Some 80 million Reformed Christians across the world have been marking the 25th anniversary of a historic declaration that racism is a sin.
The declaration known as the Belhar Confession was adopted by the Dutch Reformed Mission Church in South Africa on 26 September 1986.
The confession, issued in the context of the anti-apartheid movement opposing the country’s legislation that segregated people by race, attracted wide attention from churches and secular organisations.
A message to mark the anniversary at the end of last month (September 2011) issued by World Communion of Reformed Churches' General Secretary Setri Nyomi commented: “The World Communion of Reformed Churches deems the Belhar Confession as one of those gifts to the church worldwide which is still relevant today – not just to the South African situation of the 1980s. There is much to be done yet for the justice and reconciliation theme it so eloquently articulates.”
The message is addressed to the moderator of the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa (UCSA) Thias Kgatla. In 1994 the Dutch Reformed Mission Church and the Dutch Reformed Church in Africa united to form the URCSA.
The Belhar Confession declares: “We believe that separation, enmity and hatred between people and groups is a sin. Therefore, we reject any doctrine which in such a situation sanctions in the name of the gospel... the forced separation of people on the grounds of race and colour.”
In church terms, a confession is a declaration before God and the world of what the church believes. As such, it defines the criteria for church membership.
Formal adoption of the Confession continues to this day with representatives of the Reformed Church of America (RCA) and the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) voting in meetings held in June 2009 in the United States to accept the Belhar Confession as a foundational statement of belief that defines the terms of church membership.
The NHKA is still unable to affirm the Belhar Confession and is therefore a “suspended member” of the WCRC pending acceptance of the document.
* World Communion of Reformed Churches: http://wcrc.ch/