Monday, June 8, 2009

The Belhar Confession's Relevance Elsewhere (e.g. the Sudanese context)

Sunday evening’s plenary featured presentations by the Our Call Forum on Global Mission and Christian Unity which included introductions of a number of ecumenical delegates and guests. Highlighting the Global Mission segment were resolutions honoring RCA missionaries Vern & Carla Sterk who served for more than 40 years in Chiapas. Much of the Christian Unity presentation featured a variety of perspectives about the Belhar Confession.

RCA missionary Debbie Braaksma affirmed the Belhar Confession from her perspective as a missionary to Sudan. “God has been at work in the Sudanese churches in an amazing way.” They realized their country’s desperate need for peace and reconciliation. Sudanese churches looked to their Lord for guidance. The New Sudan Council of Churches has provided leadership in that regard with their People to People Peace Initiative based on Biblical principles. Many have credited the NSCC’s efforts for paving the way for the signing of the comprehensive [north-south] Sudan peace treaty of 2005.

The Belhar Confession’s core principles of unity, justice and reconciliation are at the heart of RECONCILE’s peacemaking efforts. Some of the most intense recent ethnic conflicts have involved the Murle and Nuer and Murle and Dinka peoples. As fellow believers, these erstwhile adversaries could sing together, “Murle and Dinka – what bound us to be one? It is the cross of Jesus which brought us together in faith.” The Belhar Confession's principles speak not only to reconciliation and unity within the RCA but also among various ethnic groups in Sudan, etc.

Although Sudan’s 2005 comprehensive peace agreement has ended violent clashes between Sudan’s Khartoum-based military forces and southern Sudanese people, missionary Braaksma cited recent statistics that indicate that ethnic conflicts among southern Sudanese have recently become increasingly bloody. The death toll among southern Sudanese has recently exceeded that of western Sudan’s Darfur region.

Just three days before the start of this General Synod, I returned from a 20-day journey to Sudan and Uganda. I visited RECONCILE’s compound in Yei and am impressed with the quality and scope of their peacemaking initiatives. They are blessing many. Words of Hope (which I have been privileged to serve since 1985) is looking forward to partnering with RECONCILE in the areas of peace/reconciliation radio broadcasts as well as in future discipleship training initiatives. The Braaksmas' presence here at General Synod has been encouraging and helpful in that regard.


  1. Lee,

    A sincere thanks for your words on the Belhar. More than most, I believe they made a difference in the direction of the conversation. The recommendation may have passed anyway, but I imagine your voice and the thoughts you share relieved the anxiety some still felt. Again, thanks.

  2. Thank you, Peter. I arrived here with profoundly mixed feelings about this issue. Some of my concerns about misapplication remain. At the same time, my interactions with various African church leaders have deepened my appreciation of the ongoing need for prayerful attention to the core issues addressed by this confession. I pray that today's action was pleasing to the Holy Spirit and, if not, that we will respond appropriately.

  3. It was the needs of our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ that moved me to vote in favor in spite of reservations in keeping with Phil 2:3-4. However, at the same time I recognize that in our setting, with our history, misapplication can and already does happen. Yet, the possible problems can be dealt with if and when they come up.


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