|Co-author of The Belhar Confession lectures at SFTS
South African activist Dr. Allan Boesak presented a lecture entitled “The Belhar Confession and the Pursuit of Justice and Peace” on Monday, April 11, at San Francisco Theological Seminary.
Boesak is one of the original authors of The Belhar Confession, which is being considered as an amendment to The Book of Confessions of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The Belhar Confession is a Christian statement of belief originally written by Afrikaans in 1982. It was adopted as a confession of faith by the Dutch Reformed Mission Church (DRMC) in South Africain 1986.
Among the panelists joining Boesak were SFTS Professor of History Dr. Christopher Ocker and Rev. Kamal Hassan, pastor at Sojourner Truth Presbyterian Church in Richmond, Calif. The Sojourner Truth congregation helped pack Alexander Hall.
Boesak also engaged the SFTS community during several events on April 11. He preached during chapel and joined students, faculty and staff for community lunch, where he talked about his ministries, including social and ecological justice, and human rights.
“We are honored to have one of the co-authors of The Belhar Confession, and a leader in the opposition to the apartheid system with us at San Francisco Theological Seminary and our neighbors,” said Dr. Laird Stuart, SFTS interim president.
In the 1980s, Boesak was an outspoken critic and opponent of South Africa’s governing party and played a major anti-apartheid activist role as a patron of the United Democratic Front, one of the most important anti-apartheid organizations of its time. He is one of the originators of black liberation theology in South Africa and a scholar on Martin Luther King Jr.
In 2008 while serving as the Moderator of the Cape Synod of the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa, he announced he would resign all of his positions within the church because of the church's discriminatory position on homosexuality and gay and lesbian persons, invoking the anti-apartheid Belhar Confession that lambasts all forms of discrimination. Boesak originally spoke out in favor of same-sex marriage in 2004, a year before South Africa's Constitutional Court ruled that the denial of marriage rights to gay people was discriminatory and violated the country's constitution.
Among the many awards Boesak has received are:
Andrew Murray/Desmond Tutu Prize
Union Medal from Union Theological Seminary, New York City
Robert Kennedy Human Rights Award
Martin Luther King Jr. Peace Award
Boesak studied at the University of the Western Cape and holds the degree of Doctor of Theology from the Theological University of Kampen, the Netherlands. He has served in the ministry of the Dutch Reformed Mission Church (since 1994 the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa) and the ecumenical movement in various senior capacities since 1968, including president of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, the youngest ever and first person from the Third World in that position, and has been active in public life since 1976.
The confession was originally written by Professor Dirkie Smit of the Theological Faculty of the University of the Western Cape, with input from Professor Jaap Durand of the same faculty, Rev. Gustav Bam of the DRMC and Boesak, who was president of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches at that time. The confession was named after Belhar, a suburb of Cape Town, South Africa, where a general synod of the DRMC was held in 1982. According to the Belhar Confession, unity is both a gift and an obligation for the church. This unity originally referred to non-segregation between Christians of different races, but after the formation of the URCSA in 1994, the word “unity” came to refer to administrative unity within the managerial structures of the URCSA.
Another key theme of The Belhar Confession is the dichotomy of reconciliation and the justice of God. According to the confession, God is the God of the destitute, the poor, and the wronged, and for this reason the church should stand by people in any form of suffering. It claims that individual, racial and social segregation is sin, and that all forms of segregation always lead to enmity and hatred.