The Reformed Church in America is closer to officially adopting a document that confronts the sin of racism and affirms unity and reconciliation among Christians.
The denomination announced on Monday that a two-thirds majority of the 46 classes, or regional groups of churches, voted to approve the adoption of the Belhar Confession.
The confession would be added as a fourth standard of unity to the Book of Church Order. The last time the church adopted a new standard was more than two centuries ago.
It's been over 10 years since RCA members and congregations began studying and reflecting on the Belhar Confession, which is rooted in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.
Drafted in 1982, the confession partly declares that unity must become visible "so that the world may believe that separation, enmity and hatred between people and groups is sin" and it rejects any doctrine maintaining that "descent or any other human or social factor should be a consideration in determining membership of the church."
It also rejects, among other things, ideology which would "legitimate forms of injustice and any doctrine which is unwilling to resist such an ideology in the name of the gospel."
In 2009, delegates of the denomination voted to adopt the confession as a fourth doctrinal standard of the Reformed Church and sent it to the regional bodies for ratification. Granberg-Michaelson described it as a historically significant decision.
The standards of unity – the other three of which are the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession and the Canons of the Synod of Dort – are statements of Reformed belief and faithful witnesses to the Word of God. They help the church interpret Scripture, but they do not supersede Scripture.
When delegates meet in June in Orange City, Iowa, for the 2010 General Synod, they will be asked to make a "declarative act" confirming that the required two-thirds majority of the classes voted in favor of the Belhar Confession before officially adopting it, said RCA General Secretary Wes Granberg-Michaelson, according to the denomination.
While RCA delegates prepare for what would be a historic synod in June, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is also considering the Belhar Confession at its gathering this summer.
Some have called the PC(USA) to reject it. The Sacramento Presbytery says the document is confusing and could be used to press issues other than racial equality, such as "same-sex causes."