Overture from Akron CRC
CALL THE DENOMINATION TO INCREASED EFFORTS TOWARDS INCLUSIVITY
In 2003 the Interchurch Relations Committee (IRC), now called the Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Committee, indicated that the Uniting Reformed Church of Southern Africa (URCSA) was asking churches in ecclesiastical fellowship with it to study the Belhar Confession to determine what place the confession might take among the faith statements of the respective denominations. The IRC informed synod that it had committed itself to review and study the Belhar with a view to making a recommendation to synod about its status sometime in the future. The IRC also informed synod of conversations it was having with the Reformed Church in America regarding this matter. In 2006 the IRC recommended that synod instruct the IRC “to initiate a formal process of discussion and consideration of the Belhar Confession with a view toward making a recommendation to a future synod concerning its applicability to, and
compatibility with, the confessional basis of the CRC.
1. In our ecumenical conversations with the Reformed Church in America, the CRC was asked to study the Belhar Confession simultaneously with the RCA. Classis Lake Erie Agenda March 3, 2012 Page -6-
2. It ﬁlls in a gap in our confessions; we do not have a strong confession on race relations.
3. The several Reformed Churches in South Africa have asked the member churches of REC (Reformed Ecumenical Council) and WARC (World Alliance of Reformed Churches) to study this confession and respond to it” (Agenda
for Synod 2006, p. 273).
Synod 2006 adopted that recommendation and its grounds.
In appendix C to its report to Synod 2009 (Agenda for Synod 2009, pp. 269-282) the
IRC reviewed the history of the Belhar Confession’s development and reviewed related
matters in our denomination. The related matters were “the racial tensions and the
ﬂagrant violation of the scriptural principle of equality occurring in society and the
church both in America and in the world” and our denomination’s adoption of God’s
Diverse and Uniﬁed Family, an articulation of biblical and theological principles for the
development of a racially and ethnically diverse family of God.
The committee also gave an overview of the Belhar and addressed questions as to
whether the Belhar was biblical and whether it would enrich our confessional basis. The
IRC considered three options concerning the Belhar: (1) propose it as a fourth
confession, (2) adopt it as an ecumenical confession, or (3) approve it as a statement of
faith. “After careful review of the options considered, the IRC decided unanimously to
recommend option one because it is the most consistent with our understanding of the
core of the gospel and previous synodical declarations on racial justice, unity, and
reconciliation” (Agenda for Synod 2009, p. 280). The committee recommended “that
synod propose to Synod 2012 the adoption of the Belhar Confession as part of the
standards of unity of the CRC (as a fourth confession). A three-year period was
proposed so the churches would have time “to adequately study and reﬂect on the
proposal and be better prepared for response” (p. 281). This recommendation was
The committee also asked synod to “authorize the IRC to promote the study of the
Belhar Confession in the churches during this three-year period, and designate the IRC
to represent Synod 2009’s proposal to adopt the Belhar Confession at the meeting of
Synod 2012” (p. 281). This recommendation was also adopted.
The Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Committee reported to both Synods 2010
and 2011 that classes, councils and congregations were studying the Belhar, that many
agencies and ofﬁces of the denomination were using the Belhar in their work and that
study materials and a devotional booklet were available through Faith Alive Christian
Resources. In its report to Synod 2012 the committee reviews much of the material
presented to previous synods, states that “the CRC has not spoken confessionally to the
Classis Lake Erie Agenda March 3, 2012
Page -7-issues of injustice and racism” (Agenda for Synod 2012, p. ??), and recommends that
synod adopt the Belhar as a fourth confession.
The above history adequately reveals that much discussion and study has taken place as
our denomination considered a response to the Belhar. What was evident early in this
discussion is that the Belhar was identiﬁed as addressing race relations. Already in 2006
the IRC encouraged synod to examine the Belhar because “we do not have a strong
confession on race relations.” In its 2009 report the IRC referred to “racial tensions” and
synod’s adoption of God’s Diverse and Uniﬁed Family. As mentioned above, the 2012
report states that “the CRC has not spoken confessionally to the issues of injustice and
racism.” To talk about the Belhar in terms of race is understandable because of the
context in which it was written, but a focus on race relations is narrower than the “unity,
reconciliation, justice” description typically used to describe the Belhar.
Talking about the Belhar in terms of race relations has had some unfortunate
consequences among us.
Some have made negative statements about Synod 2011’s decision to establish a goal of twenty-ﬁve percent racial minority leaders in our denomination’s positions of senior leadership and have encouraged our members to reject that strategy and also to reject the Belhar as a fourth confession. Some have regarded the coupling of these two matters as an indication of racism. Others have labeled any opposition to the Belhar as an indication of racism, not as
an indication of legitimate misgivings about adopting the Belhar as a fourth confession, saying publicly and repeatedly that opposing the adoption of the Belhar as a fourth confession is simply an unwillingness by Anglos to accept anything written by people in the southern hemisphere. In an article in the Calvin Theological Seminary Forum Dr. John Cooper observed, “Those who challenge adopting it risk suspicion of racism or indifference” (Fall 2010, p 10).
1.) Some have made negative statements about 2011 Synods decision to establish a goal of 25% racial minority leaders in our denominations positions of senior leadership precisely because such an agenda promotes the very racism that the denomination says it wants to be rid of. When quotas are established we no longer are advancing people based on their ability but based on the color of their skin. To advance one person over another person because of race, despite the fact that the person who is set aside is more competent and able to preform a task can be easily seen as one of the manifestations of “racism.”
2.) When we advance people because of race we are communicating to minorities that their qualification lies not in their ability but in their status as “victim.” By doing so we reinforce the victim mentality in our culture that finds being a victim a status symbol. Would it not be better to employ someone because of the content of their character and ability and not by the color of their skin?
3.) If people in the Southern Hemisphere ink documents that are faulty we do not do them or ourselves any favor by accepting their faulty document simply because it is inked by somebody in the Southern Hemisphere.
4.) In terms of Cooper’s quote I would say that anyone who would say, “those who challenge adopting it (the Belhar) risk suspicion of racism or indifference” is someone who should be suspected of buying into the Marxist narrative that the Belhar represents. Rejection of the Belhar does not mean racism, anymore then rejection of Liberation Theology means “Theologyism” (a hatred of all Theology). A rejection of the Belhar merely means that we reject this particular Marxist inspired demand for social order, just as a rejection of Liberation Theology means that we reject that particular form of theology.
The Overture continues,
Thus, even while we consider a document that we hope will improve race relations among us, racism is evident both in the comments of Anglos and ethnic minorities.
I would need to see the above comment substantiated with concrete comments that prove that “racism” is evident in Anglos and ethnic minorities. All because people disagree with one another does not mean that racism is present.
Second, on this score, even if some comments could be brought forth, one would have to know the heart of the person speaking to know if the words said were “racist.” How could that possibly be known short of someone admitting that they were racist comments?
The Overture continues
It is possible that our denomination will adopt the Belhar as a fourth confession for
very good reasons. It is possible that our denomination will not adopt the Belhar as a
fourth confession for very good reasons. It is possible that our denomination will adopt
the Belhar as a fourth confession simply because it does not want to be perceived as
racist. It is possible that our denomination will adopt the Belhar Confession as a fourth
confession, believing that by doing so it has signiﬁcantly addressed the matter of race
relations. The latter would be a mistake. As many synodical decisions well illustrate,
Classis Lake Erie Agenda March 3, 2012 Page -8-adopting words on paper, though necessary, does not necessarily result in tangible actions that reﬂect those words.
No matter what we do with the Belhar, our very discussion of it reveals how
insidious and pervasive the matter of racism among us is. Synod 2012 is called to make
a decision on the Belhar, but synod also needs to call all of us, Anglos and ethnic
minorities, to repent of the ways that we hold each other at arm’s length and call us to
strive to love each other as God, in Christ, has loved us.
How does our very discussion of the Belhar reveal how pervasive the matter of racism among us is?
I am all for loving each other as God, in Christ, has loved us, but I do not at all concede that racism is pervasive among us. For Pete’s sake, in 2008 put a 1/2 black man 1/2 white man in the oval office. How pervasive can our racism be?
The overture continues,
Synod also needs to call the denomination to respond afﬁrmatively to the speciﬁc
recommendations that previous synods have made to assist us in becoming a racially
and ethnically diverse family of God. For example, Synod 2005 encouraged each classis
to delegate at least one ethnic minority person to synod, beginning with Synod 2006.
Less than one-third of our 47 classes do that. It also instructed the Board of Trustees to
report in the annual Agenda for Synod and to make recommendations, if necessary, on
the denomination’s progress in attaining its goal of at least one ethnic minority
synodical delegate from each classis. No agenda since 2005 had included such reports or
recommendations. Synod also requested all classes to develop a strategy to intentionally
incorporate ethnic minorities into the life and government of the local church and
broader assemblies and to submit their plan to the denominational Board of Trustees by
March 15, 2007. That did not happen. Someone must hold us accountable to what we
have said in the past so we are continually creating a different present and future.
The Akron CRC council overtures Classis Lake Erie to overture Synod 2012:
A. To call the denomination to repent of the personal and institutional racism that
causes separation between fellow members, excludes some from full participation in
the life of our denomination and hinders the denomination in achieving the
diversity goals it has set for itself.
First, we are to “Repent of racism”, because it “causes separation between fellow members.”
I think we need to pause and think about that statement for a moment. Is all that causes separation between fellow members a reason to repent? I have a fence between the properties of my Christian neighbors. Do I have a need to repent because it causes separation between fellow members? Consistently applied this call to repent is a direct assault on the family-structure itself if only because my family being distinct from those who are not in my family is something that causes separation between fellow members.
Second, the fact that institutional racism exists is asserted but it is in no way proven. What is offered up is observations about the way the denomination operates but there is no probing as to why the denomination is operating the way it is. Why do we assume that racism is the reason for the observations made. How do we know that it is “racism” that is the reason for things not being done? It could simply be a matter like not being able to find enough warm minority bodies to fill the quotas that are required. It could simply be denominational lethargy that keeps the denomination from following through on certain commitments — a lethargy that one finds in almost all large Institutional structures. The fact that there is denominational lethargy does not prove pervasive racism. If one desires to hold the denomination accountable that is all well and good but to insist that a lack of following through proves racism is a lack of a charitable reading for a reality that could be attributed to any number of other reasons. I do not grant the assumption that we have this grand problem with racism.
B. To encourage the churches to use the Facing Racism video program in their
education/small group programs within the next two years. (A copy of this
program, created in a collaborative effort by the Ofﬁce of Race Relations, Christian
Reformed Home Missions, and the CRCNA Foundation, was sent to all
congregations in September 2011. “The sessions offer ways to challenge both
personal and institutional racism, and they include, among other things, the stories
and personal experiences of a variety of people, dramatic readings of Scripture, the
perspective on diversity developed by the CRC in a 1996 synodical study, and
pertinent portions of our denominational history.”)
Classis Lake Erie Agenda March 3, 2012 Page -9-C.
To encourage individual members, congregations, assemblies, agencies, and other
ministries of the CRCNA to review the recommendations adopted by Synod 1996
regarding the Development of a Racially and Ethnically Diverse and Uniﬁed Family of God
and the recommendations adopted by Synod 2005 regarding the Practice Of
Appointing Ethnic Advisers To Synod (cf. Appendix) and to implement the
recommendations that are still relevant in our current context.
D. To instruct the denominational Board of Trustees to review all synodical
recommendations concerning diversity and to report to each synod, making
recommendations if necessary, on the denomination’s progress in attaining these
The following recommendations were adopted by Synod 1996 regarding the
Development of a Racially and Ethnically Diverse and Uniﬁed Family of God (Acts of
Synod 1996, pp.616-9):
A. That synod recommend the revised report to the churches for study.
B. That synod adopt the following biblical and theological principles regarding the
development of a racially and ethnically diverse and uniﬁed family of God:
Biblical and Theological Principles for the Development of a Racially and
Ethnically Diverse and Uniﬁed Family of God
1. The world as God created it is rich and God glorifying in its diversity.
2. The created world with all its diversity has its unity in the one God, who created it
through Jesus Christ.
3. The unity and diversity of the human race and of created reality reﬂect the unity and
diversity of the triune God (namely, his oneness and threeness).
4. A fundamental effect of sin is the breakdown of community.
5. The uniting of all things in Jesus Christ is at the heart of God’s eternal plan for the
Classis Lake Erie Agenda March 3, 2012
Page -10-6. Reconciliation with God and reconciliation with one another are inseparable in God’s
7. Already in the old covenant, the scope of God’s mission is racially and ethnically
8. In Pentecost, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the church, God gives new
power to the church—power to break down walls of separation and create a com-
munity that transcends divisions of race, ethnicity, and culture.
Pentecost was not the reversal of Babel but the sanctification of Babel. Were we to understand Pentecost as the reversal of Babel it would have been the case that all the diverse people would have heard the Gospel in the same tongue but what happened instead was that they heard the Gospel in their own distinct tongues. Suggesting that the community that God intended to build was a community of communities where one could still find diverse communities worshiping the same God, much as our Korean Classis’ worship the same God as non Korean Classis’ and yet as a distinctly Korean Church.
9. The church, in its unity and diversity, is God’s strategic vehicle for bringing into
being his new creation.
10. God calls Christians to ﬁnd their deepest identity in union with and in the service of
11. Obedience in matters of racial reconciliation calls us, individually and corporately, to
continually repent, to strive for justice, and to battle the powers of evil.
12. Christians live and work in the hope that one day the reconciliation of all things will
be fully realized.
C. That synod, on the basis of the above principles, declare that to be in Christ is in
principle to be reconciled as a community of racially and ethnically diverse
people and that to ignore his calling to turn this principle into experienced reality
is sinful according to God’s Word and the Reformed confessions.
1. The above report demonstrates that the Bible declares this reconciled
community to be God’s will.
2. The confessions declare that the catholicity of the church means that Christ
“gathers, protects, and preserves” the church “out of the whole human
race” (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 21).
D. That synod call the whole church—individual members, congregations,
assemblies, agencies, and other ministries of the CRCNA—to respond to the
biblical and theological principles regarding the development of a racially and
ethnically diverse and united family of God by committing themselves
1. To pray and work for the increased enfolding of ethnic-minority persons into
the CRCNA in order to reﬂect more fully the racial and ethnic diversity of
Canada and the United States.
But ethnic minority persons who believe what? Who believe the Belhar Confession? I am opposed to people of any hue or background coming into the CRCNA who believe the theology exemplified in the Belhar.
And why should we focus on our makeup? Why not just preach Christ crucified and let the Spirit define and color-code his Church? Do we find anywhere in the Apostolic Missional methodology a concentration on quotas in the Church?
2. To ensure the equitable representation and meaningful participation of
ethnic-minority persons in leadership and other roles of inﬂuence at all levels
of denominational life.
Classis Lake Erie Agenda March 3, 2012
Page -11-Note: The total estimated ethnic-minority membership of 5 percent in the CRCNA
compares to an ethnic-minority population of approximately 20 percent in Canada and
the United States.
E. That synod call the churches
1. To articulate the biblical vision for a racially and ethnically diverse and united
family of God by means of the preaching, teaching, and study of the above
biblical and theological principles.
2. To evaluate their life and ministry with regard to their racial and ethnic
composition, the social factors contributing to their composition, the selecting
and training of their leaders, their worship style, and their ministry to
congregational members and to their community in light of their sense of
God’s vision and call for them as congregations.
3. To develop racially and ethnically diverse congregations by all appropriate
models and strategies, such as
a. Established churches becoming more inclusive ethnically and culturally.
b. Planting and developing multiethnic congregations.
c. Sponsoring new congregations that are ethnically and culturally different
parent congregation, in the same or separate facilities.
d. Developing relationships (e.g., joint worship, workshops, and work
congregations from other ethnic and cultural backgrounds.
e. Supporting persons and programs at home or abroad that are committed
4. To witness publicly against racism, prejudice, and related unemployment,
poverty, and injustices and in defense of all people as image bearers of God.
5. To call individual members to promote and establish interracial and crosscultural relationships in their neighborhoods, workplaces, and communities.
F. That synod request the classes, with the assistance of the CRCNA ofﬁces and
1. To arrange during the next twelve months for the careful classis-wide study
of this report and its implications for the churches and their ministries.
Classis Lake Erie Agenda March 3, 2012
Page -12-2. To provide to the churches and ministries of classis guidance in support of
racial and ethnic diversity (and unity) by means of public forums and
learning events, multi-congregational worship celebrations, and joint cross-
cultural ministry ventures.
3. To assist the churches in developing and supporting new churches and other
outreach ministries that are committed to ethnic diversity and racial
4. To recruit and assist persons from ethnic-minority groups to participate in the
ministries of classis, including representation to synod, agency boards, and
other ministries of the CRCNA.
G. That synod mandate the Board of Trustees, under the leadership of its CRCNA
staff and with the assistance of the Race Relations division of Pastoral Ministries
and other CRCNA agencies,
1. To coordinate and monitor the role and response of the agencies in providing
guidance and assistance to the churches and classes in support of ethnic
diversity and racial reconciliation as outlined above.
2. To serve Synod 1998 with advice and recommendations for ensuring the
equitable representation and meaningful participation of ethnic-minority
persons in leadership and other roles of inﬂuence with the classes and synod,
the Board of Trustees, denominational agencies, and other ministries of the
CRCNA. The recommendations should include transitional and long-term
strategies, training and support needs, ﬁnancial implications, and periodic
reporting to synod on efforts and progress.
3. To continue to explore ways whereby the biennial Multiethnic Conference can
assist the churches, classes, and synod to respond more completely to God’s
call for ethnic diversity and racial reconciliation in the CRCNA.
4. To review CRCNA policies and practices in relation to the training,
credentialing, and compensating of ethnic-minority pastors and to give
recommendations and advice as indicated.
H. That synod respectfully urge future synods
1. To include in their worship times the articulation and celebration of the
biblical vision for a racially and ethnically diverse and uniﬁed family of God.
2. To encourage the development of speciﬁc recommendations and speciﬁc
practical guidelines for supporting ethnic diversity in all aspects of
denominational life, including interchurch relations in general and ministries
of the Reformed Ecumenical Council in particular.
Classis Lake Erie Agenda March 3, 2012
Page -13-3. That denominational response to the above decisions be reviewed by Synod
1998 on the basis of an interim progress report by the Board of Trustees.
I. That denominational response to the above decisions be reviewed by Synod 2000
in the light of another progress report with advice and recommendations by the
Board of Trustees to Synod 2000.
J. That synod recommend that the Board of Trustees ask representatives of various
language groups in the denomination to translate the document into the
languages of their groups.
K. That synod ask Calvin Theological Seminary’s Morren Conference Committee to
consider organizing a conference on “racial and ethnic reconciliation with
repentance and justice” to explore the theological meaning of racial reconciliation
and the implications for ministry, pastoral care, ecclesiology, and social justice.
! ! Grounds:
1. Racial reconciliation with repentance is urgent in the light of the above report.
2. Reformed theologians are well positioned historically and theologically to
address this issue.
3. The Reformed churches of South Africa are presently experiencing such a
The following recommendations were adopted by Synod 2005 regarding the Practice Of
Appointing Ethnic Advisers To Synod (Acts of Synod 2005, pp. 748; 755-56):
1. That synod encourage each classis to include at least one ethnic minority person
in its synodical delegation beginning with Synod 2006.
a. Although synods have repeatedly encouraged classes to delegate ethnic
minorities to synod, the response of most classes has been minimal.
b. There are classes that can achieve this goal by 2006 because a number of
ethnic minority ofﬁcebearers already serve in their member congregations.
2. That synod request all classes to develop a strategy to intentionally incorporate
ethnic minorities into the life and government of the local church and broader
assemblies and submit their plan to the BOT by March 15, 2007.
! ! Grounds:
a. Submitting strategy plans provides an intentional accountability to one
another by way of a denominational board that can report such plans to
Classis Lake Erie Agenda March 3, 2012
Page -14-b. Sharing classical plans has the beneﬁt of classes’ learning from one another.
3. That synod encourage ethnic minority members of the denomination to
participate in the meetings and activities of their classes.
Ground: Such participation gives people familiarity with how the denomination
functions and helps members of classes become better acquainted with each
4. That synod encourage classes to speciﬁcally invite ethnic minorities to participate
in the meetings and activities of classis.
Ground: Such participation gives people familiarity with how other cultures
function and helps members of classes become better acquainted with each
5. That synod remind councils and classes that the CRC Ofﬁce of Race Relations is
available to assist with leadership development and other services to incorporate
ethnic minorities into the ongoing work of the church.
Ground: The Ofﬁce of Race Relations is the agency mandated to assist councils
and classes in this work.
6. That synod continue the position of ethnic adviser as long as the number of
ethnic minority delegates is fewer than twenty-ﬁve, after which time it shall be
discontinued. The Board of Trustees should appoint as many ethnic advisers as
are needed to reach twenty-ﬁve, except that no more than seven (and no fewer
than two) shall be appointed.
Ground: Continuing this position only to the point where the number of ethnic
minorities at synod is comparable to current levels reﬂects synod’s desire that
this position be a temporary catalyst to encourage classes to delegate ethnic
7. That synod instruct the Board of Trustees of the CRCNA to report in the annual
Agenda for Synod, and to make recommendations if necessary, on the
denomination’s progress in attaining its goal of at least one ethnic minority
synodical delegate from each classis and on the denomination’s progress in
incorporating ethnic minorities on denominational boards.
Ground: Because our Board of Trustees acts for synod between sessions and
because it supervises all denominational ministries, this Board is uniquely
qualiﬁed to measure denominational progress and to encourage us in it.