Why We Should Adopt the Belhar

Every community is shaped by the stories it tells. This is as true of the Navajo people centuries ago as it is of the people of Russia today. The stories we tell can either help or hinder us in finding our way forward. A story has the power to inspire and challenge us like nothing else.

Consider the way stories have shaped the Christian Reformed Church. Our confessions speak to us with passion and power because they were birthed in times of struggle and difficulty. Their stories continue to shape the church today—as long as we tell them and remember.

The Heidelberg Catechism was forged in the fire of the Reformation as the church sought to provide sound biblical teaching to a fledgling new church. That story has inspired our church to value solid education and biblical teaching. The catechism’s themes of comfort, sin, salvation, and gratitude continue to shape our life in the church.

The Belgic Confession was birthed in blood and fire. Under threat from the Spanish Empire, the church was willing to bend the knee to a Catholic king but unwilling to bend on the beliefs summarized in that confession. In the ensuing conflict, many died for their faith. But out of that struggle, the Dutch Reformed community came to cherish and defend religious freedom. [Early on, the Netherlands became a sanctuary for persecuted communities.] To this day, our church intentionally works to pursue a healthy relationship with government.

The Canons of Dort too was born in conflict—this one within the church. As heated debate grew around the perplexing dance between grace and faith in the work of salvation, participants hammered out some strong doctrinal truths. The story of our faith, as we tell it now, has less to do with our own belief and more to do with God’s grace and power at work in us.

Today our Reformed brothers and sisters in South Africa have a terrible story of apartheid to share with us. The church misused its power and privilege and now extends to us an urgent invitation: “Take our hand in this pledge. We cannot make these mistakes again. Take our story with you, and tell it to your children.”

Making the Belhar one of our confessions will encode the lessons we learn from it in the DNA of our church.

Do we need to remember this story? No one would deny that we need to remember and to learn its lessons. But do we make it a confession? I offer a firm yes! All stories fade with time unless they are retold. Their lessons fade as well. Making the Belhar [PDF] one of our confessions will ensure that our memory of this story will not grow dim. It will encode the lessons we learn from it in the DNA of our church. And as we take ownership, this confession will give us fuel with which to battle the growing darkness of our age.

From the Belhar, we receive three distinct biblical challenges: Pursue unity. Practice reconciliation. Fight for justice. Driven restlessly forward by the story of apartheid, these challenges are filled with fire and power.

Let’s claim this story for ourselves. Let’s allow it to push us to grapple with Scripture and to live out God’s Word and God’s call with passion and courage.

This is a story we cannot afford to forget.

For the complete text of the Belhar Confession, visit crcna.org/pages/belhar.cfm.

About the Author

Rev. Mike Van Boom is pastor of First Christian Reformed Church in Edmonton, Alberta.

See comments (29)

Comments

That would be great if the Belhar were a story, but it isn't. It's a confessional document.

By signing the Form of Subscription, I bind myself to the text of the Heidelberg Catechism, Belgic Confession, and to the Canons of Dort. I don't bind myself to their stories, but to the actual text of the documents.

Those documents are intelligible independent of their stories. Do you need to know one iota of the history of J. Arminius, the theology of the Remonstrants, the ongoing war with Spain, the sometimes petty jealousies of his nemesis at Leiden (F. Gomarus) to understand the Canons of Dort? Nope. In fact, I highly doubt that even 10% of those who read the Canons today are aware of that back story.

But the Belhar cannot stand on its own. Apart from certain existing decisions of Synod, other caveats, extra-confessional clarifications of its language, and so on, it is utterly unintelligible at worst and horribly ambiguous at best. A confession that needs a commentary to clarify it isn't useful - might as well just adopt the commentary and skip the confession.

To piggy-back on what Eric wrote below, your inclusion of the stories behind our three forms of unity works against your argument. The back stories have been largely lost to many might read and use the documents and understanding the stories is not necessary for valuing the documents.

If the goal is to preseve the story, that is wonderful and important. But I don't think the role of formal confessions is to preseve stories but to outline and declare beliefs. You might not like that focus, as opposed to narrative, but I do think that fits with a confession's role.

Aside from disagreeing with Mike on this, I wonder if he is also aware that the Netherlands did not always provide a sanctuary for persecuted communities, but rather provided an inhospitable environment for some of the early anabaptist communities that eventually fled the netherlands? Our confessions named them as "detestable", I think.

I tend to shy away from comments but Eric's response is not entirely correct.

I should also preface that I have no objections with the Belhar Confession or it's message (which we have already embraced as a denomination) though I would prefer that we treat it on the same level as the Contemporary Testimony rather than as a Confession for the purpose of unity.

When you sign the form of subscription you may not bind yourself to the stories but those stories are essential in understanding the text of the documents. They are rooted in their history, the conflicts give shape to the arguments, and without knowing the story they become two-dimensional.

The same is true for Scripture. You have to know the history of Corinth to fully understand what Paul wrote. Yes you can understand it, mostly, on its own but there are necessary details required for a proper reading (ie. the treatment of the Lord's Supper and the more appropriate readings that have emerged in the past few years).

These are not simply theology texts to be interpreted as such. They are important conversations in the past that are translated forward to our present situations each time we appeal to them. Remembering these stories helps prevent us from using them inappropriately.

Also (and this is important): None of our confessional documents stand alone. They stand together. They complement each other. They fill in the gaps that the other historical confessions miss because the conflicts they address are not the same. Together they articulate a theology and keep us from interpreting them wrong (ie. without the Catechism it would be easy to interpret the Belgic's treatment of the Lord's Supper in a Zwinglian manner.)

This would be true of the Belhar even if elevated to confessional status. It would be subject to its own history, our history and the decisions we've made and the other confessions which firmly entrench our views on some of the gaps that certain intellectually dishonest opponents of the Belhar fear-monger over.

@Dan Brown-

The argument being made by Rev. Van Boom is that the story is primary, not secondary - that in adopting the Belhar, we are adopting (and affirming) a story irrespective of the actual (problematic) text of the Belhar. But it isn't a story.

Nor do you have to know the history of Corinth to understand what Paul wrote in his letters to them. To "fully" understand the text, it is necessary (though not sufficient), but to "adequately" understand the text it is not. One need not know anything about Corinth to comprehend, for instance, chapters 12-13 of his first letter to the church there.

True, the 3 Forms of Unity do not stand alone. The Canons are explicitly intended as clarification of points of doctrine in the Catechism and Confession. They are interwoven. Adding a different weave to this will change the pattern of the cloth, for it will not only be the Catechism and Canons that guide our interpretation of the Belhar (should it be adopted), but vice versa as well.

If the Belhar is as heavily influenced by Liberation Theology as I think it is, and if it is as ill-suited to our North American context as I think it is, it will not strengthen but weaken the existing creeds and confessions. To prevent this, we would have to very carefully circumscribe the Belhar as it is introduced, as Synod 2009 attempted to do, but then we're not treating it on par with the other confessions, are we?

Where do BC proponents get the idea that this is solely a religious document? A story of what? Religious persecution? The church's response to the subjugation by the Third Reich was the Barmen Declaration, a "confession" not adopted. How is this any different? It is a political statement with religious content. The BC fails the numerous tests of confessions that is succinctly pointed out by Dr. John Cooper in previous posts. The authors Dirkie Smit and Allan Boesak clearly use the BC as a political tool to leverage the churches into line with the anti-Apartheid movement. Even Mr. Van Boom admits the BC's political character, " Driven restlessly forward by the story of apartheid", an amoral political system. Maybe Mr. Van Boom should revisit Rev. Samuel Rutherford's(1600-1661) "Lex, Rex". Rutherford uses many biblical passages to adopt a God centered view of government. A fifth confession?

To clarify what I am getting at in the previous two comments:

The gist of Rev. Van Boom's argument is that:
(1) the purpose of a confession is to preserve a story ("Our confessions speak to us with passion and power because they were birthed in times of struggle and difficulty. Their stories continue to shape the church today—as long as we tell them and remember.");

(2) The story of apartheid, the misuse of scripture to support and extend it and the resulting suffering of Black Christians in South Africa is a story we need to remember ("Today our Reformed brothers and sisters in South Africa have a terrible story of apartheid to share with us. The church misused its power and privilege and now extends to us an urgent invitation: 'Take our hand in this pledge. We cannot make these mistakes again. Take our story with you, and tell it to your children.'");

And therefore (3) we need to adopt the Belhar Confession or we'll forget this story. ("Do we need to remember this story? No one would deny that we need to remember and to learn its lessons. But do we make it a confession? I offer a firm yes! All stories fade with time unless they are retold. Their lessons fade as well. Making the Belhar one of our confessions will ensure that our memory of this story will not grow dim. It will encode the lessons we learn from it in the DNA of our church. And as we take ownership, this confession will give us fuel with which to battle the growing darkness of our age.")

His first premise is false. Confessions are not to preserve a story, but to express settled doctrine - to establish where the line is between one group and another in terms of belief and teaching, and to protect the unity of the group espousing the confession. Since his conclusion requires that both his premises are true, his argument falls.

Thanks for your responses everyone. My article was not intended to be a spelling out of the full case; addressing all the different questions. I only had 850 words to play with! Being a historically-minded individual, I wanted to acknowledge the importance of the stories we tell, and how they shape both our thinking and our practice.
Here's what got me on this line of thinking. I was talking with a Baptist preacher, and I asked him casually if he remembered what happened at Dort. He didn't; although Arminius rang a few bells. I also read a Christian History book, and while it explored the conflict in the Netherlands, and the battle to evict the Spaniards, nowhere was the story of the Belgic Confession told. Nowhere was it mentioned how the Church begged and pleaded for the Spanish to understand them and grant them religious freedom. It struck me that these stories are not remembered or retold outside our own tradition, and I fear that too may be slipping.
I come at this conversation with a love for our confessional tradition; yes doctrinal, as well as historical. Apartheid is a very powerful story. It is also one of our stories as a Reformed family. Is the text here best honoured as a confession, or more along the lines of a testimony? Currently, I'm leaning towards Testimony. But I am of the firm conviction we do need to take this story with us. Apartheid may be remembered at some level, as the Spanish-Netherlands war is remembered, but the struggle of the church in South Africa through this time, in it's practice (right and wrong), doctrine (right and wrong) and faith will be forgotten.

So only Black Christians suffered in South Africa because of apartheid? I am sure that is news to many-a South African. It is these historical twists of truth that become the foundation of bad theology.

@Mike-

I appreciate the desire to preserve the history in our memory. I've valued history all my life - it's hard to know where we are when we don't remember where we've been.

But as a matter of fact and experience, the confessions do not preserve that history. We are, supposedly, a confessional church. How many know the story behind the Canons? How many even read them? Not long ago, in the pages of the BANNER, a letter-writer went so far as to say we should dispense with the Canons as "non-essential". "Guido de Bres" gets blank looks, and if you mention Ursinus people think you're talking about astronomy. How would adopting the Belhar cause that history to fare any better?

Given that it won't achieve the ends you and I apparently share (remembering the history), and that in regards to the confessional and doctrinal integrity of the CRC it will likely be counter-productive, I cannot support adopting it in any way that is binding on the consciences of office bearers in the CRC.

As far as history goes, most historians are secular in perspective, and avoid deeper insights into the religious and confessional basis of strifes and historical twists. It is for that reason that the Spanish-Netherlands strife is usually mentioned without studying the actual confessional basis of it. And it is for that reason that the reformed-arminian strife is usually ignored as not being politically significant.

If we write church history, then we should not ignore the theological basis for these contests. But a confession is not history; it is not a story; it is something that should stand the test of time throughout history.

As far as testimonials are concerned, they should not be lumped together with a profession or common confession of faith. Testimonials are stories, but they should be written and told as stories, along with the application or conclusion of the story.

If we are indeed concerned about testimonies, then we ought to promote their use in a much more practical sense, with a greater impact; what I mean is that as individuals, no one should be making a profession of faith in church without expressing a personal testimony of his journey with Christ. These are the stories that really count. These are the stories that have the greatest impact in the life of any congregation. Yet we concentrate on less significant stuff engineered on another continent. Which basically makes us huge hypocrites.

Where is the testimony about the reformed alcoholic? The divorced single mother coming to Christ? The reformed politician? The reformed business tycoon? The repentant fornicator? The regretful mothers who learned too late about the significance of abortion? The confused young couple who didn't understand what marriage was all about? The homosexual who became aware of God's power? Are these stories less important? Are not these stories much more relevant and common and significant in the church than this one story from another continent?

And yet we can fairly well predict that general world historians will not neglect the story of apartheid, while they will not address the stories of the people I just mentioned. Which means we are more or less being politically correct, rather than spiritually discerning. Again, I repeat we are hypocrites.

Another angle the I think is vitally important, is connecting the history to the confession. By themselves, it is easy to disregard our confessions as old words and formulations. But with the stories behind them intact, they retain their power. One cannot properly hear the Belgic confession without remembering the consequences of the church's expression. Villages became Ghost towns, and the blood of those who adhered to this confession ran in the streets.
The Belhar's challenges to us to pursue Unity, Justice, and Reconciliation are just words that echo scripture, unless we recognize the fire and struggle that was in the background. And I think these challenges are very timely for the church today. Western Culture is entering a time of great fear and struggle. We have stopped having children, and are becoming increasingly worried at the growth of immigrant communities; many of whom do not share our values. This struggle is becoming deadly in Europe, which is probably twenty years ahead of us. The temptation we will have as we begin to lose control over the direction of our culture is to hold on tighter; to start writing and enforcing laws that will help us protect ourselves, and retain our power. How will we in the church weigh in to this conversation in our struggle? Will we help our culture stay strong in the pursuit of Justice? Will we advocate segregation in our thoughts and practice, or will we work towards unity; actively seeking greater integration with other cultures. Will we allow different culture groups to become ever more distant as lobby groups, or will we advocate for reconciliation and constructive dialogue? These are difficult questions for us. I think the story of Apartheid helps us to see where this road can lead if we pursue greater control. Consider the opening line of the Belhar. "We believe in the triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who gathers, protects and cares for the church through Word and Spirit. This, God has done since the beginning of the world and will do to the end." The Belhar looks to the future of the church and culture through the eyes of faith. It clearly points us away from fear and control. These are lessons we need to hear!

@Mike,

Sorry, you fail to persuade me, not even a little.

"One cannot properly hear the Belgic confession without remembering the consequences of the church's expression. Villages became Ghost towns, and the blood of those who adhered to this confession ran in the streets."

One could say the same thing about Muenster - one of the places where Anabaptist blood ran in the streets (those people Guido de Bres said we loathed, if you'll recall). The fact that people died in defense of a confession does not legitimate it. People died in defense of communism, fascism, islamism, apartheid, slavery, and a whole host of other confessions we regard (correctly) as false.

I'm all for the lessons in unity, in the sovereignty of God that preserves his Church in good times and bad, but the Belhar is a seriously flawed tutor, is not a story, and will undermine the CRC's unity and integrity rather than sustain it.

I think this confession confuses the membership of ‘The Church’ and of ‘churches’.

I feel the English version of this confession is not well written and could therefore easily be misunderstood and possibly misapplied. Below are my questions of the confession.

“…who gathers, protects and cares for the church through Word and Spirit. This, God has done since the beginning of the world.” (1. line 1-3) - Why would there have been a need to ‘gather the church’ at the beginning of the world?

“have one calling” (2. point 4, line 4) – What is the one calling?
“work for one cause” (2. pt 4, line 7) – What is the one cause?

“that the credibility of this message is seriously affected and its beneficial work obstructed when it is proclaimed in a land which professes to be Christian, but in which the enforced separation of people on a racial basis promotes and perpetuates alienation, hatred and enmity;” (3. pt 3) – Is not the credibility of the Truth transcendent of any sinful place?

“must be considered ideology” (3. pt 3 line 4) - ideology or idolatry?

“is in a special way the God of the destitute, the poor and the wronged;” (4. pt 2) – Does this mean God has favourites? Or is this a take on ‘What you did for the least of these you did for me?’ (Matt. 25:40).

There's been a few questions regarding the Belgic Confession as being part of the Netherlands' journey to Religious Freedom. Let me unfold that a little more.

Yes, Guido de Bres scorned the Anabaptists, as did many of the Reformers. There was no miracle switch. The religious wars had wounds that would remain open for a long time. But I've argued that what happened in the church was an important step on that journey towards allowing Religious Freedom.

In the Belgic Confession, the Reformed Church was asking the King of Spain for religious freedom! It was denied, and many many lost their lives as a result. Once the Netherlands had won their freedom, they did not immediately value a full-throated Religious freedom. But it did began to show immediate fruit. In 1579, even before the war with spain was done, The Netherlands instituted the first limited form of constitutional recognition of the freedom of religion.

The history remembered by the Belgic Confession is a significant piece of this puzzle.

Eric, you are correct of course that the fact that people died for something does not mean that it was correct. We have never taken that tack in our church; always looking to grounding in scripture. And yet, it is also important to remember the struggle of those who went before us. They were willing to die for their faith, and many of them did pay that price. Would we be willing to do the same in this generation?

@Mike-
You grant rather more to de Bres in this regard than I would. At the time, very few believed that a nation state could survive if its citizens had different religions (at least in public). The Belgic Confession and its author did not diverge from that general opinion, and Protestants were quite as willing to kill as to die for the faith.

But, be that as it may, it is not germain to your argument. You are trying to argue that, because de Bres and others died for the faith in the 16th century, and some of our African brothers died for the faith in the 20th; that because Guido de Bres wanted to worship in peace and Alan Boesak wanted to worship in peace, that the Belhar is equivalent to the Belgic. This is a colossal non sequitur.

It can be said, as this article does, that we receive "from the Belhar ... three distinct challenges: Pursue unity. Practice reconciliation. Fight for justice."

But if one looks at the current context for the Belhar, the community from whom the Belhar originated and that has have taken the Belhar as a call to move forward (that community being the WCRC, World Communion of Reformed Church), one finds the Accra Confession, a sequel to the Belhar that fleshes out the Belhar and makes it more explicit, at least for the community from which the Belhar originated.

And if one reads the Accra Confession and other WCRC online documents, it is difficult not to conclude that: (1) the purpose of unity is to become a united political front, and that (2) the end goal of reconciliation is that first world countries might be required to practice economic equality with third world countries, and that (3) fighting for justice means politically opposing free market economics and advocating a centristic political system that will outlaw free market economics.

That's the story I'm seeing when I read the Belhar, and its already released sequel, the Accra.

I for one am not in favor of adopting liberation theology and turning the institutional church known as the CRCNA into a predominantly political association.

@ Eric
Nowhwere do I assert this kind of argument.

"because de Bres and others died for the faith in the 16th century, and some of our African brothers died for the faith in the 20th; that because Guido de Bres wanted to worship in peace and Alan Boesak wanted to worship in peace, that the Belhar is equivalent to the Belgic. This is a colossal non sequitur."

My argument has to with the power that the stories we tell have to shape us. I argue that Apartheid (where our sister church made significant and terrible mistakes) and the confession by which the Church has said, 'never again' should be a story that we tell our children.

@ Doug
You are right that the churches in the global south are pushing hard, and some of that has a political agenda. But remember, we do not have the Accra confession in front of us. I think we should listen to the voices of our brothers and sisters in the south, to hear their challenges both to our excess and to our silence. But we are not adopting their challenge as one of our confessions. The Belhar is a separate declaration pertaining more to Apartheid than to global economic issues. I'm saying yes to the Belhar and to Apartheid as a story we should tell; either as a confession or declaration. We don't need to muddy the waters by lumping in Accra.

@Mike
You say "We don't need to muddy the waters by lumping in Accra." I understand the desire for that but respectfully would suggest doing that amounts to intentionally not seeing the Belhar for exactly what it is.

The Belhar's key, most-objectional phrase is that which declares God to be a special God to the poor and oppressed, and that phrase is repeated almost verbatim in the Accra. The authors, originators and main supporters of the Belhar have adopted the Accra. We are part of an organization (WCRC) that has adopted the Accra. This isn't merely "some of that has a political agenda." Most of it (meaning the Accra and the WCRC) is a political agenda.

I would refer you to http://www.wcrc.ch/node/337 (WCRC website), which says in part: "This Uniting General Council: 1. Affirms the centrality of the Accra Confession to the life of WCRC and so names covenanting for justice in the economy and the earth as WCRC’s number one priority, ...." Also, that Council "... 2. Calls upon WCRC to promote and work toward the realization of the vision of life-giving civilization as an alternative to the neo-liberal economic paradigm." BTW, "neo-liberal economic paradigm" means, quite literally, political and economic freedom.

If the Accra is "central[] to the life of" those who gave us the Belhar and the ecumenical organizational that Belhar supporters (including in the CRCNA) are a part of, and if the key jump-off phrase/assertion (unbiblical at that) is in both documents, we are naive in the extreme to not see the Accra as the intended destination (literally) of the Belhar authors and support community.

This is not mud at all but rather clear water. If someone says "go down this road like I did," isn't is sensible to see where that someone is now standing? Even unreasonable not to?

@Mike-

If all you're arguing for is that we should make sure our children are aware of this history, then we don't disagree.

But the purport of your article is that we should adopt the Belhar as a confession, binding on the consciences of all office bearers in the CRC - that is a very different prospect.

In making that case, the essence of your article and subsequent statements is that:
(a) there's a powerful story behind the Belhar;
(b) there's a powerful story behind the Belgic;
(c) having the Belgic as a confession ensures that we remember the powerful story behind it;
(d) adopting the Belhar as a confession would ensure that we remember the powerful story behind it;
(e) therefore the Belhar should have the same status as the Belgic.

And I'm saying that:
(1) premises (c) and (d) are demonstrably false;
(2) and the argument as a whole is a non sequitur - that even if (a)-(d) were all true, the conclusion does not follow from the premises.

What was Apartheid and how did the church go about justifying it? How did those outside of the church justify it?
Just want to be aware of the history.

Rose: Pretty big questions. :-)

Apartheid in South Africa goes back centuries (literally, to the 1600's) and is a pretty complex history to understand. I think the article at: http://www.econlib.org/library/Enc/Apartheid.html is a pretty good short historical summary.

As to how "the church [went] about justifying it," that's perhaps an even more difficult question. My own answer is that the churches (plural) in South Africa largely went along with apartheid, for a time at least, because the people in the church reflected the general culture, but then is quite possible that these same churches were also in part responsible for the elimination of apartheid in South Africa.

While some may disagree, I don't think the CRCNA, at least the congregations that make up the CRCNA, had anything meaningful to do with South African apartheid, one way or another. Some point to the fact that many of the whites in South Africa were Dutch who belonged to the the "reformed church" in South Africa. While that is true, this does go back to the 1600's. I doubt there are many in the CRCNA that have a decent historical grasp of apartheid in South Africa.

Thanks, Doug. Very helpful link.
What I get from that information is that apartheid grew out of the white workers' interest in protecting their jobs at the expense of the cheaper black workforce that the white capitalists wanted to hire. Economics seemed to be the heart of it. A kind of race-based socialism.
From other material I've read, it seems the Dutch Reformed Church supported apartheid because its policies helped keep the races separate, something they felt was necessary to maintain their "nationality"(Afrikaner). Is this a fair assessment? (Overly simplified, I know!)
So how did the DRC misuse its power and privilege? Why? How does the Belhar reverse this?

Rose: I certainly don't consider myself an expert on South African history or the Afrikaners, but my sense is, from what I know, that the Dutch Reformed Church, as institution, became much too politically entangled/involved by adopting an apartheid rule within itself (as an institutional church). To that extent, I think the the Dutch Reformed Church abandoned idea of being a only a church just a bit (or a lot?), choosing rather to be a political/cultural/economic force.

Curiously, although the tide has turned in terms of the political perspective taken by the Dutch churches in SA, the have not, as institutional churches, decided to de-politicize. Rather, the change is this: while formerly of an political/economic perspective that, among other things, supported apartheid, the perspective now is liberation theology.

What I hope and pray for is that the CRCNA learns the right lesson here, as opposed to the wrong lesson. The wrong lesson would be that it should avoid the "wrong" political/economic position; the right lesson would be that is avoid, as an institutional church, becoming a political/economic institution. Of course that doesn't mean church members should avoide politics and economics (and business and education and science, etc), but the church (CRCNA), as institution, as denomination, should stick with being a church. That means preaching to its parishioners that they should do political justice but not defining for its members what that concretely means.

I must admit, I always thought apartheid was strictly a race issue. Writing a new confession which reaffirmed that we all descend from the first Adam, that we all share in his Fall, and that we can all find redemption in the second Adam would certainly show that we've learned a lesson from apartheid. Obviously it's more complicated than that. And I don't think the church(in N.A., at least) is willing to look at it that simply...just in case "science" proves otherwise.
I do see the political aspect of the Belhar and that the churches in SA have chosen to take a new political position. I do agree that the churches in N.A. need to avoid that.
I would also challenge Rev. Van Boom that the story is not clear enough. If apartheid is most recognizable as division of the races, does the Belhar really show that the churches have turned away from that?

Rose please explain what you meant by "Obviously it's more complicated than that. And I don't think the church...is willing to look at it that simply."

David: apartheid was NOT strictly a race issue, the church's support of it was not strictly race based: it's more complicated than that. And because it's more complicated, the resulting confession is complex.
What was the "terrible story of apartheid"? How did the church "misuse its power and privilege"? Does the Belhar answer these questions?

Rose, thank you.

I don't think the Belhar answers the questions of why apartheid in South Africa. I imagine the answers are complicated, and relate to human nature at a number of levels. Afrikaners were a minority; and most minorities feel threatened at some level, whether economically, physically, religiously, or culturally. If all the people had simply assimilated together, the Afrikaners possibly would have lost most of their language distinctiveness, as well as their cultural habits and distinctiveness. The separation gave them more strength as a group, and also helped them to retain their economic and innovative and industrial superiority.

But other economic reasons also were likely prevalent. If there was a separation of identifiable race groups, there would not be a need to pay everyone equally, and thus it would be easier to get cheaper labor from one group. On the other hand, also on the economic question, if the separation was strong enough, and prevailed in enough situations, then it would be illegal to hire blacks in some places, thus increasing wages for the whites who could work there.

And then there was a more primal human temptation. This was the need for assumed human superiority and pride and power. This was temptation for many who otherwise might not have had as much reason to feel good about themselves. By enforcing segregation, it would put the stamp of significance on superiority of one group over the other.

Finally, the fourth reason was peace. Family peace and stability, lack of disconcerting changes. Reduced requirement to understand others. Comfort, complacency, custom, security. These reasons made many eager for the status quo of segregation.

Does the Belhar scratch the surface on any of this?

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