On June 22, during the 222nd General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), the commissioners voted overwhelmingly to add the Belhar Confession to our Book of Confessions, which is Part I of our Constitution. This is not a simple process, and required three separate votes over the course of two years.
The first vote in this cycle took place in 2014 at the 221st GA, and that body's positive vote then triggered the next step. A minimum of 2/3 of the Presbyteries in the denomination had to vote in the affirmative; when that happened a year ago, it set the stage for last night's historic vote.
This General Assembly approached the task with great expectation, and when the vote was shown on the large screens in the plenary hall, shouts and applause filled the space. 94% voted yes, and Belhar became another powerful voice for our church.
It was a beautiful and emotional event. We sang together, prayed together, and cried for joy. Godfrey Betha of the United Reformed Church in Southern Africa and Allan Boesak, a co-author of Belhar, both addressed the assembly, both with voices choked with emotion. After Boesak spoke, remembering all the times voices were raised in the age old song "We Shall Overcome," someone started that song from the floor. Commissioners and delegates joined hands across the room, and as the song continued, they raised those joined hands in thanksgiving.
The Belhar Confession has certainly informed this gathering, bolstering the theme "The Hope in Our Calling." Worship has included excerpts as both confession and affirmation of faith. We have heard from those among us of their own experiences of being separated out, discriminated against, and marginalized in society and in our church. We are being called to be aware of the places where we contribute to separation, discrimination, and marginalization, and to be active in building bridges, leveling access, and making space. As the body of Christ, we are specially called to be working towards that eternal goal, when people of every language, race, and nationality will be gathered together in perfect love and enduring peace.
May God make it so. May we be active in that holy work.