that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) “bears witness to God’s grace in Jesus Christ in the creeds and confessions in The Book of Confessions.” As part of that witness, we make an Affirmation of Faith in worship using one of our confessions. Last Sunday and again this week, we will use a portion of the Confession of Belhar. The soul-searching of the church lead to repentance and a reversal of its support for apartheid
The context in which this confession was written was the Dutch Reformed Mission Church in South Africa as it faced the challenge of apartheid, the system of laws separating people by race from 1948-1994. You will see in the final paragraph how the church moved from justifying apartheid to repenting and proclaiming the gospel anew.
Apartheid formed a racially stratified society … . Racial separation was established by law and enforced through violence. Non-white citizens lived with constant and intrusive police presence and interference in the daily functions of life. Those who protested risked punishment, imprisonment, and even death.
The roots of apartheid go back in South African culture and church for several centuries. The Dutch Reformed Church embodied racial separation when it formed three “mission” churches in the late nineteenth century, each categorized by its racial identity. The Dutch Reformed Mission Church was formed for people designated as “coloured” (biracial). The church’s complicity with racial separation kept Christians from worshipping and coming to the Lord’s Table together. The white Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) created an elaborate biblical interpretation and ideology that supported racial separation and then the formal apartheid policies.
.The Dutch Reformed Church’s active participation and theological defense of apartheid moved the global church to name apartheid a status confessionis—a conviction that the Gospel was at stake and thus the faith needed to be proclaimed. Leaders of the Dutch Reformed Mission Church wrestled with this situation theologically and practically. One outcome of their struggles was the emergence of the Confession of Belhar in the early 1980s.
Next week we’ll read about this confession being adopted by the PC (U.S.A.) and why we say it as an Affirmation of Faith.
P.S. We will be meditating both Monday morning at 8:15 and afternoon at 1 in the Lounge.