Putting Words (and Confessions) into Action

The following is a 2005 open letter from the men of the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa (URCSA) to the women of the URCSA:

Dear sisters in the Lord Jesus Christ

It is with humility that we write this letter to you.

Together with you we have heard the gospel pf Jesus Christ and are trying to follow that gracious call to enter the kingdom of God. Together with you we have discovered that pearl of great price and have sold everything to buy it.

Is is as joint heirs of eternal life-together with you-that we confess that we have taken over power in the Body of Jesus Christ. This is the way we recieved the structures of the church from our fathers and grandfathers, but we have realised that this is not the way that our Lord Jesus Christ would want us to lead and guide the church.

We confess that, instead of treating you as equal image bearers of the living God, we often pushed you into second-class citizenship in the household of God. We confess that, instead of treating you as equal fellow-disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ, for a long time we went alone to study theology and to appoint church-leaders. We confess that, instead of treating you as equal witnesses to Jesus Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, we silenced you in the church and resisted the work of the Holy Spirit, who has given you so many gifts for ministry to build up the temple of the Holy Spirit.

Most of us realised many years ago that the systematic exclusion of -and discrimination against- any group or category of people does not reflect the will of God our Creator, as revealed in the life of Jesus Christ our Lord. When the former NGSK drafted the Belhar Confession in 1982, it clearly expressed the biblical view on the unity of the church, reconciliation between people and justice in church and society. The Confession has been a brigth light on our painful journey as Reformed churches in Southern Africa to dismantle the racist structures and attitutdes of apartheid. However, we confess that we have applied the liberating guidance primarily to the problems of overcoming barriers of race, culture and ethnicity. So, today, as URCSA, we stand judged by the Belhar Confession:

For having discriminated against women in church and society;

For having worked against reconciliation by alienating women from significant participation in leadership positions and ministerial formation;

For having practised injustice against women in church and society;

In the light of the above, we as male members of URCSA wish to say to our sisters in the church:

We confess that our discrimination against you has hurt and alienated your in many ways;

we admit that these actions have been a lack of respect and a failure fo love;

we humbly apologise to you for all the actions, attitudes and structures for which we have been responsible;

We commit ourselves to make restitution for this wrong and to build a new church with you-in which you are free to exercise all your gifts and ministries and in which we develop an equal partnership to the glory of God.

The courage in this letter is stunning, and the deep understanding of ecclesiology expressed should shame us in the RCA. Truly, I find it difficult to imagine us doing something similar. But, then again, I should ponder in that context the Old Testament lection for Pentecost Sunday: Ezekiel 37:1-14. Veni creator spiritus.

(Thank you to Harold, Stacey, and Paul J. for making this available to me.)

2 thoughts on “Putting Words (and Confessions) into Action

  1. Thank you for posting this painful and forthright declaration of regret and compelling promise to change.

    I grieve for my gifted sisters throughout the ages who have been denied the glory of using their hearts, hands and voices to serve as office holders in the RCA. It is with enormous pain that this custom still persists in some areas of the RCA yet today. In every place where women are denied these offices, it diminishes the potential ministry of our beloved Lord, Jesus Christ, and holds back the Church which strives to carry out His mission in a world which needs the compassion and insight of men and women alike.

  2. Thanks for posting this, Daniel. How strong, clear, direct, humble. This is confessional speech. Wonderful.

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