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Playing by the Rules

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In 2009 our denomination’s Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Committee recommended to synod that we adopt the Belhar Confession as a fourth confession. To give the churches adequate time to respond to this recommendation and to study and discuss the confession, the committee also recommended that synod make a final decision by 2012. In response to this recommendation, for the past three years individuals, church councils, and classes have discussed the Belhar Confession, and articles have been written about it in various publications.

Recently I received an email stating that all CRC officebearers could sign an online petition informing Synod 2012 that they could not “formally subscribe to the Belhar Confession as a rule for life and doctrine.” The email also encouraged all recipients to “pass the word on to others. Each one reach two or more.” The organizers of this effort hope to secure 200 signatures by June 1, 2012, and will present the petition to the synodical advisory committee “that is assigned the responsibility of making the recommendation to synod itself.”

This is not the first petition directed to synod. Another was circulated before Synod 2007 in response to an overture on undocumented workers—an overture considered by the advisory committee of which I was a member.

Though petitions are fairly common in the secular world, they have no place in the church of Christ as we seek to make decisions on a variety of matters. Instead, individuals, church councils, and classes have agreed to express their perspectives through overtures and communications to synod. It’s disturbing that some resort to petitions instead of honoring these church-orderly processes.

Even more disturbing is the role that denominational leaders play in these efforts. The 2007 petition was written, signed, and circulated by a Calvin Seminary professor and also signed by the head of one of our denominational agencies. The email I recently received was sent by a Calvin Seminary professor, and he and an emeritus seminary professor signed the petition.

Some encouraged the 2007 synodical advisory committee to meet with the author of the petition. It didn’t, and its officers did not distribute the petition to its members or to the synodical delegates. Hopefully the 2012 advisory committee that formulates a recommendation on the Belhar Confession will do the same with this current petition.

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