Christainity, Spiritual

belhar confession (revised with inclusive language)

The Presbyterian Church USA General Assembly 222 accepted the Belhar Confession into their Book of Confessions. As a Presbyterian, I am very proud of this. 

1. We believe in the triune God, Creator, Redeemer, and Holy Spirit, who gathers, protects, and cares for the church through Word and Spirit. This, God has done since the beginning of the world and will do to the end.

2. We believe in one holy, universal Christian church, the communion of saints called from the entire human family.

We believe

  • that Christ’s work of reconciliation is made manifest in the church as the community of believers who have been reconciled with God and with one another (Eph. 2:11-22);
  • that unity is, therefore, both a gift and an obligation for the church of Jesus Christ; that through the working of God’s Spirit it is a binding force, yet simultaneously a reality which must be earnestly pursued and sought: one which the people of God must continually be built up to attain (Eph. 4:1-16);
  • that this unity must become visible so that the world may believe that separation, enmity and hatred between people and groups is sin which Christ has already conquered, and accordingly that anything which threatens this unity may have no place in the church and must be resisted (John 17:20-23);
  • that this unity of the people of God must be manifested and be active in a variety of ways: in that we love one another; that we experience, practice and pursue community with one another; that we are obligated to give ourselves willingly and joyfully to be of benefit and blessing to one another; that we share one faith, have one calling, are of one soul and one mind; have one God and Father, are filled with one Spirit, are baptized with one baptism, eat of one bread and drink of one cup, confess one name, are obedient to one Lord, work for one cause, and share one hope; together come to know the height and the breadth and the depth of the love of Christ; together are built up to the stature of Christ, to the new humanity; together know and bear one another’s burdens, thereby fulfilling the law of Christ that we need one another and upbuild one another, admonishing and comforting one another; that we suffer with one another for the sake of righteousness; pray together; together serve God in this world; and together fight against all which may threaten or hinder this unity (Phil. 2:1-5; 1 Cor. 12:4-31; John 13:1-17; 1 Cor. 1:10-13; Eph. 4:1-6; Eph. 3:14-20; 1 Cor. 10:16-17; 1 Cor. 11:17-34; Gal. 6:2; 2 Cor. 1:3-4);
  • that this unity can be established only in freedom and not under constraint; that the variety of spiritual gifts, opportunities, backgrounds, convictions, as well as the various languages and cultures, are by virtue of the reconciliation in Christ, opportunities for mutual service and enrichment within the one visible people of God (Rom. 12:3-8; 1 Cor. 12:1-11; Eph. 4:7-13; Gal. 3:27-28; James 2:1-13);
  • that true faith in Jesus Christ is the only condition for membership of this church.

Therefore, we reject any doctrine

  • which absolutizes either natural diversity or the sinful separation of people in such a way that this absolutization hinders or breaks the visible and active unity of the church, or even leads to the establishment of a separate church formation;
  • which professes that this spiritual unity is truly being maintained in the bond of peace while believers of the same confession are in effect alienated from one another for the sake of diversity and in despair of reconciliation;
  • which denies that a refusal earnestly to pursue this visible unity as a priceless gift is sin;
  • which explicitly or implicitly maintains that descent or any other human or social factor should be a consideration in determining membership of the church.

3. We believe

  • that God has entrusted the church with the message of reconciliation in and through Jesus Christ, that the church is called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, that the church is called blessed because it is a peacemaker, that the church is witness both by word and by deed to the new heaven and the new earth in which righteousness dwells (2 Cor. 5:17-21; Matt. 5:13-16; Matt. 5:9; 2 Peter 3:13; Rev. 21-22).
  • that God’s life giving Word and Spirit has conquered the powers of sin and death, and therefore also of irreconciliation and hatred, bitterness and enmity, that God’s life giving Word and Spirit will enable the church to live in a new obedience which can open new possibilities of life for society and the world (Eph. 4:17–6:23, Rom. 6; Col. 1:9-14; Col. 2:13-19; Col. 3:1–4:6);
  • that the credibility of this message is seriously affected and its beneficial work obstructed when it is proclaimed in a land which professes to be Christian, but in which the enforced separation of people on a racial basis promotes and perpetuates alienation, hatred and enmity;
  • that any teaching which attempts to legitimate such forced separation by appeal to the gospel, and is not prepared to venture on the road of obedience and reconciliation, but rather, out of prejudice, fear, selfishness and unbelief, denies in advance the reconciling power of the gospel, must be considered ideology and false doctrine.

Therefore, we reject any doctrine

  • which, in such a situation, sanctions in the name of the gospel or of the will of God the forced separation of people on the grounds of race and color and thereby in advance obstructs and weakens the ministry and experience of reconciliation in Christ.

4. We believe

  • that God has revealed Godself as the one who wishes to bring about justice and true peace among people;
  • that God, in a world full of injustice and enmity, is in a special way the God of the destitute, the poor and the wronged;
  • that God calls the church to follow God in this, for God brings justice to the oppressed and gives bread to the hungry;
  • that God frees the prisoner and restores sight to the blind;
  • that God supports the downtrodden, protects the stranger, helps orphans and widows and blocks the path of the ungodly;
  • that for God pure and undefiled religion is to visit the orphans and the widows in their suffering;
  • that God wishes to teach the church to do what is good and to seek the right (Deut. 32:4; Luke 2:14; John 14:27; Eph. 2:14; Isa. 1:16-17; James 1:27; James 5:1-6; Luke 1:46-55; Luke 6:20-26; Luke 7:22; Luke 16:19-31; Ps. 146; Luke 4:16-19; Rom. 6:13-18; Amos 5);
  • that the church must therefore stand by people in any form of suffering and need, which implies, among other things, that the church must witness against and strive against any form of injustice, so that justice may roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream;
  • that the church as the possession of God must stand where the Lord stands, namely against injustice and with the wronged; that in following Christ the church must witness against all the powerful and privileged who selfishly seek their own interests and thus control and harm others.

Therefore, we reject any ideology

  • which would legitimate forms of injustice and any doctrine which is unwilling to resist such an ideology in the name of the gospel.

5. We believe that, in obedience to Jesus Christ, its only head, the church is called to confess and to do all these things, even though the authorities and human laws might forbid them and punishment and suffering be the consequence (Eph. 4:15-16; Acts 5:29-33; 1 Peter 2:18-25; 1 Peter 3:15-18).

Jesus is Lord.

To the one and only God, Creator, Redeemer, and Holy Spirit, be the honor and the glory for ever and ever.

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Beliefs, Christainity, LGBTQI+, Philosophy

radical theology and the lgbtqi+ community (part three): theological methods

(This is the final installment for the series concerning the lgbtqi+ community and radical theology. My goal was to demonstrate a new approach and way of thinking when it comes to the Christian Scripture and the affirmation and welcoming of the lgbtqi+ community.)

U.S. mainline denominations (Methodists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians etc.) possess broad methods for thinking theologically. Methodists come equipped with the Wesleyan Quadrilateral: Scripture, reason, experience, and tradition. Episcopalians and Presbyterians have a similar method, but use different illustrations. Yet, still many denominations in the U.S. say that they only depend on Scripture or sola scriptura  as their main source of theological understanding! This, of course, does not leave room for a historical/traditional discourse about the interpretation of Scripture and the events that happened pre-Protestant reformation.  As I wrote in the first post in this series, it is impossible to listen to only one voice in the Scriptures, and not acknowledge the other voices that contradict or oppose it.

What we need are new hermeneutical methods for Scriptures or to re-discover recent, yet discarded ways of critical theory. This would be methods and ideas from deconstruction to Marxist reading and certainly feminist and queer readings of tradition and Scripture. Postmodern Philosopher and Theologian David Tracy points out:

“The great creative individuals–thinkers, artists, heroes, saints–found themselves, impelled to find new ways to interpret an experience that their culture or tradition seemed to unable to interpret well or even at all.” (Plurality and Ambiguity, pg. 7)

Today, we face our own crises in our churches and discerning how to approach the lgbtqi+ community. From the mainline traditions, the Episcopal church has affirmed that they will urge Congress members to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. Episcopalians also are very public with their welcoming and affirming stances and had the first Bishop who was openly gay in 2003. In July at the Presbyterian Church of the USA General Assembly same-sex marriage affirmation was rejected, nevertheless by a narrow vote. Three years ago, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America allowed openly gay clergy members to serve. Still countless Christian denominations either do not speak about this subject, such as churches who do not have much power in the public sphere or they have stances that oppose even the idea of same-sex partners.

One of my concerns with congregations that have strict restrictions concerning same-sex relationships is that they do not know anyone in the lgbtqi+ community that practices Christianity. News outlets portray the lgbtqi+ community as ultra-radicals trying to subvert the very culture of the U.S. Yet, if the only information that we collect and experience comes from a TV/computer screen, our perception counts for not much. As humans we interpret everything at all times. Sometimes we get those things right, like when the popcorn stops popping and it is still on the stove, I am going to take it off and not leave it on there to burn.

With the lgbtqi+, we have neglected dialogue and conversation, instead we place our own perceptions on them. The greatest thing that I did intentionally was to attend a church that serves the lgbtqi+ community. I thought going into the experience was a church that would call God  father/mother and that would have song with progressive lyrics. Instead, the experience felt very close to my Pentecostal upbringing. We sang 90’s worship songs. Sure the pastor was gay and most of the congregants were in same-sex relationships, but talking with them after the service, they were much more theologically conservative than I. There was even an altar call at the end of the service.

The challenge for us now and in the future will be how we will experience faith. How can we not allow anyone who wants to follow God in the way of Jesus to come to church? Theology must go beyond, but also include Scripture, yet if the cultural context of Scripture does not fit within our own experiences, it is hard to only focus on Scripture. The Wesleyan quadrilateral could be helpful for understanding the theology. For instance, my experience with the lgbtqi+ has been delightful, I know several people part of that community who follow Jesus. The Scriptures are faithful to “loving God and loving neighbor,” therefore my harsh judgments against those who have not persecuted anyone and find themselves as the underdogs must not be forced into more oppression. Depending on one’s reading of the Christian tradition, it could go either way. For the church in the East, John Chrysostom denounces homosexuality in the 400’s. Yet, a non-issue about homosexuality was Augustine’s approach. To reiterate, the ancients thought of homosexuality was more of a sexual act more than a relationship between two persons of the same sex. It was about dominant power rather than mutual love. Lastly, a reasonable theological conclusion must submit to the fact that Christianity and same-sex relationships are certainly compatible.

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