At Synod 2009, several delegates said that adopting the Belhar Confession as one of our doctrinal standards will help us face racism, one of our besetting sins (July 2009 Banner, p.32). But will adopting more words really help us?
Synod’s 1996 report titled “God’s Diverse and Unified Family” listed many declarations on race that synods have made since 1959. The report concluded, “Notwithstanding laudatory goals and the long road the Christian Reformed Church has already traveled in race relations, the process and progress have been slow—and there are still many miles to go on various fronts (Agenda for Synod 1996, p. 217).
Thirteen years later those words are still true and can be illustrated by our response to the decisions of Synod 2005 (Acts of Synod 2005, p. 748, 755-756):
- Synod encouraged each classis (regional group of churches) to include at least one ethnic minority delegate to synod, beginning with Synod 2006. Less than one-third of our 47 classes do that.
- Synod requested all classes to develop a strategy to intentionally incorporate ethnic minorities into the life and government of the local church and broader assemblies and to submit their plan to the denominational Board of Trustees by March 15, 2007. That did not happen.
- Synod instructed our Board of Trustees to report in the annual Agenda for Synod and to make recommendations, if necessary, on the denomination’s progress in attaining its goal of at least one ethnic minority synodical delegate from each classis and on the denomination’s progress in incorporating ethnic minorities on denominational boards. Synodical agendas do not include such reports.
Sometimes words remain only words. That doesn’t happen because we’re unconcerned or mean-spirited. It happens because it’s so easy to continue to do things the way we’ve always done them. It takes a concerted, sustained effort to be inclusive—to notice the other person and to invite that person to the table while stepping back ourselves.
Adopting the Belhar Confession will add more words to the many words we’ve already spoken about racism. That might be a good thing, but our denomination will be best served when there is at least one person on each church council, in each classis, and on each denominational board who keeps reminding us of our words so those words more quickly translate into reality.