Reformed Church in America Leaders Adopt Belhar Confession

Delegates of the Reformed Church in America voted to adopt the Belhar Confession, a document rooted in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.

If approved by the denomination's classes, or regional groups of churches, the confession would join RCA's three other doctrinal standards, the last of which was added nearly four centuries ago.

The Belhar Confession, which was first drafted in 1982, is a theological confrontation of the sin of racism and affirms the unity of the church and among all people, reconciliation within church and society, and God's justice.

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RCA general secretary Wes Granberg-Michaelson described the decision as the most important and historically significant at this year's General Synod, which concluded Tuesday.

"Through the Belhar, we have the opportunity to add a new dimension to our standards of unity, to confess to the world our belief that unity, reconciliation, and justice are at the heart of the gospel message," he said before the vote, according to the denomination's news service.

Although most delegates favored the confession, some had expressed concerns of misapplication. They fear it would be used later to affirm the place of homosexuals in the church.

The Reformed Church in America does not affirm homosexual behavior, but at the same time states that it is convinced that the denial of human and civil rights to homosexuals is "inconsistent with the biblical witness and Reformed theology."

The decision to adopt the Belhar Confession must be ratified by two-thirds of the RCA's 46 classes. Each classis will report its vote to the next General Synod.

In other decisions, delegates agreed during the synod to continue dialogue on homosexuality. Intentional denomination-wide dialogue on homosexuality began in 2006 out of the recognition that there were deep divisions within the RCA over the issue and the divisions threatened their unity.

Also, RCA leaders voted to hold their annual General Synod in 2010, reversing an earlier decision to cancel it over financial concerns. They also elected James Seawood, who served as vice president, to be the new General Synod president for 2009-2010.

Formerly a part of the Dutch Reformed Church, the Reformed Church in America currently claims 300,000 members in the U.S. and Canada. It is a founding member of the National Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches. Some regional bodies of the RCA belong to the National Association of Evangelicals.

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